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i-mate SP5 Windows Mobile Smartphone review
Posted on 8-Dec-2005 23:49 by Leeann McCallum | Filed under: Reviews

i-mate SP5 Windows Mobile Smartphone review
They say first impressions count, and this is definitely the case with i-Mateís SP5. It is sexy, stylish and dressed to impress. It exudes quiet confidence, stability and reliabilityÖ even before itís turned on.

The i-Mate family of phones is produced by HTC, and marketed under various different names. The SP5 is the latest evolution of the SP3 and SP3i, along with its musical sibling, the SP5m.

The SP5 is similar in size to the SP3, being only a whisker longer. Weigh in on the kitchen scales is 110gms sans extras.

I just LOVE the screen. It is a 2.2 inch, 240 x 320 QVGA transflective LCD with LED backlighting. Characters are smooth and contoured just like its form factor. Itís a clean, fresh looking phone thatís eager to please. I did however, find it very reflective and difficult to see outside.

The numeric keypad had a slight flimsiness feel about it, and it took a while before I could confidently dial a number without looking at the screen. I found the joystick bar in the SP3 irritating to use, and likewise the joystick nipple on the SP5. My thumb constantly slipped off it and I was forever hitting enter and moving up instead. Thank goodness for the smart numbers next to the menu items!

I found it mildly annoying one of the predefined keys was a Contacts button, along with a second Contacts soft key. Complete waste of a button. The SP5 is a corporate looking phone, with corporate functionality and I would have expected a Calendar button to be more useful than 2 Contacts. Unfortunately I ran out of time trying to change it.

Two volume controls are on the left, as well as the communication manager button. The camera is on the right hand side, with the power button at the top. An array of coloured LEDs on the upper front jacket provide status for GSM network, power charging, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Sadly, there was no cradle in the box, but it was presented smartly with power, USB cables and ear set.

3G or not 3G

The SP5 (and SP5M) are quad band devices and operate on GSM 850, 900, 1800 and 1900 Mhz frequencies. They also support EDGE which unfortunately Vodafone NZ does not support, meaning if you are not a frequent International traveller you will not realize the deviceís potential. The SP5 does not support WCDMA (UMTS) which is Vodafone NZís 3G data network.

However, all is not lost! The SP5 supports Wi-Fi (802.11b). LEAP is also supported. This is tremendously exciting and very easy to get going. Connectivity can be simply managed by a dedicated button on the left hand side which brings up the communication manager. I simply turned on Wi-Fi and suddenly I was surfing via my wireless network as boldly as a man starring down a windmill.

Bluetooth and IrDA are also supported for the usual array of hands free devices etc.

The SoftÖ

Running Microsoft Windows Mobile 5, most of the applications have been streamlined. No, the Smartphone does not come with Pocket versions of Word, Excel or PowerPoint. But it does have Pocket Outlook with E-mail, Contacts, Calendar and Tasks which can synchronise with your corporate Microsoft Exchange server, and a very swish version of Internet Explorer.

You can configure the size of the screen and it even gives you a progress bar! However, unless you dream in HTML, surfing on a 2.2Ē screen is not for the faint-hearted. One of the features Iíd like to see ported to the Smartphone is the ability to turn a screen landscape like the i-mate JAM. This would give users the option of choosing how they wish to view their websites when they do need to surf on the Smartphone. I would also like to see an easily accessible page up/down button. This would make it so much easier to get around web pages when presented in one column.

Windows Media Player 10 was included and I found the audio extremely clear. I liked how I could synchronise MP3s between the phone and the desktop, although I had to repair my Active Sync installation after I upgraded to Windows Media 10 on my desktop.

If you are used to the Start Menu from the SP3, then one of the biggest differences youíll notice in the interface is a return to the old Windows 3.1 Program Manager style, and this isnít necessarily a bad thing. I always liked Program Manager and missed it in Windows 95. I just found it difficult to navigate with the SP5 joystick.

The camera is the usual 1.3 mega pixels with 2x zoom and takes both still images and video with audio. Maximum resolution is 1280 x 1024. The photos were clear and crisp and could be sent directly via MMS, e-mail or beam me up Scotty. I really liked how I could also add photos to my Contacts as well. So when one of your contacts calls you, their details, including their photo would come up on your screen. Did I mention how great the screen was?!

I found application switching sluggish, but responsive once in the application. I felt there was a slight improvement on the SP3, but not significant.

and the hardÖ

The SP5 comes with 64MB RAM, and a Mini SD slot under the battery. I recommend you buy the biggest you can afford, then install and forget it. I would rather see 128MB as the minimum for the SP5, given it was the reason I only had one MP3 to listen to. The additional functionality the SP5 has makes you want to do things with it. Itís not just a smart phone. Itís a smart phone thatís got Smarter and you need some space to work with it.

Itís almost too smart for its own good, as Microsoft have changed the security model running on Windows Mobile 5. The software is certificate locked meaning you cannot install things like third party Root Certificates without first editing the registry with an editor the phone already trusts. A real nuisance for corporates users who have their own PKI infrastructures in place, and for developers wanting to deploy applications to the device.

I know itís cheating to read the manual, but I was disappointed with it. Too often it would direct you to a configuration option without getting you to click on the More button first.

The Phone
Great phone with all the usual features now expected in a mobile; speaker for conference calls, multiple calls, vibrating on events, hold features, SMS and much more.

For some reason I could not get used to the positioning of the Answer button and Hang up button. For a phone they just did not feel right slapped in the middle of a bunch of other buttons. Bring back the SP3 buttons!

The Battery

The battery reputedly has 5 hours talk time and 250 hours standby. From dead to SP5 being alive, recharge time was around 2.5 hours, and you can play your MP3s for your entire 8 hour work day. Ö (Actually, after listening to the same MP3 for 8 hours I turned it off. The battery was only down to 50%, but my tolerance for Lou Reed was 0%).


With Windows Mobile 5, the SP5 suddenly seems to be so much more than simply a Smartphone that does e-mail. Microsoft have clearly focused on the end-user experience, and with the convergence of Mobile 5 between both the Pocket PC and Smartphone, and Active Sync acting as the liaison between devices and the desktop, users should have no problem transitioning between devices and sharing information between them.

If you are wanting to take advantage of New Zealand Vodafoneís 3G network for Exchange ActiveSync, mail downloading or high speed surfing I would wait until i-mate (or HTC) produce a Smartphone capable of UMTS or WCDMA.

If notÖ..then the i-Mate SP5 has an abundance of features which only confirm that first impressions continue to have a significant and lasting impact.

  • Fantastic screen;
  • 802.11b wi-fi (given there is no UMTS);
  • Windows Mobile 5 Operating System;

  • No New Zealand 3G support;
  • Certificate locked.

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