Samsung puts Palm and phone in one neat package

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. is joining the smart-phone race, introducing the SPH-I300 digital assistant, which combines a Palm OS-based personal digital assistant with a wireless phone. It should be available for about US$500 in August from Sprint PCS Group, and later from Verizon Wireless Inc.

The Samsung phone isn’t the first Palm OS smart phone. In November, Kyocera Corp. announced its QCP 6035 smart phone, which also features a Palm OS PDA and sells for about US$500 from Sprint PCS.

The Samsung phone is similar to Kyocera’s. However, at 6 ounces, it is lighter than Kyocera’s 7.3-ounce model, and has a color display, said Peter Skarzynski, Samsung senior vice-president of sales and marketing.

Samsung is also updating its popular SCH-3500 browser phone, the SPH-N200. Expected in August from Sprint PCS and priced around US$200, the N200 is smaller and lighter than its predecessor and has a five-line display (versus four) as well as a mini-joystick for menu navigation, Skarzynski said. It comes in silver or blue.

Like the Palm VIIx, the Samsung SPH-I300 is a wireless PDA with 8 MB of memory that can be used for Web applications as well as traditional Palm tools like an address book, schedule and to-do list. It uses Palm OS 3.5, plus some features from the upcoming Release 4.0, Skarzynski said.

“It’s basically like a Palm VII with an integrated digital/analogue phone,” he added. “It supports Web browsing with OpenWave’s Palm OS Mobile Browser as well as Web clipping applications, MyPalm portal applications, wireless messaging and e-mail.”

To maximize the screen size, Samsung made the phone keypad a touch-screen application, similar to a Palm calculator. As with the recently announced HandEra 330 PDA, with a certain application you can make the Samsung’s graffiti-writing area disappear and so enlarge the overall display area, Skarzynski said.

Samsung’s SPH-I300 has a light, compact design. The unit measures 4.9 inches by 2.28 inches and is 0.82 inches thick. While smaller than a Palm display, the Samsung touch screen is bright, but has fairly poor resolution (160 by 160) and only supports 256 colors.

Besides being a full PDA, the Samsung SPH I300 sports mobile phone features that work well with the data side.

A built-in speakerphone lets you talk while still using a Palm application. And the phone can store up to 20 names for voice dialing, Skarzynski said.

A display atop the smart phone shows incoming call information and battery life along with the PDA/dialpad screen.

The phone’s side-mounted volume buttons double as scrolling controls when you’re using the PDA, Skarzynski noted. “This allows for one-handed operation with your Palm applications,” he said.

Battery life usually isn’t great with convergence devices, and the Samsung phone is no exception. The standard battery gives you about three and a half hours of talk time or five days of standby, Skarzynski said. An extended battery, to be sold by carriers, stretches that to five hours of talk time.

Of course, those times vary widely depending on how you use the device.

“Powering Palm applications doesn’t take much, but when you go out and search wireless data services, it drains the battery faster,” Skarzynski said.

Colour displays also drain battery life. The grayscale Kyocera smart phone promises 4.5 hours of talk time with a standard battery.

The Samsung phone is the second new phone to put the Palm OS on a Web-enabled cell phone. Meanwhile, Microsoft is expected to launch its Pocket PC-based smart phone, code-named Stinger, late this year. Symbian has also licensed its Epoq operating system (which runs on Psion PDAs) for inclusion in smart phones like the Ericsson R380.

And if you’d rather keep your phone and PDA separate, handset vendors are adding an increasing number of personal information management tools to smaller and smaller phones. The compact N200 features voice activated dialing, the latest browser, and a PIM for appointments, to-do lists, and contacts.