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Samsung SGH-i780 Windows Mobile PDA Phone Review

On the 5th of January I bought a brand new Samsung i780 Windows Mobile Phone to replace my dying 5 years old Nokia 7610.  Well, it is not the latest model and in fact, the i780 is at least 1 years old and somewhat out of date.  I think that's fine, since I bought things when I needed it, then I always finding a bargain!  After long researches, I've decided the i780 is the best choice of today.

September 2009 update: this mobile phone is getting more and more expensive, it is now costs Rp 3.999.000,00 or USD 400, which is more than when I bought in January 2009 for Rp 3.700.000,00 or USD 320.  This is an investment grade PDA phone (just kidding, the truth is never ever invest in any electronic product).

  • Samsung SGH-i780 under bright sunny day

    • Samsung i780

  • Although the display is set at maximum brightness its only bright enough to see under a shade.  There is no way to see the display under direct sunlight, therefore using the headset as a portable GPS or driving GPS is not possible.

  • Windows Mobile 6.1 upgrade

    • I've updated my Samsung SGH-i780's ROM to run Windows Mobile 6.1.  Since I live in Indonesia, I could use the Singapore ROM version.  After the update, I find that Windows Mobile 6.1 works way better compared to Windows Mobile 6.  I recommend that the owner of SGH-i780 to update their mobile phone with Windows Mobile 6.1.  This is the link that contains ROM upgrade files and information on how to upgrade the ROM of Samsung SGH i-780 to Windows Mobile 6.1

    • Please remind: for you who live in other country, please refer to the your country's upgrade file.  I don't know whether the Singapore ROM works on your country.  Be very cautious, since upgrade operation is very risky (any fault might render the device unusable) therefore I advice only advanced users attempt the upgrade by themself.

  • New WM 6.1 feature:

    • Threaded SMS that makes SMS answering looks like chatting in MSN.  However this encourages me to text more, therefore resulting in more phone bills!  (in fact this reminds me how many SMS's I've texted, therefore I can stop texting)

    • Smart selection mode, that means you can select one message, two message, or even hundreds below your selection with ease.  On WM 6.0, it's very frustrating to delete a lot e.g. 1000 message at once, since it took a long time and to select and only one small mistake will unselected the items.  Moreover this happens many times, particularly to me.  Therefore having this feature reduces the chance of missed deletion and faster.  This feature can be accessed by opening the Messaging, then click Tools, Select Messages. 

    • There are three options in the menu

      • All means you will highlight everything. 

      • All below means everything bellow your point will be highlighted

      • Several means you can choose which one you wanted to highlight

    • The good thing is, this feature is available on contact too!

  • WM 6.1 fixed many problem described with WM 6.0.  I've updated them and put it on bold.

  • Short Specification:

    • OS: Windows Mobile 6.0 Professional, upgradeable to Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional

    • CPU: Marvell PXA 311 series

    • Detected RAM: 112+ MB; ROM: 166+ MB

    • Features: GPS (A-GPS), Bluetooth, HSDPA (3.5G)

  • That was the specification on the paper...  When the real thing arrives,

Impression

  • My first impression was on the packaging, it was ugly.  Then the manual "book" is only a piece of folded paper and contains so little information, therefore can't even be called a book.  Considering this mobile phone's price - which is not cheap - Samsung should put a better packaging and manual. 

  • I'm somewhat disappointed on the mobile phone's built quality.  Especially the battery cover which is somewhat hard to remove and fix.  When fixing the battery cover requires a very careful procedure, otherwise the cover won't fix in place.  Sometimes the left lock is open, and on the other time is the right lock is the one who open.  Moreover battery also hard to remove, therefore swapping battery requires quite an effort.  I remember my old O2 XDA II mobile phone, which made swapping battery is a very pleasant operation.

  • The stylus is somewhat heavy to take, however, I believe this saves the stylus from being lost and prevents the stylus holder from being loose (in Javanese: lodek).  My previous PDA's stylus all loose.  This is not an issue however, since I use my finger as stylus, and finger comes standard as a built in and best stylus for human.  Moreover you have 20 of them, although only 10 is useable with PDA :P Warning: don't forget to put screen protector and do not nail the touch screen!

  • Few software bundle.  Only one CD containing Microsoft Active Sync and Microsoft Mobile Device Manager.

  • On the first day, which means a lot of playing and settings, battery life was pretty good.  On heavy use, its way better than my previous PDA's, which got depleted before I called a day.  Standby time claimed 400+ hours, however I haven't tried and I have no intention to try that, which means I did not use the mobile phone.  Anyway, GPS really kills the battery, manages finish the battery within hours.  It appears that activating GPS requires the same power with talking.

  • Ergonomics is fine.  I like the D-Pad that functions as a optical touchpad, which turns out to be very useful.  I can save my touch screen here.  QWERTY keyboard is not perfect, but functional.  It's hard to tell which button I pressed when blindfolded.  The finger marking put on shared button F-5 and J-/ is too small to to be feel.  In the other hand, the button is also too small for my big fingers, although I still can type using one hand, its inefficient since I'll have to see what's written on the screen and what button I've pressed.  For comparison, I can type using one hand with my good old Nokia 7610 blindfolded.  With this Samsung, there is no way to distinguish between buttons, therefore texting in i780 requires more concentration.

  • Buttons is good, one feature I liked here is I can configure the Mail, GPS and Camera button to a custom function.  Moreover, Mail and Camera button can be configured to recognise hold, and then engage different program program or tasks, therefore the mobile phone effectively had 5 customisable buttons.  What's a pity that I can't assign GPS button's hold function.

  • On the default, the software button on the bottom left and right of the screen can't be manually assigned.  It would have been better if I can assign them.  What's good about this, the function of soft/hard button can be changed by installing 3rd party tuning application such as Advanced Config.

  • Moreover the hardware button above the green and red phone button will function as the hard button for the soft button described above, and there is no way to assign specific function to each of them.  2 extra buttons will make working easier and faster.

  • Another complaints with the hardware buttons.  Start and OK button is a nice addition.  What a pity their assignments are not configurable. 

  • One special thing I found with i780 is the mobile phone can be turned off by pressing the power button!  That's the first time I found in a WM mobile phone.

  • Signal is fine.  Just like any other good mobile phones.

  • Voice is loud and clear and the microphone is also good.  Many of my friend's said my voice on the phone is very clear!

  • On a sunny day, the GPS took quite a while to lock.  Usually it can get 9 satellite lock, giving precise location.  I tried to walk around our factory complex, the GPS combined with Google map (with Google earth image) manages to pinpoint my exact location.  However on heavy tropical rain the GPS can't work at all!  Moreover, in a car the GPS can only get  3-4 satellite lock, well my car's window tinting is somewhat illegal of 40%+60%.

  • Overall experience: Using this PDA is way better to non QWERTY PDA's, thanks to the keyboard.  However in terms of handling and ergonomics, any Nokia is better than this Samsung i780. 

  • Samsung i780 is smart enough to put add to contact directly from Messaging.  Very simple but convenient. 

  • Today's Plus is a good addition, however it is too big on the screen.  Since I wanted neat and lean Today, then I decided to turn off the Today's Plus. WM 6.1 Update: the mobile phone no longer have Today's Plus, however not it have Samsung Today 1 and Samsung Today 2 which is much better to use.

  • Based on today's testing, here is my conclusion on using push email and GPRS.

  • GPRS is good, download speed is fine, and the 3G speed is very good.  However maintaining online GPRS is a real waste of power, therefore using push email on i780 is pointless, since the mobile phone will be died before you'd call it a day.  I work 24 hours minus sleeping time a day, which mean I need an always active mobile phone with standby time of 2-3 days. How come I work for 24 hours?  Well, I sometimes receive business phone call as early as 5 o'clock in the morning up to 9 o'clock at night even in Sunday. WM 6.1 Update: now I've made this mobile phone to check email every 2 hours or so, therefore the battery didn't run off before I call it a day!

  • One bad things is this mobile phone getting very hot when used as a modem. 

  • Samsung i780 under bright sunny day

    • Samsung i780

  • Although the display is set at maximum brightness its only bright enough to see under a shade.  There is no way to see it under direct sunlight, therefore using it as a portable GPS or driving GPS is not possible.

Suggestions to Samsung to improve their mobile phone:

  • It should have adaptive display backlight brightness.  At night the backlight should be darker than at daytime.  Samsung did this for the keypad, on the specified time the QWERTY keyboard is not backlit, however on the other time, the backlight is lit.  The display however, did not follow this adaptation. 

  • The better way to use adaptive backlight brightness way is using the front camera to record the lightning condition, and adjust the display and keyboard brightness accordingly.  Camera is some kind of brightness sensor, but a lot more sophisticated

  • Although the mobile phone automatically merge contacts, an command to merge contact, since sometimes mobile phone contact, computer contact and Windows Live contact are not the same.  I sometimes put different name on each contact, e.g. on mobile phone I put my name as Sony 'Lin' Suryawijaya, and on my computer I wrote it as Sony Suryawijaya Lin.  They have different details, on my computer, for example, have 2 emails and 1 fax number, while on my mobile phone only have 1 mobile phone and 1 home phone number.  Merge contact is very useful here, by clicking two contacts and merging them, therefore saving me from a lot of copy and pasting. 

  • A navigation button used to jump from a contact to the other or one message to others.

  • What I still need is a feature so we can choose a folder on our computer and the PDA to be always in sync.  Therefore bringing work files will be an ease.

  • I found a button positioning error on this mobile phone.  The Shift (up arrow) button used to upper case the letter should be put near Z, or the same with computer's keyboard, and the white black button (to switch between numbers and alphabets) should be put below Z button, or the position of alt button, not the other way as Samsung did.  I used to computer's keyboard, and annoyed by this!

  • An option to widen scroll bar, therefore I can touch the scroll bar with my fingers easier.  A scrolling function by touching the screen without touching the scroll bar will make a nice addition as well. This can be changed by installing 3rd party tuning application such as Advanced Config.

  • Although the screen is rectangular, it is nice to have feature to rotate the display position when the display is rotated. 

  • When moving the mouse I need to move it twice or three times to move the pointer across the screen.  This is not good especially when dragging, the item will fall somewhere on the middle.  If the mouse can continue its movements, the mobile phone will be much better in term of usability.  This can be achieved in two ways, first making edge motion function - which is unlikely available with this optical mouse - and second is by using click lock function similar to Windows's.

  • SMS blocking or junk SMS folder, to prevent SMS spam or SMS from unwanted person.

  • I often forgot to loud or quiet my mobile phone when entering the production facility or the office, resulting a shocked fellow office worker with my overly loud ring tone or can't hear an important phone call in the production facility due to the high noise of the machinery. 

  • An option to use automatic ring tone volume leveliser according to the surrounding environment.  When a call or SMS arrived, the mobile phone is firsts checks the noise level of its environment.  The microphone can tell whether the surrounding environment is noisy or quiet.  If its quiet, e.g. under 40 dB the mobile phone will just ring quietly, if the environment is noisy e.g. over 100 dB the mobile phone will need to ring loudly and turns on the vibration vibration.

  • An option to automatically change ring tone profile according to time.  E.g. when I have a meeting appointment on the calendar, it would be nice to have an option to automatically silence the mobile phone.  After the meeting is finished, the mobile phone will change back to normal.

  • Contact is often accidentally deleted, this happens when I wanted to delete a contact, I right click on it and then pressing delete.  However on some situation I accidentally deleted the wrong contact!  On the confirmation dialog, the mobile phone should display which one is going to be deleted.  WM 6.1 Update: this has been fixed by Smart Selection!

  • Automatic birthday addition.  When I put the birthday of an contact, it should appear on the calendar as well, or at least an option to show it. This is actually not a problem, since the birthday will be put on the calendar when mobile phone is synchronised to the computer.

  • If I was accidentally sending an empty message, the mobile phone should ask a sending confirmation.  Otherwise this would wasted our balance!  WM 6.1 Update: This problem is fixed by WM 6.1's Threaded Message.

  • Sometimes, I accidentally wrote a message with 161 character, and when sending the message the mobile phone just send it, which translates into two messages.  What a pity if the last character is only a space, which mean I wasted my money for just a space!  The mobile phone should also ask whether I really wanted to send a message with only 1 character?  

  • The soft button when receiving SMS notification should be Save as Read instead of Dismiss and Delete.  WM 6.1 Update: this problem has been fixed, now instead of dismiss, the soft button is now Save as Read or View Message depending on the situation.

  • Needs more options in snoozing the reminders.

  • When entering numbers in Excel, I need use Number mode (the white/black key) to change the input to numbers.  However, its ridiculous to enter comma or points since I need to revert back to normal mode in order to enter them!

  • The i780 should be able to text from computer directly, and any text message should be sync and saved to the computer!

Samsung i780 average normal usage battery test

  • From Sunday morning, unplug the i780 and decided to test Samsung i780 battery stamina for average normal usage.  It concludes that the battery life is quite good. 

    • Sunday Night, the power still remains on 100%.

    • Monday Morning, the power moves to 90%.

    • Monday Night, it still have 75% of power.

    • Tuesday Morning, the power is around 50%

    • Tuesday Night, the power is around 40%.

  • The test is stopped on Tuesday night.  Having a mobile phone that standby for more than 3 days is good.  I feels back to 2003, where mobile phone standby for around 3-4 days.

  • On heavy use, e.g. a lot of calling, playing, GPRS, and GPS guided trip, the battery finished even before I called it a day!  What a pity.

  • On my own usage pattern, the battery finished down to 50% just before I slept.

Camera Test

  • This is the image snapped by the mobile phone's camera in Automatic:

    • i780 Whole

    • The image will be cropped on bottom left and centre right and then compared to the image snapped by EOS 400D in Program mode with with small image size (approx 2.4 MP) using standard EF-S 18-55 mm lens.  Sorry for the difference on the exposure and angle.  FYI, the lens on i780 is pretty wide, probably equivalent to 18 mm on 1.6 camera or 28 mm on full frame camera.

    • i780 Right Centre 

    • i780 right centre

    • EOS 400 D Right Centre

    • 400 D Right Centre

    • i780 bottom left

    • i780 bottom left

    • EOS 400 D bottom left

    • EOS 400 D bottom left 

  • The conclusion is: this image clearly shows that the i780's camera is inferior compared to EOS 400 D.  Ok - I know all the reader would knew this would be the result - now get serious.  i780's image shows a lot of noise reducing and smoothing artefacts, moreover its dynamic range is also narrow.  Not a big deal, the image is useable, at least on the daylight for friendster and facebook.  On low light the camera is not very good with high noise and blurry images due long exposure and hand shake.

  • What needed to improve i780's camera is:

    • EV adjustment is very needed to make a well exposed image.  Update: I've found the EV adjustment by touching the touch screen from left and right.

    • Faster speed: It's very-very slow, I can finish counting from 1 to 10 from when I press the shutter until the image finished captured. 

    • Smarter automatic white balance adjustment.  EOS's AWB is closer to what it appears in the real world (OK, this is not a question).

    • Increase in dynamic range.  It appears that i780's camera's dynamic range is so narrow.

  • I've tweaked the WM 6.1, therefore resulting in more performance and better battery life at the expense of decreased stability.  However, the instability is marginal and the won't make the mobile phone hang every now and then.  This link will open Tweaking Windows Mobile 6.1.

Using with Skype

  • I've installed Skype to the i780, and on 3G network coupled with my data plan, I can make an almost free phone call to my brother in Australia!  However I'm still can't figure why there are no option on Skype to use the proper mobile phone's speaker (the one with the buttons the ear) instead of the speakerphone on the back cover?  This makes phone calling using Skype looks stupid, since everyone can see the keypad and the brightly lit LCD!  Hahaha...

Using Microsoft My Phone

  • Microsoft My Phone is a great application.  It will automatically find all data on my mobile phone, and then upload them to Microsoft then keeping them in sync.  Therefore now I have 2 backups, one on my computer with Active Sync and one on the Internet.  I only wish that My Phone's data is available and can be accessed from Microsoft Skydrive.
  • My Phone is installed with ease, takes so little memory and gives me peace of mind, just in case somebody took my mobile phone, I still could get its data back.

The greatest weakness

  • The greatest weakness of Samsung SGH i780, and probably all Windows Mobile Phone's Contact software is it only can have one mobile phone number per contact.  Moreover, it can only send text message (SMS) to the mobile phone number recorded, which is a big annoyance. 
    • This is stupid, since today - in 2009 - a lot of home phone can send and receive text message.  My suggestion is it should be able to send message to all contact.
    • This is annoying, since a lot of people have more than 2 mobile phones.  I hate to record more than one contact only to list two mobile phone numbers and message freely to them.  I'll wait for any update from Microsoft / Samsung!
  • After I send a text message directly from a contact list (by choosing send text message), then I can't directly call a number by pressing the green call 'hard button', since the contact list displays '< txt >' besides the phone number.  Instead of calling, the i780 is opening the recent call list!  Come on, at least the mobile phone should put that number in the top of list, therefore clicking the green call button twice will call the number.  Better if the i780 directly call the listed number.
    • This is annoying, really annoying especially I need to use the mobile phone fast!
    • This is also waste of money, since the MP will call the unintended number!  I'll wait for any update from Microsoft / Samsung
  • On Opera 9.x: automatically open the SIP every time I'm about to enter in a text field. It is annoying and I hate that very much.  This is also ridiculous in technical point of view since my mobile phone has a keyboard, therefore automatic SIP deployment is unneeded! 
    • The stupid thing is Opera 9.x did not provide an option to disable automatic SIP deployment!  So, Opera, please update your software!

Bugs found:

  • After opening heavy application such as IE for large website, sometimes the optical mouse bugs.  When clicking a button, the mouse is not actually clicking, instead it made right click (or long click).

  • Windows Live are prone to crashing and slow things down when opening Messenger and synchronising email. WM 6.1 Update: now Windows Messenger and Windows Live are fast!

  • I experience this bug once, where I got an SMS arrived icon, however I found none on the inbox.

  • Sometimes both the software and hardware receive phone call button doesn't works, so when somebody call me, I have no way to answer him or her.

The verdict:

  • An OK PDA Phone with minor weakness on usability.  I won't use the instant messaging and push email since they will kill my battery, therefore reducing my productivity.  Update: with my data plan and Windows Live and scheduling push email every 2 hours, this things lives to my expectation!  The battery lives for 2 days and it becomes a great help, and now I can leave my laptop in the office or home.

  • Moreover, when using this PDA Phone's internet functionality, I tends to play and surf on the web and chatting with friends, not doing my works.  Therefore turning it off is the best option.  Managers, watch for this before handing your staff with push emails and advanced mobile phones!  Updated: I've learnt not to use its internet feature to having fun.  I use it now 90% for working emails!

  • Latest update: now I use this PDA to replace my laptop 90% of the time!  Most internet and office tasks were handled easily by my PDA, as if having a laptop on my hand and online everywhere.  Why do I choose the PDA?  Easy, the Samsung i780 opens and boots much faster compared to my laptop, and now I only use my laptop for writing and maintaining this and other websites!

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