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Samsung SPH review: Samsung SPH

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The Good Compact; full-featured Palm PDA integrated with a phone; improved color screen; decent battery life; analog roaming.

The Bad Expensive; no expansion slot; no speakerphone.

The Bottom Line It may not be for heavy e-mail use, but the compact i500 is one of the most civil marriages of a phone and a PDA that we've seen to date.

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8.5 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

Review summary

Previous Palm-powered phones, including Samsung's own i300 and i330, all had at least one fairly significant drawback. Some were a little too bulky; others had screens that weren't quite up to snuff. But as soon as we got our hands on Samsung's SPH-i500, we knew this Palm phone had turned the corner. No, it's not perfect, especially if you're looking to do serious e-mailing. And yes, we'll nitpick and bemoan its current over-$500 price. But the i500 is still a tempting choice for those who want to consolidate their phone and PDA. For a Palm phone, the i500 is small. With the standard battery installed, this pocket-friendly, flip-style model weighs 5.1 ounces and measures 3.4 by 2.13 by 1.03 inches, only slightly bigger than Samsung's 4.4-ounce A600 camera phone. The screen is obviously not a full-size Palm display and is a bit smaller than the Kyocera 7135's. However, it supports 65,536 colors and looks better than both the 7135's and the Handspring Treo 300's displays. The upcoming Treo 600's screen appears to be its equal, though neither display has high resolution.

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Smart and small: The Samsung is as little as many cell phone-only handsets.
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Slightly thick: A beefy battery adds a bit to the device's girth.

This is Samsung's third-generation Palm phone for Sprint PCS, so the company has had some time to tweak the interface and smooth out most glitches. You'll find the familiar Palm interface, but a click of a side button or the onscreen phone icon toggles between Palm and phone modes. The buttons are well positioned for easy navigation, with a set of quick-launch application controls placed just under the screen. The phone feels solid in hand and snaps shut with authority.

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The cradle has a slot to accommodate the Samsung's spare battery. There's also an extra stylus for forgetful types.
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Belt one out: A handy carrying case protects the device and attaches to your midriff.

Other pluses: We liked the stair-step approach of the backlit dial-pad keys (minimizing misdials), the telescoping stylus that's housed on the back of the phone, and the rocker/scroll button in the middle of the dial pad.

Samsung includes a nice set of accessories: a dual-slot cradle with a HotSync USB cable for docking the unit with your PC (sorry, no Macs), a travel charger, an extra "slim" battery and stylus, and a protective carrying case that attaches to your belt. The skinny battery brings the weight of the phone down to 4.7 ounces and trims 0.18 inches from its thickness.
Powered by a 66MHz DragonBall processor, the i500 ships with 16MB of built-in memory and runs on Palm OS 4.1--it's not upgradable--instead of the newer Palm OS 5.0. Some Palm phones, such as the Kyocera 7135, feature an expansion slot as well as MP3 playback capabilities. Because of battery-life issues, we don't think your phone is the best place for an MP3 player, so the lack of support here isn't a big deal. However, it would've been nice to see a Secure Digital (SD) expansion slot for JPEG images and additional applications. The 16MB of RAM will be adequate for most users, but some may find it limiting.

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Writing strategy: There's no thumb keyboard, so you'll want to brush up on your Graffiti skills.
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A step up: We liked the placement and style of the phone's roomy keys.

In most other aspects, the i500 mirrors the feature sets of Sprint's other Palm phones. First and foremost, you'll appreciate the ability to quickly tap into your calendar and contacts list. There's a speed-dial option, and you can dial a person in your contact lists by simply tapping his or her name. It's easy to locate a desired contact; just type the letter of the person's first or last name, and a short list of entries appears. The i500 also supports voice-activated dialing but lacks a speakerphone.

Thanks to Sprint's PCS Vision services, the wireless-data experience is generally good, but this model doesn't feature a minikeyboard, so you're less apt to find yourself banging out long e-mails. As soon as you subscribe to PCS Vision, you're good to go; no ISP setup is required, as Sprint is the ISP. Handspring's Blazer browser lets you access the Internet at nearly dial-up speeds on a good day with Sprint's 1xRTT network. Click the Home icon in the browser, and you're taken to Sprint's wireless Web portal, which retains a WAP-like, text-only feel but is jazzed up with color icons and a slicker interface. You can access full-blown Web sites, but given the small size of the display and the long load times--it took almost two minutes to load with full-blown graphics--you'll probably stick to Sprint's partnered sites, which are optimized for viewing on the device.

On the included CD-ROM, you'll find Palm's desktop software with a Microsoft Outlook conduit, a world clock, a calendar, a screensaver, plug-ins, a few games, and Sprint's PCS Business Connect, which allows you to access your Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes company e-mail, as well as your contacts and calendar info. This app was easy enough to install, and within 15 minutes, we were receiving our Outlook mail on the device. You must keep your computer or another machine (such as a server) on in order to receive e-mails, with Sprint's servers acting as a go-between for your computer and phone. The personal version of the e-mail service is included if you opt for a PCS Vision plan in excess of $84.99 per month; otherwise, you have to pay a $5 monthly fee. An enterprise version of Business Connect is also available.

As with other Palms, you can install a wide assortment of Palm OS applications, including AOL Instant Messenger and third-party e-mail apps. For an extra fee, you can download games and ring tones wirelessly to the phone.
The i500's 66MHz processor is faster than the Treo 300's 33MHz chip, but it doesn't measure up to the zippy processors you'll find in Palm OS 5.0 devices such as the Zire 71. Still, for the majority of applications you'll run on the device, it's quite sufficient. Just as important, programs launched quickly, with barely a lag when we switched from one to the next.

While we weren't disappointed by the generally good sound quality, callers said that they could tell we were using a cell phone. But it's hard to determine whether that was the service--Sprint PCS isn't stellar in New York City--or the phone.

Battery life was decent, especially if you stick with the larger standard battery. We hit the rated talk time of 4.2 hours and were able to leave the phone in standby mode for almost a full week (Samsung rates the standby time at 250 hours). If you're a power user and don't mind bulking up the phone a little more, Sprint will sell you a $60 extended battery that delivers up to 5.4 hours of talk time and 350 hours of standby.

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