I spent the last three weeks with an i-mate Smartflip Windows Mobile Smartphone. I am saying this because I am not usually the person to carry a Smartphone, rather having a Pocket PC Phone Edition with me. But the i-mate Smartflip is quite a looker, and functional.
It starts being a very thin (98.5 x 51.4 x 15.8mm) and light (99g with battery) handset in a clamshell form factor. It fits comfortably in the hand, and the keypad is easily accessible for one handed operation. The keypad is actually very interesting, being completely flush and made of a single piece, instead of having separate buttons.
The keypad comes with the standard keys you expect to find on a mobile phone (including answer and hangup), plus soft keys for access to contextual menu options, home and back keys. On the sides you find a camera button, volume control and a voice command button, used to initiate some actions with your voice (voice training/recording is required though).
Also you will find the keypad is backlit with a very soft blue light - almost too soft, perhaps a bit more light would be good. But the T9 predictive text input helps a lot, and with the ability to add words to the built-in dictionary, it worked ok.
The internal 2.2" LCD is nice and bright, with 240x320 pixels (QVGA) resolution. It serves as the viewfinder as well when the handset is in camera mode - used for still images or video recordings.
A secondary external 1.2" LCD with 128x128 pixels is available and it's one of the most interesting parts on this device. It shows a status screen including date, time, network status, signal strength, battery level and e-mail notification. It also announces incoming calls - and if you have pictures for your contacts those are shown when a call is coming. It is also used as a camera viewfinder for self-pictures, but more importantly, it's a media display, showing information about music if you use the handset for playback of your song collection. Three keys under the external display serve as media control with reverse, forward, play/pause functions - also used as soft keys when the device is closed and you need to interact with some message on the external screen.
The problem here is that you can't just plug any pair of headphones. You see, to save space and make this a very thin handset, the manufacturer decided to create a special USB adapter, serving as port for charging, synchronisation and sound output. The best option is to actually arm yourself with a pair of Bluetooth Stereo headsets and use these with your i-mate Smartflip.
Even though it's not listed in the specs, this device supports the A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile), a stereo profile for use with Bluetooth headsets. But don't go too far away from the device. In my tests you can get broken sound if you are more than 3 metres from your phone. Otherwise it works very well. Of course you can also use a Bluetooth headset with the i-mate Smartflip, just won't be stereo.
This Smartphone is quite responsive, although I found out that I risked running out of memory pretty soon - the best option is to make sure you add any media and programs to a microSD card. Which is not bad, but it means your collection of SD and miniSD cards from your Pocket PC will have not much use here.
The i-mate Smartflip runs Windows Mobile 5.0 AKU2, which means it brings the Messaging Security and Feature Pack built-in, ready to talk to a Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 with SP2 and start using the direct push e-mail for automatic synchronisation when new e-mails arrive on the server, and the security policies management.
It also means that on this configuration you will likely need to install a certificate. If your server uses a certificate issued by one of the kown root CA then you are lucky. Just copy the file and install it. But if you are like me and have a self-signed certificate, then make sure you head to the Club i-mate website and download the utility to install these certificates. Unlike the Pocket PCs, the device is locked so you can't go installing any certificate.
To donwload this utility you need to register the device. I didn't want to because I am returning it to Vodafone New Zealand after this review, so I tried contacting the Club i-mate on-line support. It's a real-time chat with one of their support people. After explaining why I couldn't register the device, the support person sent me the appropriate file and I was able to connect the device to my Exchange Server pretty much straight away. Thumbs up for their service on this!
If you are like me and live on e-mail, more than phone calls, then you are well served. The direct push functionality works well, and I had no problem receiving e-mails. The only problem here in New Zealand is the lack of EDGE networks. Vodafone currently provides GPRS, UMTS and HSDPA, and EDGE would be an upgrade to GRPS, with potentially 3x the speeds. Alas, the i-mate Smartflip works on GPRS and EDGE only, but for e-mail and text only RSS reading it worked perfectly well.
As part of the software package, on top of the standard Outlook Mobile, Internet Explorer Mobile, Contacts, Calendar, Notes, i-mate also bundles the Smartflipe with the ClearVue series of document viewers, compatible with Word, PDF, PowerPoint and Excel files. It also comes with eTrust Antivirus, a Task Manager to help manage the programs running on your phone, and a J2ME run-time environment (J2ME, CLDC 1.1, MIDP 2.0).
For people wanting to be always in touch, you can do so through e-mail, SMS, MMS and the MSN Messenger client for IM.
The sound quality during voice calls is very good, and it is comfortable to hold during calls, although most of the times I used my Bluetooth headset for this. And even with Bluetooth always on, the battery lasted for a couple of days. I actually didn't have to worry much about it.
The built-in 1.3 megapixel digital camera is usable, and you can get some good shots for a mobile blog, but don't think you will use it as a print quality still camera. Think of it as fun to use.
Overall the phone shows good construction, no problems with the system in general (no, I didn't have to reset it anytime during these weeks) and worked reliably during my use.
Nice easy-to-read screen
Very cool secondary (external) display
Looks good in black
Push e-mail that works out-of-the box with Microsoft Exchange servers
Small internal memory
Non-standard sound output adapter
All those mini-USB retractable cables are now useless