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Selecting a new Windows Mobile device
Posted on 10-Dec-2005 23:03 by Darryl Burling. | Tags Filed under: Articles.


I’ve been a fan of HTCs devices for a while now – I’ve used a couple of their previous generation of phones and they’ve performed well and have been very hardy. I’ve been watching the new generation to see what it offers and have been thinking of upgrading to a new Windows Mobile 5 device. So when I had the opportunity recently to have a trial run with four new devices now available in New Zealand and running Windows Mobile 5 I thought I might write a buyers guide of sorts highlighting the points that I found were key to making the decision for me.

The four devices I’ve used in the last few weeks are the i-mate branded Jasjar, K-Jam, and Smartphone SP5 and the Telecom branded Apache. Here is an overview of each one (links go to our Geekzone Smart Devices Database where you will find more information and other names for these devices):

i-mate Jasjar
Device Type: Pocket PC Phone Edition
Form factor: Clamshell
Keyboard: QWERTY with Number row
Processor: 520MHz Bulverde
Screen Resolution: VGA – 640x480
Wireless: GPRS/GSM/UMTS (3G), 802.11b WiFi, Bluetooth

i-mate k-jam
Device Type: Pocket PC Phone Edition
Form factor: Pocket PC with sliding keyboard
Keyboard: QWERTY (no number row)
Processor: 200MHz OMAP
Screen Resolution: QVGA – 320x240
Wireless: GPRS/EDGE/GSM, 802.11b WiFi, Bluetooth

i-mate Smartphone SP5
Device Type: Smartphone
Form factor: Candybar
Keyboard: Numeric/T9
Processor: 200MHz OMAP
Screen Resolution: QVGA – 320x240
Wireless: GPRS/GSM, 802.11b WiFi, Bluetooth

Telecom Apache
Device Type: Pocket PC Phone Edition
Form factor: Pocket PC with sliding keyboard
Keyboard: QWERTY (no number row)
Processor: 416MHz Bulverde
Screen Resolutionv: QVGA – 320x240
Wireless: CDMA/EVDO (3G), 802.11b WiFi, Bluetooth

It’s probably worth noting here that these devices run different versions of Windows Mobile 5 (a point I came across fairly early in the process). The Jasjar and the Apache both run build 14354 while the K-Jam and SP5 run build 14402. Other than some minor functional differences in the start menu, what the differences are between the two versions I don’t know. From my experience the Jasjar was the least stable of the devices - not that they were unstable devices, but that I experienced a couple of issues on the Jasjar I didn’t experience on the others. FWIW the Apache was more stable than the Jasjar which leads me to think that the Jasjar’s instability issues (few that they were) were not related to the OS as much as the device itself.

To try and make this as even as possible I’m going to have three types of notes on each device. The notes are based on a decision making process rather than just raw stats, so they’ll be a little more subjective than you might find them.

You may have a different opinion on many of these things depending on your usage. I’m after a device primarily for data, but also for a phone – and I only want to carry a single device.

So here goes!

i-mate Jasjar
There were a few things that I really liked about the Jasjar. I loved the keyboard – not that it was better or worse than the other keyboards, but it was certainly better than the PDA2K. The screen is really nice. It displays text clearly and has lots of room for text, and it displays pictures well. It also has UMTS (3G) support which means high speed WAN connectivity (where available). It has an SD Card slot – and is the only device out of all the ones I evaluated here that did – which means it has higher storage capacities. The Jasjar also has a 3.5mm headphone jack for listening to music, etc using whatever headphones you like. The stylus was really good too.

There were also a couple of things I didn’t like about the Jasjar. It was big - really big. If you have to hold the thing up to your head for a phone call you will probably get tired of holding after a while. But seriously – you’ll need a Bluetooth headset if you plan on using it as a phone. I found that the keyboard was quite large compared to the other devices too. When using it I found that I needed to put the screen flat and then hold the device at a specific angle to be able to reach the keys in the middle of the keyboard with my thumbs – if you have smaller hands you’ll need to put the device down or do wrist gymnastics to reach the center of the keyboard. Finally the Jasjar was really hard to do anything with if you only want to use one hand. Even the simplest task such as checking the time is impossible one handed and the absence of buttons when the device is in a tablet form factor also reduces your ability to work with it one handed.

i-mate k-jam
This device seems to have most of the good features of the Jasjar, but in a fraction of the size. The k-jam is small. It’s the same size as the Jam, with just a little more depth (actually about 5mm more – which is arguably not just a little). The extra depth is to account for the slide out keyboard, which is my second like. The size of the keyboard was also a big plus – its smaller than the Jasjar, but bigger than the PDA2K. In fact as a thumbboard – I’d say its probably about the perfect size – big enough for big thumbs, but small enough for people with smaller hands to manage.

Things I don’t like about the K-Jam: I loathe the stylus. I wasn’t a fan of the stylus on the Jam, but this is worse – a short telescopic stylus would be OK if it always extended when you pulled it out, but it doesn’t and you need to use a second hand to extend it or use the 2cm long closed down version which is frustrating. Fortunately – with a keyboard you almost never need the stylus. The second thing I would like to see more of on the k-jam would be more buttons. It would be nice to have an OK button - although I mapped the IE button to OK and the mail button to start which helped. I also preferred the numbers to be separate keys (ala Jasjar) rather than shared. As with most phones, the k-jam sports a tiny 2.5mm headphone jack – meaning restricted headphone selections. Finally, if you’ve got an investment in SD cards, you will need to drop that for miniSD cards for this device – which for the moment means you are limited to 1Gb miniSD cards (bigger cards are on the horizon though).

i-mate SP5
The SP5 is the successor to the SP3/SP3i phones that were running Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition. The SP5 is a candybar phone first, but with the smart capabilities of the Windows Mobile range. Thus you can install applications on it, surf the internet, synchronise PIM with an Exchange Server and enter data on it. The SP5 includes two key new features in addition to Windows Mobile 5 that were not in previous Smartphones – WiFi support and a very nice QVGA screen. The screen on this device is gorgeous – brilliant colour, high resolution and very crisp edges.

One of the reasons I’ve not owned a candy bar phone since converged Pocket PC Phones came out is that data entry on these devices is really hard without a decent keyboard or touch screen. This hasn’t changed (although it might with the Motorola Q). The other issue with the smartphone platform is the lack of mobile office applications and their viability. This is really a killer for me.

As something to consider, I found that Wi-Fi was not really a big benefit – the device is really too small to seriously use for browsing the internet – and the T9 keyboard is just too slow and cumbersome to work with for more than simple data/URL address entry. This situation is exacerbated by issues such as having to enter WEP keys and similar niggly issues.

Having said all of this – this is by far the nicest smartphone I’ve ever used.

Telecom Apache
The apache shares many of the nice features of the k-jam. It’s the same size, same keyboard size (keys are the same as the Jasjar though), similar camera, screen and form factor, however, it has some unique things about it too. It has better buttons than the k-jam – including an OK button. In addition the keyboard has slightly larger keys, which many people will like. It also has CDMA EVDO support meaning stupidly fast WAN speeds (easily eclipsing the UMTS support of the Jasjar), in addition to Wi-Fi – in fact it almost negates the need for WiFi. The camera on the Apache also has a macro mode which some may like.

There are two things that I find negative about the Apache. It has an aerial – and it’s big and ugly and not aesthetically pleasing. The second problem with the apache (for me anyway) is that it functions on another network – meaning a change of phone numbers for me (again). Neither of these are insurmountable issues and when you consider the CDMA EVDO support as well as the improved button layout support, it weighs in at much the same place (YMMV).

Conclusion
So having been through all these – the issues for me came down to size and keyboard support. In short this translates to practicality.

In the end after using each one of these devices as my only device for a short amount of time (between a couple of days and a week) I decided to get an i-mate k-jam.

The Apache was knocked out as work pays the bill and they weren’t keen on switching networks (yet).

The 3G support and the screen of the Jasjar was tempting, but the trade off of size is a big price to pay for the luxury of a nice screen.

3G support is a nice to have, but I don’t need video calling and much of my data is consumed in email or RSS for which GPRS support is fine. For the times when I want to do more, there are plenty of Wi-Fi networks around, and GPRS is an easy fallback. If you happen to be in an area where there is EDGE support – the i-k-jam radio stack supports this – talk to your local provider about access to these networks.

The SP5 was a really nice phone, but just too hard to work with for more than reading email on a consistent basis.

If you are happy to use two devices, you might consider a SP5 and the Jasjar as a great combination. I used these devices together for a couple of days and the small size of the SP5 is a great compliment to the Jasjars capabilities. However, if you want to use two devices and want to use these two together you probably have too much money or work for a telco. Between the two of them you’d be paying NZ$2500 – or as much as a really good laptop.

My conclusion from my time with these devices is that they are all really good devices and serve a variety of needs really well. Take your time to select one though - they are not cheap.






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