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Palm OS Smartphone Reviews

Samsung SPH-i500 from Sprint PCS

(Discontinued)

Posted August 26 2003, by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Smartphones, which combine a PDA and mobile phone in one unit are springing out of the woodwork these days. Just a year ago, choices were few and not always very enticing, but now there are quite a few attractive models from which to choose. Sprint PCS is one of the leaders offering these devices, and the Samsung SHP-i500 is their latest Palm OS smartphone.

While smartphones are often relatively large devices, the i500 is remarkably small, light and pocketable (see size comparison, below). It's not much bigger than the popular and diminutive Motorola V60c (which is not a smartphone) and indeed may be more comfortable for those who find the Motorola too small. The i500 looks very professional, modern and attractive in person.

Samsung SPH-i500
Samsung i500 back view

 

Design and Ergonomics

The i500 is a clamshell phone (also called a flip phone) that folds closed when not in use. It weighs only 5 ounces and measures 4.9" x 2.28" x .82". It has a sturdy plastic two-tone casing finished in a warm light silver on the outside and gunmetal on the inside-facing surfaces. The non-extendable stub antenna is plastic and is the only protruding part of the phone. The battery is removed via a release button on the back and is integrated with the phone back, as is the case with many mobile phones.

Like the Kyocera 7135 from Verizon, the Graffiti area is located in the lower half of the clamshell, yet is easily accessible even for a lefty like me. The Graffiti area is quite small, to fit the size of the phone. Just below the display on the upper half of the clamshell, you'll find the 4 standard Palm OS buttons which are assigned to the address book, calendar, Blazer web browser and the Messages app (you can reassign the buttons to launch other apps). That's good news for gamers, since many games make use of these buttons. However the up/down rocker is located just above the number pad on the lower clamshell, which means you'll need to have quick and dextrous fingers if your game makes use of the 4 buttons and up/down rocker.

 

 

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On the left side of the phone you'll find volume up and down buttons, a button to activate menus and headset jack under a rubber cover. The right side of the phone has a button that brings up the speed dial screen, and a button that launches voice dialing. As you'd expect the sync/charge connector is located on the bottom edge, and the telescoping aluminum stylus lives on the top right corner of the unit. The IR window is located on the top center edge of the phone.

The i500 has a standard mobile phone style keypad, complete with a Talk button and an End button which doubles as the power button for the phone section of the device. The keys light up bright blue when you open the phone or press a key, so you can dial in the dark. The keypad is always active, so you can dial a number even when in a Palm OS application. In addition to Graffiti, you can use the keypad to input text using eZiText, which is similar to the T9 predictive input used on many mobile phones.

Samsung i500 side view

size comparison

Comparing clamshell phone sizes: The Kyocera 7135 from Verizon, SPH-i500 and the Motorola V60c.

Horsepower and Battery Life

The Samsung runs Palm OS 4.1 and has a Dragonball processor running at 66 MHz with 16 megs of RAM (15.5 available). While that's not impressive compared to the latest non-phone capable Palm OS PDAs, it is faster than the 33 MHz Kyocera 7135 and Samsung i330. Response times are good, and I didn't find myself waiting for the PDA.

Unfortunately, the i500 does not have an SD or any other kind of expansion slot, so you won't be able to add more storage or try out SD networking cards on this device. Unlike the Kyocera 7135, it does not have an MP3 player.

The i500 comes with both a slim and standard 2 Lithium Ion battery. The claimed talk time is 4.2 hours and the standby time is 250 hours for the standard battery, and 2.8 hours talk time with 210 hours of standby for the slim battery. The standard battery should last most users through a day if not two of use on a charge. The i500 has an internal battery which is supposed to maintain your data for 15 hours once the main battery has completely discharged. The i500 comes with a desktop cradle that has a slot for the device and the spare battery so you can charge them both. The cradle has a USB connector, and the charger can be plugged into the cradle or directly into the phone. Oddly, you will need to plug the charger into the cradle when you wish to sync (otherwise it ignores the HotSync button on the cradle).

Wireless

Wireless service is provided by Sprint PCS, and the phone supports PCS Vision, Sprint's name for their high speed 1xRTT data network capable of speeds up to 144k and averaging about 60 - 70k these days in metro areas. Note that the phone doesn't support data connections to corporate RAS, VPNs or faxes. It will only connect to the PCS Vision network for Internet connections.

It's a triband supporting both US CDMA bands (1900 MHz PCS, 800 MHz) and analog, which means it should work just about anywhere in the US, including rural areas. Note that digital data connections require you to be in a digital service area and to use the high speed data connection, you'll need to be in one of the many major metro areas that offer this service.

The voice quality has been very good on the i500, even when it showed only 1 or 2 out of 5 bars of signal strength. It sounded as good as traditional land line phones, and it didn't drop calls. It does not have a speakerphone, but it does offer voice dialing (you can store up to 98 voice dialing entries) and speed dialing (up to 99 entries).

How much will wireless services cost you? Check out the Sprint PCS web site for rates and plans. The pricing runs from $45 to $100, with PCS Vision free for the $100 2,000 anytime minute plan. For lesser plans, you'll pay $10 plus charges per k of downloaded data. Always check Sprint's web site for the latest plan and service pricing.

Wireless Software Included

The i500 has a Phone application with four speed dial entries (not tied to the address book or speed dial setup used in conjunction with the address book). It displays your Sprint PCS username and the time and date on main screen, and signal strength, location service (for 911), the battery meter and sound status. You can launch the app either from the Palm home screen or by pressing the phone button on the right side of the unit. Unlike the Kyocera 7135 which disables the phone keypad when you're not in the phone application, the i500 allows you to dial from the keypad at any time. The Voice Dial app allows you to add, edit or delete voice dialing entries, and supports up to 98 entries. You can also create voice and speed dial entries from any record in your address book. There's also a Messages app that notifies you if voice mail or SMS text messages are waiting and lists the message notifications.

The i500 supports web clipping apps (sometimes referred to as WCA or PQA apps). These are very efficient apps originally developed for the Palm VII and i705 that allow you to access a variety of sites and online services using very little bandwidth. They're generally free and quite small. Visit Palm's web site or palmgear.com for a list of available web clippings.

Display and Sound

The display resolution is 162 x 176 pixels and has 65,000 colors (it looks like the standard 160 x 160 Palm screen, don't ask me what the extra few pixels are for). The screen looks bright, very sharp and has striking color saturation. It's a nice display! If only it were high res. Brightness is adjustable, and the screen is viewable outdoors. The display is whiter and a bit sharper than the Kyocera 7135, but it is also quite a bit smaller since the phone itself is smaller (2" diagonal vs. 2.5").

The i500 supports audible and vibrating alerts and ringers as well as polyphonic sound. The speaker volume is quite loud and can be heard even in noisy environments and there's quite a selection of midi tones and familiar tunes. The volume controls on the side of the phone are designed so that the first press brings up the volume control window without changing the volume. The second press will change the volume. This helps avoid the problem of accidentally changing the ringer volume when grabbing the phone out of a case or bag.

If you're into voice memos, you'll be happy to know that the Samsung has an application that allows you to record voice notes and phone conversations. You can store up to 30 voice memos taking up a maximum of 1.4 megs total. The recordings are of good quality, though not terribly loud.

Software Bundle

The i500 comes with Palm Desktop for Windows. If you're a Mac user, you may be out of luck. I couldn't get the i500 to sync to my Powerbook running OS X 10.2 even though Palm Desktop and iSync are installed. However, MissingSync will do the trick perfectly.

You'll get a registered copy of Blazer 2.0, Chapura's Pocket Mirror Standard Edition (for syncing to Outlook) and many demo versions of games. A 15 day demo of Quick Office Premiere is included, but if you need to work with MS Office docs, you'll have to purchase the full version.

Conclusion

Pro: The smallest, most lightweight Palm OS smartphone on the market. Very attractive design. The 66 MHz processor is competitive for the smartphone market and the unit is fast and responsive. Has polyphonic sound (you're not limited to Midi) and includes several fun and cool ring tones. Very nice display in terms of color and sharpness. Supports web clippings, which help keep the bandwidth charges down. Voice quality is very good. Con: Low res display is getting old now that most dedicate Palm OS PDAs have 320 x 320 displays, though to be fair, no other Palm OS Smartphone offers a high res display. No Mac version of Palm Desktop in the box. No expansion slot, no MP3 player which compares poorly to the Kyocera 7135 which is $100 cheaper. But you are getting the smallest smartphone on the market for your money!

www.sprintpcs.com, List price $599

 

Specs:

Display: Backlit, 162 x 176 pixel color TFT display with 65,000 colors.

Performance: 66 MHz Dragonball processor. 16 megs of RAM. Palm OS 4.1.

Size: 4.9" x 2.28" x .82". 5 oz.

Audio: Built in speaker. Has polyphonic sound and comes with many ring tones. Supports alarm sounds, LED alert and vibrating alerts.

Battery: Comes with 2 rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries. User replaceable.

Software: Palm OS 4.1. Includes the usual suite of Palm applications, including Address Book, Date Book, Clock, To Do List, Memo Pad and Calculator. Blazer web browser included. Chapura Pocket Mirror (for syncing to Outlook), and several demo versions of games including Bejeweled and Zio Golf. Palm Desktop 4.1 for Windows included.

Network: CDMA supporting 1xRTT for data. Service provided by Sprint PCS in the US. Dual band/Tri-mode (CDMA 1900 MHz (PCS); CDMA 800 MHz; and AMPS 800 MHz). Claimed talk time: up to 4.2 hours and standby time: Up to 250 hours with the standard battery.

 

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