Sprint’s newest smartphone flips… and flops.
Reviewing the Samsung i600 is not an easy job. To understand the difficulties, you have to understand the history of the device. Verizon had the i600, a year ago. That’s right, over a year ago, Verizon customers were starting to take advantage of the MS Smartphone platform. Sprint was supposed to get an i600 as well, but something went horribly wrong.
Sprint saw Windows Mobile 2003 (the replacement to Smartphone 2002 and Pocket PC 2002) was about to be released, and demanded that the Sprint versions come pre-loaded with it. Sprint did not want to go through the hassle of offering upgrades, training technical support, and forcing a company to recognize that some customers would get the upgrade the day it came out, and some would never get it. Problem for Sprint at the time was, Samsung didn’t have Windows Mobile 2003, it simply was not done yet. Samsung also had to release a Verizon update before they could issue a Sprint handset with WM2003 on it, adding Verizon carrier approvals to the delays.
The delays got so long, that the timeline simply stretched out to the point that the i600 and i700 (the Pocket PC brother to the i600) were scrapped completely from the Sprint lineup. Unfortunately for Sprint, there isn’t any other CDMA MS Smartphone that is finished even today to chose from. So, when Samsung came back the majority of a year later, saying that they were ready to offer the i600 with WM2003, Sprint decided it was worth picking up.
And that brings us back to the problem, the i600 is a year old hardware that finally has a stable operating system with most of the bugs worked out. So, it’s hard to review the feature set without comparing it to today’s phones and today’s PDA, in fact, that’s what we have to do.
The i600 is a solid phone in terms of build quality, nothing feels cheap. The only bad thing about the phone is that it is boxy, mostly to house “large” components such as the SD/IO card slot. It features an immobile external antenna, and a LCD Caller ID screen (no, it isn’t in color). In addition to being a phone, it packs the power of a 200 MHz processor, 32 MB of RAM, and 48 MB of ROM.
Another high point of the SP-i600 is its included components. The i600 includes a USB cradle that can charge a secondary battery. Also welcome is that the phone comes with two batteries, both an extended and a standard. The extended battery is very thick, the phone cannot sit properly when set on a table. Also included are 2.5mm headphones, great for listening to MP3s with. Car chargers are also inexpensive, Circuit City is clearancing them out for $9.99 in many stores.
As for the performance of the hardware, it’s very stable. Phone signal strength is good, better than the Hitachi G1000 in most cases. It could hardly be considered a “strong” performer, though in the smartphone world, it holds its own. There isn’t much more than can be reviewed about the hardware, as the Smartphone platform really makes it more about reviewing how the software drives the hardware, so onto the next category…
Hey, they’ve been working on polishing it for over a year, so it has to be good right? Well, in many ways it is pretty polished, in some ways it’s showing there’s work to do. Menu speed is responsive, but still feels sluggish. One of my first impressions was the lack of a Notes application. While the Pocket PC universe has a tablet-style note application, that also works well with any keyboard or thumboard, the i600 lacks this compeltely. Instead, it has a dedicated Voice Recorder application preloaded. Did MS forget that some people actually know how to use T9? I’m not sure, but they left out the program to leverage it the best with.
Fortunately, that’s one of the strong points of the i600, it’s expansion in software. While keeping its form factor of a phone, it can have application after application installed onto it. I’m working on a review of Mapopolis (GPS driving directions software), and I have to say, the ability to use it just as if I was on a Pocket PC is amazing.
Now, people with the i500 may be asking, so what? Well, I would take an i600 over an i500 any day, here’s why. Multitasking. The ability to listen to MP3s, get driving directions, send an SMS, all while your checking the weather is something to be wowed by. And the i600 executes this the best. But, is that worth extra points? For the same money, the PPC6600 will be able to do all of this faster, and with more options to get the job done faster. Pitting the i600 against the i500 and I’d take the i600, but that doesn’t mean that the i600 gets to walk away saying it can do anything a PDA can. The i600 lacks a touch-screen, a huge failing on Microsoft’s part to not make at least an optional part of the standard, and that slows down access severely. Switching programs requires a sometimes mind-boggling switching using the Home and Back keys that will leave you begging for a magical alt-tab button to appear.
The software that is out there for the MS Smartphone has been refined over the past year though, and is on-par in execution with their Pocket PC counterparts. Besides PC-formatted web browsing, there is no single “killer app” that the Pocket PC remains to have over the MS Smartphone platform.
I will say this though, the Smartphone operating system is extremely stable on this phone. Phone integration is seemless, and more stable than the typical Samsung in many respects. To put it bluntly, the i600 sold me on the Smartphone platform.
A year ago, I probably would have reviewed the i600 like this: “though with it’s glitches, the i600 strikes a near perfect balance between PDA and phone”. I cannot say that now. For one, the glitches were fixed. And two, the i600 is striking a balance between last year’s PDA, and last year’s phone.
Lacking Bluetooth, a camera, and with aging processor and memory capacity, the i600 can compete with Smartphones of today, but it cannot compete with PDA replacement devices of today. It cannot compete with high end phones either, because it is offering less and less as new waves of phones are released.
In many ways, the i600 can be described as a taste of things to come from the cell phone world in terms of a high-end phone. With phones like the Sanyo 5600 coming closer to release, phones will be able to draw on flash memory cards to access content. Playing videos inside Windows Media Player on a phone will become the norm, not some shocking thing you will only find in a $650 phone. MIDP 2.0 will also close the gap between what it thought to be reserved only for smartphones (such as GPS guidance) and what a phone can do on its own.
As such, it cannot replace my PDA, especially considering that the average PDA of today includes Bluetooth, as well as larger memory capacity and a faster processor. While it could replace my phone, I really can’t say that it would do a better job than the SonyEricsson S710a, or Sanyo 5600 could in any capacity as a phone. In other words, while the i600 probably could take the place of my PDA and my phone, it will feel very outdated by the beginning of 2005…
Comparing the i600 to the Motorola MPx220 is even more disappointing. For an estimated $200 less the GSM world will have a phone with an identical feature set, internal antenna, megapixel camera, twice the internal memory, and built-in Bluetooth. The MPx220 also has the newer Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, which the i600 will most likely never get. To make matters worse, the MPx220 also bundles in MIDP 2.0, yet another feature the i600 lacks. If you can live with GPRS instead of 1xRTT, the hop to the GSM world looks like an easy jump to make.
Sprint should have not demanded the phone be released with Windows Mobile 2003, because this phone would have sold well a year ago, and it did, just it only sold on the competition. If you’re looking at a phone that you can listen to music, watch video, and synchronize contacts flawlessly, take a look at the i600. But be sure to take a look at the Motorola MPx220 as well, as it will make you feel like your getting something when you should get everything. Otherwise, either wait for the Sprint PPC6600, the Sanyo 5600, or both. The problem for the Sprint i600 is, it’s a year late and a couple hundred dollars short.
Final Score: 2/5