Samsung SCH-i760 Review

by Adama D. Brown Reads (136,958)
  • Pros

     

    • Well built
    • Keyboard and numeric pad
    • Good one-handed navigation in landscape
    • Simple, businesslike design
    • Easily usable as phone

     

  • Cons

    • Impractical one-handed nav in portrait mode
    • microSD limitations
    • Landscape video display bug


The new Samsung SCH-i760 from Verizon is a Pocket PC phone with both a built-in keyboard and a numberpad. It includes Wi-Fi and the 3G standard EV-DO.

Design & Construction

Samsung i760
(view large image)

Once you get to look at it for a little while, you start to realize that the i760 isn’t nearly as visually unappealing as it seems in photos. To see most of the promotional images, you’d have to think that the device was darn ugly. And while it’s not on the level of Samsung’s i607 and i780 models in terms of looks, it does come off much better in person. Not super slick, but businesslike.

And I’ll give it this — it’s extremely well built. The slider mechanism that hides and exposes the QWERTY keyboard is the best I’ve seen for having a solid feel and durability. It’s spring-loaded, but provides a lot more resistance than the AT&T 8525, meaning you can be certain this one isn’t going to open up in your pocket or from a casual jolt.

The keyboard makes good use of soft rubberized buttons — unlike the solid plastic keyboards of most of the HTC models, it’s easy and comfortable to press the buttons with the very tip of a finger or fingernail. This allows for greater speed of input, and less slipping.

The directional pad has a pattern of tiny rings running around it, giving it the look of a very slight texture, but providing exceptional grip.

I come back to the issue of build quality, because it deserves mention again. The i760 is built like a tank. It feels great in the hand, is durable, and isn’t going to break. It’s heavy enough to have a little bit of heft, while still being light enough not to be annoying.

At one point, my device accidentally took a tumble four feet onto a hardwood floor. No damage, not so much as as ding, even though it hit hard enough to make the slider open up. The stylus didn’t even pop out of its holder. I’ve seen devices with metal casings that didn’t do that well with accidental falls.

Samsung i760
Left Side, with microSD slot,
Extended Battery

(view large image)

The i760 has gotten a significant reputation online as being thinner than most Pocket PC phones. Unfortunately, this reputation was built when the device was first shown almost a year ago, and in the mean time many other PPC phones have managed to slim down, leaving the i760 not really any better off in that department than its competitors.

It’s about the same thickness as the HTC Mogul (also known as the Sprint PPC-6800) and the AT&T Tilt.

Samsung i760
Right Side, with Stylus Slot,
Buttons,
Extended Battery
(view large image)

Unlike most Pocket PC phones, the i760 features both a slide-out keyboard and a numeric keypad on the front. While unconventional, this does address one of the great problems with the side-slider design, that being the difficulty of one-handed dialing.

With the i760, it’s not only possible to use it as a phone, dialing is actually comfortable, and reliable. I’d be much less hesitant to use the i760 as a main phone than I would be any other similar device.

All in all, I’ve been very pleased with the i760′s design. It blends high usability and a good feel in the hand. This isn’t to say that it’s perfect — there are a couple of notable oversights.

One problem is that it really isn’t practical to run the device one-handed in the normal configuration. The front panel only features the softkeys and directional pad, with no OK/Close or Start buttons, nor any buttons that can be re-tasked to this purpose. There are dedicated OK and Start buttons to be found on the right-hand side of the device, but there’s no grip that allows you to use both these, and the front panel controls, with a reasonable degree of ease. That’s why you find yourself having to all too frequently unsuccessfully trying to select things on the screen with your thumb.

Oddly, though, there is an easy way to use this smartphone one-handed: just pop open the keyboard. Unlike every other slider model I’ve used, the i760 is actually well suited to one-handed use this way. In this configuration the directional pad, both softkeys, and the OK/close and Start buttons of the slide-out keyboard are all well within reach of the thumb (assuming you’re using your right hand). Using the keyboard to enter text one-handed isn’t easy, of course. Possible, but not easy.

Samsung i760
Rear View
Showing Camera

(view large image)

The i760′s stylus is also significantly less than impressive. Residing not in the usual corner silo, but in a side-mounted slot running straight into the device, it’s a tiny two-piece telescoping deal. Not really worse than those offered with other slider PPCs, but that’s a pretty low bar to hurdle. I found it easier most of the time to simply ignore the thing, and use my fingers for any required screen interaction.

Overall, though, there’s very little in the i760′s design to be unhappy with.

Software and Operating System

Another point of myth-dispelling: despite some early reports, the i760 does not run the Smartphone version of Windows Mobile. It is, in fact, a full Pocket PC phone complete with touchscreen.

As is to be expected with new devices, the i760 runs Windows Mobile 6. This includes the updated Office 2007 compatibility pack, but not the Windows Live integration that’s offered on some other units.

Also absent, whether because of hardware or software, is another WM6 standard feature: proper SDHC support. That’s not to say that the i760 is limited to only 2 GB memory cards — users have come up with hacks that enable the use of 4 GB microSDHC cards, and yet larger cards may be made to work. This is a bit of a disappointment, though, since it’s only recently that microSD overcame the 2 GB limitation, and the i760 has a hard time taking advantage of that.

That’s not the only bug in the i760′s software, unfortunately. Another, possibly more serious, one concerns the display drivers, and renders some programs unable to display video in landscape mode. The most notable example is SlingPlayer Mobile, which when put into landscape mode can only display a series of bars. Returned to portrait, video is perfectly viewable. Other programs though, like The Core Pocket Media Player, are completely unaffected by this bug.

That’s not to say that TCPMP works perfectly on the i760 — while it’s possible to assign a button to turn the screen on and off, it only works in one direction, and is unable to turn it back on. Going from portrait to landscape or pressing the power button turns the screen back on.

As a general rule, though, there’s nothing to fear about application compatibility on the i760, and the 400 MHz Samsung processor provides more than adequate performance. Possibly slightly better, subjectively speaking, than the 400 MHz Qualcomm models from HTC, but if so, it’s not reflected in the Linpack benchmark for Windows Mobile: that pegs the i760 at 1.34 megaflops, the same as the MSM7500 powering the HTC Mogul.

The device comes pre-loaded with only a few specialty applications: an anniversary/birthday/etcetera reminder program called D-Day, a copy of the Picsel Browser, and a neat little task manager I’ve never seen before which allows you to switch to or close running programs one-handed.

Communication

Like anything new on Verizon, the i760 supports the EV-DO high-speed network that the company sells under the “BroadbandAccess” name.

Samsung i760
(view large image)

Unlike most new devices on Verizon, the i760 also features Wi-Fi for fast local connectivity. Miracle of miracles. While some people may disdain the need of Wi-Fi when EV-DO is available, it still comes in handy for private networks, avoiding Verizon’s 5 GB monthly cap on data transfers, and situations where an EV-DO signal isn’t available. And, of course, there are always the people who are so rural that they can’t get EV-DO, like myself.

Or so I thought. It was to my great and lasting shock that I first fired up the device, checked the signal indicator, and found that the hells of several major religions had all frozen over. Verizon now covers my little town of around 5,000 people with real live 3G wireless. Not spillover, either — we’re nowhere near anything, and it’s full bars.

Sitting in a restaurant on Main Street as I write this, it clocks out at 797 Kbits per second. Other speed tests have ranged from 419 Kbits with two bars, to 920 Kbits with an ideal signal. For the most part, the average has sat around 740-820 Kbits, a very respectable speed.

Having had near-constant EV-DO coverage during the course of this review, I can honestly say that I understand why some people see Wi-Fi as superfluous. I don’t agree, of course — the fact remains that there are times and uses for which EV-DO cannot deliver, and while those who don’t need Wi-Fi don’t need to use it, it’s nearly impossible for those who DO need it to add it after the fact. But I do powerfully feel the allure of that “almost as good” service that can be had almost everywhere.

The Wi-Fi and Bluetooth implementations on the i760 are perfectly standard 802.11g and BT 2.0/EDR. Combined with EV-DO, this means that short of adding EVDO Revision A, you’ve got the absolute fastest available connection to work with.

Wi-Fi performance was generally good, with acceptable range and speed. It found my network quickly and easily, and ten or fifteen seconds after turning it on the first time I was up and surfing.

My experience with the Bluetooth was less thrilling. The i760 uses the Microsoft Bluetooth stack, rather than the superior and more user friendly Widcomm stack. Consequently, some functions are more difficult than they should be. Notably, the i760 would not play nicely with my Jensen Bluetooth headphones.

Also, you need to manually activate the option to use the device as a modem over either Bluetooth or USB in the settings, and while it’s so enabled, you can’t access the data connection from on the device. That means any data connection, too, including Wi-Fi.

As inconvenient as this is, at least Verizon left us with the Dial-Up Networking profile intact. Also on the bright side, when you use DUN, the screen shows a nifty little modem status application which tells you how much information you’ve transferred, upload and download, and when the connection is active or dormant.

Accessories

Samsung i760 and Cingular 3125
The i760′s size compares favorably
to other smartphones

(view large image)

The i760 comes in a surprisingly small box for a high-end smartphone, and I rapidly discovered why. There’s almost nothing in it. The i760 itself, the standard and extended batteries, travel charger, USB sync cable, and three software CDs. That’s it. Not even a case or headset. Not that I mind much, since the cheap included accessories tend to be, well, cheap.

When looked at the batteries, my first impression was that the i760 had come with two standard-capacity batteries. While the extended battery has more than 40% greater capacity than the standard cell, it’s not that much thicker — partially because the standard battery isn’t very thick to begin with. I found longevity to be generally satisfactory with the extended battery–closer to 5 hours of talk time, compared to a slightly anemic three and a half with the smaller standard cell.

The extended battery adds less than a tenth of an inch to the overall device, so little that, in the hand, you barely notice it’s there. Personally, I see no reason why you wouldn’t want to use the extended battery all the time, and keep the “slim” standard battery for backup use.

Specifications

Processor: 400 MHz Samsung S3C2442
Operating System: Windows Mobile 6 Professional (Pocket PC)
Display: 2.8 inch, 240 x 320 pixel, touchscreen LCD
Memory: 64 MB RAM; 128 MB flash (64 MB available to user)
Size & Weight: 4.5 inches wide, 2.3 inches high, and 0.77 inches thick. 5.3 ounces.
Expansion: Single microSD slot
Docking: Samsung proprietary connector
Communication: Dual-band CDMA/EV-DO Revision 0; 802.11b/g WiFi; Bluetooth 2.0/EDR
Audio: 2.5 mm headphone/headset jack
Battery: 1040 mAh standard battery; included 1500 mAh extended battery
Input: QWERTY thumb keyboard; 12-key numeric pad; 5-way directional pad; 3 application buttons; touchscreen
Other: 1.3 MP camera

 

Conclusion

I have to admit, the Samsung i760 really surprised me. I was expecting it to be an unremarkable copy-cat slider model, with an unattractive design and nothing to really distinguish it from the rest of the pack. What I got instead was an impressively robust device with excellent communications and a design that, while not the sexiest thing, is well built and very usable.

I personally find the i760 to be superior to the HTC Mogul as a Pocket PC phone — the i760 is more comfortable to type on, and is easier to use one-handed.

It’s grown on me to such a degree that I’d call it one of the best Pocket PC phones I’ve used, if not the best. It’s one of the only PPC phones that I’ve used which is actually comfortable to use as a phone, and it manages to still have excellent data capabilities without compromising

Samsung is becoming quite a contender in the smartphone space. With the BlackJack, the i760, and its equally impressive i780 overseas model, it has three very solid hits in a row, and are threatening to take on HTC as the innovator of the smartphone space. I say more power to it. More competition may be just the thing to bring some added zest to the market. And the i760 certainly is competitive.

Pros:

  • Well built
  • Keyboard and numeric pad
  • Good one-handed navigation in landscape
  • Simple, businesslike design
  • Easily usable as phone

Cons:

  • Impractical one-handed nav in portrait mode
  • microSD limitations
  • Landscape video display bug

Bottom Line:

A reliable and well built Pocket PC phone that’s more usable than the average, the Samsung i760 takes on many tasks and succeeds at most of them.


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