Which comes first: handheld or phone?

Which comes first: handheld or phone?

A mini display at the top of the SPH-I300 shows battery life, signal strength, incoming phone numbers and other useful information.

It's not quite a PDA, but it makes for a very handy phone

Although Samsung calls the $500 SPH-I300 a 'Palm-powered' smart phone, it's as easy to use as a Palm OS personal digital assistant and a separate wireless phone.

[IMGCAP(1)]Compact at 4.9 by 2.28 by 0.82 inches, it's smaller and lighter than the competing Kyocera QCP 6035, and the LCD can display 256 colors'more than the competing Ericsson R380 smart phone.

I didn't expect long battery life because of Samsung's color display, but to my surprise the claimed six-day standby and five-hour talk time were close to accurate.

The battery held up for an average 3.5 to four hours of conversation. I could keep going for up to four days with minimal use before I had to switch to a fresh battery.

Samsung supplied a second lithium-ion battery with the phone, something too few cell phone makers do. I kept the charging cradle at the office and synchronized each morning with my desktop applications while the phone charged, usually within an hour. The cradle had a slot for the spare battery, ideal for business trips so that one battery is always fresh.

Energy-saving LCD

A color LCD consumes a great deal of energy, so Samsung designed it to turn off after one minute if no LCD use is detected, even though the phone might be in use. And the LCD needn't be on to receive phone calls, either.

The operating system was Palm OS 3.5.2 with only 8M of memory. There was no way to expand the memory, and the 160- by 240-pixel screen resolution was meager compared with that of most PDAs. But it should be plenty for phone calls and limited Web scraping of weather, news, e-mail and business information.

Watch those fingers

The cell phone interface, activated by a button on the side, was logical and basic. In testing the phone for about two months, I found the most cumbersome part was having to select phone numbers with a stylus attached at the back of the device. Fingertips didn't work well on the tiny LCD.

[IMGCAP(2)]The PDA aspect of the device was also easy to use. It resembled a standard Palm OS handheld display, the only difference being the presence of a Sprint Web browser applet.

I did have to keep adjusting the screen to the level of ambient light. At night the LCD seemed more like a flashlight than a phone, and its smallness made for awkward navigation through applications. When I tried to access a command from a drop-down menu, the phone almost always highlighted the wrong command.

The voice-dial function had enough memory to store 20 numbers, and voice dialing became my preferred way of phoning. A button on one side activated voice dialing and prompted me to speak a name, after which the call went through automatically.

A speakerphone function came on when I clicked on the icon of a muted speaker at the upper right-hand corner after making or accepting a call.

The speakerphone could substitute for a hands-free microphone and earphones, but I found it distracting to use in noisy environments.

One especially good design element was a mini black-and-white LCD at the top of the device to indicate battery life, signal strength, time, date and incoming phone numbers.

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