Not long ago, my good friend and distinguished colleague Peter Ha lamented that CDMA phones were relatively useless outside of the US because of their inability to roam on European networks. Well CDMA providers like Sprint and Verizon recognize this as a legitimate disadvantage and, as such, are beginning to offer phones that work on networks here but also contain slots for SIM cards, allowing them to function abroad as well. The Samsung Ace SPH-i325 on the Spint Network is one such phone.
Overview and Features
The SPH-i325 is a dynamite blend of form and function. It’s 2.3-inches wide by 4.6-inches tall by .47-inches deep and feels solid, even though it weighs in at just under four ounces. There’s a bright 320 x 240 screen that measures 2.3-inches diagonally and a keyboard with pyramid-shaped keys that looks like it’d be hell to type on but turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever used — more on that later.
The backside of the device features a speakerphone and 1.3-megapixel camera (no flash) that’s capable of recording and playing MPEG4, H.263, and WMV video formats.
On the left side of the device, you’ll find dedicated volume keys and the proprietary input port for charging and accessories. The right side features a microSD slot (up to 2GB), scroll wheel, and a “back” button for navigating through menus and whatnot.
Underneath the hood, there’s a Marvell PXA270 processor running at 312MHz, 96MB RAM and 192MB ROM, and Windows Mobile 6.
The keyboard, the keyboard, the keyboard. I can’t say enough about the keyboard. The gold standard for mobile keyboards, as far as I’m concerned, is the one on the old Sidekick II. The keyboard on the SPH-i325 is a distant second to the Sidekick II’s but is still far superior to all other mobile keyboards I’ve tried. It looks cramped from afar but once I started using it, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly and accurately I could type. If you need a WinMo device and you’ll be doing a lot of typing, this is it.
I also really liked the form factor. It’s only slightly bigger than your average candy-bar phone but packs all the features of a Windows Mobile smartphone. It fits easily in your pocket with room to spare for your keys and whatever else you carry around with you.
And finally, though it’s a feature I didn’t use, the inclusion of a SIM card slot for use on GSM networks is a nice touch. Unfortunately, you can’t use it on US networks like T-Mobile and AT&T and data speeds are GPRS-only while abroad. International roaming charges are apparently quite expensive, too, though you’ll get to use your own phone number so people will be able to get ahold of you in a pinch.
The downsides to a device of this size, though not extremely negative, include so-so battery life, so-so call quality, and so-so performance as far as the UI and data speeds are concerned. The biggest drawback is the use of a proprietary connector port.
The battery is rated at a 4.3 hour talk time and a 10-day standby time. I found that with a mixture of voice calls and web surfing, I needed to recharge the SPH-i325 about every other day. Not terrible, but I did get the “low battery” warning fairly regularly.
Call quality was a little iffy, with people on the other end sounding a little “scratchy,” for lack of a better term. I never dropped any calls or missed what people were saying, but calls in general didn’t seem very clear. I guess that’s what happens when you cram so much into such a small device. It wasn’t a deal-breaker, though.
Surfing the web on the phone itself and using the phone as a modem on my notebook was a tad sluggish compared to my first-generation Motorola Q, the HTC Touch, and an Audiovox PPC-6700, all running on Sprint’s EVDO rev. 0 network. It felt like using a low-tier 256k DSL connection. Again, not a deal-breaker but it felt like a step backwards compared to older devices running on the same network.
The proprietary port on the left-hand side of the SPH-i325 is a big disappointment. I wish manufacturers would just stick with mini-USB connections. With the SPH-i325, you’ll have to carry around the proprietary USB connector cable, the proprietary hands-free headset, and the proprietary AC adapter. There’s no headphone jack, either, so if you want to make a hands-free call while charging the phone, you’re SOL.
Despite its drawbacks — my biggest gripe being the proprietary connections — I found the SPH-i325 to be a great phone, one I’d be more than happy to use on a day to day basis. The form factor and the keyboard are especially excellent and the middling speed and battery life wouldn’t be enough to deter me from using it regularly. If you’re in the market for a solidly-built Windows Mobile phone for keeping up with e-mails and surfing the net, you’ll be pleased with the SPH-i325.
Ace (SPH-i325) Sprint [Samsung.com]