I recently replaced my ancient but trusty Samsung i730, which was running WM 2003, with its shiny new successor, an i760 running WM6. What a difference, both in terms of the hardware and the software.

The i730 got the job done. I could connect to Verizon’s fast EV-DO network and get my e-mail, look things up on the Web, open Word and Excel documents, and make phone calls. But it was big and clunky and heavy and not very pretty. I had seen the i760 (Figure A) at the Verizon booth at CES last January and wanted it ever since, but the supposed release date “sometime in the summer” came and went with no sign of it.
Figure A

The Samsung i760 Windows Mobile 6 Professional edition phone

Meanwhile, I envied those folks with sleek, slim phones and for several months, I even seriously considered buying an iPhone. It’s pretty, all right. But I just couldn’t get past the drawbacks. So I kept waiting.

And I have to say it was worth the wait. I got my i760 a week ago and I couldn’t be happier with it. Although it’s not as pretty or as thin as an iPhone, it feels tiny to me in comparison to the i730. Figure B shows both with the extended batteries installed.
Figure B

The i760 is only about half as thick as the i730 when both have extended batteries installed.

As I’ve used the phone over the last two weeks, I’ve been very pleased with it and glad that I chose it, especially when it comes to accomplishing business-related tasks. Here are just a few of the reasons I think the i760 is a much better phone for business purposes than the iPhone — and also better than the i730 and most other competitors.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download and a TechRepublic photo gallery.

#1: Usable QWERTY keyboard

One of the reasons I liked the iPhone was that there was no physical keyboard to take up space and make the device thicker. I hate physical keyboards — or at least I thought I did, until I got the i760.

I never used the slide-out keyboard on the i730. It was cramped, and because it was at the bottom, holding the phone in a position to use it made the whole device top heavy and unbalanced. I always just used the soft keyboard when I needed to type, but that presented problems of its own: With the tiny soft keys, I was always getting double letters.

I didn’t expect to like the i760 keyboard much better, but to my surprise, it’s a delight to use. The keys are big enough and separate enough so that it’s easy to “thumb type.” And although I’ll probably never get up to the 90 wpm that I can do on my full-size ergonomic keyboard on the desktop, it’s the most usable keyboard I’ve encountered on a handheld device. And it works better for me than the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard, too.

When I checked my e-mail on the i730, I always hoped there wouldn’t be anything that needed an immediate reply. Now replying is no problem; I can even knock off a fairly long message quickly and without errors. Figure C shows the difference between the i730 and i760 keyboards.
Figure C

The i760’s keyboard is a thousand times more usable than that of the i730.

#2: Front number pad

At first, having a second keypad on the front of the closed phone seemed a little redundant. I wondered why they didn’t leave it off and make the screen bigger, like the iPhone’s. But in practice, I’ve come to appreciate the designers’ wisdom.

With the iPhone, you have to go to the phone application and use the on-screen number pad to dial. With the i760, just dial the number on the physical number pad right from the Today screen. No need to open the phone app. This means when you want the device to act like “just a phone,” it does — no fumbling to “find” the phone part. It’s surprisingly more functional.

#3: One-handed operation

One-handed operation was only a dream with the i730, and with the iPhone’s touch screen, you pretty much have to hold the device in one hand and use the other to perform the touch gestures. The i760, however, is a true one-handed device. Samsung has moved the hardware buttons to accommodate that, and the new design works nicely.

On the left side of the phone, as shown in Figure D, are an Up/Down volume control and the silver and green Talk button that’s used to bring up the phone application or to turn speakerphone on and off while you’re in a call. With the phone resting in your right hand, your index or middle finger can operate these controls easily.
Figure D

The volume control and Talk button are on the left side of the phone.

On the right side (Figure E), along with the headphone jack and stylus (the little round thing that looks like a button) are three buttons:

  • The Windows Start button, which brings up the Start menu when clicked. If you hold it down, it starts Voice Command.
  • The OK button, which has the same effect as clicking the X in the top-right corner of a program screen.
  • The Camera button, which turns on the built-in camera/camcorder.

There’s also a silver and red End Call button on the right side.

Figure E

A number of buttons are accessible on the right side of the phone.

Using these buttons, along with the round navigation control and the soft keys on the front face of the phone to the left of the number keypad, it’s not just possible but easy to get around the small desktop without ever using the touchscreen at all.

And if you do prefer to use the touchscreen, it’s much more responsive than it was on the i730 — although I have to admit you can’t pinch and resize items like you can on the iPhone. Still, the touchscreen is so good that I’ve only taken my stylus out once, and that was to do a reset after installing a program.

#4: Better battery management

One of the top reasons I couldn’t bring myself to buy an iPhone was the non-removable battery. Sure, one battery charge is enough to get you through the day, but what if you go camping or something and can’t get to a charger? I like having the option of bringing a second charged battery along. And Samsung not only lets you have an extra battery, it’s included with the phone.

The i730 also includes an extra, higher capacity (extended) battery — but it’s a whopper. When you put it on the phone, you double the thickness and significantly increase the weight of the device. The extended battery on the i760 is almost the same size as the standard one, and the standard one is super slim. Figure F shows it next to the phone.
Figure F

The i760’s battery is slim and trim, especially in comparison to the i730’s.

#5: Fast EV-DO network

Another good reason to forego the iPhone is the silly decision for it to only use AT&T’s slow EDGE network instead of their faster HSDPA network. EDGE is a 2.5G technology with a top speed around 200Kbps.

The i760 uses Verizon’s EV-DO network, which has a top speed of 2.4Mbps. We regularly get 400 to 600Kbps or faster connections, depending on where we are.

Why Apple/AT&T straddled the iPhone — which is so well designed for Web browsing — with a slow Internet connection is a question many in the industry have been asking. Meanwhile, if you’re using your device for business, and especially if you need to be able to look things up quickly on the Web, the faster connection makes the i760 a lot more functional.

#6: MicroSD card support

Apple built 4 or 8GB of flash storage into the iPhone, which is nice. But it would have been even nicer if it had also included a flash card slot so you could add more or switch out cards. The i760 has a microSD slot, which takes very little extra space and lets you add more storage space. Figure G shows just how small the micro card is.
Figure G

The i760 uses a tiny microSD card for expanded storage.

The microSD card is much smaller than the regular SD cards used by the i730, but you can put it in an adapter and use it in a regular SD card slot as well.

Out of the box, the i760 supports microSD cards only up to 2 GB in capacity, but you can fix that by installing drivers for SD HC (high capacity SD), which are available here.

#7: Easy Exchange setup

Another major reason I resisted the temptation of the iPhone was my dependency on Exchange for my e-mail, calendaring, etc. The iPhone supports IMAP but does not provide full Exchange support at this time. There have been rumors that Apple will add this to the iPhone in the future. Windows Mobile 6, of course, integrates seamlessly with Exchange.

Setting up Exchange on the i760 with WM6 was much easier than on the i730 with WM2003. Importing and installing the certificate was simple — almost too simple. Just copy it to the device via the Remote Device Center/ActiveSync or onto the SD card and click it to install. That’s it.

To set up ActiveSync, you enter your mail server information, as shown in Figure H.
Figure H

On the next screen, you enter your Exchange credentials and specify whether you want the password saved. (This is required for automatic synchronization.)

Next, choose which Exchange data you want to synchronize, as shown in Figure I.
Figure I

Then, set the sync schedule, as shown in Figure J.
Figure J

Now, the i760 will connect to the Internet over the EV-DO or 1xx network at the scheduled times and contact your Exchange server. You can also force a manual sync at any time, as shown in Figure K.
Figure K

Note that now you also have the option of synchronizing whenever new items arrive (push mail). But be careful about selecting this check box. If your Exchange Server is not Exchange 2003 SP2 or above, this will be done using Always-Up-To-Date (AUTD) technology that requires an SMS message to be sent to your device every time a change is detected in your Exchange mailbox. If you have to pay for each SMS message, and if you get a lot of mail, this could become prohibitively expensive. (You’ll also be paying for notification of every spam message you get — ouch!) If you’re using Exchange 2003 SP2 or Exchange 2007, you can use DirectPush, which doesn’t involve SMS.

#8: Pocket Office

The iPhone does allow users to open and read Microsoft Word and Excel files, which is handy. However, you can’t edit them. With Pocket Word and Pocket Excel on WM6, you can make and save changes to Office documents. You can even create a brand new document from scratch, as shown in Figure L.
Figure L

Another advantage is that WM6 includes Pocket PowerPoint, with which you can view (but not edit) PowerPoint presentations, as shown in Figure M. I’ve found this to be handy for reviewing your presentation quickly prior to giving a talk, without having to break out the laptop.
Figure M

#9: Flash card encryption and remote wipe

Security is a big issue for businesses today, especially where portable devices are concerned. A device as small as the i760 can easily be lost or stolen. What if you have sensitive information stored on your handheld?

Of course, you can password-protect the device to prevent an unauthorized person from starting it up and accessing data that’s stored in the internal memory — but in the past, the storage card presented a security problem. All the thief had to do was remove it and put it in another device or card reader to access information stored on it.

With WM6, you can encrypt data that’s stored on the flash card. It’s as simple as selecting a check box, using the Encryption selection in the Settings | System window, as shown in Figure N.
Figure N

Just be aware before you do it that the encrypted card will be readable only on this particular device, so if something happens to the device, that information is lost to you.

Another great security feature in WM6, which is available only with Exchange 2007, is the ability to remotely wipe all the data on the device and storage card if it’s lost or stolen.

#10: Third-party programs

Finally, an important part of using a computer is the ability to install programs that add needed functionality. That was made apparent by the number of iPhone users who applied a hack to enable them to add third-party applications. Apple made a lot of its customers unhappy when it released an update that not only disabled those third-party applications but essentially turned the phones into bricks as punishment for having installed the apps.

Apple is now making a limited number of approved Web-based applications available, but with Windows Mobile, there are hundreds of third-party apps of all kinds you can install without voiding your warranty and/or killing your phone. A WM6 device is, after all, a Windows computer — albeit a small one.

The first thing I did after bringing home my new i760 was download and install a number of third-party applications to make it easier to get the things done that I wanted to do. These apps range from phone enhancements to contact managers to tools that extend the capabilities of the desktop to better file and task management utilities. These programs join the preinstalled ones in the Programs window, as shown in Figure O.
Figure O

Where does it fall short?

Nothing’s perfect, and that includes the i760. There are a few areas where it falls short of the iPhone, but not many. First, of course, is the “fat factor.” I’d love for it to be thinner, but I’m not sure I want to give up the QWERTY keyboard just to shave off a quarter of an inch. The iPhone’s built-in 8GB storage capacity is also nice, and I would probably be willing to give up the microSD slot for that — although I’d prefer to have both.

And speaking of the microSD support, it would be nice if they had built in support for microSDHC so you wouldn’t have to hunt down and install a hack to use larger capacity cards — the two-gig limit might have been a deal breaker for me if there hadn’t been a way around it.

Does it have the “wow” factor of the iPhone at first glance? No, it doesn’t. But for me — and I think for most business users — the i760 is a lot more functional for getting your work done. And with the ability to play your music on Windows Media Player or connect to your Media Center PC and watch live or recorded TV with Orb (another add-on), it’s not all work and no play, either.

Debra Littlejohn Shinder is a technology consultant, trainer and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. These include Scene of the Cybercrime: Computer Forensics Handbook, published by Syngress, and Computer Networking Essentials, published by Cisco Press. She is co-author, with her husband, Dr. Thomas Shinder, of Troubleshooting Windows 2000 TCP/IP, the best-selling Configuring ISA Server 2000, and ISA Server and Beyond.