Samsung SCH-i760, From Verizon
If you've been waiting to get your hands on a smart phone that uses the most up-to-date Windows Mobile software and that runs on Verizon's wireless network, you finally have some fresh options. Verizon is rolling out three additional business-centric phones that use Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6 operating system, starting with the Samsung SCH-i760 PDA phone ($300 after an online discount). Verizon says that two more phones--the Verizon XV6800 and Verizon SMT5800 (both made by HTC)--will follow the SCH-i760 by the end of the year.
I spent several days checking out the SCH-i760, and found it to be a worthy contender to match up against such smart phones as the Tilt from AT&T, the Mogul from Sprint, and the Wing from T-Mobile, all of which are made by HTC. The SCH-i760 delivered speedy performance and great call quality. It comes with a dual keypad (an external dialpad and a roomy, slide-out keyboard), Wi-Fi, a large (2.8-inch) touch screen, stereo Bluetooth (for music headphones), and Microsoft's Mobile Office suite, which includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
I liked the 5.3-ounce SCH-i760's solid feel in my hand. Like other Windows Mobile phones that have slide-out keyboards, it's bulky (2.28 inches wide, 4.49 inches high, and 0.77 inch thick). To use the keyboard, you slide the front panel of the phone to the right and then turn the phone sideways. The SCH-i760 is a little taller than the Tilt, the Mogul, and the Wing, and Samsung uses the extra real estate to make room for both the alphanumeric keypad below the LCD and the large slide-out keyboard.
Initially, the external dialpad may seem unnecessary, since you already have an on-screen version, as well as a row of alphanumeric keys at the top of the slide-out keyboard. But the dedicated number pad came in handy whenever I needed to type a number--to enter phone numbers quickly in Contacts, for example.
I found a lot of uses for the QWERTY keyboard, too. The rubbery texture and the space between each key made typing reasonably comfortable. The only setback was getting accustomed to the roomy keyboard. I've gotten so used to the tightly spaced keys on devices like BlackBerrys and Treos that it took me a little while to warm up to the widely spaced keys on the SCH-i760.
In addition, the keyboard contains a few helpful shortcut keys. The <OK> key, for example, lets you minimize an application that's displayed on the screen; the <Windows> key provides quick access to the Start menu; and the five-way navigation pad located next to the external dialpad provides a way to move around the interface. If you prefer not to press keys, you can use the stylus to tap your selections on the screen. The stylus is tucked into the right side of the phone (in portrait mode) and extends outward like an old-fashioned antenna.
The design becomes unwieldy with the call send and end buttons, which are small, narrow, slippery, and awkwardly situated on the sides of the phone toward the bottom of the LCD. When I pressed the call start button, the cover tended to slide to the right unless I held it in place with my thumb.
With the keyboard tucked in and the phone in portait mode, a 2.5mm headphone jack, Windows Start Menu button, OK button, camera button, and stylus occupy the right side. On the left, you'll find the microSD memory card slot and the volume control. The tiny power button is located at the top, and the proprietary power and cable connector is at the bottom.
The SCH-i760's 400-MHz processor helped it perform well. The device felt speedy and responsive even when I had a few apps (Word, Internet Explorer, Wi-Fi, e-mail, and so on) running in the background. Overall, the SCH-i760 is faster than many other Windows Mobile devices I've used recently, including the Motorola Q 9m from Verizon, which has a 312-MHz processor and 64MB of RAM, and the T-Mobile Wing, which uses a 200-MHz processor and 64MB of RAM. For example, the Q 9m and the Wing each took a few seconds to open an application, whereas the i760 took only a second or two. But the SCH-i760 wasn't a perfect performer either: It crashed once during my tests, and to restart I had to remove the battery, reinstall it, and power on again.
As a phone, the SCH-i760 worked fine (except for the poorly conceived call send/end buttons that I mentioned earlier). Call quality in San Francisco was very good, and hearing people was not a problem. You can turn up the volume level to make it very loud, both through the earpiece and through the speaker, though audio became a little distorted at the highest level. Also, I noticed a slight hiss in the background during a few of my calls.
To connect to the Internet, you can either use Verizon's EvDO Revision 0 network, whose speed is about equal to that of DSL (though it isn't as fast as Verizon's Revision A network), or connect to an 802.11 b/g wireless network. On EvDO or Wi-Fi, a Web page that has some graphics (like NYTimes.com) usually loads within 15 seconds. But when the connection scales down to the CDMA 1xRTT wireless technology, which averages at about 50 to 60 kbps, loading the same Web page may take 25 seconds or longer.
The SCH-i760 ships with two batteries--one standard and one extended-life (which is a thicker slab). Verizon and Samsung say that the standard battery should last for up to 3.5 hours of usage time or 180 hours in standby mode, while the extended battery should run for about 5.4 hours of usage time or 280 hours on standby. My experience with the SCH-i760 tended to corroborate these claims.
Apps and Other Features
Software on the SCH-i760 is a mixed bag. One plus is that you get Windows Mobile 6 Professional, which allows you to access office apps such as Word and Outlook. You can create and edit Word and Excel files, plus view PowerPoint slides. For messaging, you can wirelessly sync corporate e-mail, calendar, and contacts through an Exchange server setup--or sync with your PC via cable by using the included ActiveSync software. Another thing the phone lets you do is to sync personal e-mail accounts that support POP3 or IMAP4.
With Web mail, you can send and receive Gmail messages, but you can't do the same with the free versions of Hotmail and Yahoo--a standard capability on many Windows Mobile 6 devices. More than likely, Verizon disabled this feature to compel users to subscribe to its Wireless Sync service, which does support access to those free e-mail accounts. The phone lacks instant messaging clients, as well.
The Internet Explorer Mobile browser on the SCH-i760 pales in comparison to the Safari browser on the iPhone. On my test unit, the mobile version of IE didn't support full HTML; as a result, graphics were minimal or nonexistent. IE did, however, quickly load sites with WAP versions of their Web pages; these stripped-down, text-based versions of sites are designed for mobile phones.
Because the SCH-i760 lacks a mapping tool, I downloaded Google Maps. I would have been happier, though, if the phone had come with built-in GPS so that I could get voice-guided driving or walking directions. Another ding: The SCH-i760's 1.3-megapixel camera was unimpressive, producing dull and grainy photos. Still, a not-very-good camera is better than no camera at all. I also appreciated that it can capture videos, even though the output quality was mediocre.
The Samsung SCH-i760 is a worthy smart phone upgrade for Verizon users, especially if you need to buy a phone now--it's the best Windows Mobile smart phone currently available from Verizon. But if you don't need a new phone right away, I recommend waiting until the Verizon XV6800 and Verizon SMT5800 come out later this year, to see how they compare to the SCH-i760. Then decide on the smart phone that's best for you.
Comments or questions? Drop Grace Aquino a line.