At first glance you might mistake the Samsung Ace SPH-i325 (US$300 with a two-year contract from Sprint, as of 4/11/08) for a Samsung BlackJack II: Both PDA phones sport the same sleek, slightly square black body with a full QWERTY keyboard. Unlike the BlackJack II, which is available from AT&T, the Ace supports Sprint's CDMA network.
The Ace is light but not flimsy. It weighs a nicely portable 3.9 ounces and measures 2.3 by 4.7 by 0.5 inches (width by length by thickness). The 2.3-inch, 320-by-240-pixel LCD screen looks clean when showing pictures or video; with its very small font size, however, the Ace provides less-than-easy reading when you're perusing news or following help-menu instructions.
As a phone, the Ace stands firmly in the middle of the pack. It supports both domestic CDMA networks and overseas GSM networks, which is a nice bonus for international travelers. The sound quality for outbound calling was only mediocre, though; on several occasions I had to ask the other party to repeat what they had said. In our lab tests, the Ace's battery lasted 4 hours, 44 minutes. The result is about in line with the company's stated battery life, but poor compared with the battery life of other phones we've tested recently. The one missing phone feature that I pined for was a fast-action shortcut key for speakerphone access; pressing the menu button and then pressing "2" to activate and deactivate the speakerphone felt a bit clumsy.
Though the QWERTY keyboard is convenient, I found that the subtleties of the keypad's shading (slate-gray number keys with white letters) made differentiating between the number keys and the text and punctuation marks a tad difficult. On the positive side, the keys had a crisp, punchy feel that made text messaging fast and comfortable.
The Ace includes some handy business features. Syncing up with Microsoft Outlook was straightforward: It took less than 10 minutes, and all I had to do was load the software onto my laptop and then plug the Ace into the USB port. Transferring contacts and scheduling calendar appointments were a breeze too.
A bonus feature of the Samsung Ace is the pay-to-play SprintTV feature. The app lets you tune in to a wide variety of content, including sports, music videos, cartoons, and prime-time television. It fired up quickly, the picture quality was exceptional, and the 1X EvDO data network allowed for almost seamless video streaming. One minor drawback was the sound quality, which maxed out at only a moderately audible level and marginally improved with the use of earbuds.
The 1.3-megapixel camera captured decent snapshots, but the shutter speed was a little slow (as with most camera phones). The Internet connectivity is zippy, and the oversize Web search bar is a nice touch when you're dealing with the small font size. Among the other included features are stereo Bluetooth, a memory card slot, and Windows Media Player 10 Mobile with support for Windows Media music sync.
The Ace's biggest disappointment: It froze up twice in the first 24 hours, requiring two hard reboots. (We have contacted Samsung to ask about this problem.)
The Samsung Ace is a highly functional and moderately priced application/entertainment handset rather than a solid day-to-day communication and business device. That said, if you find yourself on the road, bored and tired of people-watching at the airport, the Samsung Ace is a nice PDA phone to have in your collection of entertainment devices--and its sleek shape certainly makes it a handy traveler.