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Pocket PC Phone Reviews

i-mate K-JAM

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Reviewed Nov. 25, 2005 by Michael Thwaite

The i-mate JAM was a success from the get-go, it combined a small form factor Pocket PC with a phone feature set. i-mate have now added a 'K'eyboard to the JAM to make the "K-JAM" and what a jolly good move it was, but did the K-JAM really commit fratricide or has the JASJAR merely come away with a bloodied nose?

The HTC Wizard (the code name for the K-JAM and other devices that use the Wizard design) wasn't picked up by U.S. carriers until Feb. 2006 when both T-Mobile (MDA) and Cingular (8125) released their versions. The K-JAM, for those of you who prefer unlocked phones and i-mate branded devices, is available from specialist suppliers like MadMonkeyBoy who supplied our review unit.

i-mate K-JAM

Design and Ergonomics

The new K-JAM weighs in at 168g, slightly more than advertised 160g but close enough. It's built by HTC and shares the same basic components as the QTEK 9100. It feels solid and chunky and in a space of 108 x 58 x 24mm that's a fair weight. It is however a fair amount of hardware too as it now sports 802.11b Wi-Fi, Quad-band GSM with EDGE ability in addition to the JAM's Bluetooth radio. Oh, and don't forget that keyboard. What the K-JAM doesn't have, you don't need as it's now all here in one box.

It's a pretty stylish box in Silver front and back with a black band running around the center. It's a slightly more curvy shape than the JAM too so it sits in the pocket well and hides some of that weight by spreading out the load.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The front panel sports buttons for call pick-up and clear, a five way button pad, two action buttons for mail and Internet and a pair of soft-key buttons under the screen. On the side are buttons for Camera, Record, Speak, Volume and Power on top. On the bottom there is a mini-USB socket, a 2.5mm headset and battery cover release. On the back is the camera lens with flash and a useful rubber foot that prevents the lens and back from being scratched when the unit is placed on a flat surface. The back foot isn't flat though so you can't place the unit on a table and type on the keyboard.

The front of the K-JAM also includes speaker and microphone, the speaker housing two LED's that indicate Bluetooth radio function, GPRS and charging.

The party trick for the K-JAM is the sliding shell; the screen slides right to reveal a very spacious 37 key keyboard. The keys on the keyboard are silver with a black background, this contrasts with the QTEK 9100 version that features a dark grey background, the result is better contrast. The keys are relatively flat, that's a feature of having a sliding keyboard, make the keys too domed and the overall width of the unit will be increased. As they are, the keys are a good compromise, your thumbs fall naturally to the center of the keyboard though the width of the keyboard does mean quite a stretch left to right, but not too bad. The backlight of the keyboard is blue, the lighting is not very even but better than nothing. The backlighting can be controlled, switched between always on when a button is pressed, or only on when in low light. The keyboard includes all the characters you would expect including dedicated keys for the windows start menu and OK button plus cursor direction keys. On top of the keyboard layout there are two additional soft-key buttons that operate the menu on screen. In operation one notable issue is that the screen is slightly offset from the keyboard, not a big thing just a little distracting. Another neat trick with the sliding keyboard is that the screen switches to landscape mode as the keyboard is opened, nice. The cost of the keyboard to the overall ergonomics is only slight; the width of the unit has increased a little as has the overall weight.

side of K-JAM
top of K-JAM

 

The K-JAM features a 320 x 240 resolution display, the screen is bright and clear and at only 2.8" diameter the pixel density is very high, so high that clear-type does not make a great deal of difference. One interesting thing to note is that the QTEK 9100 offers clear-type but the K-JAM has the clear-type function disabled, it's visible on the screen setting but is grayed out, perhaps a feature we'll have in a later ROM release. We compared the screen of the K-JAM to the QTEK, some observers have noted a difference in quality, we were unable to tell any difference in low light, high light, inside and outside, I suspect that the origins of both being the HTC Wizard that they are in fact identical.

One last improvement that appears in the K-JAM is the battery compartment, the previous model was a little flimsy but the new model incorporates a recessed 1250 mAh battery which is solid.

Phone Features and Reception

In line with other models from i-mate, the K-JAM has been given Quad-band GSM radio with EDGE support. The previous model featured Bluetooth technology for communication but now we have 802.11b Wi-Fi as well. To manage this plethora of radio choices i-mate have included a simple control panel with basic buttons to turn on and off each function, very useful.

Browsing the Internet on the K-JAM is a pleasant experience, the size and resolution of the screen and the performance of the radio in both Wi-Fi and EDGE worked well.

The EDGE data feature gives a steady 100+ Kbps data transfer on the T-Mobile network that I'm testing on so that's GSM "2.5G" working well.

The Wifi solution is intended to permit dynamic switching for data between Wi-Fi, EDGE and regular GPRS as conditions change. T-Mobile Hotspot, Panera free Wi-Fi, Home. The integrated 'Comm Manger' software allows switch on and off of the various radios and can call for an 'Active Sync' from the same app; useful if you're hitting a Wi-Fi hotspot and want to activate Wi-Fi, sync and go. The communications manager has a dedicated function key so that the software can be activated quickly. Typically web browsing is best when using the Wi-Fi connection, the EDGE connection is good but noticeably slower however, coverage is of course far greater than Wi-Fi.

The quality of phone calls is very good; the audio electronics have clearly been optimized. The volume from the internal speaker is modest, not loud. The performance of the speaker phone is commendable.

Placing calls is quick; press the green call button to activate the phone app, type in the number of use T9 dialing to pick an entry from the phone book. For those who've not used T9 dialing; it is the fastest way to find an entry in the contacts and it scales well, I can easily find a contact in 1000 contacts hitting three letters; for example to find the number for the Office; you'd press the buttons 633 - look at your keypad to see why! You might also get a partial match on 'Neelam Indian Restaurant" because the letters match but you simply hit the entry your looking for. In fact, in the Office example the 6 alone is enough to see 'Office' second in the list.

When paired with a Bluetooth headset the performance of the phone is very good, great clarity and good volume. One of the most interesting ways to use this phone is with the Bluetooth headset, that way you can maintain a call and take notes using the built-in notes application launched from the menu whilst the call is in progress. If you do this religiously, you'll never need a pen and paper to take notes again and you'll always have records of each conversation that you had.

Horsepower and Performance

The CPU is a 195 Mhz Texas Instruments OMAP 850. It's Intel XScale / ARM compatible and reasonable in operation despite the unusually low clock speed.

The K-JAM runs Windows Mobile 5, this is based upon Windows CE 5 and calls for a different memory model than before. If you've just figured out how Pocket PC and SmartPhone do that whole RAM/ROM overlay thing… un-learn it; in Windows Mobile 5 you have ROM (think hard disk) for programs and RAM (think, er, RAM) for programs to run in; just like a PC. Programs and data sit on the hard drive (ROM) ( in \Program files\) and get loaded into RAM when they run. The result is that application startup takes a little longer than before but the more efficient processor levels that out, once running the apps are reasonably snappy in action.

The K-JAM is a pocket PC phone edition device, what that means is that it is trying to balance the roles of being a pocket PC and a phone, the balance is even, it is not biased to work better at either, the only downside of this is that when you need a phone, it is sometimes busy being a media player and that can be a little frustrating. One of the best ways to use the device is with a Bluetooth headset, in this mode you can watch the screen while listening to what's going on in the phone, this allows you to judge the performance of the unit and give it time to complete background tasks before requesting the next task.

One thing to be aware of, the K-JAM is a first generation Windows Mobile 5 device, it's good but you'd better be ready for a software upgrade, some of the features still need a little work, some of the features still crash a little. I had a couple of instances where I repeatedly hit a key during a call to end the call that resulted in the failure of the phone application. Each time this happened, the K-JAM reported back to Microsoft, I wonder if they got my message?

For more information on Windows Mobile 5 on the Pocket PC, see the MobileTechReview editorial here.

Benchmark Results, comparing Windows Mobile 5 PPC Phones

 
i-mate K-JAM
Sprint PPC-6700 (416 MHz)
E-TEN M600 (400 MHz)
Spb Benchmark index
258
-
414
CPU index
934
1703
1529
File system index
108
138
173
Graphics index
1439
-
2933
Platform index
288
-
436
Write 1 MB file (KB/sec)
570
652
830
Read 1 MB file (MB/sec)
3.13
4.24
4.5
Copy 1 MB file (KB/sec)
660
575
850
Write 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
115
261
343
Read 10 KB x 100 files (MB/sec)
1.83
2.09
2.65
Copy 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
206
240
363
Directory list of 2000 files (thousands of files/sec)
0.992
1.23
1.58
Internal database read (records/sec)
592
1592
1431
Graphics test: DDB BitBlt (frames/sec)
35.1
error
318
Graphics test: DIB BitBlt (frames/sec)
12.3
33.2
32.7
Graphics test: GAPI BitBlt (frames/sec)
509
265
384
Pocket Word document open (KB/sec)
5.72
8.96
18.36
Pocket Internet Explorer HTML load (KB/sec)
7.37
6.62
7.81
Pocket Internet Explorer JPEG load (KB/sec)
86.2
111
126
File Explorer large folder list (files/sec)
335
451
583
Compress 1 MB file using ZIP (KB/sec)
165
212
276
Decompress 1024x768 JPEG file (KB/sec)
244
518
497
Arkaball frames per second (frames/sec)
145
155
167
CPU test: Whetstones MFLOPS (Mop/sec)
0.032
0.08
0.082
CPU test: Whetstones MOPS (Mop/sec)
25.9
57.8
52.8
CPU test: Whetstones MWIPS (Mop/sec)
2.2
5.12
5.24
Memory test: copy 1 MB using memcpy (MB/sec)
62.2
107
67.5

Expansion slots

The K-JAM comes with a generous 128MB of flash ROM; double the JAM's. It also includes 64MB of memory, that's normal memory as you might find in a PC. With this much flash ROM, applications can easily be installed internally leaving the memory expansion card for data, music and videos.

One penalty of trying to cram so much expansion and radio technology into such a small space is that everything gets downsized and the expansion is no exception. The new model features a mini SD slot in the top, this is OK as 1GB cards are readily available and reasonably priced however, if you have a stockpile of 2GB SD cards, you're in trouble. Beyond memory there is a Bluetooth radio that permits the expansion through additional human interface devices, keyboards and mice to you and I. I had no problem at all pairing the K-JAM with a Bluetooth keyboard, it worked perfectly first time. The design of the K-JAM does mean that it won't sit flat on the desktop so with my keyboard connected I had to prop the unit against a book to angle the screen. No big deal. Oddly the Mouse could be paired and worked but with no mouse pointer; tricky!

Display, Gaming and Multimedia

The 2.7" display at 320 x 240 resolution (landscape) is both bright and detailed, the contrast ratio is high yet the power consumption from the LED backlight is low, this machine screams portable media player! The screen is bright the storage is good and the CPU is fast enough. Video playback using windows media video or betaplayer works well. Using Windows Media Player 10, I was able to synchronize content from my Windows Media Center PC to the K-JAM. There was a good sense of end to end connectivity, but that's what to expect from a Microsoft solution.

Games run well though it does not appear to have a dedicated graphics processor, they always use too much battery power anyway! The display and the new joystick lend the unit to a bit of gaming; not a strong point for me, my favorite games are e-mail calendar and contacts!

Music playback was good, the supplied headphones are of typical supplied headphone quality, fairly poor but do include a microphone in the line so in the absence of a good Bluetooth headset you can still use the K-JAM in your car with safety. Plugging into a good set of headphones the quality was great, plenty of depth, good bass and a modest treble. The audio quality was easily the equal of an Apple Video iPod.

One feature of owning an i-mate product is the included access to Club i-mate at www.clubimate.com. It's an exclusive club with full access only granted to those with the right IMEI number - the globally unique serial number of the phone. On Club i-mate you can find exclusive downloads and some mobile optimized video content that's quite fun to watch - members pay less.

Camera

The K-JAM is equipped with a 1.3M pixel camera with flash and self-portrait mirror. The native resolution is 1280 x 1024, quality is on a par with other phone cameras; good for party snaps. The flash on this model is more powerful than some that I've seen before but is still no substitute for a genuine photo flash. Outdoor photos where satisfyingly good, devoid of speckles that I've seen on other phones.

One drawback of purchasing an unlocked phone that has not been customized by the carrier is that settings such as MMS must be entered manually; these can often be found on many of the bulletin boards and forums. Once set up photos can be quickly snapped and sent out. You can of course easily copy photos taken with the camera to your PC using ActiveSync or a card reader if storing photos on a card rather than internal memory.

Video recordings is also up to par for this kind of device, recording in H.263 format at a few frames per second. This is typical of all the pocket PC devices that I've used, I'm not sure why it is provided, it seems redundant but maybe my standards are too high.

Sample photos:

sample photo

A shot of the box, with flash on, indoors.

sample photo

Outdoors.

 

Bluetooth

Bluetooth support on the K-JAM is much improved over the previous model; Microsoft having improved Bluetooth in Windows Mobile 5. I was able to pair with a number of headsets from Motorola, Bluespoon, Logitech and my Mini Cooper. In all cases calls were handled correctly and audio quality was at the best each device could support. The Bluetooth support also extends to OBEX transfer and support for human interface devices. I was very pleased when I was able to quickly pair my Bluetooth keyboard with the K-JAM and start typing straightaway. Access to external keyboards takes the K-JAM to the next level of usability; I was able to type on a full sized keyboard at full speed.

The Bluetooth radio electronics did not appear to impact battery life; it's hard to tell as the functionality is so useful you would be unlikely to switch it off. I would consider the runtime of the unit to be measured with the Bluetooth radio turned on.

WiFi

The K-JAM supports 802.11b, Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi is switched on and off from the included communications manager, which in turn is activated by a dedicated button on the K-JAM. Performance on Wi-Fi was very satisfying; security was good supporting WEP, WPA and LEAP standards. The interface on the Wi-Fi side is fairly basic, but functional. There are no elaborate utilities for performing a site survey. I was easily able to add home and office Wi-Fi settings and was able to reliably connect, and stay connected which is what you need.

Compared to Bluetooth Wi-Fi requires much more power, to that end the Wi-Fi controls in the communications manager allow more detailed settings for Wi-Fi power management. However, if you are driving in your car and passing Wi-Fi network after Wi-Fi network the radio never switches off and instead use is all the power it can muster to attach to any network it can, the result is a big battery drain. Given that the GPRS edge network is more than suitable for e-mail I would recommend leaving the Wi-Fi radio switched off unless absolutely needed.

Battery Life

The removable battery is the same size as the previous JAM, battery life is predicted to be between 3.5 and 5 hours of talk time with a standby time of between 150 and 200 hours. These figures are approximate, there are so many options and variables such as which radios are switched on whether the user is browsing the Internet and hence using the backlight whether it is a single call, many calls or whether the unit is moving through cellular towers that predictions on battery life really have to be made in the context of daily use, basically, will I need to charge it in the middle of the day or will it do what I need throughout the day? The brought answer to that is yes, in a typical usage scenario where we'll see perhaps an hour of calls in and out, an hour of travel, perhaps 30 minutes of web browsing and a day's worth of email sync. over GPRS the K-JAM ends the day with at least 25% of its battery intact, reduce the use of Wi-Fi and more than 50% is left.

If you find that you really must use Wi-Fi heavily the options to charge are quite broad; you can charge from your PC using the supplied USB cable and you can obtain a car charger at a modest price or you can exchange the battery without losing data.

If it all goes horribly wrong and you do allow the battery to discharge completely, Windows Mobile 5 uses a memory model called persistent storage that keeps important data in the flash ROM so you won't have to rebuild your machine!

Software

Windows Mobile 5 ships with an enhanced range of software featuring improved versions of the existing application plus some extras. The 'Office' suite comprises Mobile Word and Mobile Excel that have been enhanced a little, Mobile PowerPoint viewer which is new and Mobile Messenger which is Outlook. There are some basic games too.

Being Windows Mobile there is already a plethora of tools, games and utilities but watch for applications designed for Windows Mobile 5 to ensure 100% compatibility.

The K-JAM ships with Skype for Pocket PC, a VoIP phone and IM client and it works over Wi-Fi, less so over EDGE though.

Conclusion

The K-JAM fits in the i-mate line-up between the full-sized PDA JASJAR and the Phone oriented SP5m. But is it an equal balance up to the JASJAR and down to the SP5? I don't think so. Compared to the JASJAR the K-JAM gives way on screen resolution; the JASJAR has a VGA 640 x 480 screen, the K-JAM a 320 x 240 QVGA but don't think for one minute that makes much practical difference; the fonts on the JASJAR a bigger and you do not get four times the data on-screen; I don't think that you get double. But what does the JASJAR give away to the K-JAM in a US environment devoid of the UMTS 3G network? Quite a lot then; the K-JAM has a forth radio band, EDGE and is a fraction of the weight and size; all of the right things that a typical email maven needs; a good keyboard and small enough size to really carry in your pocket. I think that the K-JAM hits the sweet spot; the size is right. I think the JASJAR over-cooks it a little, that said I have one myself and will report on that experience after I've really worked with it long enough to find its niche.

At a current street price of USD$700 the K-JAM isn't cheap but you get pretty much everything you could need in a pocket communicator; Phone, keyboard entry, software, expansion and connectivity. Alternatively, if you're looking for the same device at a subsidized price in the US, check out the T-Mobile MDA and the Cingular 8125. And if CDMA along with 3G are your thing, consider the Sprint PPC-6700 and Verizon XV6700.

Price: Approx. $700 unlocked for use with any GSM carrier

Web Site: www.imate.com

 

Specs:

Display: Transflective TFT color LCD. 64K colors, screen size diag: 3.5". Resolution: 240 x 320. Supports portrait and landscape modes.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1250 mAh. World charger included.

Performance: 195 MHz Texas Instruments OMAP 850 processor. 64 MB built-in RAM, 128 MB flash ROM.

Phone: GSM with EDGE and GPRS for data. Quad band world phone: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz.

Size: 108 x 58 x 23.7 mm, 160g ( 4.25 x 2.28 x 0.94 inches. Weight: 5.64 ounces).

Camera: 1.3 MP CMOS Camera with LED flash that can take still photos and video with audio.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Media Player 10 Mobile included for your MP3 and video playback pleasure.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b and Bluetooth 1.2.

Software: Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC Phone Edition operating system. Microsoft Mobile Office suite including Mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint (view only), Internet Explorer, and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, MSN Instant Messenger for Pocket PC, Windows Media Player 10, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker (game), Voice Recorder, Photo Caller ID as well as handwriting recognition. ActiveSync 4.0 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.

Expansion: 1 miniSD card slot.

 

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