Samsung’s new SCH-i730 is a major improvement over their previous i700. The most visible change is the slide-down QWERTY thumb keyboard, for e-mail and other text entry duties. Less visible, but perhaps more important is the enhanced wireless power built into the device. The i730 has a built-in EVDO/1xRTT capable mobile phone as well as integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability.
Samsung was very serious about getting a form factor out that will be attractive to anyone interested in an integrated tactical keyboard yet keeping the overall size small. Verizon Wireless will be carrying the Samsung i730 product and I have heard that the availability should be around July 7.
The i730 ships with an AC charger that plugs directly into the i730 or into the USB desk cradle that folds to easily fit in your Pocket. The cradle not only recharges your i730, it simultaneously charges a second high-capacity battery that comes with the unit. The extended battery is great to bring along with you if you use the battery-draining Wi-Fi capability.
The Samsung device ships with a carrying case in the increasingly popular belt clip style, with a plastic snap holder that allows the device to be clipped to your belt in with the screen facing in toward the body for protection. The phone clip is able to be rotated around the belt clip pivot. Samsung also included a second stylus in the package.
The PalmOS-based competitor to this is the new Treo 650. Figure 1 shows the Treo 650 and Samsung i730 side by side. Although the i730 is slightly thicker, it feels great in the hand. The screen resolution of the i730 (240 x 320 pixels) is less than the Treo (320 x 320), however the i730 displayed my webblog in better detail. The Treo is a great form factor but the hidden keyboard of the i730 really gives this a WOW factor. I love the fact that the i730 gives me choices for doing input by using the QWERTY thumb keyboard or directly writing on the touch screen using the powerful handwriting recognition capability, which isn’t available on the Treo.
The device is based on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition software for the Pocket PC Phone Edition. This suite includes the Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition OS and “Pocket” versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, and Windows Media Player 10. In addition, it includes a Phone Dialer to interface with the phone technology, a variety of configuration utilities, and a few other apps. A user-installable version of Microsoft’s desktop PC synchronization program ActiveSync is found on the Companion CD.
In addition to the standard software from Microsoft, the i730 comes with SRS WOW XT, an application that noticeably improves the audio on the device using its SRS 3D Effect, Focus, and TruBass settings. You can access the SRS feature directly from an icon at the bottom of the Today Screen. Also contributing to the enriched audio experience is the amazingly loud and clear sounding audio / phone speakers on the back of the device.
Samsung added a number of cool applications to the i730, including a TV/VCR remote controller (left), Ringtone manager, and Launcher (right). Samsung also added Launcher (great way to use the device with one hand using the 5-way directional pad) CarKit Volume, Ringtone Manager, Today Screen Wireless plug-in, OBEX FTP, Remote Control (turns the i730 into a programmable universal infrared remote), Sprite Backup (an award winning way to backup your data and programs), VoiceSignal (use your voice to call and lookup contacts or even open a few apps) and the radically cool Picsel Browser.
Picsel Browser can easily show a full Web site screen as well as zoom in very close with superb detail by tapping the screen. I saw the early version of Picsel Browser (www.picsel.com/manufacturers/browser/) demoed a while ago, but this is the first time I have seen it incorporated into a Windows Mobile device. It is hard to describe how easy this is to use—it must be experienced to be truly appreciated. Picsel Browser allows you read most common document types and browse the Web. You can “pan” the viewed page by stroking the screen in any direction as if you were pushing around a piece of paper on your desk. You can zoom in or out by simply tapping on the screen, let go and then quickly touch the screen again with an up or down stroke. You can easily control the amount of zoom by keeping you pen on the screen as you stroke. Say “bye-bye” to those horizontal and vertical windows scroll bars when viewing with Picsel.
Under the hood
The processor is the Intel PXA272 running at 520 MHz. Combined with 64 MB of RAM (57 MB available), the unit runs applications very quickly. I can’t wait to send an i730 over to my buddies at Pocket PC Techs (www.pocketpctechs.com) to see if they can upgrade it to a full 128MB of RAM. The i730 ships with a whopping 128 MB of flash ROM, 86 MB of which is available to the user. Data stored in this “SafeStore” is non-volatile—secure even if you loose battery power.
The power/sync connector located on the bottom is the same as the i600 or i700 models, which means you should be able to use i600 or i700 accessories with the device. My SPH-i700 Series Lil Sync Pro Retractable Sync-N-Charge Cable from Pocket PC Techs worked like a charm, allowing me to sync the device and power my device from my laptop’s USB port. However, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth draw too much power and I had to turn them off to recharge the battery. I also highly recommend the screen protector for the device. I am very picky about screen protectors and I feel the WriteSHIELDS from Pocket PC Techs are the best on the market.
The well-engineered spring-loaded QWERTY keyboard slides smoothly down from the bottom half of the i730. This slide is much better designed than on the HTC membrane keyboard of the MDA3 line. The feel of the keys is very nice, and it’s easy to distinguish between them because of their raised button feel. The keyboard is backlit in blue, so you can see them in poor lighting conditions. Press any key and the back lighting comes on. You can adjust how long you want the backlight to stay on.
Wireless via Integrated WiFi, EVDO/1xRTT, Bluetooth, Infrared or CDMA
The WiFi runs just as you would expect with auto-configuration of Windows Mobile. When you are outside a Wi-Fi access point you get online with the blazing fast EVDO services. I wasn’t able to test out the high speed wireless data EVDO because my hometown of Albuquerque isn’t up yet. I have read I can expect it to check in at over 600 Kbps. I ended up connecting on using 1XRTT with speeds around 100 Kbps. I will be in Atlanta and Orlando so I will give it a go there.
I used the Bluespoon AX headset to answer calls and control the operation of the i730 via the built-in VoiceSignal software. The built-in Bluetooth worked fine for me also. I was able to pair up immediately with my Bluespoon AX headset and answer incoming calls by tapping the AX’s receive/call button. However the coolest thing was being able to use Bluespoon AX with the VoiceSignal software. I simply tapped the receive/call button and I could use my voice to directly dial any of my existing contacts or tell the i730 to dial any number. Although VoiceSignal isn’t as powerful as Microsoft’s VoiceCommand, the capability to use my Bluespoon AX is SWEET!
I had no problem getting the Think Outside Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard to work with the i730. The Bluetooth Manager even includes a HID Connection Manager. It allowed me to connect to the i730 with my Think Outside Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard without the need to install additional software drivers. The built-in thumb keyboard, but it’s easier to input data quickly with this full-size mobile keyboard.
One very amazing Pocket PC
The i730 does not come with an integrated digital camera. It appears that Samsung left room on the back of the device for a camera. I hope they decide to include one in a future version of the device. The huge SafeStore size is great for secure data storage.
The keyboard was nice, but with Second Edition’s landscape viewing capability, I would love to have seen the keyboard slide out from the side of the unit, to be used with landscape mode. This would have allowed for larger keys, or for the existing ones to be slightly farther apart and easier to hit. Although I know many people who prefer thumb keyboards, I still find it easier and faster to use the touch screen interface to enter text.
Finally, Microsoft just released the latest version of its OS and application suite, Windows Mobile 5.0. Devices with integrated phone capability face a long testing period to insure that they work with the wireless networks they are designed for. Yes, it would have been great if the i730 had Windows Mobile 5.0 built into it. But if that were the case, we’d probably be waiting for this excellent device for another six months. Still, I noticed that the user interface for the VoiceSignal software has the two Smartphone-like “soft keys” at the bottom of the screen; a feature found on all Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PCs. Hopefully, this bodes well for a future upgrade.
Putting the minor things aside, the Samsung SCH-i730 is an amazing product. Its small size and QWERTY keyboard will attract many users, as will its fast wireless capabilities. Although I’ve been very satisfied with my i-mate JAM, I can hardly wait for the i730 to be released.
Updated since original writing;
Stuff to Love;
- Bunch of dedicated extra buttons; It has the expected Send and End phone buttons not to mention the 4 dedicated buttons on the front surrounding the 5-way Nav button. PLUS...
- The "Back" function button between the phone Send and End buttons. This makes for a greatly improved one handed operation of the device and again shows the forward seeking hardware design of the product. This hopefully bodes well for the potential upgrade to Windows Mobile 5 someday.
- The VoiceSignal button on the right side below the SD slot. This makes initiating the app very easy.
- The sliding spring loaded switch on the left side that in one position keylocks the phone int he up position. This gives you visual confirmation that the phone is locked to prevent accidental operation and it also triggers a small red KEYLOCK icon the home screen... This same switch also puts the unit in suspend mode and blanks the screen when slid in the down position. I typically slide it down to turn off the screen and then immediately up to keylock the device before I put in in my pocket.
- The earphone jack is more of the universal standard instead of the unique i700/i600 version with the wierd collar.
Stuff to wish for;
- The WirelessSync app that Verizon ncludes on the device makes it a little confusing if your intent is to directly sync to a Windows Exchange 2003 Server ExchangeSync directly using the Windows Mobile ActiveSync on the device.
- The battery life on this unit seems to drain faster than I would have liked although having the two batteries has been a super blessing and prevents me from running into any problems. I am only able to run two days before a recharge is necessary. I don't have the official released product so I don't know how this translates to the final product.