Sprint's alternative to the respected BlackJack II--and the carrier's follow-up to the bulky Samsung IP-830W--has a lot to offer business users. It features EV-DO data stateside for push e-mail and Web surfing, and the ability to make GSM calls (and use GPRS data) overseas. And Sprint even bundles a headset and international travel plugs. On the other hand, because it lacks Wi-Fi, GPS, and instant messaging, this Ace doesn't have as much up its sleeve as we like. Nevertheless, we like the overall design and keyboard, and the Ace even feels a little faster than the BlackJack, even if it occasionally bogs down with heavy multitasking.
At 4.7 x 2.3 x 0.5 inches, the Ace is long and thin, like a lanky teenager after a growth spurt. It feels comfortable in a pants pocket, but never vanishes inside. The Ace feels solid, balanced, and substantial and at 3.9 ounces, with just the right amount of heft; any lighter and it would start to feel flimsy.
Even if you never roam across the continents, the Ace feels great for texting and email. Its backlit wedge-shaped keys have a center ridge that rises to meet your fingertips, reducing the chance of drifting off-target. The numberpad keys are all placed together, too, making for easy on-the-fly dialing. In nearly all instances, the scroll wheel worked well, although it's obviously better suited for right-handed users. Our only complaint is that long lists--almost exclusively Web sites--get tiresome to scroll through.
Made for World Travelers
The BlackJack and BlackJack II were AT&T exclusives, but the Ace uses Sprint's network. Domestic calls connect through a CDMA/EV-DO radio. But like the BlackBerry 8830 World Edition from Verizon Wireless, Sprint gives it a SIM card slot and GSM/GPRS capabilities to work internationally, making it great for business travel.
A Sprint-provided SIM card is preinstalled in the device for those who want to use the carrier's international roaming services. Rates for the United Kingdom, for example, are $1.29 per minute and about $1.60 per 100KB. You can also plug in SIM cards provided by international carriers.
The Samsung Ace can certainly pinch hit for a standalone media player, syncing music and video through Windows Media Player. We listened to an MP3 of "None Shall Pass" from Aesop Rock and watched an ASF clip of The Three Amigos without any problem. While the Ace also supports WMA, WAV, MPEG, and AVI, we wish AAC audio and H.264 video were included for even more versatility. The small microSD limit is a bigger issue; you're locked out of cards larger than 2GB. And the phone ships with earbuds but no jack or adapter to use your own headphones. A $9.99 adapter, the same one as used on the Upstage, plugs into the charging port. Audio from the phone's built-in speaker was clear and servicable, but otherwise unremarkable.
Those earbuds won't get much use unless you load your own songs, as the Ace doesn't support the Sprint Music Store. Media fans will have to get their fix from Sprint TV's live video streams (in order to take advantage, users will have to order the Pro Pack plan for $30 a month or one of the Phone As Modem plans, which run for $39.99 and $49.99). We sampled CNN.com among other feeds; most of the time, the EV-DO data network provided ample bandwidth to keep playback fairly smooth, although the video occasionally stuttered and even stopped a few times.
Ace Data Delivery
The Windows Mobile 6 Samsung Ace syncs to Outlook--or directly to an office Exchange Server--to copy contacts, appointments, notes, and other data. We used the ActiveSync client to easily ferry information between a PC and the phone, even sending on-phone photos back to our desktop. Those pictures showed bright colors with enough light, but object edges and fine details regularly blurred together; the Ace is only a backup for a standalone camera.
The data network easily handles e-mail, with support for POP3, IMAP, and Exchange servers. The Ace lets you read and edit common attachment formats like Word docs and PDFs. But don't bother trying to instant-message; the Ace doesn't include an IM client.
Web browsing takes more patience than text-based data. Sites were readable on the sharp display, with options to view pages several ways, including full-screen, or in a single column. While CNN Mobile took 5 seconds to load, the full version of the site took 40 seconds, and NYTimes.com took more than 30 seconds. The lack of Wi-Fi is painfully obvious in times like this. Fortunately, the easily customizable RSS reader worked well, as did the headline-centric On Demand service, which delivers news, sports, weather, movie info, and more.
Voice Calls and Battery Life
Phone calls sounded clear in our San Francisco tests. Callers on the Ace sounded sharp and only mildly compressed. And the Ace microphone avoided picking up much background noise. The flat phone is slightly taller than its predecessor, but it still felt comfortable against an ear. Paired with a Bluetooth headset, the Ace had a relatively decent range of 15 feet; at 18 to 20 feet, it struggled.
Samsung estimates talk time at 4.3 hours, and the phone's battery held out about as well as we anticipated. After a couple of hours of Web browsing, a half-hour call, and a full afternoon of regular email updates, the Ace still held half a charge.
Samsung Ace Verdict
The Ace should prove attractive to users who want the flexibility of international voice and data capabilities in a compact design. Without Wi-Fi, GPS, and instant messaging, or compatibility with 4GB microSD Cards, the Ace doesn't have all the features that we'd like. But its great keyboard and agressive price make it a solid option for world travelers.
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