Sexy Samsung Palm phone

If the perfect PDA-cell phone hybrid is the mobile communications device you’ve been waiting for, slow down and take a look at Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.’s SPH-i500. Launched (to start) by Sprint PCS, this svelte new clamshell model is easily the most appealing Palm Inc.-based mobile phone I’ve seen to date–and the device makes few compromises to achieve its slim profile.

Measuring 3.4 by 2.1 by 0.9 inches when shut and weighing just 4.7 ounces, the SPH-i500 is only slightly thicker and wider than many current clamshells. And it’s not nearly as bulky as the Kyocera 7135 Smartphone, the most recent competing Palm-based clamshell. One clever innovation that helps the SPH-i500 achieve its small form is the relocation of the Graffiti input area from the lower portion of the main display to the bottom half of the phone, right above the luminescent keypad. That leaves the entire top half of the phone for a smallish (but bright, crisp, and easy-to-read) 160-by-240-pixel, 65,536-color active-matrix screen that my colleagues all admired.

The SPH-i500 has 16MB of memory–room for plenty of Palm apps–but no Secure Digital card slot for additional storage, and you might regret this deficiency if you buy the optional camera attachment. Audio quality on phone calls was excellent, but with my preproduction unit I could not test data operations on Sprint PCS’s Vision CDMA2000 1X network, which typically offers speeds similar to those of a 56-kbps modem. The phone ran for about three days or so without being recharged.

Another consideration: The phone uses version 4.1 of the Palm OS. No wireless device has yet appeared carrying the newer Palm 5 OS, which supports more powerful processors and other technologies.

But if you want a Palm-based phone hybrid and looks matter, the SPH-i500 is clearly the best yet. Upscale customers will undoubtedly line up for the privilege of paying Sprint the predicted US$500 to $600 price (with service plan).

Samsung SPH-i500

(Preproduction unit, not rated) Best Palm-cell phone hybrid yet; could use an SD slot.

Price when reviewed: $500 to $600.