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Samsung SPH-1300

Samsung Palm-Powered Cellphone

Samsung Converges Communications

by Jim Bray

Korean electronics giant Samsung has come up with a gadget that could make even me spring for a Personal Digital Assistant.

I like the idea of PDA's. They can help keep your life organized almost as well as having a professional nag with you at all times, but the last thing I need is another gadget to haul around. In fact, at Comdex last week I ended up taking all the show and appointment information I'd stored in a Palm I was reviewing and copying it onto a piece of paper so I could free up a pocket and have one less metallic device to set off the detectors at the show entrances.

Then, at one of those Comdex meetings, the people from Samsung showed me a doohickey that really turned my crank.

It's called the SPH-1300, a cellular telephone that's also a fully functioning Palm 5 PDA. Not only is the whole shebang scarcely larger than the cell phone I use right now, but it also ups the ante on the Palm I put away in favor of pen and paper: it has a backlit color LCD screen that's far easier to see than the dim and monochromatic one on my Palm tester.

Could this be the way communications technology is headed?

Yessirree, and isn't that great?

The SPH-1300, which sells for about $499, uses Palm OS (operating system) version 3.5 and comes with standard applications like Address Book, Date Book, Expense Report, Calculator, Mail, To Do list, Memo Pad, HotSync (which lets you upload/download to and from your personal computer) and even a couple of games.

Oh, yeah, it also has an integrated Web Browser for those times when you need to access your e-mail or surf while you're away from your primary PC.

As with other Palm units, you can use the plastic stylus to work the features (Samsung even throws in an extra one, which is a great idea since they're so easy to lose), and you can either type in your data via a little onscreen keyboard or use the Graffiti handwriting recognition features.

Besides the stylus, you can navigate through the unit's abundance of features using four buttons and an up/down cursor control thingy on the front panel.

As a phone, the Samsung gives you full duplex speakerphone capabilities, which means both parties can talk and hear at the same time. You can also mess with the Palm features while using the speakerphone, which is darn handy. To make it even more flexible, there's a headset jack that lets you use the phone hands free, though the headset isn't included in the price.

You also get call display, voice memo (capable of recording something like 60 ten second reminders), ten ringer tones and a vibrate setting. Vibrate is wonderful because it lets you turn the ringer off; the only downside I've found to it is that when it first went off when I was carrying a phone in my chest pocket I thought I was having a heart attack.

There's also a really thoughtful feature called "Keyguard" that locks the phone when you aren't using it so you won't call the other side of the world by mistake.

I haven't actually tried the PDA phone yet, but the Samsung representatives who were making me salivate over the prospect said that the Palm and phone functionalities are completely integrated, so not only can you use the Palm pull down menus to access phone features but you can look up contacts in your address book and then phone them right from there.

The unit comes with a desktop battery charger (batteries are also included) and HotSync cradle, and you can also swap data using the built in infrared port.

The screen only displays 256 colors, but that should be more than adequate.

The only other drawback, at least right now, is that the PDA phone is only available to Sprint wireless customers. My sources hinted that this may only be temporary, however, and that other providers may be signing on before long. Good.

Taking such completely separate gadgets and turning them into a whole that's better than the sum of the parts is such a great idea I'm surprised nobody thought of it five years ago. And, while it isn't really a technological innovation, it's a wonderful idea just the same.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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April 4, 2007