By Steve Rosenbush
The Samsung SCH i730 ($399.99 with two-year Verizon Wireless service contract) is perhaps the slickest of the new smart phones running Windows Mobile 5.0. It's basically a micro PC, complete with two kinds of high-speed Internet access and a slide-out keyboard with a regular layout. The stripped-down version of Windows is robust enough to support applications such as Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. And it runs Windows Media Player, which means you can play music and video on the device.
The i730 actually looks like a cell phone, as opposed to a handheld or PDA, which are somewhat larger. But stuffing so many features into such a small package always leads to compromises, and the i730 is no exception to the rule (see BW Online, 5/3/05, "Smart Phones: Intelligence Spreads"). The device is capable of connecting to the Internet at very high speeds, using WiFi or Verizon's (VZ) wireless broadband network.
But the screen is just too small to display more than a tiny section of a Web page at a time. I used it to log into my Yahoo! (YHOO) Mail account, and I needed to use the scroll bars to grope for the user name and password windows. It still does a much better job of surfing the Web than the smart phones that hit the market one or two years ago, which had small screens and also suffered from slow-speed Internet connections and insufficient memory to handle even a sliver of a typical Web page. This device is fine if you want to scan a Web site for a moment or two while you're in line at the grocery store. Just don't view the i730 as a primary Web appliance, because it's mostly for e-mail and phone calls.
Some people may find the i730 slightly heavy and bulky. It feels noticeably chunkier than a typical cell phone. You won't ever, ever confuse this baby with a Motorola RAZR. It will fit in a pants or jacket pocket, but you're better off stowing it in a briefcase or a bag. The extra weight doesn't bother me, because I usually carry my phone in a messenger bag, along with my laptop. But I know many people love small phones, so be forewarned.
As far as I'm concerned, the i730 is worth the extra few ounces. It's a fabulous e-mail device. The latest version of Windows Mobile 5 does a good job with push e-mail, which eliminates the need to synch the device with a desktop (see BW Online, 3/7/06, "Treo 700w: One Step Back").
The e-mail flows from your corporate server or personal mail service right to the screen, in real time. It updates calendar and contact information, too. The next time you use the office or home computer to check your mail, the changes that you made on your phone will show up. And the high-speed Internet connections mean that you can download large attachments, such as spreadsheets or even video, without a hassle. The built-in WiFi connection is a real plus. Even the vaunted Treo 650 forces users to buy a separate card for WiFi.
BEFORE THE REVOLUTION.
The i730 accepts SD memory cards, so you have plenty of room to store documents, music, or video. You can easily fit a feature length movie on a 2 gigabit card, which means that the i730 can double as an entertainment device for commuters. The screen is pretty good, although the resolution isn't quite as sharp as the Treo 650's (see BW Online, 4/29/05, "The Treo Grande"). It's a bit larger than the Treo's though. That makes it marginally more useful when it comes to viewing Web pages.
The phone also connects easily to a PC, so you can download Word documents and other files that aren't automatically synched with the push e-mail system.
Someday, someone will figure out a way to make a smart phone with a slightly larger screen that's good for viewing Web pages. That will be a truly revolutionary device that will make wireless Web surfing as viable as wireless calls or e-mail. The i730 isn't that device, but it's a significant transition point. And it's so good at so many other tasks, that it's hard not to like it.
This is the latest in a series of reviews of high-end handheld phones and messaging devices. Click here to read the review of the T-Mobile MDA.