- 3GB hard drive
- tri-band GSM/GPRS
- docking cradle, two docking cables and two batteries included
- useful additional software
- On the large/heavy side
- hard drive is switched off long before the battery depletes
Microsoft is now well established as a smartphone platform provider, and there are plenty of handsets to choose from. But one factor that mitigates against Windows Mobile smartphones is their relatively low quota of built-in memory compared to connected Pocket PC handhelds. That has now changed with the arrival of the Samsung SGH-i300, which packs a 3GB hard drive into its chassis.
If you're looking for a very small and light mobile, you may not be drawn to the Samsung SGH-i300, which weighs 121g -- considerably more than Orange’s 105g SPV C600. The Samsung SGH-i300 is also larger than the SPV C600, measuring 48mm wide by 20mm deep by 113mm high compared to 45.9mm by 18.8mm by 107.7mm. These are not huge differences, admittedly, but any extra bulk can be noticeable in the pocket.
If you like lots of buttons, you'll like the Samsung SGH-i300. Both left and right edges are liberally sprinkled with them, so it's good to see that one of the buttons on the right edge locks the handset. Obviously you can’t use the lock feature all the time, and we found it very easy to press side buttons accidentally when picking up the device -- or simply during calls -- until we got used to it.
Some of the buttons have dual functions, activated by long and short presses respectively. For example, the button above the lock button opens the Windows Mobile Quick List (for switching profiles) on a short press and turns the GSM radio off on a long press.
Also on the right edge is a button that activates the built-in camera and, when the camera is running, shoots a still or records a video. The camera’s lens, as usual, sits at the back along with a small flash unit and a self-portrait mirror.
On the left edge is a volume rocker (a long press on the upper section turns the camera flash into a torch light), a launcher for Samsung's own music player and another dual-function button that on a short press starts Windows Mobile Voice Notes and on a long press starts the Voice Command software. The latter can be used to dial contacts or run software, requires no training, and worked very well in our tests – although it works best in quiet environments. The left edge is also the location of the headphone connector; the top edge houses and infrared port, while the power and docking connectors are at the bottom.
The front of the SGH-i300 is mostly styled in black, with silver highlights and white key icons. Press any key and a backlight makes these icons clearer to see. The number keys are slightly bevelled, which makes them relatively easy to locate. Above them sits a round, silver navigation pad with a central action button, surrounded by six dedicated keys: Call, End, Home, Back and two softmenu keys.
Unusually for a Windows Mobile smartphone these days, the Samsung SGH-i300 comes with a docking cradle. Its build quality isn't particularly impressive, but it does have the real advantage of holding the SGH-i300 at an angle that allows you to see its screen while it's docked to your PC. You get two docking cables, one for use with the cradle and one that connects directly to the handset’s proprietary port.
The cradle has a slot for charging a second battery, and Samsung provides both a standard and an extended-life battery. The latter is physically larger and protrudes from the back of the device.
The SGH-i300's headset connector is proprietary, and you get both a stereo headset and a connector with a 3.5mm jack at the microphone section, so you can substitute a headset of your own. A wrist lanyard, mains power charger, printed quick reference guide, CD-based manual and the ActiveSync software and Outlook 2002 complete the package.
The Samsung SGH-i300 is a tri-band GSM/GPRS handset, and therefore suitable for the international business traveller. The operating system is not the very latest from Microsoft, being Windows Mobile for Smartphone 2003 Second Edition rather than Windows Mobile 5.0. This is a pity in some respects, but should not be a reason to dismiss this handset out of hand. Bluetooth is built in but there's no Wi-Fi, as seen in one or two recent smartphones.
The 3GB hard drive is a mechanical unit that you can hear clicking occasionally. We have to assume that Samsung is confident of the hard drive's ability to withstand the knocks, drops and shocks that are part of a mobile phone's everyday experience. You also have 64MB of internal storage, only a portion of which is user accessible. There is also a slot on the side of the device for removable MicroSD storage -- the slot is labelled TransFlash, and cards are available under both names.
Having internal and removable storage may prove extremely useful. Our main grumble with this handset is that the hard drive shuts down long before the battery is depleted, leaving no access to what's stored on it. See the Performance section below for more detail.
The screen is one of the best we've seen on any phone, let alone any Windows Mobile smartphone. Measuring 2.1in. across the diagonal it's not particularly large, but it has a resolution of 240 by 320 pixels and 18-bit colour (262,144-colour), so it's clear and sharp.
The camera is a standard 1.3-megapixel unit that can shoot stills at resolutions up to 1,280 by 1,024, and can capture video too. Along with the usual special effects (sepia, black-and-white and negative), a self timer and white balance settings for daylight, cloudy conditions, tungsten and fluorescent lighting, there are, for stills, six- and nine-shot burst modes and a ‘mosaic’ mode; the latter allows you to shoot individual images that collect into a grid of either 2-by-2 or 3-by-3 images.
The side mounted activation and shooting button makes it easy to use the camera, and many options are mapped onto the number pad keys, so if you can remember them you can have quick control. More significantly, the camera shows off a feature of the navigation button. As well as allowing for left, right, up and down presses, a small raised section makes it easy to spin the button. When using the camera, this spinning action activates the digital zoom.
Spinning the navigation button generally duplicates actions that a navigation wheel might perform on a handheld -- scrolling through drop-down lists or through text, for example. You can also use it for a range of other activities, such as changing volume when using either the Windows Media Player or Samsung’s player; alternatively, on the Today screen, you can scroll through a single information bar that gives access to recently used applications, the content of the hard drive or flash storage, a view of upcoming appointments, missed calls plus MMS, SMS and email messages.
The Samsung SGH-i300 is available in the UK from O2 on a £49.99 a monthly tariff; Expansys is also selling this phone SIM-free for a princely £498 (ex. VAT). O2 is emphasising the use of the hard drive for music storage, and although there's no reason it can't be used for any kind of data, there are features that are useful in this context. Windows Media Player 10 for example -- if it's also present on your PC -- can be used to synchronise music (you can also copy and paste it as you would any other file type). Samsung provides twin speakers on the back of the device as well as its own media player -- the latter supports additional media formats (AAC, for example) and provides access to an SRS WOW equaliser for adjusting audio output quality.
Even with all these enhancements, the SGH-i300's audio quality isn't the best we have heard on a mobile phone, although it's certainly passable.
Samsung also provides an array of software to augment the standard Windows Mobile bundle. Much of this should appeal to business users. Examples include: a conversion utility for currency, length, weight, volume, area and temperature; a time manager that provides a range of alarms; a world clock; a stopwatch and a count up or down to a specific day; and the Picsel viewer for reading a range of document formats including Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and PDF.
As a general-purpose handset the Samsung SGH-i300 performed well in our tests. It functions like any other Windows Mobile smartphone in terms of synchronising calendar, contacts, tasks and email, and we had no trouble making calls, accessing the Web or performing other everyday activities.
We are very impressed with the range of extras that Samsung provides -- especially the dual docking cables and batteries. The former is ideal for those wanting to use the Samsung SGH-i300 to transfer large files between locations, keeping the cradle at the primary location and carrying the cable around. The twin batteries are great for business trips where long uptime between charges is particularly useful. In the light of these advantages, we're prepared to forgive slight drawbacks like the CD-based manual and the relatively low build quality of the docking cradle.
We do have one major gripe, though. As already noted, you lose access to the hard drive as the battery depletes. We discovered this when testing the SGH-i300 by constantly looping MP3 music playback, forcing the screen to stay on. We got a shade over five hours from the standard battery and a little under nine hours from the extended battery – both respectable. But we lost hard drive access just after seven hours on the extended battery and just under four hours on the standard one.