COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

Microsoft's new Smartphone

Verizon Wireless recently introduced the Samsung SCH i600, one of the first smart phones using Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) new Smartphone 2002 operating system. It's priced at a steep $649 for existing customers and $499 with new activation (So much for rewarding your loyal customers!).

To use the i600's data capabilities, e-mail, Internet access, messaging and over-the-air syncing, add $45 per month on top of your calling plan.

I've been using the i600 for a few weeks and it's an interesting product, falling somewhere between a small clamshell phone and a full-fledged PDA smart phone. About the size of the Motorola (NYSE: MOT) StarTac, it's easily pocketable. It's a phone rich with features, the best being its ability to easily synchronize with Outlook so you can carry your entire contact list, schedule, to-do list and notes with you on the phone. With the press a few keys its easy to retrieve and dial any of the contacts' phone numbers.

The color screen is sharp, bright and easy to read indoors, although not outdoors, typical of most phones with color screens. It has a two-line black and white screen on the cover that is intended to display the incoming caller's name or number, date and time. The phone has voice dialing, speakerphone and software that is more versatile and easier to use than that provided with most basic phones.

Its home screen is a miniature version of a Pocket PC handheld computer's screen, showing recently used program icons across the top and a list of items including status of messages, the next appointment and ringer settings. Large navigator buttons makes it easy to make a selection. There is no touch screen or stylus. The phone comes with both a standard and extended battery, a leather slip case with belt clip, headphones, charger and a docking cradle that plugs into the USB port of a computer for syncing. Battery life is excellent, about three days on the extended battery with moderate use.

While positioned as a smart phone with the ability to retrieve and send e-mail and go onto the Internet, its lack of a built-in keyboard and small screen makes it difficult to compose e-mail or SMS messages. It comes with predictive software called T9 that interprets the 10 keys you use to spell out words with one finger and comes up with its best guess; this works reasonably well, but is slow and is not a substitute for a qwerty keyboard like those on the Blackberry or Treo.

The i600 is really more a phone than a PDA. Unlike the PalmOS smart phones such as the Kyocera 7035 and Treo 600, which run the same Palm PDA applications, the i600 cannot run applications designed for Microsoft's Pocket PC handhelds, requiring its own version of software. Currently there are only about a dozen software offerings, few of much value. It does come with Windows Media Player for playing music files, MSN Messenger, File Explorer and a solitaire game.

A new version of the MS Smartphone operating system is due out this spring. Verizon says this phone can be upgraded with the new software, and that's a good thing, because one serious problem that needs to be fixed is its caller ID performance. Incoming calls are often not identified, even though the caller is in your address book. It's more of a problem the larger your contact list.

So how does this compare to the Treo 600, the smart phone that I found to be the best on the market? If you want a phone with real PDA functionality and want to retrieve and respond to e-mail, then the Treo is a much better choice. It runs thousands of Palm applications, has a useable text keyboard, larger screen, camera, and is about $100 less expensive. But if you want a superb compact-sized phone with powerful Outlook synching capabilities and long battery life, the i600 is a good choice.

Advice on viruses

Most all of us were subjected to serious virus attacks this past week. I continue to receive dozens of virus-infected e-mails each day with file attachments that, if opened, could decimate my computer and, in turn, spew virus-infected e-mail from my computer to those whose e-mails are listed in my Outlook contacts.

There are two things we can do to thwart this: Of course, buy an anti-virus software product and keep it up to date using its live update feature. (I use Norton Anti-Virus and it has worked well.) But equally important is to never open any attachment unless you have requested it or it comes from someone you expect to be sending it. If you are unsure, confirm with the sender before opening. Permanently delete these unknown e-mails immediately. To do a permanent delete from Outlook's Inbox, hold down the shift key while you hit the delete key. Just hitting Delete moves the e-mail to the Delete folder, which doesn't prevent them from being opened by mistake.


Baker has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents and was named San Diego's Ernst & Young Consumer Products Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. He can be reached at phil.baker@sddt.com.

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