Combining a cell phone and a PDA into a modern-day uber device is no simple task. The result is often either a clunky, oversized phone or a svelte handheld with an uninspiring screen and limited functionality. Not so with the latest Palm Powered smartphone from Samsung.
With the SPH-i500, Samsung appears to have figured out how to marry two of today’s hottest technologies into a single convergent device while retaining the best of both. While the i500 is certainly not perfect (take its hefty price and lack of expandability, for instance), it may be the best option out there for those looking for an all-in-one device that will still fit it your pocket.
The Samsung i500 is small compared to other Pocket PC and Palm Powered smart phones we’ve tested. It measures 2.1″ wide, 3.4″ tall, and 0.85″ thick, and weighs just 4.7 ounces with the slim battery installed. Not bad when you consider its flip-lid design means that your screen is always safe–no expensive after-market case is needed. And it’s also reasonably comfortable to hold, and easily fits in a jacket or pants pocket.
Flip open the i500 and you’ll quickly discover that Samsung has made some interesting decisions about how to consummate the marriage of phone and PDA.
Below the display are the four application launch buttons found on most Palm handhelds. While this means that you can quickly access your calendar and contacts without using a stylus, I found that the buttons were difficult to distinguish since the icons etched into them provide no contrast. Perhaps a touch of black paint in the etched areas would have done the trick.
On the bottom half is the Graffiti area, the OK and Back buttons, a rocker button to scroll up and down lists and select items, and a keypad, which includes smartly labeled Talk and End buttons.
The keypad is excellent, one of the best I’ve used, with tiered number buttons that are easy to activate. However, there is no thumb keyboard, as found on Handspring’s Treo and RIM’s BlackBerry, so entering data requires using the stylus and Graffiti. This certainly limits its use as an email device.
Also, for some reason Samsung placed the stylus on the left side of the device (see picture above), so you either have to switch the device from your left to your right hand to remove it, or make an awkward cross-hands motion to extract it.
Finally, while the metallic casing gives it a professional look and feel, the various logos, from Samsung to MITS to Sprint, plastering in every direction ruins the look.
Overall, the styling is average, appealing more to the business crowd rather than consumers.
Speed. The Samsung i500 runs on Palm OS 4.1 on a 66 MHz Motorola Dragonball processor. While this certainly isn’t the latest handheld technology, using a moderately powered engine extends battery life, which is important for a cell phone.
Memory. The device comes with 16 megabytes of internal RAM, which is a bit skimpy when you consider the next point, expansion.
Expansion. Oops. Samsung apparently decided that the i500 is more phone than PDA, forgoing any sort of expansion slot. And with only 16 megabytes of memory, you’re limited in how many documents and image files you’ll be able to carry around with you.
Display. The i500’s screen is excellent for a cell phone, and pretty darn good for a PDA too. While it’s not high-resolution (it’s a bit larger than 160×160 pixels), it is a 16-bit color display so it’s capable of 65,000 color variations, enough to produce crisp text and images.
Multimedia. Sorry, this is more of a business tool, so don’t expect much in the way of multimedia capabilities. It can’t function as an MP3 player and with limited memory and its lack of expandability it wouldn’t matter if it could.
Communications. The Samsung i500 is a CDMA phone, so it can be used in much of the United States. It delivers very good sound through the included earpiece or from the phone itself. However, two things are missing: a speakerphone and Bluetooth.
Still, it functioned well as a phone in my testing. You can dial numbers directly from the address book, or set up contacts for speed-dialing or voice-dialing. There’s even a feature that can display all of a person’s phone numbers and e-mail addresses in a pop-up window.
It also functioned admirably as a Wireless Data device, connecting easily to Sprint’s high-speed CDMA 1XRTT wireless network. It comes with the Handspring Blazer web browser and includes support for email, SMS, and gpsOne.
Power. The i500 comes with two batteries. There’s a slim battery that provides up to 2.8 hours of continuous talk time or 210 hours of continuous standby time, and a larger standard battery that offers up to 4 hours talk time and up to 250 hours of standby time. Of course, the standard battery also adds a little thickness and heft to the device.
Applications. The i500 is Palm Powered and worked well with every Palm application I tried on it, including Documents to Go. And I had no trouble synchronizing it with the calendar and address book on my laptop computer.
At more than $500, the Samsung SPH-i500 is an investment. But if what you’re looking for is a slim cell phone with Palm functionality, it’s worth it.
The Samsung SPH-i500 Palm Powered smartphone is an excellent phone that doubles as a Palm Powered handheld. And it does it all while remaining slim and lightweight.
The only drawbacks are its lack of a speakerphone and expansion slot, and the fact that you’ll have to use Graffiti to tap out emails since it does not include a thumb keyboard.