Samsung SGH-i320

  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Wide-screen format
  • Thin, light, nicely designed
  • Built-in keyboard
  • Nice software extras
  • Two batteries plus separate charger included

Cons

  • - Keyboard may be too small for some
  • - Camera is disappointing

Samsung is not a prolific producer of Windows Mobile devices. We reviewed its SGH-i300, a Windows Mobile smartphone with a 3GB hard drive in February this year, and it has taken the intervening nine months for the company to release another Windows Mobile Smartphone in the UK. Pending network operator support, the SGH-i320 is available from Expansys at an unsubsidised price of £365 (inc. VAT).

Design
The conventional candy-bar format for Windows Mobile smartphones has been abandoned by Samsung in favour of a thin, stylish casing for the SGH-i320. In so doing, the company has come up with two key features we've not seen before.

The notable of these is a miniature keyboard. This is not an unusual feature for a handheld, but we can’t recall seeing it in a Windows Mobile smartphone before.

Keys generally share two characters — most often a QWERTY character and either a number or symbol. The bottom of the four rows contains a (relatively) wide space bar. The number keys sit on the middle three columns, picked out with silver surrounds to make number dialling easier.

The keys are tall and thin, and are spaced well apart from each other. In everyday use we found it relatively easy to tap out emails and text messages using the nails on both thumbs to hit at the keys. However, if you have large hands or stubby fingers you may find the system a little too delicate for comfort.

The other innovative feature is a wide-format screen. This is not especially large: it measures 2.2in. from corner to corner, and its resolution is a standard 320 by 240 pixels. But tipping the normally portrait-mode display onto its side makes web browsing and document reading more comfortable than usual.

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Samsung has brought its know-how from consumer-grade handsets to the SHG-i320, and it shows in the screen's bright, clear image quality.

Between the screen and keyboard is a row of buttons that Samsung has made as large as the available space allows. The outer pair are Call and End keys, while the centre is occupied by a big navigation pad with central select button. Two rockers provide access to softmenus and to the Today Screen and Back features. Unlike the keyboard, those with stubby fingers should find all of these buttons easy to use.

The SGH-i320 is exceptionally thin at just 11.5mm, but its footprint on the desk or in the pocket is somewhat greater than most Windows Mobile smartphones. It is not unusually tall at 111mm, but its 59mm width is closer to what we’d expect from a Pocket PC handheld.

The left edge of the casing contains only a rocker button for volume control. This will also mute the call ringer and reject incoming calls. The top edge contains the infrared port while the bottom edge is clear.

The right edge offers an upper button with two functions: on a short press it opens the QuickList screen where you can switch profiles and control Bluetooth; on a longer press it locks the keys.

Beneath this is another dual-function button: on a long press this activates the integrated camera, while on a short press it runs the voice notes software.

The right edge also houses a covered slot for the mains power/PC connection cable and another covered slot for the headset connector. Both of these ports are proprietary. The covers are also quite small and fiddly to lift, although they are shaped with a small finger-nail-friendly groove.

Samsung provides a stereo headset, a PC cable and a mains power adapter. There's also a printed quickstart guide, but the full manual is only on CD — we much prefer printed manuals.

Samsung also includes two batteries and, unusually, a charging unit for the spare cell. This takes the form of a sealed container. Place the battery in it and you can then plug in the AC adapter. The mains power charger incorporates a battery status light, so that you can tell when the spare cell is fully charged.

Features
A tri-band GSM phone with GPRS and EDGE support, the SHG-i320 should be a suitable on international business trips. It has 120MB of shared memory, and after a hard reset our review sample had 109MB of storage free.

Built-in storage can be augmented with microSD cards, the expansion slot sitting under the battery cover. Although it's not actually located beneath the battery, we found it necessary to power down and remove the battery to get at the slot, which is frustrating.

Samsung provides a good range of software to augment the Windows Mobile smartphone standards. A WAP browser is on hand to supplement Internet Explorer. A unit converter copes with currency, length, weight, volume, area and temperature. There's also a voice control utility, a stopwatch and an alarm applet with five separate alarms.

An equaliser for the sound output could be handy if you want to use the SGH-i320 for listening to music, and there's an alternative application launcher if you're not a fan of the Windows Mobile Start menu. An application called D-Day can count down to important days you need to remember, although it won’t pick up dates from Outlook.

More useful, perhaps, will be the Picsel viewer that you can use to read Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, PDFs, plain text and to view a number of popular image formats. Mobile email users in particular may find this handy.

Also, if you want to disguise the fact that you have a Windows Mobile smartphone, you can use one of two Today screen replacements that provide shortcuts to applications and messaging, task and appointment alerts. One of these occupies much of the screen, while the other resides in a single bar whose contents you flick through using the navigation button.

The SGH-i320's 1.3 megapixel camera makes a reasonable fist of basic image capture, but you won't be using it for shots you want to keep, and indoors the very small flash unit lets it down.

Performance & battery life
Our standard battery test asks the device to play music from a memory card with the screen forced to stay on to maximise power drain. We got 5 hours of music from one of the two provided cells. This was better than expected, and means that with careful power management and two full batteries you may be able to do a short business trip without carrying Samsung’s proprietary charger.

Conclusion
In design terms, Samsung has pushed the boat out with the SHG-i320 and come up with a Windows Mobile smartphone that looks good on the outside and has a plentiful, and for the most part useful, array of add-on software. Failing to include a printed manual is an annoyance, and you may want to try the keyboard before committing to a purchase.

 

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