The Samsung Ace is the first Windows Mobile Standard device since the release of the fondly remembered Pocket PC Smartphone powered i600 on Sprint. How does it stack up against incumbents such as the Q9c and other similar devices on the Now Network?
The Samsung Ace is positioned on Sprint as a device for the road warrior with EVDO data and a dual-band GSM radio for international roaming, but after really using it for a few weeks, there are shining advantages and potentially frustrating disadvantages that point out the compromises Samsung and Sprint had to make in light of exclusivity agreements and device design.
The device is laid out to maximize the available space by using the design template from the GSM A727 with a change to a landscape display, replacing the numeric keypad with an illuminated QWERTY keyboard which is the worst implementation of such a keyboard ever devised. The keys are vertically oriented and too tightly spaced on top of being too small to adequately type quickly even with one hand.
Even having small hands that can acclimate to small keyboards and keypads, I found myself cursing the keyboard constantly as it took me minutes to type out a simple three line email. Thanks to the joke of the space bar and the intrusive predictive text which did nothing but frustrate further instead of being useful, I found myself limiting text entry unless it was absolutely necessary.
The device also features volume controls on the left side. jog dial on the right side with a button directly below it being used for selection in the same manner as a BlackBerry or Q. Â The dial can be also pressed inward to acheive the same effect. The keyboard also features one touch access to messaging and camera functions, though those keys were rarely used.Â The jogdial, confirmation button, camera, messaging, Back, Home, Start and Contacts hard keys can be customized to suit individual preference.
The device also features a speakerphone which is surprisingly loud and free of distortion at high volume (demonstrated by streaming online raido stations such as di.fm), with callers able to clearly hear my voice over the loud places I found myself in. The earpiece was loud and clear with incoming calls sounding very close to a landline and outgoing voice quality was reported to be good if a bit overprocessed.
The device features a 1.3 megapixel camera which is standard fare and above average due to the larger CMOS sensor used, but is otherwise lacking due to the absence of a flash with the best pictures taken around full lighting.
While using the device on a daily basis, even moderate data usage can reduce battery life significantly and I frequently found myself with a dead battery before the end of my day before the battery was properly conditioned.Â After conditioning, the battery did last the whole day, and I found myself turning the radio off in order to extend battery life even further if I had no need for the phone or data access.
Windows Mobile 6 Standard works quite well on this device and the software included is a testament to the wise selection, though I found that the software CD included with the device requires Flash 8 to even launch and does not include ActiveSync 4.5, instead relying solely on Windows Mobile Device Center, which was easily addressed but it’s nice to know beforehand if software will work on a particular platform correctly.
First in the Ace’s lineup of sofware is the superb browser that is Samsung’s highly customized deployment of Internet Explorer Mobile which clearly addresses longstanding flaws with the old Pocket Internet Explorer by adding options for single-column, landscape, and full desktop rendering with support for CSS on top of a surprisingly convenient and easy to use RSS reader. I was able to export my feeds and add them with no issues whatsoever.
Another positive is the fact that this version of Windows Mobile 6 features easy access to Sprint TV, which is quite watchable and thankfully plays in full-screen demonstrating the color depth of its QVGA display, despite the fact that the client is not preinstalled and requires a one time installation and update before use.Â The device also includes Live Search and functions exactly as it would on a non-smart device despite the lack of full GPS access thanks to the EVDO data connection and came in handy on more than one occasion as well as offering the usual spate of features including traffic information, business information, and driving directions.
The one feature I was absolutely astounded by was the multimedia playback thanks to Samsung’s inclusion of a custom DSP known as R2VS which amplifies volume and offers differing spatialization modes for headphone usage, though in practice the spatialization requires a substantial amount of tweaking before any real benefit is had from it, as well as the inclusion of an equalizer for fine balance of audio which came in handy with my music mixes which range from Scandinavian metal bands At The Gates and In Flames to extreme electronic music from Venetian Snares, LFO Demon, and Rotterdam Terror Corps.
When using my DS970 stereo headset from Sony, I found Bluetooth to be above average as calls came in loud and clear with callers reporting no dropouts on my end or static, though the Ace could have definitely benefitted from 2.0+EDR support if A2DP was considered from the outset for inclusion.
Faults I found with Windows Media Player were the poor display of the built-in skins and themes, though I suspect it was due to the poor placement of album art in the folder as well as limited filetype support.
To wrap up what is my first of (hopefully many) reviews, I will say that this device is a bit of a compromise for Sprint, but despite the keyboard issue and lack of GPS, it does stand on its own thanks to the superb software selection, data, multimedia, and relative stability of Windows Mobile 6.
Hopefully Sprint and Samsung will be developing an updated device that adresses these issues while using another form factor that isn’t a compromise between size and usability that ultimately turned a great phone on paper into an average Windows Mobile device.
Pros: Fast data, Internet Explorer, Sprint TV, call quality and phone usage above average.
Cons: Near useless keyboard, Bluetooth 1.2, camera woefully average with no flash, (Still) no GPS access.
Final Score: 3/5