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The life and times of james Hart: his family, his music, life in Luton and his occasional escapes onto the internet.

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Thursday, 1 May 2008

Windows Mobile Smartphone review: The Samsung i600

Beth's just bought herself a new mobile phone. My beloved iPaq hx4700 had decided to stop working (it does this about once a year!) so I had started to research replacements, in an attempt to combine a mobile phone, a PDA and an MP3 player, to save me carrying three separate bits of kit around with me! Beth was looking for workable alternatives to the Apple iPhone (she quite fairly believes it would seriously frustrate me because it's so 'closed' - I'm a born tinkerer!)

When she came across the Samsung SGH-i600 Smartphone (Orange branded, but unlocked - it appears - and SIM-free) on Amazon, she was very much taken with the specification; it has a little keyboard, wi-fi, and all kinds of other things.. all for £130 - a bargain, compared with other Smartphones. In fact, she ordered one that evening, and, since it arrived in just a day or so, has given it to me for a few days to evaluate it. Here, then, is my review.

The Samsung i600 : what it can do...
Here's my review of the Samsung i600. I based it very much on my expectations of what I would want from a replacement for my iPaq - a stiff challenge, really, since it's still one of the best performing Windows Mobile PDAs, offering a rare VGA (480x640) screen and a fast processor. The way I thought I'd organise this is by setting the criteria; what the iPaq does, and how (so far!) the i600's managed to achieve these tasks, and then give the benefits and the deficiencies. So..

  • Surfing the internet:
    iPaq hx4700: Microsoft Pocket Internet Explorer, and Minimo - for multi-tab browsing.
    i600: Microsoft Pocket Internet Explorer. Minimo installed, but wouldn't run. Because PIE is so appalling, I have had to download Opera Mobile, which isn't free, but looks really good.

  • MSN Messenger:
    iPaq hx4700: MSN Messenger pre-installed.
    i600: Windows Live Messenger runs on the Pocket Internet Explorer browser, but frankly, it looks rubbish. Fortunately, there's a piece of software called Fring, which can do most instant messenger clients, including Windows Live Messenger and Skype (see below). This worked really well

  • Skype:
    iPaq hx4700: Skype for Mobile installed - works well
    i600: PocketSkype wouldn't install; once again, Fring came to the rescue. It even does voice calling - really very good.

  • Radio / Audio / Video
    iPaq hx4700: Windows Media Player 10 mobile pre-installed. RealPlayer and The Core Pocket Media Player both installed without issues; I'm able to listen to BBC Radio - including Listen Again (RealPlayer) commercial Radio (Windows Media Player) and Shoutcast streams (betaplayer) and watch videos, including from my Neuros OSD.
    i600: Windows Media Player 10 mobile pre-installed. RealPlayer installed using some instructions on the excellent modaco http://www.modaco.com website (you can find them here), but crashed whenever I tried to play anything.Some good news, though, came when I found a first-class resource for streaming radio on PDAs - pdatuner.com. I found links to BBC Radio that would play on Windows Media Player. The Core Pocket Media Player wouldn't install at first, until I found an excellent link to the Smartphone version. So - it's possible to watch TV on the phone! The pre-installed software (PacketVideo Videoplayer) is fairly limited to playing the videos recorded by the onboard camera

  • Google Maps / TomTom Satnav:
    iPaq hx4700: Google Maps for mobile installed and works; TomTom 7 installed and works with a bluetooth GPS unit
    i600: Google Maps installed and works with a wi-fi connection. However, it can't get a clue of where it is from the cellular phone network; apparently the handset isn't supported. It can, however, attach to a bluetooth GPS system, with a small amount of fiddling with Bluetooth manager (creating an incoming Serial Port once it's partnered with the GPS). TomTom 7 could work, but it needs some clever trickery with virtual cursor software (like SP Helper, which puts a virtual mouse pointer on the screen that you can move with the direction keys).. I don't have a storage card yet, so it's too soon to tell if I can get it going.

  • Network drives and system tweaks:
    iPaq hx4700: Windows Mobile 5 comes with capabilities to make connections to Windows shares, which is really handy for getting files on and off it, and playing MP3s from the mac. PocketPuTTY installs and runs, and the iPaq also comes with Windows Terminal Services; I can connect to a PC at home, and remote control it over a tunnelled SSH connection (cool, huh?). I can use PHM Registry editor to edit the registry, and FTPView for FTP connections.
    i600: I couldn't find a way to map network drives; PocketPuTTY would install, but crashed, and Windows Terminal Services isn't installed (and isn't really suitable anyway, because it relies on the ability to move a mouse about!) I downloaded and installed the free TotalCommander, which has registry editing abilities. There is an integral FTP client, which seems to be the only way to get files on and off the phone in real-time. It's also possible to set the phone to use the storage card as a USB storage device, so you're not reliant on ActiveSync to get data onto it.

  • RSS and podcasts:
    iPaq hx4700: I've tried a few bits of software, including pRSSreader, but each seems to suffer from corruption far too easily - maybe because I do a lot with the SD card, including removing it regularly. There are some fresh candidates available here and here - I'll have a go at them, and report back. I've also been recommended to try Mobile Bloglines, but from my first cursory glance, it seems only to work online, so it's reliant either on a wi-fi or a cellular data connection. I tend to download podcasts to the SD cards using Juice on the Mac... seems to work OK (as long as I remember to take the SD card out of the reader before I dash off home!)
    i600: This comes with an RSS Reader and a Podcast downloader installed as standard. How cool is that? I'll give them a go as soon as I get hold of a microSD card - I've ordered a rather inexpensive 2GB card from valueshop.co.uk - only £8.59 including postage.

So, what do I think of the i600? On the whole, it's a good contender - especially for the price - although I would say it needs to do a little bit more to be a suitable replacement for the iPaq. It has an excellent camera (for a phone!) with reasonable video recording performance, too. It can do all the usual things the latest breed of mobile can do, including playing MP3s, multimedia messages, and - of course - surfing the GPRS and 3G cellular networks.

But that, I'm afraid, is where the downsides start..

The Samsung i600 : the minor irritations...

  • Wi-fi turns itself off after a couple of minutes.
    This is annoying - potentially expensively so. If you're surfing using a wi-fi connection, and then stop, the screen dims, and after a little while, the backlight goes off. Then, the wi-fi network switches off. This also affects Fring, too, and I've not found a way to keep it on permanently. The media players, however, seem to keep the wi-fi connection alive, though - I shall do some further research.
    The risk is, then, if you're surfing the internet and the wi-fi connection goes to sleep, it can end up dialling the internet using the cellular network. I think I've used a bit of credit like that! I can see why wi-fi wouldn't be permanently on - it could certainly end up draining the battery - but this is definitely a potential inconvenience.

  • Key slipping
    It might just be me, but I'll be running through the menus, using the navigation cursor and the 'soft keys' either side of it, and either my big fat finger will slip or it'll go back to a completely different menu or the home screen without any warning. Fortunately there's a little 'messages' button that'll return me to the text message was writing, otherwise the 'back' button generally does the trick.

  • It's not a Pocket PC.. not a Windows Mobile device - it's a Windows Mobile Smartphone.
    This means it can't - and will never - run some of the software that would seem to be ideally suited to it, even with SP Helper. Webby is a fine example - a free mult-tab browser that simply crashes when you try to run it. Why? The answer's here.

  • The clock stops!
    This is a minor annoyance, but one nonetheless. When I switch on the keylock, sometimes it stops updating the clock on the display. I really can't see any reason for this.

  • Special character passwords don't work properly..
    This is a rather odd one. My instant messenger accounts have strange characters in their passwords; when I try to log in, and use the 'text input mode' button to enter the symbol I need, it either inserts the character into the username field (in the case of Fring) or just ignores my pressing of the 'text input mode' button! I've noticed this doesn't happen when, for example, I configure email accounts, so I might have to take this back to Fring as a bug report..

  • No headphone socket
    You have to spend a fiver on an adaptor to convert the rather flimsy looking (but hopefully robust!) micro-D connector into a socket capable of using some headphone better than those supplied.

I've been looking into the newer version of this phone - the Samsung i780 - and it really doesn't seem to offer a huge amount more; it has a slightly larger, touch-enabled screen, and internal GPS, and Opera (a $24 piece of software) installed as standard, but it doesn't seem to address the issues in the comparisons above. However, I'm sold on it - and, since the price was reduced even further to £99, once it's arrived, Beth and I will have one each! I would recommend this phone to anyone who wants a versatile smartphone, with a bright display, plenty of accesssories available for it. Better than an iPhone? Less swish, definitely, but it's a fraction of the price, not locked to O2 and it can do 3G.. maybe Beth was right to dissuade me!

Nokia 5140, Samsung i600 and HP iPaq hx4700
a Nokia 5140, Samsung i600 and HP iPaq hx400 side by side

Posted by james at May 1, 2008 10:06 PM

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