Sprint's ( S) ambitious new Windows-powered PPC-6700 smartphone feels like a warm deck of cards.

I mean that in a good way, of course. Who wouldn't want all that dense heat packing your pocket with an abundance of entertainment and utility?

The 6700 plays your music, takes your pictures, checks your email, connects to the Net, runs Microsoft Word and makes calls. Not all that goes off without a hitch, mind you, but this is one seductive step closer to the all-in-one mobile gadget dream. Two words to ponder here: mobile Google ( GOOG).

Before we jump into the beguiling features, let's step back for a moment and take in all the important superficial stuff first.

Raise your hammy hand if you've had it with shiny silver plastic phones. I'll take fake wood or even ebony microsuede -- anything to get a break from yesterday's faux metal. Luckily, the brilliant touch screen lets you forget the phone's a fashion holdover.

The 240 x 320 pixel, 65,000-color screen is indeed stunning. So why do I feel guilty wishing the liquid crystal display was bigger? In cell-phone real estate, the 2.8-inch screen is a luxury loft but in PDA terms, you're looking at a cramped studio apartment. The screen is notably smaller than its would-be rivals Research In Motion's ( RIMM) Blackberry and Palm's ( PALM) Treo.

To compensate, however, the PPC-6700 smartphone -- manufactured by Taiwan's High Tech Computer -- has a full QWERTY keyboard that slides out from the bottom. Great idea.

Thumb typing is an acquired talent that's a lot easier to acquire on a familiar keyboard. The 6700 has an ample keypad, but if I could make one change, I'd opt for gel buttons instead of the shallow dimples between the keys. My thumbs got lost a lot, requiring a lot more hunting than pecking.

Sprint's PPC-6700
Is there anything it can't do?


Closed, the 6700 has four basic keys and a five-way joystick to run the phone. But I found during my two-week trial that I was using the stylus and touch screen to do most of my navigating. The touch screen has a number pad for dialing and you can pull up an onscreen keypad for typing.

As for utility, the fast Net connections were huge. Between Sprint's EV-DO cellular network and the local WiFi, the download speeds were quite impressive. The phone switches automatically to the swiftest network access.

Given the shrunken screen size, it was helpful to pick sites with smaller mobile formats, but I had no trouble, for example, checking eBay's ( EBAY) full-sized pages for prices on the 6700.

And while we're on price, recent online bidding was close to $700. Sprint just started offering the phone to business users for $480 with a two-year contract, and the company plans a bigger consumer launch this month.

The 6700 is clearly aimed at the Treo and Blackberry crowd. Like nearly all higher-tier phones, it comes with a 1.3 megapixel camera. And it was very easy to take pictures with the phone.

With a Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system, you get all the programs you adore so much -- Outlook, Word, Excel, Windows Media. Even sweeter is the familiar Windows sluggishness you get when the programming requests pile on. Aside from those sclerotic moments, though, the 416MHz Intel processor was plenty fast.

Though Outlook runs email for the device, you can easily get access to your Yahoo! ( YHOO), MSN and Hotmail accounts. You can even get Outlook to check those accounts every few minutes. It's not as immediate as RIM's push system that automatically sends your mail to your phone, but it's handy.

Sprint expects to add Good Technology's GoodLink application to the phone for that "real-time" email and intranet connection to work.

Memory on the 6700 comes in three forms. There's the built-in 64MB RAM and a 128MB Flash memory that acts like a hard drive for storing files. Plus, there's a flash memory slot for your mini SD cards.

We Need More Power, Scotty

There were some hangups with the phone.

Ask for an SUV cell phone and you get a power guzzler. Obviously it takes a lot of juice to run Windows, light a bright screen and feed the WiFi and EV-DO chips, so don't expect to get a lot of mobile mileage between fill-ups. I found, under normal use -- meaning some calls and emailing and surfing and a lot of standby -- the phone had trouble lasting 12 hours. This necessitates a second battery or a power adapter at home and at work.

And oddly, I could never get the PDA part of the phone to shut off completely. The power button managed to darken the screen, but the Windows programs were still running in the background.

A few annoyances: The side buttons are far too easy to hit accidentally. I was always inadvertently changing the volume or launching the browser.

Also, I had no luck with software downloads. A mobile browser from Opera couldn't be installed and several attempts to load AOL's mobile IM failed, even though a Sprint customer service representative assured me that the phone was IM capable.

All in all, the 6700 jams a lot of laptop features -- and accompanying frustrations -- into a small package. Fortunately, the headaches subside a bit after a little recreational use of portable email, combined with the fortifying effects of having Google at your disposal wherever you go.