Verizon Wireless Cools Down Hot New Samsung i730 Smartphone

When I first read about the Samsung i730 PocketPC phone last November, my jaw dropped. This was the phone to have! It had everything: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, EV-DO, 1.3 mega-pixel camera, and a sweet slide-out keyboard. To top it all off, it was small and looked freakin’ killer. What else could one expect? Immediate release, maybe. Having just shelled out a pretty penny for my HP iPAQ hx4705, I wasn’t prepared to buy another PDA, but hey, if I could combine my Motorola V710 and iPAQ into one unit and forego any more teasing for having a geek belt, I was for it! But it would be months, actually over half a year before Verizon decided it was finally time to release South Korea’s most cutting edge phone to tech-savvy Americans who were all asking, “Was the wait worth it?” Read on, because it’s not a simple yes or no answer.

I received my Samsung i730 direct from Verizon Wireless on June 24th via FedEx overnight. In fact, I received two. This was a good thing, because I would end up needing the second unit since I found a defect in the first within 20 minutes of use. But first, let’s discuss the packaging.

When you open the Verizon Wireless branded box, you are a bit overwhelmed at first since there is just so much packed into the box. Some things just seem thrown in like the extra stylus, but for the most part, each piece has a secured spot in the box. What you get is a charger base, an extra extended life battery, the phone, wired hands-free ear bud, extra stylus, power plug, and a USB cable. Also added to the box are two CD-ROMs, one with some software and the other with some documentation. Verizon Wireless also inundates you with its marketing documentation. After taking everything out of its plastic sleeves and putting it all together, I simply sat by and waited for the battery to be fully charged. My wait wasn’t long.

When I saw the green light on the charger base for the phone, I picked it up off the charger and called Verizon Wireless to activate. I was the first caller to activate the i730 with friendly customer service representative that took my call and he had to involve a supervisor to get me up and running. After about ten minutes, I was making calls from my new smartphone with one awfully large smile.

The sound quality of the handset is good to very good. Previous phones would either give too much tone or too much treble. Samsung neither faulted on either side and that made me a happy camper immediately. Volume level is a major pet peeve of mine on cell phones and outside of my Sony Ericsson T-68i and Motorola V710, I’ve been unhappy with the results of all my other previous dozen or so phones. Samsung impressed enough to add itself to the SE and Moto list, but the previous two still are louder. Another handset plus for your phone conversations is the built-in speakerphone which is also mighty loud. I mean very loud. It’s driven my two stereo speakers on the back of the unit and makes for a great small huddle group meeting at a table in Applebee’s if needed. The speaker phone can easily be invoked or disabled by simply holding down the green “dial” button on the handset.

Dialing by voice is made easy with VoiceSignal’s speaker independent voice dialing. It is the same software found in my Motorola V710 and the same chick that would ask me to “Say a command” is also asking me the same thing here on the i730. There are a few more commands and features on this version then my Moto and thus the complexity is much higher. It seems that complexity can handle only so much as my second phone would crap out only when I attempted to dial a contact by name. Dialing by number worked nearly every time and opening programs was just as easy. But when I would say, “Call Chris Pirillo” it would just die. Now granted, I don’t have Chris’ number, but hey, it did the same thing for numbers I did have, too. I knew this curious problem had to be something with my Contacts specifically since every other aspect of the software worked like a charm. So it got me thinking, ‘Maybe my near 500 Contacts are just too much for it to handle.’ I slimmed it down by more then half and gave it a test. Bingo, it worked! So while Verizon tested this phone for eight months through-and-through, I still was able to find a big bug in a matter of just a few minutes of use. Sheesh, great QA, Verizon! Does no one in your beta group have a Contacts database that large, Verizon? As to my reference of getting two phones, it seems the Lord knew that I would need two phones because the first phone wouldn’t even let me get to “Say a command” when I attempted voice commands with it. It was DOA for VoiceSignal function. VoiceSignal tells me that it will have Vsuite 2.0 out by the end of the first week of July to correct the large Contacts database issue. As for getting over the bug issue, the voice command is a dog when using my Logitech Freedom Bluetooth headset performing near zero but in the high percentages if I speak into the i730’s mic. I did not get this variance of performance using the same headset on my Moto V710.

The thing that excited me the most with this phone, and the Audiovox XV6600 before it, was the ability to take my SMS messages with phone numbers in them and simply copy-and-paste them into the phone for easy dialing. My business sends me messages with customers’ numbers all day to me while I’m out of the office. This is such an improvement from having to remember the number on my Moto while dialing it that this alone makes the phone almost worth the huge price. Becoming more productive in the field is also a good ROI for any business. The ability to easily add new SMS numbers as contacts and save those messages for later use on my PC is just more icing for my already tall cake.

Okay, what about the Bluetooth? Oh ya, Bluetooth. First, I will not purchase any phone without this wireless wonder and my last five phones have all had this shortwave radio protocol. This purchase was no different. But like the Motorola V710, Verizon Wireless felt it necessary to kill and retard some of the Viking kings namesake most powerful feature and on this particular phone, it’s one of the most powerful feature that was killed: DUN. Yup, dial-up networking was removed from the Samsung i730 along with a slew of other profiles like LAN and PAN. “Why do this?” so many have asked. Easy, the answer lies in four letters: EV-DO. Not wanting geeks like myself piggy backing off its ultra-high speed network for less expense than going with Verizon’s PC Card alternative that will cost you nearly $100 a month for data alone, Verizon wants this easy money and will do anything to insure it gets it. Like killing file transfer from the TransFlash card to the phone memory in the V710 in its firmware upgrade to force Verizon customers to purchase ringtones and images from Verizon, this is just another dirty ploy from what, overall, is a great cellular provider. If you’re curious in what all the i730 supports with its Bluetooth, take a look at the chart on Verizon’s site.

Now on to the other radio feature of the phone, and that’s our beloved Wi-Fi. How’s it working? Well in a nutshell, pretty darn great. But you will have to crack a shell to get to the 802.11b meat which means turning off your phone to surf on your, um, phone. Why you have to turn off your CDMA voice channel to activate your Wi-Fi makes no sense. While it’s not a huge thing to me since it gives me a valid excuse for missing calls, it is still a minor annoyance. Now the major annoyance part of this is when you turn off the Wi-Fi it does not turn your phone back on. I found this out the hard way when I went to make a call hours after visiting Starbucks that the PDA informed me that I could not complete the call since the phone was off. It did graciously offer to turn it on, though. But still, I had to dial the number after activation.

This leads me to the last data protocol on the phone, EV-DO. It’s Verizon’s new high-speed Internet access that has claims of 5 MB bursts and near 1 MB real-life use. While I live near the Bay Area and it is home to most of the greatest technology, we have yet to see an EV-DO signal. Most of Southern California is bathed in it now, but hey, I’m not there so I couldn’t test this aspect of the phone. What I could test is the slower, near ISDN speed of 1xRTT, and that, I can testify, is still speedy enough to check e-mail. Connections are made easily enough by just clicking the Pocket Internet Explorer icon and the phone does the data connection all by itself. Piece of cake.

Having the opportunity to use the i730 in many different areas of Northern California and Nevada in the last week, I can tell you that the signal strength is about average to a little above average. I was in Lake Tahoe, South Shore, in Stateline, Nevada, and while my phone struggled to keep a grasp of the weak signal from a thousand feet above the basin floor, my Moto V710 did a much better job of retaining Verizon’s 1xRTT voice connection. Now, it’s not to say the Moto “moto’ed” the Samsung as it too was sensitive to the less then stellar signal and would drop calls as well from the cabin. So it’s by the standard of my Moto do I rate the i730’s signal strength a tad under the V710. In other parts of the lake, Incline Village in North Shore, and in South Lake Tahoe itself, the signal was excellent. Out on my property just south of Sacramento where SBC laughs at you when you ask about DSL, the i730 keeps up with the V710 in making calls. Fact is, I couldn’t find one place the i730 did not have a signal when the V710 did. All in all, I am satisfied with it’s performance enough not to feel like I’m stuck with fourth or fifth best.

A new feature becoming a standard on smartphones are thumb-boards. QWERTY keyboards shrunk down to a thumb typing size. Samsung hid its under the unit and it slides out so easily, it’s just trick. Sliding it back under the screen is just as easy. While I’m not a huge thumb typist since I am a touch typist at the office, I do have to admit that it already has come in very handy. It’s nice, but still, I’ll use MyScript as my default input standard. As to dialing phone numbers, the onscreen works pretty darn well and is actually easier to dial numbers with than the small thumb pad. Oh ya, the photo sensitive backlight is way cool. That blue light keyboard looks sweet at night!

Battery life isn’t the best, but not as dismal as another review has claimed. If you think about what this unit is doing: phone, data, and PDA, functions, it’s actually not bad at holding up for as long as it does. My Motorola V710 lasted maybe 20 to 30% longer a day than this unit and that’s a simple flip phone. So, I wouldn’t harp too much on the battery life. Further, it does give you an extended life battery with the unit, which is a bonus I’ve never seen from any other manufacturers, and it helps extend your daily usage. Trust me, after using the Audiovox XV6600 for a day, the Samsung blows it away in battery power! Depending on your phone use and PDA use, mileage may vary but again, at least you do get that larger capacity battery for your heavy users.

Lastly, I have to touch on the screen. It’s bright and vibrant but after using a VGA PocketPC device for nearly a year, I was a bit in shell shock looking at the really poor jagged and pixilated icons in PocketInformant. The font looked like crud and the screen just wasn’t large enough to muster some of the functions. But, working on the Samsung for nearly a week and using PocketInformant’s amazingly powerful settings, I was able to compensate for the QVGA screen’s shortcomings. I would have to say, though, all smartphones with screens this small MUST have VQA here on out. Outside of me being spoiled by the quality of my iPAQ screen, I would have to say that this screen is remarkable for its size and its brightness is great. I use the default medium setting and have little problem viewing anything on it. Pumping it up to the brightest setting only makes it short of amazing, but remember, this will kill your battery much quicker.

So back to my original question: Is this worth the wait? In my opinion, yes. I’m used to Verizon strangling great technology and have come to except it. While the DUN removal is a massive disappointment to me, I still have my V710, which I’m actually using to send this review to our editor, Bob. Yes, when EV-DO is everywhere, I won’t be able to use that, but hey, I figure – hope – a hack will be available to get around that and it won’t matter by then, anyway. The Wi-Fi thing is a bit stupid, too, but to me, it’s not a show stopper. With the power of the phone, great features, a decent battery life, I’m one very happy camper that will gleefully recommend this to anyone crazy enough to shell out $600 with a two-year contract.

Support
Having been one of the first people in all of America to get this unit, I did find support to be understandably lacking. I read many posts about how this unit was coming out soon since there was a lot of training happening with the Verizon crew. I think the people I worked with didn’t get that trianing. But I know as this phone becomes more popular and available, the support quality should improve.

Recommended
Yes

Pros
Combines the great power of the PocketPC and features of a phone into one great small unit.

Cons
DUN profile removed from Bluetooth, Wi-Fi deactivates phone voice use, camera-less, and no DUN profile. Oh ya, no DUN profile…

The Bottom Line
If you can overlook the lack of DUN profile and don’t care about losing your phone use while surfing via Wi-Fi, and the removal of the camera, then this is an excellent phone packed with many great features that will make you forget palmOne has a model called the Treo 650.

Ratings
Overall: 4/5

Ease of Use: 4/5
Durability: 4/5
Battery Life: 3/5
Sound Quality: 5/5