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i-mate Smartphone2 review

Posted on 15-Apr-2004 20:42 by M Freitas | Filed under: Reviews

i-mate Smartphone2 review
I first reported on a Windows Mobile Smartphone 2003 in July 2003, when it was still a rumour. Back then the OS was still under wraps, but I was free of NDAs (not the case anymore, now I have signed some) so I posted my observations here. I saw it running on a HTC Tanager hardware, and it was connected to the Vodafone New Zealand network. At that time I got some comments from other people in the industry about their doubts if Vodafone would ever release a Microsoft Windows Mobile device.

Well, the wait wasn't that long. Vodafone now offer the i-mate Smartphone2 through its branded stores, and is even actively promoting it with TV adverts, part of their "Mobilise" campaign, which includes the i-mate Pocket PC Phone Edition and their MCC (Mobile Connect Card).

This phone is sold in other markets under different brands. You probably heard of O2 XPhone, QTEK 7070 or Orange SPV E200. These are in essence the same basic hardware, with branding customisation and some different software bundle included in the package.

The phone runs the Windows Mobile 2003 Smartphone OS on a TI OMAP 132MHz CPU, with 32MB SDRAM and 64MB ROM. The display is a 2.2 inch TFT LCD, capable of showing 64k colours at 176x220 resolution. Its screen is very nice and clear, and works well outdoors.

This is a tri-band GSM phone (900/1800/1900MHz), which means that it can be used almost anywhere in the world, where roaming is available. I couldn't find a word about its GPRS class on the documentation, though.

It comes with a 1,000mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable battery. I must be a heavy user, because I have had to charge it every day. Of course playing with its functionality, using Bluetooth for ActiveSync and to connect to a headset help using the battery.

The box contains the phone itself, the battery, a small cradle and USB cable, a CD containing the Microsoft Outlook 2002 and Microsoft ActiveSync softwares, a mains charger, stereo headset, 22-pin adapter for travel charging, a Quick Start Guide and a User Guide. Note that I had no trouble using the phone, and the manuals were in the box until I actually needed to look for the specifications to write in this review. Using the phone is actually very intuitive. I know it helps that I have some previous experience with mobile devices, but it seems easy enough to start using it out of the box. Simply insert your SIM card and turn it on.

Because the specification of a Windows Mobile Smartphone does not have a touch screen, the navigation is done by using a few keys. There are two "soft keys" that are shown on the bottom of each page, and activated with push in each of two hardware key under then. There's a Home key that always brings you back to the Home screen, and a return key that steps back to the previous application or dialog. And there's a mini joystick, that let's you navigate through items on the screen.

Once on the Home screen, press the Start soft key to open the list of programs available, like the Start menu on any Windows machine. There you browse up and down using the joystick, or press the corresponding number to activate a program. You get the idea, right?

One of the most interesting functionalities is the predictive text for dialling. It works like any T9 input, but the dictionary in this case is your contact list. From the Home screen start typing a name using the T9 style (a single press on each key regardless of character position) and the phone will show a list of names that match the key entry. When you have enough characters to narrow down to a few entries you can then use the joystick to go up and down the list. Pretty neat!

Home screen, where everything starts (Vodafone theme)

Home screen, where everything starts (Default theme)

The start menu

The start menu

The Windows Mobile software for smartphone comes with PIM functionality (contacts, calendar, tasks), an e-mail client supporting multiple mailboxes (pop3 and imap), Pocket Internet Explorer, MSN Messenger, Voice Notes, Windows Media Player (compatible with version 9), and calculator. Let's not forget about the games: Solitaire and Jawbreaker.

You can synchronise the phone with your local computer (MS Outlook) or remotely to an Exchange Server. There are options that allow you to configure how frequently you want to synchronise the device if using a wireless connection to a server. The OS also offers the framework to actually receive a notification of new messages from the server and pull the messages only if needed. I couldn't test this because I currently don't have access to the infrastructure required (but it's in my plans).

If you're a media fan, then the Windows Media Player will feed you! Just insert a SD card on the slot provided, load the music or video clips and play! Very handy, and the sound quality is great. I currently have a 128MB SD card on this phone, but saw someone going around with a 512MB SD card and an entire movie in it.

Using the e-mail client over GPRS is a breeze. But what really impresses is Pocket Internet Explorer. Using its One column layout makes reading websites an easy task. It does a good job of reformating sites for the small area available, in special the ones without frames or complicated layouts.

A notice to some Vodafone users: there's no Vodafone live! customisation on this phone, and actually some functionality will not be available. This actually makes sense to me. I think the Vodafone live! is a lifestyle WAP application, while this phone is a business tool. The market segment is very different in this case, and the branded portal is not attractive to these users. And yes, you can change the colours and background images, like in other Windows Mobile devices.

Reading e-mails

Pocket Internet Explorer

MSN Messenger

The camera allows the user to capture still images or videos, with quite acceptable quality for a mobile phone, as you can see below:

Example of picture taken with built-in camera: the Wellington Harbour

In addition to the basic software, the phone comes bundled with some IAStyle software:

  • Task Manager: to control active programs and check current memory usage.
  • Caller ID: to assign images or pictures to entries in the contact list, and to show these images when the calling number matches an entry in the contact list
  • File Manager: a tree and list based file manager
  • Space Maker: a program to clean up internal databases (SMS, Inbox, Call History, Speed Dial)

    The File Manager

    The Space Maker

    There's a MMS application, MMS Composer from ArcSoft. From this application you can create multimedia messages, send and receive then.

    Playing a MMS after receiving it

    You can connect the Smartphone in a variety of ways. There's the USB cable, the infrared adapter and Bluetooth. Although limited in the number of profiles available, the Bluetooth implemented in this device is quite functional. Using it I was able to ActiveSync wirelessly, use my Smartphone2 as a GPRS modem for my laptop, transfer files from and to a computer (using the IAStyle File Manager), and use a headset. Sometimes it's not easy to configure, but it works correctly once it's done. You can check our Bluetooth Guides for step-by-step instructions on how to do some of these things.

    Turning Bluetooth on

    All devices paired

    Of course the functionality you'd expect from a mobile phone is here. You can easily create different profiles, like Normal, Silent, Meeting, etc and select the current one by pressing the on|off button quickly and selecting a number from the list. You can also inquiry and change network settings, like Call Barring, Call Forwarding, Call Waiting, Caller Id, etc. For roaming situations you can also select preferred networks or do a manual search.

    The manual says you can expect a talk time of 2 to 3 hours, or 2 hours of continuous GPRS use, or 100 hours standby.

    In terms of voice quality it's really good. The volume is a little bit low on the smartphone side, by the called person can hear clearly without a problem, even when calling outside from windy Wellington (today we had gusts of 80km/h around here).

    Different profiles available

    Network settings

    My thoughts on this? You bet I'm using this phone ! Even though the screen is not bigger than my previous phone (a P800) I think the whole device is more intuitive to use. And the screen quality in terms of colours is much better. If you have the chance of deciding on a device, you should seriously consider this one.