The Samsung i600 (BlackJack) is the latest addition to Telstra’s high-speed Next G network handset portfolio. The Windows Mobile smartphone is from Samsung’s Ultra Messaging line – handsets that have been specifically designed with messaging at mind. The handset is an upgrade to the i320N, which was reviewed late last year here at iMobile.com.au. The main upgrade in the i600 is the addition of HSDPA network support – most other features remained unchanged or have been downgraded (like the internal memory size).
The i600 does not miss out on the much loved features, though. There’s Bluetooth, microSD expansion card slot, Java application environment, several pre-installed productivity applications, and Microsoft’s own Windows Media Player 10 Mobile. Major 2G networks are supported, as well as the HSDPA-enabled 850MHz UMTS network band.
Let’s get into the review!
Note: There are many different versions of the Samsung i600 for different regions. Some i600 variants have a forward-facing camera for video calling, and some come with WiFi connectivity. The model I received is the Australian version (i601), so our international readers may need to double check a local retailer for correct specifications.
The HSDPA connectivity of the Samsung i600 is one of its main selling points. Using Telstra’s HSDPA-enabled Next-G network, on-the-go workers can download e-mails with large attachments in a matter of seconds. The handset also has Internet Explorer Mobile for browsing the Internet (and local WAP pages), which has features like full screen display, and Java Script support.
A 65,536 colour display brings the i600 to life. The non-touch screen 2.3” TFT LCD has a 240 x 320 pixel resolution. The BlackJack has two soft keys and a 5-way navigational pad for controlling the handset. There is also a dedicated “Home Screen” button, return button, and a pick-up and hang-up key. Below this top navigation strip is the full QWERTY keyboard, complete with punctuation characters. Each key has more than one function – for example, the ‘e’, ‘t’, ‘u’, ‘d’, ‘g’, ‘j’, ‘x’, ‘v’, and ‘n’ keys also act as the numerical keypad.
As for messaging, the i600 supports SMS, MMS, POP3/IMAP4 e-mail, and push e-mail via an Exchange server or an Outlook Desktop. Typing messages on the QWERTY keyboard is surprisingly quick, and it didn’t take me very long at all to get used to the key layout when coming straight from a regular numerical keypad. MMS messages can be personalized with the integrated 1.3mpx digital camera, which can capture still images and video up to 60 minutes long.
Unfortunately the i600 does not run the latest version of Windows Mobile, version 6.0. It uses version 5.0 of the smartphone operating system, and is powered by a TI OMAP 1710 CPU, clocked at 220MHz. There is 128MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM, but only ~54MB of memory is user-accessible.
The BlackJack is a block-format handset, which resembles a standard form factor handset that has been spread lengthwise. It is 11.8mm thin, which rivals some non-smartphone devices. The total measurements are 113 x 59 x 11.8mm, so it’s not actually that much wider than other handsets on the market. With the standard battery, the handset weighs 105 grams.
The front of the i600 houses the 2.3” TFT LCD, navigational buttons, and the QWERTY keyboard. On the left hand side of the handset is the charging/data port, and volume up and down keys. The right hand side of the handset has a 3-way jog dial and dedicated return button, which has the same functionality as the return button in the navigational strip. The jog-dial and return key can be used to browse around the i600’s operating system without even touching the navigational keypad. The microSD memory card slot is also located on the right hand side of the i600.
The on/off button is located at the top of the handset, where you’ll also find a small sticker which reads “QUALCOM 3G HSDPA”. The bottom of the i600 is bare. On the back of the handset is a 1.3mpx camera lens, chrome mirror, and the loudspeaker.
The sales package includes a standard battery and an extended battery. Because the extended battery is thicker than the standard battery, Samsung have included an accommodating back cover for use with the ended battery. After the extended battery is inserted the cover sits on-top, and actually looks quite flush with the rest of the handset! It’s quite light so doesn’t add much extra weight to the handset, but the extended battery itself is quite heavy.
User interface & display
The Samsung i600 runs the Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone operating system and has a 240 x 320 pixel TFT LCD. The Smartphone version of Windows Mobile 5 puts the ‘phone’ functionality of the handset in front of the other functionality, which many users will appreciate. The display is capable of producing up to 65,536 different colours, which is often the standard for PDA-like smartphones. I would have liked to have seen a 262,144 colour display on the i600 (especially considering it’s not touch-screen capable).
The Home Screen of the i600 is different to most other Windows Mobile 5 handsets I’ve used before, and contains a wealth of information in a ‘drawer’ that can be hidden when not required. The drawer contains information like missed calls, SMS and e-mail messages, and upcoming appointments. A row of 8 icons at the top of the drawer link to the last used functions. The drawer also has links to My Documents and the storage card, if inserted. A bar below the drawer (which cannot be hidden), displays information about the currently playing track in Windows Media Player Mobile. It can also be used to pause, stop, or skip tracks.
The user interface can be quite slow at times, even when performing relatively ‘simple’ tasks like bringing up the Start menu. The Start menu can be displayed in a grid or list view, and by default it consists of 15 icons which link to specific functions, or link to a folder containing specific functions. The dedicated Home Screen button next to the left hand soft key will bring you back to the Home Screen at any time. Holding down the red hang up key will lock the keypad from the Home Screen. The i600 I received was from Telstra, so the Telstra firmware had added some icons to the main menu.
The i600’s menu system is very shortcut oriented, and every function listed on the display will have a corresponding number which can be pushed on the keyboard to quickly jump to that item. The soft keys are usually there to move forward (show more options) or backwards in the menu system.
Unfortunately I experienced quite a bit of lag when using intensive programs like the calendar or the file browser, and also when bouncing through the menu system.
Making and receiving calls
Support for voice calls via the earpiece, integrated speakerphone, or a wired/Bluetooth headset is supported by the i600. A wired stereo headset is included in the sales package, which can be used for calling. The handset supports the GSM 900, 1800, and 1900MHz networks, and the HSDPA-enabled 850MHz network band.
The i600’s QWERTY keyboard keys all have more than one function – and inputting numbers is quite simple. At the standby screen, you can just typing the name of a contact in the contacts book – or a number. The handset automatically searches the contact book and if a contact is not entered, the input is taken as numbers. Pushing the green pick-up button will dial the call, and the red hang-up button will do just that! The green pick-up button can also be used on any highlighted number anywhere within the operating system to dial that number.
Volume levels were fine for both the earpiece and speakerphone, and can be adjusted using the dedicated volume keys on the left hand side of the handset.
The i600 does not support video calling in any fashion – not even receiving video calls. Unlike other international versions of the i600, there is no forward-facing digital camera on the Australian version. I wonder why Samsung didn’t include this functionality on the Australian version – the HSDPA has more than enough bandwidth to support video calling, and it’s a feature that competition devices do offer… beats me!
Messaging is made much easier on the i600 thanks to the comfortably designed QWERTY keyboard. The handset itself supports SMS, MMS, and e-mail messaging, including Outlook push e-mail. The HSDPA protocol makes sending and receiving MMS and e-mail messages so much faster than using 2G protocols or the WCDMA protocol.
The messaging application is laid out like Outlook Express on a PC, with separate folders for each messaging account – and under that, separate folders for the inbox, outbox, drafts, and sent messages. SMS and MMS messages have a shared account folder, and each e-mail account has its own folder – including the Outlook push e-mail folder.
Setting up e-mail messaging is simple with the handy wizard. To set up Outlook push e-mail, select the “Outlook E-mail” icon in the main messaging screen. To set up a new regular e-mail account, select “New Account”. The wizard then asks for all the required information and sets up the folders.
As I mentioned earlier, typing messages is very fast with the QWERTY keyboard. It may take a little bit of time to get used to typing with a full keyboard just using your fingers, but once that’s done messaging is a breeze. The buttons are rounded and therefore comfortable to the touch.
At any time SMS messages can be transformed into MMS messages – just select the options menu and add an object like a photo, video, or sound clip.
The Australian version of the Samsung i600 offers Bluetooth version 2.0 and USB version 2.0 for local connectivity, and GPRS, EDGE, and HSDPA remote data protocols. Inside the i600’s sales package is a USB data-cable and software CD with Microsoft’s ActiveSync software, which is used to transfer files to and from the handset, and synchronize with compatible applications.
The i600’s Connectivity section of the settings menu contains all the settings for every connectivity protocol supported on the handset. The Bluetooth radio on the handset is compliant with version 2.0 of the wireless specification, and includes the Bluetooth Printing Profile for use with compatible printers. There is about a 5 second delay when selecting “turn on Bluetooth” before it is actually activated.
The included USB data-cable plugs into the charging/data port on the left hand side of the handset, just below the volume up and down keys. Version 2.0 of the USB protocol offers speeds of up to 480Mbit/s. The Microsoft ActiveSync software (included) is light-weight and easy to use – and works hand in hand with Outlook and few other PIM applications.
When connected to a 2G network, the i600 will select between GPRS or EDGE for data connectivity. The handset is also compatible with the HSDPA-enabled 850MHz 3G network band for high-speed data connectivity. The HSDPA radio on the i600 is capable of speeds up to 1.8Mbp/s.
The i600 performs well with 2D applications (JBenchmark 2.0), but isn’t the best performer when it comes to 3D applications. Two games (Solitaire and Bubble Breaker) are pre-installed on the i600, but they aren’t Java games.
The main multimedia application on the Samsung i600 is Windows Media Player 10 Mobile. Media Player handles video and audio, streaming and locally stored. It has a library feature for managing and cataloguing music files stored on the handset, an equializer, shuffle and repeat features, and even theme support.
Windows Media Player 10 Mobile supports MP3, ASF, and WMA audio files. Video support is included for Windows Media Video (WMV), MPEG4, and 3GPP video clips. Full screen playback is supported for locally stored & streaming video. The player can also play audio in the background while the you perform other tasks like messaging.
Transferring multimedia to the handset is easy with Bluetooth or USB. The ActiveSync software for Windows computers has drag & drop support for transferring files, but requires the installation of the drivers found on the included CD.
Samsung have included a Java virtual machine for running MIDP 2.0 applications and games. To install a Java application, just transfer the .jar file the memory from a PC, load up the Java application (in the Organizer folder) and install! You can also use the file manager to find the .jar file and open it – it will automatically be installed.
I achieved the following benchmarks using the JBenchmark testing software:
||HQ: 200, LQ: 218
The main menu of the i600 has an “Organizer” folder, which contains all PIM-related applications and functionality. The only application that isn’t in this folder is the Calendar, but that has its own icon on the main menu. The calendar (and contacts) can be synchronized over-the-air to an Exchange server, or locally via Bluetooth or USB with the included ActiveSync software.
The applications inside the organizer folder are:
Alarms: this one is pretty self explanatory! Several alarms can be set, including repeating alarms.
D-Day: this little application adds entries to the calendar that repeat each year. For example, wedding anniversaries and birthdays.
Notepad: for jotting down small notes. This is often included on touch-screen devices, but the i600’s QWERTY keyboard makes it easy to input large amount of text quickly.
Smart Converter: can convert a wide range of formats.
Tasks: like a to-do list.
Download agent: this is similar to a download manager for a PC
Java: For running Java applications and games.
Picsel Viewer: a document and image viewer with wide format support, including PDF, .doc, .ppt, and .xls.
RSS Reader: for syndicating XML feeds direct to the handset.
Smart Search: this application can be used to search the memory on the handset for a particular file or piece of information.
Samsung have done a great job with the i600’s PIM applications by including several non-standard applications – like the RSS Reader and Picsel Viewer. These applications add that little extra functionality that can really make or break a smartphone.
Thanks to the thin size of the i600, the internals have been compacted as much as possible, making the handset very solid in hand. It weighs 105 grams, which is below the average for smartphones.
The i600’s battery cover is easy to remove – just apply downward force and slide away from the rest of the handset. The extended battery cover slips onto the back of the handset with ease and is surprisingly, very flush with the rest of the handset. The battery and SIM card are easy to insert (they’ll only go in one way), as is the memory card.
The keyboard buttons are extremely comfortable to type on, mainly due to their rounded, circular shape. I spent a lot of time writing out messages and editing documents on the i600, and not once did I get that uncomfortable feeling in my thumbs.
Samsung have included two batteries in the i600’s sales package. The standard battery can be used with the standard battery cover, but the extended battery must be used with the accommodating battery cover which increases the size of the handset. The standard battery is 1800mAh, and the standard is 1300mAh.
The battery life of the standard battery is 5.5 hours talk time and 11 days of standby time. I could get approximately 2 days of average usage from a full charge of the standard battery, which included a reasonable amount of web browsing over the HSDPA network. While I couldn’t find the exact specifications of the extended battery, I could get approximately 3 days of the same type of average usage.