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i-mate PDA2k Pocket PC Phone Edition review
Posted on 3-Oct-2004 13:56 by M Freitas | Tags Filed under: Reviews

HTC has created an interesting converged device. The Pocket PC Phone Edition was codenamed HTC Blue Angel during its development, and it was announced by various mobile operators around the world. Apart from some cosmetic differences, and the selection of bundled applications, this device is pretty much the same across these operators. You probably heard of it with other names, like O2 XDA IIs, T-Mobile MDAIII, Vodafone VPA III (Vodafone Personal Assistant, in Germany only). In New Zealand and Australia it'll be released as i-mate PDA2k.

The i-mate brand is popular in the Australia/New Zealand market, and it's the market brand of Carrier Devices. The company also distributes these devices in the Middle Eastern market. Where it's not present and where an operator is not selling the device, HTC sells it through its market brand, QTEK.

In size, it's similar to the i-mate Pocket PC Phone Edition. At around 200g it's not light like a Smartphone, but it's very useable. It runs Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition Software for Pocket PC Phone Edition and it's built around an Intel XScale PXA263 processor running at 400MHz. It's very generous in terms of memory, with 128MB SDRAM and 96MB ROM. This ROM size gives the user an additional 43MB of flash storage. On top of the unit we have a SD/MMC expansion slot, if more memory is needed.

i-mate PDA2k (left) with i-mate Pocket PC Phone Edition
Comparing sizes (i-mate PDA2k on the left)

The most distinctive characteristic of this Pocket PC Phone Edition is its slide out backlit keyboard. The keys are very close to each other, but when using the thumbs only to write it's very responsive, and it gives a good typing speed. The backlight is a Blue glow that really works well in the dark - no way to miss it! The keys have multiple functions: Shift, Caps and Fn. It has directional arrows, and a Fn-Menu that opens a context-sensitive menu, like tap-and-hold.

i-mate PDA2k, open keyboard
Comparing sizes (i-mate PDA2k on the left with keyboard open)

Comparing buttons (i-mate PDA2k on the left)
Comparing buttons (i-mate PDA2k on the left)

Keyboard open (detail)
Keyboard open (detail)

Keyboard open, in the dark
Keyboard open, in the dark

Using the keyboard
Using the keyboard

Side view with keyboard open
Side view with keyboard open

You can see in the pictures that in addition to the Calendar and Contacts buttons on the top of the unit, it also has special buttons to access Pocket Internet Explorer, Pocket Outlook, the Start Menu and an OK button. By using these buttons and the Fn-Menu it's possible to completely control the i-mate PDA2k without using the stylus. It changes the Pocket PC usability standards, from the stylus centric interface. It's a merge of the success of single-hand operation found on the Windows Mobile Smartphone platform with the large screen on Pocket PC devices.

i-mate PDA2k, Calendar and Contact buttons
Detail of Calendar and Contact button

i-mate PDA2k, new buttons
New buttons, including Start Menu and OK

The screen itself is nothing new. It's a 3.5 Transflective TFT-LCD 240 x 320 pixels, 65K colour, and side by side with the original i-mate Pocket PC Phone Edition it's not different in terms of brightness. So, nothing to rave about here.

Since the i-mate PDA2k comes with Windows Mobile Second Edition, it allows OS-supported portrait and landscape screen-orientation. By using the Screen applet in the Settings menu the screen can be changed from portrait to landscape (right or left-handed orientation) with a tap and instant change. The same applet also provides a checkbox to enable ClearType font smooth. Another tab on the Screen applet allows the user to select font size used by Today screen plugins and some, but not all, applications.

Example of different font sizes available

Today screen in landscape format

Default Vodafone Today theme (right)

In terms of wireless, the i-mate PDA2k is well served. Like its predecessor it's a GSM/GPRS (Class 8/10) handset, and it comes with the standard Pocket PC Phone Edition phone application.

In addition to this, a couple of things changed with this new device. First of all the Bluetooth software is no longer the Microsoft Bluetooth stack. Great news! It now uses the Widcomm BT-PPC/PE, a special version of its BTW-CE software (already used by HP and Dell on their Pocket PC devices), with the addition of a Bluetooth Headset profile. The user interface is a little different from the BTW-CE version, with fewer tabs. One interesting and welcome change is an option to use the Pocket PC Device Name as the Bluetooth Device Name.

A new Widcomm Bluetooth stack, replacing the Microsoft Bluetooth software
A new Widcomm Bluetooth stack, replacing the Microsoft Bluetooth software

The big change is the addition of a built-in wireless LAN (802.11b) adapter. The wireless LAN manager is better than that on other Pocket PC devices, and provides lots of information. Things like current AP, an option to turn WLAN off if not connected after a certain amount of time (great battery saving feature), and a slider to define power saving or performance options. It supports LEAP authentication, and a tab allows the definition of SSID and its attributes. It does not include a scanner though, and it relies on Windows Mobile Zero Configuration to find and connect to Wireless Access Points (WAP).

Easy to understand WiFi information
Easy to understand WiFi information

Managing WiFi power and connection options
Managing WiFi power and connection options

To manage all these connection options, the Wireless Manager program allows the user to turn each connection type on and off, and assign a default connection (CID) for GPRS, and a default profile for Bluetooth.

The most interesting feature here is the ability to automatically switch between wireless LAN and GPRS connections, based on the availability of the first. When close to a valid Wireless Access Point (WAP), any data connection will be first attempted through the high-speed connection, before falling back to the GPRS connection. Handy when using the device at home or work and then going out to visit clients for example.

 The i-mate PDA2k will switch between WiFi and GPRS automatically
The i-mate PDA2k will switch between WiFi and GPRS automatically

Pocket Internet Explorer offers the standard features from this new OS version, and the best experience you can have is using Pocket Internet Explorer in landscape mode with One Column display. The Default option is similar to the Fit To Screen option in previous versions, while Desktop is the same as having the Fit To Screen option unchecked.

Pocket Internet Explorer, portrait, Default mode Pocket Internet Explorer, portrait, One Column mode
Pocket Internet Explorer, portrait, Default mode (left), One Column mode (right)

Pocket Internet Explorer, landscape, Default mode  Pocket Internet Explorer, landscape, One Column mode
Pocket Internet Explorer, landscape, Default mode (left), One Column mode (right)

The new Pocket Outlook now includes the MMS feature as another account, like the SMS was included in the previous Pocket Outlook version. It's still supplied by ArcSoft, but it means a more integrated experience, instead of the old version, where it was an external program. The i-mate PDA2k also comes with a fax program called KSE TrueFax. The program allows the user to send quick notes via fax, or attach completed documents (Notes, Pocket Word and Pocket Excel) to send. For users of the Vodafone live! lifestyle portal, some good news. The device I've tested comes with a Java VM called MIDLet Manager, from the Tao Group.

KSE TrueFax
Fax program now available

Integrated MMS
Pocket Inbox with integrated MMS

How does it perform on a benchmark against other machines? The i-mate PDA2k is not the best performer in the Pocket PC world, but we have to have in mind that faster CPU would probably impact on battery life, and battery life is important on a phone device.

I've used Spb Benchmark to collect performance information, and if you click in the chart you can have access to our Performance Centre, with other Pocket PC reviews and charts:

Performance comparison

I currently have a HP iPAQ 4150 and an i-mate Pocket PC Edition. One for its wireless LAN capabilities, the other for its WAN capabilities. The i-mate PDA2k successfully brings these features together and its automatic switching from GPRS to WLAN is an attractive feature to business users.

The i-mate PDA2k should be available from Vodafone New Zealand before the end of this year, with other smart devices announced by Carrier Devices, like the i-mate Smartphone3 and the i-mate JAM. Prices are not yet defined at the time of this review. As a final comment, if you're interested on this device, but not sure if a converged handheld is for you, read our article "Some reasons to consider (or not) a Pocket PC Phone edition".

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