With its impossibly slim profile, large bright screen, matte black casework and carefully considered design, the i320N is undoubtedly the most stylish smartphone in the push e-mail parade. It positively reeks of "executive material", and it's not a stretch to imagine this is what you'd see if RIM asked a European design house to do a makeover on its iconic BlackBerry.
In fact, if you've read any of the rave reviews online for the Samsung BlackJack you'll notice its similarity to the i320N, which is the BlackJack's predecessor (Samsung tells us an Australian version of the BlackJack is due for release early next year).
For such a compact frame the chassis feels quite solid. The control strip -- five-way navigation nub, phone and shortcut buttons -- sits midway between the 2.2-inch screen and the keyboard, lending the unit a balanced visual appeal.
The small shape and relatively deep travel of the Tic Tac-sized keys means you need both precise aim and a solid stab as you type, and we found this took the most getting used to -- especially for those with average-sized paws. Any attempt at fast "two-thumb" typing is best done with long nails, and the keys themselves could also have been softer.
We were also struck by the odd layout of the number keys, which are superimposed on every second alphabetical key rather than the normal arrangement of being clustered together at the centre. Each of those pairs is enclosed in a thin white stripe, which does little for usability -- it would be far more useful if the numbers themselves were etched in a different colour to the same white as used on letters and symbols. You definitely need to keep your eyes on the keyboard when trying to tap out a number.
The i320N's standard features are par for the Windows Mobile 5 smartphone course, although like several vendors Samsung has added a tweak or two. The most useful is a status strip that runs along the foot of the Windows Mobile home screen: scrolling through this displays how many new e-mail and SMS messages there are, keeps a tally of missed calls and advises of your next diary appointing. It also contains a list of shortcuts so you can quickly run favourite applications rather than dive into the Start menu.