Samsung SCH-i730 for Verizon Wireless

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Suddenly PDA phones are everywhere, in dozens of varieties. Verizon Wireless, for instance, carries versions of the latest PalmOS, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices. Within these categories there are a few different flavors of connectivity, too. The PalmOne Treo 650 (reviewed in another incarnation several months ago) has both Bluetooth and a basic data connection, as well as a voice line (you remember those, right?). Ditto for Verizon's newest RIM BlackBerry, the 7250. And there are variations on the Windows Mobile theme: the UTStarcomm/Audiovox XV6600 with Bluetooth and a connection to Verizon's super-fast EVDO data network (known as BroadbandAccess), and the all-new Samsung i730, which takes all of that and adds a Wi-Fi connection.

The promise of that last device is that it gives you the best of everything—access to Verizon's high-speed EVDO service, which gives you DSL-like downloading in more than 40 major markets, plus Wi-Fi functionality for everywhere else. It sounds great in theory, but has some serious drawbacks in practice.

One issue is that the Wi-Fi and EVDO connections can't run simultaneously. This isn't a problem if you're in one of the places that supports Verizon's EVDO network. But when you're not, and have to switch to Wi-Fi mode, you lose phone service—it won't even ring! Suddenly, this Wi-Fi bonus sounds like a burden.

Next, paying for both services isn't cheap. If you opt for the unlimited-data plan, you're paying $45 per month—on top of a calling plan—to use the high-speed EVDO network. This gives you a $100 off the initial price of the phone, but you're still making a bet that you're going to be pulling down major data with this thing. (There's also a pay-per-kilobyte plan). Once you've paid for a service that's anywhere you go (within the boundaries of the 40+ markets), why would you swing by a Starbucks to pay for an additional service like T-Mobile's location-specific Wi-Fi? That isn't to say the phone couldn't be used to access your home Wi-Fi network if you have one, but if you don't have one, you might not need it. EVDO is pretty darn fast.

While many point to handsets like this as proof that Wi-Fi and wide-area broadband networks will co-exist, I think that the i730 is a good example of why only one is necessary. The original promise was that these devices would simply upload and download data using the most efficient means, and that all of the streaming would happen below the surface. Instead, the burden is on the user—do you want Wi-Fi or EVDO at this very moment?—and it remains to be seen whether the user is the best person to make this judgment. Wide-area networks will get faster and more ubiquitous, and the reasons for integrated Wi-Fi, for use only in particular, often invisible locations, will get murkier and murkier.