Samsung SCH-i730 Review

by Reads (87,374)

by Bill Orr

Samsung SCH-i730 Review

Samsung’s SCH-i730 is Samsung’s current entry into the PDA/Phone category.  What sets this model apart from its Windows Mobile/Palm competitors?  EVDO data capability, for one.  The i730 also features a slider-type design that reveals a QWERTY keyboard.  The i730 also features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, and runs on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 2003 platform.  On paper, the i730 looks loaded with features.  But how does it perform in real life?  Let’s take a look.

Overview

The i730 is a “slider” design, with a face that lifts up to reveal a QWERTY keyboard.  The picture on the left shows the “default” view of the PDA.  As you can see, there is nothing terribly remarkable about the form factor or appearance of the PDA in this configuration.  Once you slide the front face up, however, you have a standard backlit PDA QWERTY keyboard to use. 

 
Image Source: Samsung

The slider design, while not incredibly unique, is an apparent compromise to allow the use of either standard PDA entry methods with a QWERTY keyboard.  In practice, I am not sure which method I prefer.  Neither option is terribly effective or easy to use.  The keys on the QWERTY keyboard were too small to be used for quick thumb entry of text or messages (see below for more on this).  Tapping out messages with a stylus on an on-screen keyboard is just about as slow.  I have also never had much luck with handwriting recognition on PDAs, and have found that the process is too slow and error-prone. 

Since Samsung opted to put a QWERTY keyboard in this phone, I would have much rather seen Samsung integrate the keyboard with the main phone instead of making it available with a slider design.  This is one of the big problems with this phone – Samsung seems like it has tried to “please everybody” with tons of features, while the features are poorly implemented.  This is one example – regular PDA with optional keyboard by way of the slider design.  Another example includes tri-mode data access (EVDO/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth), with poorly implemented configuration options (again, see below).  I would have preferred seeing Samsung just pick one option and do it right, instead of picking many options and doing them poorly. 

Physical dimensions

When the slider is closed, the i730 feels much bigger and bulkier than it really is.  It is not something you would feel comfortable carrying around in your pocket.  If you wear denim jeans, you probably would not even be able to get it in your pocket. 


i730 in USB cradle (view larger)


Slider open with backlit keyboard (view larger)

samsung i730
Left-hand side view (view larger)

samsung i730
Right-hand side view (view larger)


Top view (view larger)


Bottom view (view larger)


Back view (view larger)

Comments on Size and weight

Comparing the i730 to the Motorola v710 (my primary phone), the Dell Axim X50v and the Palm Treo 650, you can see that the Samsung is pretty much in the middle of the road, except in weight.  The Samsung is 1.6 times as heavy as the v710, which itself is not the lightest phone on the market.

Motorola v710

Weight 115g
Dimensions 3.70″ x 1.93″ x 0.92″

Samsung i730

Weight 182.5g
Dimensions 4.53″ x 2.28″ x 0.94″

Dell Axim X50v

Weight 175g
Dimensions 4.70″ x 2.90″ x 0.70″

Treo 650

Weight 179g
Dimensions 4.40″ x 2.30″ x 0.90″


Placing the i730 and the v710 side-by-side, the physical difference between the two does not look very pronounced.  It’s the weight of the Samsung, however, that makes it feel so much bigger.  I can slip my v710 in my jeans pocket and barely notice it.  The Samsung on the other hand just feels very heavy and bulky.  It was not very enjoyable to carry around, and I was always concerned about dropping it.


Size comparison of Motorola v710 and Samsung i730 (view larger)


Size comparison of Motorola v710 and Samsung i730 (view larger)


Side-by-side comparison of i730 (top) and v710 (bottom) (view larger)

Phone characteristics

The phone functions relatively well as a phone, with some exceptions noted herein.  The phone’s reception was good, even in my house, which is notorious for getting spotty reception in different rooms. The calls were clear and the volume was acceptable.  I did not experience any problems with the coverage, reception, or voice quality with this phone.  Text messaging was also relatively easy and intuitive. 

There is an unfortunately-placed application button on the side of the phone that I would always accidentally press when I picked up the phone, launching the contact screen.   I would then have to close this screen to dial the number I was trying to reach.  Not a major annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.

Another big problem I had with the phone was the on-screen “keypad” you have to use when dialing.  I have relatively large hands, and as you can see from the pictures below, the size of my thumb (which I use for dialing) is just about as wide as two of the on-screen buttons.  This means when you dial a number, you either have to angle the tip of your thumb at the screen (awkward if you are holding the phone in the same hand), or you have to stare at the screen while you are dialing, which is inconvenient.  All PDA phones I have used have the same problem – the Samsung was no better and no worse than any other PDAs I have used in this regard.


(view larger)

The QWERTY keyboard was nearly useless to dial with. When your thumb covers up twelve buttons at once, it’s time to find a new way to dial.  Although the i730 includes VoiceSignal voice recognition capabilty, I do not like using voice dialing or navigation, and I did not extensively test these features.


The tiny keybard is nearly unusable due to the small, narrow, and closely spaced keys (view larger

The second major problem with the phone features of the i730 came when using a Bluetooth headset during voice calls.  I have a Motorola HS820 headset that I paired with the i730 for handsfree use.  During calls, I experienced significant problems with dropouts during voice calls.  The problems existed only while using the Bluetooth headset.  The dropouts were bad enough that I could not have a regular conversation over Bluetooth.  Samsung has issued a software update for this phone, but it did not fix the problem for me. 

The software phone implementation on the i730 left me a little confused.  Initially, I did not realize that, in order to use the phone functions of the PDA, you had to turn the phone application on, even though the PDA was already on.  Further, to use Wi-Fi, you had to turn the phone application off.  Therefore, if you are using Wi-Fi, you can’t make or receive phone calls.  If you want to use EVDO for data, the phone has to be turned on.  Confused yet?

PDA Characteristics

The i730 uses the Microsoft Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition Second Edition platform and comes with a 520 MHz processor and 128MB ROM / 64MB RAM.  If you are familiar with Pocket PC type PDAs, then you know what to expect with this unit.  The i730 runs just about as well as any other Pocket PC device I have used.  Battery life for PDA use was acceptable.  The i730 comes with both a standard 1100 mAh battery as well as an extended 1700 mAh battery.  During my testing the extended battery added too much size and weight to the already-bulky i730, and I opted not to use it.

The i730 comes with the standard host of Microsoft Pocket PC applications, such as Pocket IE, Pocket Outlook, Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, and so on.  Your mileage will vary with these applications.  In my experience, the PDA versions of these applications are much less usable than their desktop counterparts.  Pocket Word, for example, does not retain all document formatting from the original documents to the pocket versions, and therefore it is difficult if not impossible to edit documents on your PDA unless they are very simply formatted.  Further, long documents (i.e., documents longer than a couple pages) are too difficult to view and edit on the tiny PDA Screen with the near-useless keyboard(s) provided with the i730. 

EVDO Capability

One of the most attractive features of the i730 is the inclusion of EVDO capability.  Finally, you can browse the Internet at near-DSL speeds without having to stay tethered near a wi-fi hotspot or other Internet connection. 

Compared to other Wireless Data services, EVDO is the current speed champ.  A comparison of the theoretical maximum speeds of current technologies shows the following:

Service
Provider
Theoretical Speeds
GPRS
Cingular/T-Mobile
171.2 kbps
EDGE
Cingular
384 kbps
1xRTT
Verizon/Sprint
300kbps
EVDO
Verizon
300kbps-2000kbps


Note that these are theoretical speeds.  In real life, both speed and performance typically vary greatly from these advertised speeds.  In the Atlanta area, I have used all four types of service, and find EVDO to be the only solution that comes close to a desirable speed and reliablity.  My experiences with GPRS and EDGE data networks (on the former AT&T Wireless network) left much to be desired.  Up/down speeds were awful, comparable to a 14.4 modem in most cases. Even worse was the latency and connection reliability, which often required reboots and reconnects while browsing web sites. Large web sites would not even load in all cases, or would load the pages but not the images on the page.  In my experience, EDGE was not much better than GPRS.  Using a Sony Ericsson EDGE card with my laptop, using the Internet was a painful experience.

My experiences with 1xRTT service have been much better.  My speeds were comparable to a 56k modem and latency was manageable.  Connection reliability was not the greatest, however, and timeouts and failed connections were relatively commonplace.  But it worked in a pinch, and was for the most part usable.

Verizon’s EVDO service, on the other hand, was very usable.  While I would not mistake the service for DSL-class service, it was still very good.  The service had a slight latency that is not present using DSL or cable connections.  The main difference between EVDO and 1xRTT, other than the speed increase, was the connection reliability.  Whereas with the 1xRTT service, I would frequently have to reconnect or reset the connection, I could use the EVDO service for long periods of time without connection problems.  I was able to browse web sites, download multimedia, and connect via VPN to work without problems.  I was very pleased with the service.  

As mentioned above, speeds were very good.  Using the Broadband Reports speed test, I managed to get the following numbers:


View larger image

As you can see, this is less than the advertised speed of “300-2000kbps”, but it is still very respectable.  The upload speeds were not the greatest, but this was not a problem for me because I was not uploading large amounts of data.  If I were sending emails with large attachments, this could become an issue, but I did not encounter these issues during my testing.

I was able to browse the Internet using Pocket IE over the EVDO connection.  If you have ever used a PDA to access the Internet, you will know that this is not the most enjoyable experience.  Most web sites are designed for 800×600 or greater resolutions, with flash animations, frames, and other “advanced” features; so browsing on a 320×240 screen with a very limited browser is not very useable.  Pages did load quickly though, thanks to the EVDO and sites designed for mobile browsers were very good.  POP mail access using Pocket Outlook was easy and straightforward.  Unfortunately, Pocket Outlook does not natively support Microsoft’s Hotmail service, so you have to use Pocket IE to read your Hotmail messages. 

I was able to view streaming video on the i730 using the included Windows Media Player…sometimes.  I attempted to access several types of media through the MSN portal bookmarked in Pocket IE.  Most of the time, the links would not load, and I could not tell whether the links were bad or whether the media just wouldn’t load.  When the media would load, I was able to watch blocky compressed movie trailers shrunk down to postage stamp size.  It was a very underwhelming experience, and one where the effort required far exceeded the payoff.

Wi-Fi & Bluetooth

The Samsung SCH-i730 comes with both wi-fi and Bluetooth capability.  I used both without major incident, except the headset issue already noted.  My main gripes came more from the software configuration of these features.  These gripes may be more properly directed to the Windows Mobile operating system than the i730 in particular.  I found it very frustrating and confusing trying to configure the wireless features on this device, because Microsoft has made the configuration and use of the features counterintuitive and confusing.  There is nothing more frustrating than setting up a wi-fi connection to browse the Internet, and then when you launch Pocket Internet Explorer, a window pops up telling you your Bluetooth connection is not set up correctly. 

Theoretically, this phone has three different ways to access data over the Internet – EVDO, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.  Unfortunately, the phone expects that only one of these options to be the “default,” and you must choose one by navigating through a byzantine series of menus.  Which menu?  Should you look under the “Wi-Fi” icon, the “Bluetooth” icon or the “connections” icon?  Frankly, the way the user is forced to configure these wireless settings is just plain annoying.  Woe to you if you try to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi, then turn Wi-Fi off and try to connect via Bluetooth, or vice versa.  The process of configuring and changing these settings almost made me wish the phone did not have Wi-Fi or Bluetooth in the first place, since setup was such a hassle. 

Verizon also does not support dialup networking over Bluetooth, which is a real drawback.  You can use the provided USB cable with a laptop, although make sure you have subscribed to a data plan covering this type of usage to avoid terms of service violations or unexpected data charges. 

Conclusions

On paper, the Samsung SCH-i730 sounds like a great phone.  It has EVDO, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, both “regular” and QWERTY keyboard input methods, Microsoft Pocket PC 2003 software, and a whole host of other features.  In actual use, these features feel crammed in to this device and poorly thought-out and implemented.  I found the i730 to be very difficult to use and deal with in real-life use.

This phone is hard to recommend.  It would be easier to recommend the i730 as an EVDO device if Verizon had enabled the dial-up networking Bluetooth profile on the phone.  Not being able to connect to the internet via Bluetooth is a real liablity in my opinion.  If you do not have EVDO service in your area, I would not even consider the i730.

As a phone, the i730 is too bulky and cumbersome to recommend.  As a PDA, the i730 offers performance similar to other non-phone Pocket PC devices costing hundreds less. 

Pricing and Availability


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