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The case of the schwing cell phone

Ladies and gentlemen of the ComputerUser jury, have mercy on our SOHO Advisor for lifting a Samsung gadget. Haven’t you, too, ever wondered how easily those pocket-sized devices would actually fit in your pocket?

On Sept. 16, 2003, Samsung held a press event at Cipriani’s in New York City at which they unveiled several impressive technologies. Two of the bigger hits at the event were a 70-inch flat-panel television that was only four inches thick, and a cell phone with a built-in television screen. But my personal favorite was a handheld computer and cell phone with a built-in camera. The SPH i700 is a Pocket PC cellular phone that Samsung describes as a mobile intelligent terminal or MIT.

Having lugged around three separate and bulkier devices that night to perform the same three functions, I was smitten by the sleek metallic device. Even the cub journalist standing nearby and acting too cool for the room dropped his guard long enough to call it “schwing,” which apparently is the cool way to say “cool” in New York City these days.

I took copious notes at the event on my rather humble-looking Dell Axim Pocket PC, ready to file a story on the event, but spent a lot of time handling the Samsung device, which is slightly smaller and lighter than my own Pocket PC. The following morning, I reached into the pocket where I keep my Axim and pulled out…the SPH i700.

In place of my usual monthly column, I hereby provide an edited transcript of my summation speech at the trial.

Not guilty, your honor

Your Honor. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. I stand here accused of stealing a Samsung Pocket PC i700 from a trade event and transporting it across state lines. Although I did everything of which I am accused, I am nevertheless entering a plea of Not Guilty.

Yes, I saw and coveted the i700. Yes, I spent many more hours working with it over the following week, until its batteries were fully discharged. But I made every effort to track down the product manager and procure a return address for the product, which I did within a week.

It’s easy to say that I had a motive to steal the SPH i700. I admit to it wholeheartedly and without reservation. The lightweight, sleek, metallic device easily fits into the pocket–whether you mean to put it there or not. It is an excellent example of a Pocket PC, with an Intel 300MHz PXA250 XScale processor.

At 132mm by 70mm by 16mm, it is slightly narrower and thinner than the Dell Axim I carry, with a clear 65K TFT LCD screen 240-by-320 pixels. It has much better-placed controls than most Pocket PCs–including volume and record buttons that are easy to reach and adjust. It has a regular expansion slot to plug in keyboards and so on. Its 32MB-plus-64MB of SDRAM give it plenty of oomph. Even its stylus is well designed–as you drag it from its sheath at the bottom right, it telescopes out more than an inch so that even the ham-handed can write with it.

At the top left is a little wheel like an oversized watch winder that spins around the SPH-i700’s VGA camera lens. Using an application on the Start menu, you can discreetly snap away stills by tapping on a large onscreen button with your stylus.

The image quality varies from normal (actually a rather subnormal) 160-by-120 pixels through 320-by-240, to a best of 640-by-480. The exposure has five settings, from darker through normal to brighter, and a user-adjustable white balance. Pictures can be stored locally or on a memory card, viewed as thumbnails or slide show, and sent as e-mail attachments. True, a $250 3MP camera could take better shots than this (with zoom and flash capabilities, which the i700 lacks), but in a package this small, such criticisms are mere quibbles.

Phoning it in

The real draw to the device, of course, is that it contains a built-in CDMA cell phone with service from Verizon Wireless. The inch-long antenna does increase the length of the i700 without spoiling its sleek look. There are two cell phone buttons and a tiny microphone hole near the usual Pocket PC buttons at the bottom. The buttons are mirror images, but the one on the left starts the call while the one on the right ends it. The device runs on the Pocket PC Phone Edition, which features applications for dialing and SMS texting, and can operate in either regular phone mode or as a speakerphone.

But ladies and gentlemen of the jury, despite the temptation, I did not even steal cellular call minutes from the company. The only calls I made were to the product manager to ensure a swift return of the i700 to its rightful owner. Fortunately, the built-in speaker and microphone worked well in both regular “phone” mode, held up to my ear, and in speakerphone mode, in front of my face more like a walkie-talkie. Its CDMA communication module linked up nicely to the Verizon service, so that that shortly after I asked, “Can you hear me now?” I was able to add, “Good.” True, to a standard cell phone user, it was odd to tap numbers onto a PDA screen, but in all other respects, this was quite a phone. Too bad it was never mine.

Light fingers, light screen

I stand accused of being light-fingered. But the only light thing associated with my hand during this whole sad affair was the handheld PC in it. Now, most people hold the iPAQ as the gold standard for screen brilliance. The iPAQ h5450 is widely hailed as the sine qua non of Pocket PC screens–and at 3.8 inches diagonally, it does beat out the i700’s standard 3.5-inch screen. But when I compared it side-by-side with a friend’s h5450, the Samsung screen looked brighter. And whenever I worried about the battery drain caused by that bright backlight, I located the brightness button just beneath the on-off switch to fine-tune the output to fit the ambient light.

The other controls were also well laid out. The standard calendar and contacts buttons at the bottom of the screen sit beneath the phone’s call and hang-up buttons. Between them lies a lozenge-shaped navigator pad that’s surprisingly easy to use without accidentally hitting the other buttons. True, the call and hang-up buttons are not backlit as they are on many phones and Pocket PC Phone Edition devices, but if this saves on battery life, it’s a good trade-off. Better yet, the device contains an MMC card slot for memory expansion and more. It’s an SDIO slot, so it will be able to handle compatible wireless network, Bluetooth, and GPS cards as they become available.

Mercy!

In summation, I would like to read you back the testimony we heard from the cub reporter who covering the Samsung event that night.

“The i700 is schwing. Being a total handheld crack monkey, I was far into it. Whoa. If I found an one of those pups in my pocket, they’d never see or hear from me again.”

Words I am sure we can all relate to. But nevertheless, Samsung did hear from me again. I told them that same week that I had the device, and the following week, they had it back from me. This, if anything, should prove my innocence. Because heaven only knows, having sampled the delights of the SPH-i700, I really wanted to keep it for myself. Thank you for your patience. I will now leave you to your deliberations.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author was acquitted of all charges of theft, and is currently on assignment for this magazine. If anyone at Cipriani’s finds a battered Dell Axim containing copious notes about Samsung products, please return it to the author, care of this magazine. He has some other stories to file.

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