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Samsung i700 Pocket PC Phone

Posted March 30, 2004 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Update July 15, 2005: Verizon has released the Samsung i730, which replaces the i700. Our i730 review is here.

Update, July 2004: Verizon has released the Windows Mobile 2003 upgrade for the i700, and new units ship with the 2003 OS. If you have an i700 running 2002, you can take it to a Verizon store to have it upgraded or download the upgrade from http://vz2.smithmicro.net/samsung/default.tpl and do it yourself.

Well folks, here's my new phone and daily driver, the Samsung i700. As with all Pocket PC Phone Edition models, it's both a Pocket PC and a mobile phone. While it faces some stiff competition from the powerful XDA II, the XDA II is still not offered in the US, and is quite pricey to import. The i700 is offered by Verizon Wireless in the US, and their near-ubiquitous strong coverage and fast 1xRTT data network that beats out GPRS for data speeds make the Samsung an attractive choice. Since the unit is a phone, the carrier is as important as the hardware features.

The i700 made quite a splash when it was rolled out by Verizon last year. Why? It's an attractive, powerful and expandable second generation Pocket PC phone. It has a lovely transflective display, a VGA camera, runs at 300 MHz and supports SDIO, making it a competent PDA. It comes with a complete bundle of accessories, including a well-made case, stereo headset-mic, cradle and both a regular and extended battery. The wireless radio is a winner, getting a strong signal, offering good voice quality and fast data speeds on Verizon's Express Network. The unit runs the Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition OS, and in July 2004, Verizon started shipping units running Windows Mobile 2003 Phone Edition. We had the 2002 version for this review. Windows Mobile 2003 Phone Edition offers the same improvments found in regular Pocket PCs running this OS: improved Pocket Internet Explorer, always on networking, an improved networking connection manager and overall speed improvements.

Samsung i700
back of i700

 

Design and Ergonomics

Make no mistake, like all Pocket PC phones, the Samsung is a PDA first and a phone second. At first glance, one could easily mistake it for a mid-to-large sized Pocket PC, but the beefy antenna tells us that this device is also a phone. Pocket PC phones are great for those who really value PDA functionality and wireless Internet access. The large touch screen, web browsing and email options are much more robust than those offered by regular mobile phones and smaller screen smartphones. The tradeoff comes in the form of size and ergonomics: holding a Pocket PC to your head and forgoing a hardware number pad isn't the perfect experience for heavy phone users. Thank goodness for hand's free headsets!

The Samsung has an attractive silver finish that's not too slippery and has straight sides which makes it much easier to hold securely compared to the T-Mobile PPC PE and XDA II. The unit looks contemporary, attractive and high quality. Fit and finish are excellent, as with all Samsung smartphones. All joints meet perfectly and the unit doesn't flex or creak. However, do be careful not to place repeated pressure on the IR lens atop the unit when placing it in the cradle or 3rd party case.

 

 

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The camera is mounted on the upper left corner via a swivel joint that rotates 270 degrees. The joint is solid and the knurled knob that rotates the camera lens is easy to operate. When you're not using the camera, swivel the lens down into the body where it's protected and out of sight. I like this swiveling design, also used on Sony Clie NX series PDAs, because you can use the unit comfortably and see the display while taking photos— no waiving the unit around awkwardly to properly frame your photo.

comparing Kyocera 7135 and Tungsten C

Comparing the size of Toshiba e805, Samsung i700 and Kyocera 7135

Comparing the XDA II with the i700

 

The left side of the phone has volume up and down buttons, the record button and the 2.5mm headset jack under a rubber door. The SD card slot is located on the lower left side, so protruding cards such as Sandisk or Socket's SD WiFi card may force you to change the way you hold the unit if you're right handed. The stylus is located on the bottom right corner, and mine stays in snuggly, resisting gravity's tug. That said, it is more convenient to have the stylus located on the top, and do be careful to fully insert the stylus lest it fall out. The stylus is a thin telescoping affair with a reset pin hidden under the top cap. There are two buttons on the upper right side: the topmost turns the unit on and off (press and hold to turn the wireless radio on and off), while the lower button turns the backlight on and off. Why do you need a button devoted to the backlight? Because on non-phone Pocket PCs, pressing and holding the power button toggles the backlight, and you may want to turn backlight on during a call (like a regular cell phone, it times out and goes dark to save power).

The Samsung i700 has an excellent 5-way d-pad that's great for playing games and easy to use in all contexts. Unlike the XDA and XDA II, it uses the standard four application buttons surrounding the d-pad, making for an easy transition from a regular Pocket PC. The top buttons are assigned to call send and end, just as with a standard cell phone, and these buttons aren't re-mappable. The lower buttons are assigned to contacts and calendar, and are re-assignable, as is the record button. The i700 has a "Lock Key" feature that you can enable to prevent accidental button presses and screen taps from turning on the unit (only the power button will turn it on when button lock is enabled). As with standard cell phones, you can have the phone auto-answer incoming calls, answer when any button is pressed or answer only when the call send button is pressed. If you use the auto-answer feature, you can have the phone answer the call after 3, 5 or 10 seconds.

Horsepower and Expansion

The i700 has a middle of the road 300 MHz Intel XScale processor and 64 megs of RAM with ~60 megs available to the user. It has 5.6 megs of persistent NAND flash storage that will survive a hard reset. For a Pocket PC Phone, these are decent specs, though not as impressive as the XDA II. While the Hitachi G1000 has a 400 MHz processor, it only has 32 megs of RAM, which isn't enough for serious PDA users. I'd choose the i700 over the Hitachi for this reason, among others. The unit feels decently fast for web browsing, working with Pocket Word and Excel, and accessing PIM (Personal Information Manager) data. Graphics aren't super-fast on the i700, so it won't perform as well as the iPAQ 2215 or Toshiba e805 when watching videos or playing intensive games. Not that it's bad, but it is not as fast as higher end Pocket PCs. Then again, you can't have a phone conversation or surf the Web anywhere with a standalone Pocket PC! When the upgrade to Windows Mobile 2003 Phone Edition comes out, I suspect we'll see faster benchmarks since the new OS is faster running on XScale processors.

The i700's Power control panel applet has a pane for CPU settings, and you can set the unit to run in Turbo Mode (300 MHz), Normal Mode (200 MHz) or Low Power Mode (100 MHz). The unit likes to fall back to Normal Mode in a perhaps overly conservative effort to reduce power consumption. I highly recommend SuperDave's free Auto Step, which gives you greater control over CPU speeds and even allows you to overclock. Auto Step has settings for 200, 300, 333 and 398 MHz speeds and allows you to set clock speed independently for Wakeup, On Battery and on AC. My i700 is set to 333 MHz under all conditions and is very stable with no significant reduction in battery life. While overclocking is something you do at your own risk (i.e.: 398 MHz may lead to crashes on some units), that 333 MHz mode makes the unit much faster and improves both video playback and gaming. You can download Auto Step along with SuperDave's other i700 apps at www.sdsoft.net/i700.aspx.

The Samsung's SD slot supports SD and MMC storage cards as well as SDIO cards. I tested Sandisk and Socket's SD WiFi cards and they worked perfectly. How nice it is to be able to switch to free, fast WiFi when available rather than using Verizon Wireless' network. The i700 automatically connects via WiFi when the card is inserted, then returns to Verizon's Express Network when the card is removed. Sweet! You can also use Bluetooth SD cards such as Socket's with the Samsung, but these do not support headset or hands free profiles.

If you want a folding keyboard for email on the go, do consider Think Outside's Wireless IR Stowaway keyboard, which works flawlessly with the i700. Samsung offers a roll-up keyboard for the i700 which is similar to the Flexis keyboard. While highly portable, the tactile typing experience isn't quite as good as that offered by folding rigid keyboards.

Wireless

Wireless service is provided by Verizon Wireless in the US. The i700 supports the Express Network (also called National Access), Verizon'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. Verizon's 1xRTT network covers a great deal of the US, and most all metro regions, making the phone a great traveling companion not only for voice, but high speed data. Should you find yourself outside the 1xRTT network, you can use the older and slower 14.4 QNC connection instead. The unit is a dual band phone supporting both US CDMA bands (800 MHz and 1900 MHz). Analog is disabled, perhaps because it uses much more power than digital, or perhaps because the US government mandated that analog networks be completely replaced by digital in 2006. Verizon Wireless offers several different wireless plans which include high speed data, including an unlimited PDA data plan for $45 and plans that use only your minutes. Verizon Wireless includes a Wireless Sync CD with the phone, which allows you to sync with your computer using the 1xRTT network on the phone (your PC must be connected to the Internet, and Wireless Sync creates a secure VPN connection).

You can use the included Pocket Internet Explorer for web browsing and Pocket Outlook for email, or the 3rd party applications of your choice. I highly recommend NetFront 3.1, which is faster, offers Java and supports multiple windows. Also consider Chris De Herrera's free RegKing, which offers several tweaks to speed up and improve web browsing with Pocket IE. In addition, you can use the i700 as a modem for your notebook: download the Windows drivers, set the i700's USB control panel to "External Data Call" and you're ready to go.

The voice quality is excellent, signal strength is very good and the unit didn't drop calls. It has a speakerphone (press and hold the call button to turn on the speakerphone when in a call), speed dialing and works with standard cell phone headsets. It comes with a 2.5mm stereo headset mic unit that's great for listening to MP3s, and decent for phone conversations (the mic is adequate but not fantastic).

You can dial directly from the contacts app (all phone numbers are underlined: tap on the number to dial). Likewise you can send an email directly from a contact listing: just tap on the email address to send a message. To dial an outgoing number that isn't in your address book, you'll use the onscreen dialer which has buttons large enough for finger dialing. You'll access the speed dial list from this screen, as well as your call log. The call log can be wiped clean whenever you wish, and can retain data for 1 week up, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months or forever. You can dial directly from the call log as well.

What about voice dialing? The Samsung i700 comes with Voice Signal on the companion CD. This is an impressive application that allows you to dial any contact by saying his or her name. If the contact has more than one phone number listed, Voice Signal will ask you which location, and you'll state the location (home, mobile, work). You can re-assign the record button (or another button if you wish) to Voice Signal, and after pressing the button Voice Signal is ready to accept the following commands: Name Dial (this means you're going to say the contact's name), Digit Dial (you'll speak the numbers you want dialed) and Quick Dial (train Voice Dial to call someone based on the phrase you record, it needn't be their name). You can also do a name lookup without dialing. I'm amazed at how well the software works— with no fine tuning it recognizes my commands consistently and can even handle Chinese names.

Battery Life, Charger and Cradle

The i700, like most all Samsung smartphones, comes with both a regular and extended battery— how nice that you don't have to shell out another $60 for a second battery. The standard battery is a 1200 mAh Lithium Ion battery which fits flush with the back of the unit. The 2,000 mAh extended battery is thicker, so protrudes about 3/8th of an inch. Samsung claims talk times of 2.2 hours with the standard battery and 4.2 hours with the extended battery. Claimed standby time is 130 hours with the standard battery and 240 hours with the extended battery. The phone offers various power saving features: it will dim the display and eventually power off the PDA section after a call is initiated (you can specify the time or disable this feature if you wish), and you can manually set the CPU speed in the Power control panel to underclock the unit and reduce power consumption.

CDMA radios use more power than GSM radios, so CDMA handsets generally have somewhat shorter runtimes. That said, the i700 lasts about as long per charge on the standard battery as does the XDA II. Though the XDA II runs on GSM networks, it has a faster processor and more memory which require more power, making the difference in runtimes between the two units insignificant. So far, there is no extended battery for the XDA II, so the i700 has an advantage there. The i700 easily makes it through the day on a charge. I am not a heavy phone user, so typically I talk for about 45 minutes per day, surf for an hour, use the PIM apps, read an e-book for an hour and play games for about 30 minutes. In this scenario, I have about 50% charge remaining at the end of the day. The extended battery will last a day and likely more, even for heavy phone and data users. That 2,000 mAh battery is hard to kill! I took the phone with extended battery to a trade show, used the SanDisk SD WiFi card for about 40 minutes, used 1xRTT data for about 40 minutes, spoke on the phone for about 30 minutes, played games during a break, entered notes throughout the show and the battery still had 85% charge remaining.

The i700 comes with a very nice cradle that has a slot to charge a 2nd battery and dual LEDs to indicate charging status of the phone and the second battery. When cradled, the phone rakes back, making it easy to see the display and work with the unit when cradled. To properly place the i700 in its cradle, you need to first seat the sync connector, then lay the phone down against the cradle until the clips on each side snap into the grooves on the sides of the phone. The power cable plugs into the cradle, or alternatively directly into the phone, so you needn't carry the cradle to charge on the road. The unit comes with a world charger for use in most any country. Oddly, if you plug the charger directly into the i700, the unit's LED will flash blue for several seconds, then turn off, so you'll need to power up the unit to see if it's fully charged. The cradle LED is red when the unit is charging, and green when the unit is fully charged. A second LED on the cradle for the battery slot works in the same manner.

 

Display, Sound and Multimedia

Lovely! Samsung makes a nice display. The i700's 3.5" 65,000 color transflective display is as vibrant and sharp as the iPAQ 5555 and 3900 series. It's bright, and is the most contrasty display I've seen on a Pocket PC. The only thing that beats it is the Samsung i600 MS Smartphone, which has a screen that looks so good you'd think it was fake at first glance. The Brightness control panel has 5 settings, from Power Save (backlight off) to Super Bright. I keep mine set at Medium Bright and find it's bright enough for most situations, and use High Bright only in very well-lit environments when I want to view photos. I find Super Bright too bright unless I'm using the phone in direct sunlight. Like all transflective displays, the screen is viewable outdoors, but does wash out a bit.

You can never have enough speakers, or so Samsung believes. The i700 has a front facing speaker and mic for phone use, and a large rear speaker that drives system sounds, the phone ringer and the speaker phone. Trust me, this is a good thing: not only can you easily hear the phone ringing, but you won't be deafened if an alarm goes off while you're talking on the phone. Some phones, such as the T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone, use a single speaker and it's quite painful when your appointment reminder fires directly into your ear while you're on the phone. Using the Volume control panel under Settings-> System tab, you can independently set the voice, mic and ring volume for the phone. As with non-phone Pocket PCs, you can set system sounds and volume (alerts and etc.) using the Sounds & Notifications applet found under the Settings' Personal tab.

The phone has a 2.5mm 3-ring headset jack (standard mobile phone size, Pocket PCs usually have a 3.5mm jack). A stereo earbud headset with mic and a call send/end button is included. As mentioned, the earbuds sound great for music, and the mic quality is OK for voice calls. If you wish to use standard stereo 3.5mm headphones for music, www.pocketpctechs.com sells an adapter. The i700 will work with standard mobile phone headsets and no adapter is required. Sadly, even if you get an SD Bluetooth card for the i700, you won't be able to use Bluetooth headsets because the current cards and their drivers don't support headset and hands free profiles.

As with all Pocket PCs, the i700 comes with Pocket versions of Windows Media Player for MP3 playback and WMV/WMA/ASF videos. You can use any of the 3rd party Pocket PC MP3 players (see our review here) and movie players such as Pocket MVP and Pocket TV on the i700.

Camera

Had enough features yet? There's still one more biggie: the integrated VGA digital camera. The camera is great for stealth and unobtrusive shots thanks to the 270 swiveling lens design. Hold the PDA naturally, and rotate the camera using the knurled knob to frame your shot. The camera can take shots up to 640 x 480 in size, and also supports 320 x 240 and 160 x 120 resolutions. It offers several settings, including 5 brightness settings, 6 white balance settings and three quality settings. Unfortunately there is no night mode, so evening shots will be dark and grainy. The camera app has a large viewfinder window, a timer button and a capture button that's large enough to operate with your finger. The i700 doesn't have a dedicated hardware camera button, but you can assign a hardware button to the camera app. The US version of the i700 can take still shots but doesn't take video. You can save images internally or on an SD card, and the app tells you how many pictures you can fit at the current resolution on your storage media. The app has an integrated image viewer which offers thumbnail and full screen views of photos. You can send photos via email directly from the image viewer, but not via MMS (the phone doesn't support MMS for some reason).

How good are the images. Integrated PDA and phone cameras won't replace dedicated digicams any time soon, but the Samsung takes good photos by integrated VGA camera standards, coming in 2nd behind recent Sony Cliés. Colors are reasonably accurate, sharpness is decent (aided by a motion sensor that warns you on-screen if your hand is moving too much), and noise isn't bad. Manually setting white balance can significantly improve images (the on-screen viewfinder will help you decide which settings look best), and bright sunlight causes some distortion. Indoor pictures are quite good, and I've actually taken indoor shots good enough to use on this site. VGA images average between 55 and 90k in size.

 

Below, sample photos taken with the i700. Click on an image to see the original, full size, unedited image. All were taken at VGA resolution and highest quality setting.

sample

A sunny day at the beach

sample2

The camera had trouble balancing the dark car and sun-lit background so the surroundings are washed out.

sample3

Indoors in a retail store (Nokia 6800 and 6820 in foreground).

Benchmarks

We've run benchmarks using spb Benchmark . I've compared the XDA II, i700 and E-TEN P300B Pocket PC phones. All tests were run with units fresh out of the box. As you can see, the i700 does extemely well on graphics benchmarks. The i700 was set to 300MHz Turbo mode for these tests.

  XDA II (2003, 400MHz) Samsung i700 (2002, 300Mhz PXA250, 300MHz turbo mode)

E-TEN P300B

(2003, 200MHz Samsung)

Spb Benchmark index
1365
917
726
CPU index
1857
878
1015
File system index
1076
854
885
Graphics index
1179
1649
257
Platform index
1164
700
833
Write 1 MB file (KB/sec)
1242
550
691
Read 1 MB file (MB/sec)
25.8
17.8
17.4
Copy 1 MB file (KB/sec)
1251
564
715
Write 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
850
407
563
Read 10 KB x 100 files (MB/sec)
9.22
5.79
7.62
Copy 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
742
355
538
Directory list of 2000 files (thousands of files/sec)
18.6
94.8
25.3
Internal database read (records/sec)
1450
715
804
Graphics test: DDB BitBlt (frames/sec)
122
122
67.7
Graphics test: DIB BitBlt (frames/sec)
23.1
22.8
12.8
Graphics test: GAPI BitBlt (frames/sec)
136
216
24.5
Pocket Word document open (KB/sec)
38.7
22.9
38.5
Pocket Internet Explorer HTML load (KB/sec)
7.76
5.53
7.51
Pocket Internet Explorer JPEG load (KB/sec)
244
68.9
146
File Explorer large folder list (files/sec)
580
231
557
Compress 1 MB file using ZIP (KB/sec)
246
60.8
204
Decompress 1024x768 JPEG file (KB/sec)
611
396
294
Arkaball frames per second (frames/sec)
99.9
106
54.6
CPU test: Whetstones MFLOPS (Mop/sec)
0.076
0.057
0.042
CPU test: Whetstones MOPS (Mop/sec)
55.3
55.4
27.5
CPU test: Whetstones MWIPS (Mop/sec)
5.01
3.65
2.72
Memory test: copy 1 MB using memcpy (MB/sec)
177
70.1
52

 

Comparing the i700 to the Hitachi G1000, T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition, XDA II and iPAQ 6315

When selecting a phone, always go with a carrier that offers good coverage, service and rates in your area. We can't help you with that part . However, we can give some comparisons of competing units.

The Hitachi G1000 is offered by Sprint PCS in the US, and is also a Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition model. It's considerably larger than the i700 thanks to its integrated thumb keyboard. It's the largest Pocket PC and convergence device on the market. It also has a VGA camera, but the shots aren't as good as the i700's. It has a faster 400 MHz processor, but only 32 megs of RAM which really isn't enough unless you're a casual PDA user. When the G1000 came out it didn't support SDIO, but an updater was recently released which adds SDIO support.

The T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition is a first generation device offered by (you guessed it) T-Mobile in the US. It runs on GSM networks and offers GPRS for data. GPRS isn't as fast as Verizon's 1xRTT network, but T-Mobile does offer a $20 unlimited data plan which is great, especially if price is more important than web page load times. However, the T-Mobile is pretty old technology by today's standards: it doesn't have a transflective display and looks milky and washed out compared to the i700. It doesn't support SDIO, has no camera, and it has the older, slower 206 MHz Strong ARM processor rather than an XScale processor. Lastly, it doesn't have a user replaceable battery . It runs Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition, and T-Mobile released a user-installable Windows Mobile 2003 Phone Edition upgrade in March 2004.

The XDA II, designed by HTC (the same folks who made the original XDA, aka T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition) was introduced overseas in the late Fall of 2003 and is a very cutting edge unit. Unfortunately, it's not offered by carriers in the US, so you'll have to buy it for ~$850 from importers. It runs on GSM networks and uses GPRS for data. Thus, data speeds are slower compared to the i700. It is the fastest Pocket PC phone, and has a bountiful 128 megs of memory. Not only that, but it has a Bluetooth and supports SDIO. It has a user-replaceable battery, but unlike the i700, no extended battery is available. Like the i700, it has a VGA digicam, but the camera lens is fixed on the back, so you'll have to wave the unit around to frame your picture. The i700 has the wireless network advantage in the US (CDMA being generally more pervasive and faster for data), but the XDA II wins on the hardware front.

The HP iPAQ 6315, released in early September 2004, is the newest model on the block. It's a GSM quad band phone that works anywhere in the world and has GPRS for data, integrated WiFi and Bluetooth. The iPAQ also has a VGA camera with a fixed lens on the back, and takes slightly better pictures than the i700. Though it doesn't have a fast processor, performance is adequate and battery life is truly exceptional for a Pocket PC phone. It's offered by T-Mobile in the US.

Conclusion

Pro: Well, you know I like it a great deal since I bought one and use it as my primary phone. Verizon Wireless coverage, customer service and data speeds are excellent. Unlike some GSM/GPRS phones, I can sit inside a larger building and still get a signal to make calls and surf the web. Excellent screen, good performance, great buttons, swiveling digicam and SDIO are strong selling points. Attractive design with non-slippery paint and straight sides makes it easy to hold the unit securely. Excellent voice quality, speakerphone and voice dialing. The i700 comes with a lot of great stuff in the box: regular and extended battery, robust case, cradle and world travel charger. You won't have to shell out a few hundred bucks to get these add-ons. Con: Like all Pocket PC Phone Edition models, it's a PDA first and a phone second. If you're a heavy phone user who wants a highly pocketable unit with quick one-handed dialing, a PPCPE isn't for you. The processor is more than adequate for most users, but the unit's overzealous power management that keeps setting the unit to run at 200 MHz can make it a bit slow for multimedia and gaming. Do get SuperDave's free Auto Step to fix this issue! No integrated Bluetooth or WiFi.

List price $599 with 2 year service contract, $699 with 1 year service contract.

 

Specs:

Display: Backlit, 240 x 320 pixel color transflective display with 65,000 colors.

Performance: 300 MHz PXA 250 Intel XScale processor. 64 megs of RAM with ~60 available to the user. 5 megs of flash storage available. 64 megs ROM which is flash upgradeable.

Size: 5.2" x 2.8" x .6". 6.9 oz.

Audio: Two Built in speakers (one for system sound and one for phone). Integrated mic and speakerphone. Supports alarm sounds, LED alert and vibrating alerts. Windows Media Player for MP3s, and has a 2.5mm stereo 3 ring headset.

Expansion: 1 SD slot supporting SDIO that accepts SD and MMC cards as well as SDIO cards.

Battery: Comes with a 1200 mAh rechargeable Lithium Ion battery AND an extended 2,000 mAh battery. User replaceable.

Software: Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition operating system (Windows Mobile 2003 shipped on phones made after July 2004 and an upgrade is available for 2002 models). Microsoft Pocket Office suite including Pocket Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, MS Reader and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, MSN Instant Messenger for Pocket PC and Voice Recorder as well as handwriting recognition. ActiveSync and Outlook for the desktop. 3rd party and additional software: Pocket Backup, Voice Signal, and camera application.

Network: CDMA supporting 1xRTT for data. Service provided by Verizon Wireless in the US. Dual band (CDMA 800/1900 MHz). No analog.

In the Box: CDs, manual, phone, cradle, case, regular and extended battery, world charger, stereo headset mic with call send/end button and 2 styli.

 

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