If you were paying close attention, you might have noticed that I was on vacation last week. As this was the second vacation I had taken in a single month, I thought I should do a bit of work while I was away, especially as the plan was to hang out at a beach house the whole time. Rather than bring a laptop and deal with the hassles of connecting through a dial-up line, I brought a Samsung i330 Palm OS smartphone with me.
As a smartphone, the i330 combines the features of a mobile phone and a handheld. This includes accessing email and the Web through Sprint PCS Vision CDMA 1XRTT wireless networks.
The Trip Down
We were driving from Atlanta to Fernandina Beach in northeast Florida and the mobile phone function came in handy immediately. We wouldn’t all fit in a single car so we had a caravan. We kept in touch by calling each other to organize rest breaks and getting everyone back together the time one car got separated.
The i330 works pretty well as a mobile phone. It doesn’t have a hard keypad. Instead, the 160 by 240 pixel screen displays a virtual one. I don’t like touching the screen of my handheld with my finger so I generally pulled out the stylus to dial a number. However, I didn’t have to do this very often. You can dial directly from the address book by touching an icon next to each phone number. You can also assign speed-dial numbers or do voice dialing. Incidentally, it’s easy to open the phone app as there is a button dedicated to this on the right side.
Unfortunately, the i330 has the same problem that almost all smartphones do: when you are talking on the phone, you touch the screen up to the side of your face. This means your screen gets kind of greasy, especially if you’ve been using suntan lotion, as I was. One way around this is by using a headset. The i330 doesn’t come with one but I picked up a decent one for $10. The other option is to keep the i330 in its carrying case. This has openings so you can talk on the phone with the cover closed.
Audio quality is pretty much standard for a mobile phone. I had a couple of dropped calls but these always happened when I was in the same place so I think there was some interference in that spot. There is a rocker switch on the left to control the volume.
On the Beach
Once we had reached the beach house, I mostly used the i330 for Internet access. I don’t normally do this but, as I said, this was the second time I had been on vacation in just a few weeks. (In case you are wondering, I was offered a free week on the beach, which was just too good a deal to turn down, even if I had just gotten back from Paris.) Anyway, we’re talking about Internet access.
Sadly, the i330 doesn’t come with an email app, which I find very surprising. It wasn’t the end of the world, though. I loaded up the excellent SnapperMail and it handled all I needed.
I also did some Web surfing. The i330 comes with a registered copy of Handspring’s Blazer Web browser. This is adequate for minimal use but Blazer reformats all pages to fit the width of the screen. There isn’t an option to leave pages as their designers’ intended and you scroll back and forth on them. This is exacerbated by the fact that the i330’s screen is just 160 pixels wide. Most Web pages designed for much larger displays end up as something you have to search carefully through to find what you are looking for. However, it’s perfectly adequate for displaying web sites that have been formatted for mobile devices.
I’m happy to be able to report that surfing on the i330 was acceptably fast using Sprint’s PCS Vision network. It doesn’t rival a broadband connection in speed but it definitely isn’t painfully slow, either. Most of the time I found it to be close to the speed of a dial-up modem.
To help out, Blazer supports caching so you don’t have to re-download an image if you downloaded it on a previous visit. It will also let you control the quality of the images you download. If you choose to make all images just 4-bit greyscale they will download much faster than if you let them be displayed at full color.
Mostly what I loved about the i330 was the incredible convenience of having Web and email access everywhere I went. For example, on the drive home we got on the subject of 80s bands and who had sung what song. Rather than bicker over who was right, I was able to quickly get the answer off a Web site.
Doing Some Relaxing
Of course, the i330 offers more than just wireless features; it’s a full Palm OS Handheld and can run most software written for that operating system. As I was on vacation, for me this mostly included games.
The i330 runs Palm OS 3.5.3, so it can’t run some of the newest games that require OS 5. However, that’s a very, very small number when compared to the thousands of games and other applications it can run. It has a 66 MHz processor, which gives it good performance, whether you are running Bejeweled or WordSmith.
This device doesn’t have a memory card slot so you are limited to the internal 16 MB of storage. This is more than plenty for thousands of Address Book and Date Book entries. It’s an OK amount for applications and files. I was easily able to carry enough games and ebooks to keep me entertained for the week.
A Fly in the Suntan Lotion
There’s only one thing about the i330 that I genuinely didn’t like and I’ve already touched on it briefly. At 4.9″ by 2.4″ by 0.7″ and 5.8 ounces, the i330 itself is fairly svelte. However, in order to protect the screen, you need to put it in a case that makes it significantly larger. While its nice that it comes with this leather case, I’d have been happier if it had instead included just a simple flip cover that didn’t add so much bulk.
I’m a lot happier with the other accessories that come with the i330. The best of these is not one but two rechargeable batteries. The larger one of these lasted for two days of fairly heavy use, including being in standby whenever I wasn’t using it. The smaller battery was good for one day.
The USB cradle is fairly hefty but it includes a slot to recharge the spare battery, which is very handy.
I also give kudos to Sprint for including a spare stylus, as I’ve eventually lost the stylus for every handheld I’ve ever owned and had to buy a replacement. The stylus is slightly unusual. It is flattened rather than being round. It’s a good size, though, and fits well in my hand.
Sailing Off into the Sunset
All in all I am pretty pleased with the i330. It has a decent feature set and some really nice touches. At $500 it seems a bit stiff to me but I did a bit of research and that’s what Sprint charges for comparable smartphones. I think anyone who needs a smartphone should seriously consider this model.