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Samsung SCH review: Samsung SCH

Samsung SCH

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
6 min read
Review summary
Samsung currently has two very similar-looking smart phones on the market, the i500 and i600, but they run very different operating systems. While the former has a touch screen and is powered by the Palm OS, the i600 runs Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2002, a stripped-down version of the Pocket PC OS. There's a lot to like about this well-designed, feature-rich model for Verizon Wireless. However, the lack of a built-in keyboard limits the i600's wireless e-mail prowess. In other words, this won't replace a BlackBerry.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. Like its Palm sibling, the i600 is fairly compact for a smart phone. With the standard battery installed, this flip-style model weighs 5.3 ounces and measures 3.54 by 2.1 by 0.92 inches, only slightly bigger than Samsung's 4.4-ounce A600 camera phone. The 176x220-pixel screen is obviously not a full-size Pocket PC display, but it supports 65,536 colors and is quite sharp and readable. As noted, it's not a touch screen; Windows Mobile OS handsets are designed to be operated with one hand, sans stylus.
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The i600 is pretty slim with the standard battery.
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Modeling its belt-clip holster.

The phone feels solid in hand and snaps shut with authority. Another plus: We particularly liked the stair-step approach of the backlit dial-pad keys (minimizing misdials). Additionally, the i600 has a couple of design enhancements, including an external LCD for viewing time, date, signal strength, and caller ID (when available). You also get an expansion slot for adding SD/MMC media, which you can then fill with images, music, video clips, and games. The slot is SDIO compatible, so you should be able to add a Wi-Fi card or a camera so long as there are drivers to support such accessories.
Those familiar with Pocket PC will immediately notice the similarities between the two interfaces, including the ability to customize the start or Today screen. Generally, the buttons are well positioned to promote easy navigation, with a good-size Home button next to the responsive four-way nav key. That said, the OS isn't always as intuitive as it should be, and you will have to dig into the manual to discover all the phone's features and shortcuts. Disappointingly, the 2002 version is installed on the i600, but the phone is supposedly upgradable to the 2003 OS, which has already been released in Europe. However, it's up to Verizon to provide customers with the upgrade.
Samsung includes a nice set of accessories: a dual-slot cradle with a HotSync USB cable for docking the unit with your PC (sorry, Mac users), a travel charger, an extra extended lithium-ion battery (1,700mAh), a protective carrying case that attaches to your belt, and an integrated stereo earbuds/headset. The extended cell, which nearly doubles battery life, brings the weight of the phone up to 6.1 ounces. An external flexible keyboard, which can be rolled up, is allegedly available for around $70, though we had trouble finding one in our online searches.
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The phone has a SDIO-compatible expansion slot.
As a phone, the i600 has an impressive feature set, including conference calling, a built-in speakerphone, a phone book (limited by only the available memory; more on that below), a calendar, an alarm clock, call history, text messaging, instant messaging via MSN Messenger, and voice-activated dialing courtesy of Voice Signal. Additionally, you can set profiles that control the sounds emitted by the phone. If you set the profile to Meeting, for example, every time there's a meeting scheduled in the calendar, the phone automatically mutes the ringer and puts it in vibrate mode for the duration of the appointment. You can access the wireless Web through Verizon's "high speed" data network and browse XML, HTML, cHTML, and WAP sites via Pocket Internet Explorer. As one might expect, you can download ring tones to the phone, but better yet, you can turn WMA files into ringers. However, you can't assign a distinctive ring tone to a specific caller or group in your contact list.
Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2002 has a look and feel similar to those of the Pocket PC OS. Naturally, one of its main benefits is tight integration with Outlook; it's built to easily sync with your contacts, calendar, and e-mail on your PC--a big plus for mobile professionals. You simply install ActiveSync 3.7.1 from Microsoft's Web site, follow the instructions, and sync. Also, you can dial numbers or compose e-mail from your contacts list with a touch of a button and view your calendar from a daily, weekly, or monthly perspective. Scrolling through e-mail one-handed is also convenient.
Like Motorola's MPx200, the phone has 32MB of ROM (16MB are flash ROM, so you won't lose anything if the i600 powers down) and 32MB of RAM. Microsoft says that you'll be able to upgrade to the next-generation Windows Mobile 2003 when it becomes available in 2004, though, as noted, it will be up to Verizon to provide an upgrade path.
If you use an SD card to store data such as MP3, WMV, or JPEG files, the phone will automatically find the data when the corresponding application (Windows Media Player, in the case of MP3s and JPEGs) is launched. Unfortunately, Pocket Word and Excel aren't part of the Windows Mobile OS package, but you can purchase a third-party application to view Word and Excel files on the phone.
How about wireless e-mail? You can set up the phone to send and receive e-mail from a single IMAP or POP3 account (the 2003 version of the OS will allow for multiple accounts). However, for certain providers, such as EarthLink, you'll need to get the correct mail server address from the company in order to complete the setup. As for corporate e-mail, if your company is running Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 or has Mobile Information Server with an earlier version of Exchange, you'll be able to send and receive e-mail wirelessly in real time with a little help from an IT professional.
The other corporate option is to run a redirector on your desktop; Verizon provides the Spontec redirector when you subscribe to its Wireless Sync Express Network plan ($40 for unlimited data and e-mail). Set your phone to retrieve mail every 15 minutes, every 30 minutes, every hour, or longer. Your PC back at the office must be left on.
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Samsung serves up a nice selection of included accessories.
At the core of the i600 is Intel's PXA250 200MHz XScale processor, which is not as fast as the processors found in today's Pocket PCs, but it is arguably faster than the one found in the less expensive Motorola MPx200, which uses a 130MHz Texas Instruments OMAP processor. As a result, the i600 is a tad more responsive and zippier than that model. Movie trailers we watched played back passably, and MP3 and WMA music files sounded fine, though not superloud. Note: The 2003 version of the Windows Mobile OS features an updated version of Windows Media Player.
We also tried out a few games. The i600, like other Windows Mobile phones, doesn't accept Pocket PC games; instead, it takes the Smartphone brand. We played several Hexacto games, including Tennis Addict and Bounty Hunter Pinball, and they looked good and played well, even though the screen is smaller than that of a Pocket PC.
We tested this digital-only, dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) phone in the New York area, where Verizon's service is generally very good. Call quality was decent--the sound was loud enough on our end--but some callers complained that we weren't terribly loud on their end. Occasionally, they'd ask us to speak up. As for the speakerphone, it was crystal clear during calls and is on a par with that of Nextel and Siemens mobiles.
Battery life wasn't good with the standard cell, which is why most people will choose to go with the girthy extended battery and use the standard one as a backup. With the extended battery, we managed to hit the 250 minutes of rated talk time and fell only 2 days short of the 10 days of rated standby time. Naturally, expect those numbers to drop if you're using PDA or multimedia aspects of the device. But with standard usage, you should be able to go about 3 days using the extended battery before having to recharge.

Samsung SCH

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8