When I removed it from the box, I was surprised the size of the new Samsung i300. While not as small as the relatively standard Nokia 6100-series, which I've considered a benchmark cell phone for a year or so, it's comfortable to hold and use, not at all a burden to carry. This has been the main complaint about PDA/cell phones of the past, like the Kyocera Smartphone and the pdQ before it, as well as the VisorPhone/Visor combination. These phones kept the screen size large for easy readability, and have not sold as well as they should, likely because of size alone.
The screen of the i300 is smaller than any other Palm OS device, however. Naturally, if they're going to make it narrower, they're going to have to do something. I'm happy to report that it's not a problem. I'm one who has a little trouble with the smaller screen of the Palm m100 series--not a big problem, I just prefer the larger-screen models--but I think there are two reasons this is different. For one, the m100 screen is deeper in the unit, so a little less light gets in, whereas the i300's screen is only maybe 2mm deep. Of greater importance, however, is the fact that the i300 screen is a color backlit design, and the m100s are monochrome. Naturally there's going to be a significant difference in readability in most lighting situations between the two, and I think backlit color screens will lend themselves to greater readability as screen sizes decrease.
There was something different about this screen, however. At first I was disappointed to find that it was not one of the new hybrid, or reflective color screens, as we've seen on the Palm m500 and new color Sony CLIEs. Since we've spent a lot of time looking at the difference between reflective and transmissive designs, and how they perform differently depending on the lighting, I'll just say that color transmissive displays are usually better indoors, and go black outdoor, and reflective designs are not very contrasty in any lighting situation, but they work in all situations, meaning indoors or out. All that information is great, but now we have the first appearance of the oldest form of color LCD technology: STN display. It's a lower-power design that is addressed on a matrix like a monochrome screen, while TFT displays have a transistor behind each pixel, making for greater contrast and no streaking, as we often see in monochrome and STN screens.
So yes, there is some streaking present in this screen, and it's not as bright as the TFTs we've seen on the Palm IIIc and Visor Prism, and the colors are not as bright. But surprisingly it doesn't seem to matter much. This is coming from the notorious screen critic, and I'm not just being nice. It works great indoors, and is plenty readable outdoors. Direct sunlight makes it harder, but it's actually still readable, certainly more readable than your standard vibrant TFT, which ironically goes completely black outdoors. It must be that the front polarizer just isn't as black on a STN. Whatever the reason, I'd give the i300's screen a thumbs up.
Another thing I like about the i300 is its digitizer. The stylus slides across it smoothly as though across a slick stone, without the stickiness of other recent screens. I also notice that Graffiti characters seldom go unrecognized. It is easily the best Graffiti implementation I've seen, perhaps because it's easier to write larger characters on the smaller screen; the difference is noticeable.
The screen is rectangular, as you can see in the picture, allowing for a large virtual keypad. The Graffiti area doesn't slide out of the way like the HandEra 330; the only time it's out of the way is when the keypad is on. As for using the keypad for dialing, it's excellent, and as effective with the stylus as it is with a finger or thumb. Again, I've not seen quite this effectiveness with competitive models.
The i300 is roughly rectangular, with a flare top and bottom much like the Palm m500. It appears to be plastic front and back, metalized in front and gray on the back. The traditional four application buttons are arrayed in an arc across the front, with a traditional scroll button in the middle. All buttons are convex for easy activation with the stylus. The microphone is right below the scroll button.
On the top we see the second LCD, which I'll call the status LCD, much like the screen on the top deck of most digital cameras. This LCD says "on" while the cell phone is on, and reports battery and network status, as well as caller ID information. Also up here is the IR port, stylus, lanyard hole, and retractable antenna.
On the right side are two buttons: the power button that turns the Palm and main LCD on, and the button that turns the phone on and off when held. On the left side is the headset jack, concealed by a small rubber door, the multi-function "record" button, and the second scroll rocker, which controls the volume.
The HotSync connector is on the bottom, and looks similar to the m500 connector. Also on the sides are the little slots that both the cradle and the included leather case grab onto to hold the i300 firmly in place.
The cradle is stout, with the grabber hooks I mentioned and a separate battery slot for the included spare battery. Both batteries can charge at once, and there are two charge status lights on the front of the cradle. Unlike the Sony, you can't remove the AC adapter from the cradle and take it with you, the entire cradle has to go with you, or else you need to get a separate AC adapter.
The i300 has a lot of great features, not the least of which are the many ways they've integrated the phone and address book. Operation is similar to what we've seen in other Palm OS phones, but not identical.
The default interface with the phone is the large keypad. The buttons are easy to press and impressively accurate, especially for a touch-screen interface. If you've used others, throw out your past experiences and give this a try.
Because the Graffiti area is moved out of the way when the keypad is displayed, you won't have all the standard options available, so at first you'll have to just try the icons that are available. You'll find that it's actually more convenient. Arrayed across the bottom of the keypad are icons for the Palm OS home screen, the menu, Address Book, Call History, Key Guard, and Speed Dial. Across the top of the keypad screen, and indeed, present on all screens, is the Phone status bar, which shows network condition, presence of mail or voice mail, and battery status. Pressing the Phone button on the right will usually return you to the keypad, making the phone easily accessible at all times.
Another way to dial is to press on the Address Book icon, and look numbers up by name. Numbers that can be dialed appear with a small telephone icon next to them. Pressing this icon immediately takes you back to the keypad screen and dials the number.
You can select the speed dial button and just tap on the list of speed dials you've entered, or if you know the number of the speed dial entry, you can just press and hold that button for a few seconds. The name appears on the screen and dialing begins. A smart feature in the Speed Dial list shows which number field the number came from (assuming it was entered from the Address Book), so you know whether you're looking at a work number or home number.
Voice dialing is also available, as it is on the Kyocera Smartphone. You can record up to 20 voice dial selections, and access them with a press of a button and a few spoken words. Once a few entries are programmed, Voice Dialing is activated by pressing the Voice Memo/Voice Dial button on the left momentarily. It's well oriented for right-handed users for easy index finger activation, or with the thumb if it's in your left hand. The phone asks, "Who would you like to call?" You speak the name you've previously recorded, and it plays back your original recording to verify. If you don't press a button to cancel, it assumes it got the name right and begins to dial. It works very well. Some Sprint phones can do this over the network, but this one does all the processing right in the phone.
Once a call has dialed, a small icon appears above the keypad to the right of the call timer. It's a little speaker with a slash through it. Pressing the button turns on the speaker phone, with the volume set to about 40 percent. In a quiet room, that's about enough; in a car, you're likely going to need to use the volume rocker to turn it up a bit. It works great and removes the need to buy a headset or special car adapter. For privacy, just press the icon again and hold the phone to your head (like that needed explaining).
Now that we got all that telephony stuff out of the way, we can talk about some of the wireless data features. Sprint has included their Wireless Web application, which is good for a few details like sports scores and weather information, but I've always been disappointed by the news available on these services, which is usually limited to a simple headline because of the traditional confines of cell phone screens. Headlines are okay, but a well-written headline is designed to make you want more information, something most WAP services are unprepared to give you. With this larger-capacity screen, there's no reason to restrict us to headlines, so that's why I'm glad Sprint has also licensed and bundled Handspring's Blazer browser with the i300.
We've already covered Blazer, so there's no reason to say more than that you can choose between Sprint's channel listing and browsing just about any web page you like. I don't have to tell you how convenient that is. I'm sure there are a few pages that will be difficult to view because of their extreme reliance on graphics or Java-like programming, but for the most part, even the link maps on graphics are functional, if a little oddly-placed because of the column format necessary to display on the relatively low-resolution screen. In a pinch, and even for regular informational purposes, it's an excellent solution that's now more likely than ever to be there when you need it, because it's built into your cell phone.
Among the other wireless features are receipt of wireless pages sent to a Sprint email account, which unfortunately only allows around 60 characters, and the only reply option offered is via a phone call (assuming the number is listed) or through the Sprint Wireless Web portal. From here, however, you can send an AOL Instant Message, a Short mail, a Sprint PCS mail, chat, or use Juno or Yahoo mail. If you're into chatting, Sprint has a number of chat rooms that are fairly-well populated, considering the interface. Most of them are typing with a traditional cell phone keypad interface, so don't expect sentences longer than ten characters. Chatting is not my thing, so I'll leave it to you to explore.
I would have to say that the messaging features are the most lacking, due to their being buried in too many layers of the Wireless Web interface. It is easily remedied by the user with the purchase of either MultiMail or One Touch Mail, something Samsung should consider to fill this one remaining need in their wireless communication strategy.
Otherwise, the Samsung i300 is easily the most convenient integration of PDA to cell phone yet produced. It strikes an excellent balance between the two types of communication devices, and manages to pack a lot of features into just a few buttons without bewildering the average user. Their attention to detail and users' needs is to be commended. From the slim size and light weight to the inclusion of two batteries, rare in this day of cut-rate bundles, Samsung was thinking clearly when they put this package together. Bravo.
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