By WALTER S. MOSSBERG
For Americans who want a smart cellphone with a built-in keyboard for typing email, the best choice by far has been PalmOne's Treo 650, sold by most major U.S. wireless carriers.
The standard BlackBerry hand-helds from Research In Motion make clunky phones, and the slimmer BlackBerry 7100, while an acceptable phone, lacks a full keyboard. The models using Microsoft's hand-held software have either lacked keyboards altogether or been too large to make comfortable phones. In contrast, the Treo is both roomy enough to be a good hand-held email device and compact enough to be a good phone.
Starting today, Verizon Wireless will introduce in the U.S. the first Microsoft-based smart phone with a built-in keyboard that is about the same shape, size and weight as the Treo. This new phone, the $599 Samsung i730, has one major capability the $399 Treo lacks -- the ability to surf the Web and to send and receive email at broadband speeds.
The new Samsung can operate at speeds roughly comparable to home digital subscriber line, or DSL, connections through Verizon's wireless Broadband Access network, which works on a wireless technology called EVDO. Or it can use speedy Wi-Fi wireless networking at places like coffee shops and airports.
I don't expect to see an EVDO-capable Treo until very late this year or early in 2006. And the Treo lacks Wi-Fi capability. So the Samsung is the fastest email and Web device with a built-in keyboard that is small enough to be used comfortably as a phone. It will be available starting today for corporate customers and will be in Verizon stores in a couple of weeks.
I have been testing the new i730 and comparing it to the Treo 650 from Sprint that I carry as my own phone. The Samsung worked as promised for making voice calls, accessing Web sites, and sending and receiving emails. It also played music and videos and displayed photos, though unlike my Sprint Treo, the configuration Verizon sells lacks a camera.