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Pocket PC Phone Reviews

i-mate JAM Pocket PC Phone

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Where to Buy

Check out the i-mate JAMin, the Windows Mobile 5 follow-up to the JAM

Reviewed June 20, 2005 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Why is it that some of the sweetest phones never make it to the US? The XDA II comes to mind, which was both hugely popular overseas and quite powerful as a Pocket PC and a phone. Now the i-mate JAM (code named HTC Magician, and sold by T-Mobile Germany as the MDA Compact and by o2 as the XDA II mini) has taken every market by storm except the US where no carrier offers it. Fortunately, the device is offered by a few importers in the US, and we received ours from David Weiniger's playfully named Mad Monkey Boy's Gadgets online store, a reasonable and reputable importer. Indeed, thanks to importers, the JAM is enjoying a good deal of success in the US even without carrier support or subsidy.

What is the JAM? It's the smallest Pocket PC phone to date, being similar in size to the palmOne Treo 650 and much smaller than the Siemens SX66. Though it lacks those competitors' built-in keyboard, it does have a reasonably fast processor, Bluetooth, an SD slot and a camera. If you're not a constant emailer or SMS hound, the JAM could work well for you. It's available in two GSM tri-band versions: 850/1800/1900 MHz for the US (particularly for Cingular and AT&T users) which we received for review and an 900/1800/1900 MHz version for Europe, Asia and largely T-Mobile users in the US (we'll cover bands in detail later).

i-mate JAM Pocket PC phone
i-mate JAM back

 

Features at a Glance

The JAM runs Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, has a 416 MHz processor, 64 megs of RAM, Bluetooth, and SD slot supporting SDIO and a 1.3 MP digital camera. Since the device is small, the display area is only 2.8" diagonal rather than the more common 3.5" screen used on other QVGA Pocket PCs. In the box you'll find the unit, 2 styli, USB sync cable, world charger, stereo headset, black nylon belt clip case, software CDs and manual.

side of i-mate JAM

 

 

Deals and Shopping

 

 

 

Design and Ergonomics

The i-mate JAM is a small and curvy creature, with strongly rounded corners that put a new face on generally rectangular PDA designs. It is significantly smaller than any other Pocket PC Phone Edition model currently on the market and is small by PDA standards. As phones go, it is large— though not impossibly so. It will fit in most pockets, and though larger than many current feature phones or MS Smartphones (those are the ones that run Windows Mobile Smartphone edition, not Pocket PCs), it is not awkwardly large or ungainly.

JAM, iPAQ 6315 and Treo 650

Above: JAM, iPAQ 6315 Pocket PC Phone
and the palmOne Treo 650 smartphone.

JAM and E-TEN M500

The JAM and E-TEN M500,
the compact PPC phone competitors.

 

The JAM's clean, minimalist look is appealing and it won't strike terror in the hearts of techno-newbies who might be overwhelmed by a plethora of buttons and controls. The display dominates the front face, with the earpiece slit centered above the screen, and a lower control cluster at the bottom, comprised of a 5-way directional pad surrounded by call send and end buttons and calendar and contacts buttons. The SD slot is on the top edge, the power button on the right edge, while the camera, voice recorder and volume slider are located on the left side. Though quite small, the side buttons are easy to operate, and the slightly domed front buttons have good ergonomics. The mini USB sync port (same as used by the Audiovox SMT5600) is located on the bottom, as are the 2.5mm headset jack, reset hole and mic. Both the charger and sync cable connect to the sync port and thus you'll only be able to use one at a time, though the JAM does support USB charging so you can top up the battery via the sync cable.

The i-mate JAM has a metal casing with a light silver finish and a black ridged band surrounding the sides, which makes it easy to hold. The finish doesn't show fingerprints, and is attractive. The camera lens and self portrait mirror are located on the back of the unit, as is the battery door. The SIM card lives in a slot under the battery. When you remove the rear battery door, the unit automatically shuts off.

Horsepower and Performance

While not the fastest Pocket PC on the block, the JAM has a respectable Intel XScale PXA272 processor running at 416 MHz. That's the latest, greatest PDA processor from Intel, with the fastest Pocket PCs such as the Dell Axim X50v and HP iPAQ hx4700 running the 624 MHz version. So 416 MHz isn't the fastest you can get, but it is very fast by Pocket PC Phone standards, which need step down on processing power a bit in order to increase battery runtimes (no one wants a phone that lasts only a half day). The processor compares well with the 400 MHz Siemens SX66 (aka XDA IIs and MDA III) and trounces the HP iPAQ 6315's 168 MHz TI processor. And the JAM beats out the Siemens SX66 and iPAQ in video playback!

The JAM has 64 megs of RAM, 57.41 megs of which is available for your use, and 64 megs of flash ROM, 7.60 megs of which is available. You can use the SD slot to increase memory using SD memory cards, and you can use a variety of other cards such as SD WiFi, 56k dial up modem and more since the JAM supports SDIO. SanDisk's SD WiFi card works well with the JAM, as does their SD WiFi + 256 meg memory card.

Mad Monkey Boy's Gadgets also sells the PocketPCTechs.com 128 meg upgraded model, for those of you who can't survive with so little built in memory. We received this model for review as well and the additional memory was more than welcome. Though RAM consumes power even when the device is turned off, we found that the 128 meg version had only 10% less runtime than the standard version. The folks at Pocket PC Techs have a well-deserved good reputation and we heartily recommend this model for power users. Do keep in mind that the upgrade will void the manufacturer's warranty however. Mad Monkey Boy sells both GSM versions of the JAM with the 128 meg upgrade for $190 more than the standard JAM.

 

Phone Features and Reception

The JAM is an unlocked GSM device which means you can use it with any carrier's SIM. If a phone is locked, as are most sold directly by US carriers, it can only be used with a SIM from the carrier who sold you the phone, and not a competing carrier's SIM. Since the JAM is unlocked, you can switch SIM cards and carriers any time you wish and as frequently you wish. The JAM comes in two flavors, varying only in the GSM bands supported. The 900/1800/1900 MHz version is great for use in Europe (primarily 900 MHz), Asia (primarily 1800 MHz, but some 900 MHz) and in the US where T-Mobile is the largest 1900 MHz band GSM carrier. If you use T-Mobile and also travel the world, this is the model for you. If you are an AT&T or Cingular customer in the US, you'll likely want to opt for the 850/1800/1900 MHz model we received for review. While these carriers do use the 1900 MHz band, they also heavily rely on the 850 MHz band (which incidentally provides much better indoor reception than 1900 MHz). This means you'll get the best US coverage with the 850 MHz model, though the drawback is you won't get very good reception in Europe and parts of China where 900 MHz is used heavily. How unfortunate that the JAM (and many other high end phones) aren't quad band, offering all four bands currently used around the world!

Reception is strong with the JAM, bested only by some Nokia models and the GSM Treo 650 which have the very strongest RF. The phone has held a signal in relatively weak reception areas, and maintained both connection and call clarity. Both incoming and outgoing voice quality are excellent, though incoming voice volume isn't as loud as some other Windows Mobile Pocket PC phones like the Siemens SX66, Samsung i700, Audiovox PPC-6601 and XDA II (also designed by HTC). The phone's volume is certainly adequate and compares well to other recent GSM phones on the market, but nothing beats the incredible volume of the other Pocket PC phones.

Like all Pocket PC phones, the JAM has a large on-screen dialer application with numbers that are large enough to dial using a finger. This screen has a call send/end button, a speed dial button, call history button and a hold button that appears when in a call. You can mute a call by tapping on the mic icon in the task bar, bring up the address book by tapping the Contacts icon and open Notes if you wish to jot down notes or drawings when in a call. You need not tap out phone numbers using the on-screen dialer, and instead can make calls with one press using the speed dial function. Speed dial can hold up to 99 numbers (1 is assigned to voicemail), and if you wish to use voice dialing you can purchase Microsoft's Voice Command. I-mate has customized the standard dialer screen, adding a small window that mimics a standard cell phone LCD. When you begin to tap in a number, it shows the nearest 3 matches in Contacts, and you can tap on a match, then press the on screen call button to dial quickly.

The phone comes with IA applications that not only manage the camera but handle picture caller ID and distinctive ring. The Windows Mobile OS doesn't currently offer distinctive ring (setting a desired ring tone to a specific contact) so it's great that HTC had added this feature to the Magician.

All Pocket PC Phones have flight mode, and the JAM is no exception. Simply tap on the signal strength meter on the menu bar and select flight mode to turn off all wireless features. You can still use the PDA functions when the device is in flight mode. The device has a speakerphone. To activate it, press and hold the call send button for a second or two when already in a call. The speakerphone is not terribly loud compared to other phones however. If you prefer a headset, the device will automatically route calls to the included stereo earbud headset when attached, and mute MP3 or video playback when a call comes in. You may also use Bluetooth headsets with the device, though voice dialing is only supported when using the phone or a wired headset, not a Bluetooth headset (this is currently true of all Pocket PC phones except the HP iPAQ 6315).

The phone has class 10 GPRS for data which provides throughput around 45k on average in our area. We wish it had EDGE (so far a no-show on Windows Mobile phones) but alas it does not. Given the screen resolution and rendering capabilities of Pocket Internet Explorer and third party web browsers, a faster data connection would be ideal to speed up page load times which can approach 20 seconds for a desktop optimized web site.

When you launch Pocket IE or your favorite 3rd party web browser such as NetFront, the device will automatically make a GPRS connection. As with other Windows Mobile 2003SE phones, it will maintain that connection even when you're done using the Net or have powered off the phone. Don't worry, the connection is dormant and won't eat up data unless you have the phone scheduled to connect to the Net to check email or ActiveSync wirelessly on a schedule. To manually disconnect from GPRS, simply tap on the data icon at the top of the Today Screen and tap on disconnect.

Battery Life

The i-mate JAM has a user replaceable 1200 mAh Lithium Ion polymer battery. The battery lives under a large door on the back of the unit and when you slide that door down and off, a switch automatically turns off power to the PDA, ensuring that your data remains intact when you swap the battery. This does mean that each time you remove the battery door, even if you don't take out the battery, the unit will soft reset (reboot).

The battery capacity isn't terribly high by Pocket PC phone standards, but the JAM does use less power due to its smaller display (the display is one of the biggest power consumers) and because the unit has 64 rather than 128 megs of RAM like the Siemens SX66. RAM uses power even when the device is turned off, hence less RAM means longer battery life. The JAM made it through a day of active use which included 40 minutes of phone calls, an hour of surfing the web, playing a few video shorts and listening to MP3s (screen off) for an hour. If you're a heavy PDA and phone user, you'll likely charge the JAM each night, whereas light users might manage an every other day charging regime.

Benchmarks

As you can see, the JAM does quite well in benchmarks, coming in close to the XDA II and III family of devices in performance and soundly beating the much slower iPAQ 6315.

Display, Sound and Multimedia

While most Pocket PCs have a 3.5" transflective display, the JAM's measures 2.8", to keep the unit small. Despite the size reduction, the display is sharp and easily readable. Unless you have old, tired eyes, you'll likely manage just fine with the smaller fonts and user interface widgets. Colors are saturated and the screen is decently bright, though not nearly as bright as the E-TEN M500's (see comparison photo above). Like all Windows Mobile 2003 SE Pocket PCs, the screen works in both portrait and landscape modes and the JAM has a handy screen orient ration changer icon on the taskbar.

Sound volume in call through the speakerphone and system sounds through the built-in speaker have good volume, though not as loud as some other models such as the Siemens SX66, XDA II and Samsung i700 Pocket PC phones. Like all Pocket PCs, the JAM can play MP3s using the included Windows Media Player 10. For best sound you'll want to use the included stereo headset rather than the integrated mono speaker.

The unit makes a great portable video player in conjunction with a fast SD card to store videos, though the screen is smaller so your movies will appear even smaller than they do with standard 3.5" screen Pocket PCs.

BetaPlayer is an extremely fast open source free video player that supports MPEG1, DivX, AVI, ASF and WMV files. BetaPlayer played back "The Chosen", (a neat BMW flick with Clive Owen) which is a 4:26 minute long, 10 meg MPEG1 file recorded at 320 x 240, 308 kb/s, with benchmarks of:
Average speed: 552.15%
Bench Frame Rate: 132.52
Bench. Data Rate: 1.7 Mbit/s
Orig. Frame Rate: 24fps
Orig. Data Rate: 310 kbit/s

Those are excellent results, besting the JAM's big brothers the Siemens SX66 and the Audiovox PPC-6601, which may have more to do with continuing improvements in BetaPlayer than the device.

Spb Benchmark Results

 
HP iPAQ 6315
(2003, 168 MHz Ti)
Siemens SX66
(2003 SE, 400 MHz XScale)
E-TEN M500 (2003SE, 400 MHz)
i-mate JAM
Spb Benchmark index
742
1325
1655
1251
CPU index
714
1812
1677
1629
File system index
667
1031
1471
945
Graphics index
1674
1179
2756
1385
Platform index
731
1122
1536
1046
Write 1 MB file (KB/sec)
600
1245
1413
1215
Read 1 MB file (MB/sec)
11.1
25.9
26.3
21.3
Copy 1 MB file (KB/sec)
588
1251
1402
1242
Write 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
467
817
1052
817
Read 10 KB x 100 files (MB/sec)
5.22
7.42
11.4
7.67
Copy 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
435
701
938
662
Directory list of 2000 files (thousands of files/sec)
20.2
18.7
39.2
16.1
Internal database read (records/sec)
591
1385
1386
1280
Graphics test: DDB BitBlt (frames/sec)
236
122
324
135
Graphics test: DIB BitBlt (frames/sec)
12.3
23.1
25
21.7
Graphics test: GAPI BitBlt (frames/sec)
259
135
390
167
Pocket Word document open (KB/sec)
26.3
37.5
59.5
33.3
Pocket Internet Explorer HTML load (KB/sec)
5.51
7.54
10.8
7.26
Pocket Internet Explorer JPEG load (KB/sec)
108
229
231
200
File Explorer large folder list (files/sec)
469
536
783
489
Compress 1 MB file using ZIP (KB/sec)
170
238
328
212
Decompress 1024x768 JPEG file (KB/sec)
230
610
568
616
Arkaball frames per second (frames/sec)
87.4
98.8
170
109
CPU test: Whetstones MFLOPS (Mop/sec)
0.03
0.076
0.084
0.08
CPU test: Whetstones MOPS (Mop/sec)
24.3
54.9
55.5
57.7
CPU test: Whetstones MWIPS (Mop/sec)
2.14
4.95
5.45
5.24
Memory test: copy 1 MB using memcpy (MB/sec)
29.9
105
70.8
79

Bluetooth

The i-mate JAM has integrated Bluetooth 1.2 with support for Bluetooth handsfree headsets and car kits, ActiveSync over Bluetooth, and DUN (dial up networking). It also supports serial port profile which is used by GPS and some other accessories. Unfortunately, the device runs Microsoft's rather lackluster and de-featured Bluetooth software rather than Widcomm's (now Broadcom) more full-featured and user friendly software. In fact, adventurous users have tried to install Widcomm's Bluetooth software but the JAM can't run it, likely because it doesn't have enough free driver memory to load the software. We tested the JAM with the Motorola HS820 and Plantronics M3500 Bluetooth headsets and both worked well, offering very good range and good voice quality.

Camera

The JAM's 1.3 megapixel digital camera sounds exciting: that's a good resolution by phone standards. However, the photos aren't to die for, though they're better than the Motorola MPx220's notoriously bad photos by a big margin. As you can see below, well-lit indoor shots show too much grain, and the camera tends to blow out highlights massively in outdoor and strongly lit scenes. The pictures also have a blurry, unsharp look about them. I do wonder if better imaging software could have helped the JAM's 1.3MP CMOS camera. Looking at the photos, it seems the hardware itself is reasonably capable but the imaging data isn't processed as well as it could be to produce sharp, light-balanced photos. This is in contrast to the MPx220, whose camera hardware is less than capable.

guitar

Indoors, daytime natural light.

sammy

Sammy, medium outdoor light .

flowers

Outdoors, full sun.

The camera application is a full-featured affair, with full-screen viewfinder, and a wealth of settings including image size (960 x 1280 all the way down to 120 x 160), your choice of JPEG or BMP file formats, Ambience (auto, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, night, grayscale, sepia, cool and negative), manual contrast adjustment, shutter sound enable/disable, review after capture option, and flicker adjustment. The camera offers 2x digital zoom in all but the highest resolution setting, and can shoot videos with audio. The JAM shoots video in MP4 format and both the video and audio quality are very good, though audio and video tend to fall out of sync. We shot videos at 320 x 240 resolution and got 10 fps, 20.7 K bytes/sec data rate, and mono audio (Pocket PCs have mono mics) at 8,000 Hz according to QuickTime player on the desktop.

Software

Like all Pocket PCs running Windows Mobile 2003, Pocket versions of Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, Outlook and handwriting recognition are pre-installed in ROM. Other pre-installed Microsoft apps include Pictures, Terminal Services, MSN Messenger, Solitaire, Jawbreaker, ActiveSync and Calculator. The unit comes with Windows Media Player 10 for MP3 and WMV/ASF movie playback.

Value-added software pre-installed in ROM includes Photo Contacts (photo caller ID), Wireless Modem (use the JAM as a wireless modem for a notebook over USB, IR or Bluetooth), SIM Manager, Java MIDlet Manager by the Tao Group, xBackup which allows you to back up all or just PIM data to Flash ROM or an SD card, KSE Truefax 2.0, Club i-mate email, and Album (an image viewer formerly known as IA Album).

Conclusion

A very compact Pocket PC phone. If the size of other PPC phones discouraged you, the JAM, which is close in size to the Palm Treo 650 just might hit your sweet spot. The minimalist looks and good controls are winners, and the device is fast: don't be fooled by its small size. Bluetooth for headsets, GPS and other accessories is a plus, though the Bluetooth software is basic. The device offers good reception and the two triband versions mean that most all except true world travelers will be happy. Some day all phones will be quad band!

Pro: Small size and good looks. Fast device, stable and expandable thanks to the SDIO slot. Has Bluetooth and works well with SD WiFi cards. Good call quality, though not as loud as some other Pocket PC phones. Has Windows Media Player 10 for Pocket PC, which has enhanced support for DRM and Windows Media Center Edition.

Con: Microsoft Bluetooth software is very basic and lacks the ease of use and profiles supported by the more commonly used Widcomm/Broadcomm Bluetooth software and drivers. The camera's still shots are lackluster but video quality is decent (other than loss of audio/video sync). Battery life is good by Pocket PC phone standards but shorter than the Treo 650 and some popular Nokia Symbian Series 60 smartphones such as the 7610, 7710 and N-Gage QD. Such a powerful device could use more RAM or ROM for storage (consider the Pocket PC Techs 128 meg version if you're a power user who loads lots of apps).

web site: www.clubimate.com

Shopping: Where to Buy

List price: Varies depending on dealer and whether you start a new phone contract to get a discount on the phone. Mad Monkey Boy currently sells the 850 MHz JAM for $599 without contract and $499 with a T-Mobile contract. Add $190 for the 128 meg Pocket PC Techs version. Add $10 for the 900 MHz model.

 

Specs:

Display: Transflective TFT color LCD. 64K colors, screen size diag: 2.8 ". Resolution: 240 x 320.

Battery: Lithium Ion polymer rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1200 mA.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA 272 416 MHz processor. 64 MB built-in RAM (57.41 megs available). 64 MB Flash ROM with 7.6 megs available for your use.

Size: 4.25 x 2.28 x .71 inches. Weight: 5.29 ounces.

Camera: 1.3 MP CMOS camera capable of taking still photos and video with audio. Max. resolution: 960 x 1280 still shots and 320 x 240 video. Camera lens: 4.8mm focal length, f 1:2.8 aperture.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.

Networking: Bluetooth 1.2, class 2. SIR IR.

GSM: Two versions available, both with GPRS class 10 for data: 850/1800/1900 MHz and 900/1800/1900 MHz versions.

Software: Windows Mobile 2003 SE for Pocket PC Phone operating system. Microsoft Pocket Office suite including Pocket Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, MSN Instant Messenger for Pocket PC, Windows Media Player 10, and Voice Recorder, Solitaire, Jawbreaker as well as handwriting recognition. 3rd party and HTC software: Album (image viewer), xBackup, Photo Contacts, Java MIDlet Manager, KSE TrueFax, Camera , Wireless Modem (allows you to use the phone as a modem for a PC over Bluetooth, IR, Serial or USB). ActiveSync and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot, supporting SDIO and SDIO Now!.

 

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