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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Samsung SCH-i730 Intro - Samsung SCH-i730 review - Smartphones - CNET Reviews

Samsung SCH-i730 Intro - Samsung SCH-i730 review - Smartphones - CNET ReviewsCNET editor's take

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Reviewed by Denny Atkin
Edited by William O'Neal
Reviewed June 30, 2005

Editors' rating:
out of 10
How we rate

The Samsung SCH-i730 manages a pretty impressive feat: It shrinks a Windows Mobile-based smart phone into a form factor that actually fits comfortably in your pants pocket and includes broadband wireless, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a built-in keyboard, and a speedy processor. Despite some irritating quirks in its wireless support, the Samsung i730 stays in the running for the "Treo killer" title.

The Samsung SCH-i730 is much smaller than typical Windows Mobile-based handhelds; only the diminutive I-mate Jam is smaller, but the Jam lacks the i730's keyboard and Wi-Fi support. In fact, other than being slightly thicker, the i730 is virtually identical in size to Palm's popular Treo 650. At 2.28 by 0.97 by 4.49 inches and 6.4 ounces, the i730 is close in size to other Windows Mobile-based smart phones, but it has the touch screen and the full Windows Mobile application compatibility that many smart phones lack.

The well-designed i730 is destined to give the Treo 650 a run for its money.

With the slider closed, the i730 is relatively small.

The i730's screen resolution is lower than the Treo 650's (240x320 pixels vs. 320x320 for the Treo), but its 2.8-inch rectangular screen is better for Web browsing and video playback than the Treo's square display, particularly when using the Windows Mobile 2003 SE screen-rotation feature, which lets you easily switch the screen between Landscape and Portrait modes. Though the screen is on the smallish side, it's extremely bright and sharp.

With a cool black and silver design, the i730 sports a large display.

It's hard to avoid Treo comparisons when discussing the i730. Though it hides its full QWERTY keyboard behind the screen using an innovative slider design, this thumb keyboard is the first we've used that matches the Treo's comfort level and potential typing speed. The backlit keys are raised bubbles, rather than the small, flat keys used by the Siemens SX66, which has a similar slider design. The keyboard is very comfortable, but because of its sliding design, the Samsung i730 hasn't been as well optimized for one-handed use as the Treo. Also, gamers take note: The i730 can recognize only one button press at a time, so you won't be able to move and fire simultaneously in games such as Galaga.

The sliding form factor hides a nifty full QWERTY keyboard.

Thanks to the combination of its operating system and specs, the Samsung SCH-i730 is a processing powerhouse. It sports a 520MHz Intel PXA272 processor, 64MB of internal RAM, 128MB of flash memory (more than 80MB of which is available for program storage), and an SDIO/MMC expansion slot. It runs Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, which offers a full set of PIM functions as well as Pocket versions of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. Music and movie fans will appreciate the inclusion of Windows Media Player 10.0, which supports PlaysForSure WMA files from online music stores such as Napster and Musicmatch and easy syncing of television programs recorded by Windows Media Center PCs. The Samsung i730 also includes a few bonus applications, including Sprite Backup, an excellent program launcher, and Verizon's Wireless Sync push e-mail client. While Microsoft's Windows Mobile push functionality won't be built into devices until we see units featuring Windows Mobile 5.0, Verizon's push e-mail client does the trick. Though some preproduction i730s were shown with a built-in 1.3-megapixel camera, this feature is missing from the initial i730 released by Verizon. It's possible that the camera could appear in a second model or in a version from another carrier, but no camera version has been announced. Nevertheless, we had hoped that a high-end smart phone such as the Samsung i730 would have at least a VGA-quality camera.

With a 1GB SD card, the i730 stores enough digital music to hold you over during those commutes.

The i730 has the full laundry list of wireless features: It includes Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and both 1xRTT and EV-DO cellular data. The Bluetooth support worked perfectly with the hardware we tested, including the Think Outside Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard, the Stowaway Travel Mouse, the Logitech Mobile Freedom Bluetooth headset, and the Pharos Bluetooth GPS. However, Verizon has chosen not to include Bluetooth dial-up networking support, so you can't use the i730 as a wireless modem in conjunction with your laptop. Given the blistering speeds we saw in our EV-DO testing--download speeds ranging from 520Kbps to 640Kbps, compared with 60Kbps to 110Kbps for 1xRTT--we can see why Verizon would be concerned that laptop users might use this feature more than the company would like. This omission means you'll have to do your work directly on the i730 if you can't find an access point for your laptop.

Another quirk: The phone feature shuts down when you're using the i730's Wi-Fi radio, so incoming calls will go directly to voicemail. (And you have to manually turn the phone radio back on after shutting down Wi-Fi.) This is less of an issue in areas where EV-DO support is available, since our speed tests showed EV-DO data speeds were comparable to that of a Wi-Fi connection or a DSL modem. EV-DO support is still rolling out in major cities; in the Seattle area, we found some suburbs have EV-DO coverage, while in others, the phone fell back to 1xRTT support.

The Samsung SCH-i730's phone features worked smoothly in our tests. Voices sounded clear on both ends of the call when speaking directly into the phone, but conversations were a bit quiet when using the Logitech Mobile Freedom Bluetooth headset. Speakerphone quality, though, is excellent. A nice bonus is the inclusion of VoiceSignal software, which lets you dial by pressing the button on your Bluetooth headset and saying "Call name." Voice and data coverage were excellent, though the lack of analog support means you may have trouble finding a signal in some rural areas. (That said, digital CDMA coverage is more widespread in the United States than GSM.)

The i730 includes a pair of batteries: a 1,100mAh standard battery and a thicker 1,700mAh extended battery. Battery life will vary dramatically depending on how you use the phone. Wi-Fi is a real power hog, and the extended battery will come in handy if you plan to use this feature much. The standard battery is rated at 150 minutes of talk time and 130 hours of standby; this seems accurate from our testing. The package also includes a stereo headset, a belt holster, and an extremely portable folding USB sync cradle.

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