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i-mate SP5m Windows Mobile Smartphone
Editor's rating (1-5):
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Reviewed Nov. 7, 2005 by Michael Thwaite
I-mate introduced the SP3 in 2004; it was the
arrival, in my opinion, of the first Microsoft SmartPhone that
represented a real threat to the establishment; it marked the move
from geekdom to mainstream. Previous models suffered from ridiculous
battery life, absurd weight and a plentiful source of system quirks
that could always 'mysteriously' be fixed with a reboot. The SP3
delivered reliability, good battery life and fantastic functionality.
So why upgrade? Read on!
The i-mate SP5 is currently
available in the US only through importers such as Mad
Monkey Boy's Gadgets,
who supplied us with our review units. Though not subsidized by
US carriers, the i-mate phones are sold unlocked which means you
can use them with any carrier's SIM. In Europe, Asia and the Middle
East, the phones are available from carriers and retailers. It's
a quad band world phone and will work anywhere GSM service is available. In the US, T-Mobile released this phone as the T-Mobile SDA in Feb. 2006. Cingular offers thier own variant (different casing and no WiFi) as the Cingular 2125.
Design and Ergonomics
The SP5, i-mate's version of the "HTC Tornado
- Noble" represents
an evolution of the SP3,
the HTC Typhoon, the form factor is similar to the SP3's alter-ego
the SP3i (The HTC Feeler (odd name); a carbon copy of the SP3 internals
wearing a more funky black than chic silver shell. In SP5x world
the colors and styles are reversed. The SP5 is the 'Corporate'
model. It's dressed in a combination of Black and Silver and features
extra buttons for 'Mail' and 'Contact'. Here we have the SP5m (the "HTC
Tornado - Tempo") model;
dressed head to toe in silver it features buttons for Play/Pause
and track selection; it's the 'Music' model. Either way they both
feature the same underling hardware and software enhancements so
that's why we're here with a new model.
The SP5m has a solid quality feel, it is
fractionally heavier than before at 120g (4oz) which is 14g over
the published value; that's a BT headset right there! It's taller
too with a 107 x 46 x 17mm case. The battery cover has been much
improved over the previous generation. The SP3's had a flimsy
battery cover that allowed for a little movement giving a 'creak-creak'
when squeezed - a little tip for all you SP3x owners; put a little
white-tack (blue-tack in Europe) on the back of the battery;
your SPx will feel like a million dollars!
The SP5m has jettisoned the asymmetric joystick/paddle
of the SP3 which many users found irritating; it was perfect in an
up/down mode, not bad in left/right but failed when pressed fully to
do an 'OK', often creating a left or right just before the 'Press'… Let me tell you, if I
had a cent for each time that went wrong I'd have, well, about enough
for a Big Mac but ok it was annoying! We now have a regular joystick;
up/down/left/right all equal and the press is just press - nice. Hot
keys for Internet explorer and controls for the media player are nice
but I'd have liked to see a short-cut to Calendar. On the top sits the
multi-function Power button and the IR sensor - just IRDA not commercial.
On the right we have a single button for Camera and on the left volume
up/down,'Comm Manger' and a place to attach a lanyard. The base of the
unit provides connections for earpiece/headphones and a USB data and
power connector. On the back is the 1.3M pixel camera with self-portrait
mirror… How vain.
The big visual change is the display; it's 2.2" diagonal
as before but now has a resolution of 240 x 320 - wow! The pixel density
is so high that clear-type is pretty much pointless. Characters on
screen are beautifully formed from curves and colors rather than the
little pixel bricks of the previous 176 x 220 SP3. It's bright too
which allows for a lower than full setting and so less power is consumed.
Also on the power front, they've retained the photo-sensor that only
lights the keyboard when it's really dark. It looks very nice on the
SP5M as the round buttons each feature a round illuminated border.
Below the screen are the Windows required soft-keys with hard 'Home'
and 'Back' buttons.
The numeric pad is tight but workable and the
buttons yield a very positive feedback. The OS includes multi-language
T9 input that has now added the ability to manage the dictionary. This
is a great feature as you can grow and maintain the dictionary dynamically
as you go yet still manage entries that it adds in error. Examples
are when you accidentally teach it a miss-spelling! Overall performance
of the word search function seems on a par with the last version. I've
seen teenagers T9'ing at speeds I'd have trouble with on a regular
keyboard. That said, I'm not a teenager and can't go that fast but,
for quick, short emails and sms messages it's ok.
Phone Features and Reception
The radio has been overhauled; it's now a Quad-Band GSM solution with
EDGE support but the big wow is that they've added, for the first time
in a SmartPhone; WiFi 802.11b wireless.
The phone radio is fine; it's the equal of any typical mobile phone
pulling in and holding on to a signal. Features include multi-party calling,
conference, waiting, hold, lock, SMS messaging with concatenation of
messages up to 640 characters in length and alternative line service
which, though not offered by T-Mobile yet allows you to have two numbers
on the same phone. Last night I was able to juggle a dozen calls in and
out and managed to set up a conference call on the mobile with ease;
such is the usability of the phone.
The old SP3i suffered some issues with the radio coming
out of 'Flight mode' with the radio still off. I have experienced one
incident of the phone reporting a bad SIM that shut down the radio and
a couple of times the phone has taken its time to recover a signal after
going through a weak spot. Such are the vagaries of cellular reception
that I'll assume these to be addressed in a ROM update as they have been
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.
Audio quality is good; it's clear and has a good dynamic range, it is
especially evident in-car where every scrap of clarity is needed to help
reduce fatigue. The internal speaker is solid and loud enough in normal
operation. Speaker phone mode works well but only in a quite room with
a few people around a table; not bad for a mobile phone though!
Phone features include a vibrate option that's included in a very flexible
choice of ring and notification options; you can even use video as a
Horsepower and Performance
The CPU is a 195Mhz Texas Instruments OMAP 850 as reported by the system
status utility. It's ARM compatibly and sprightly in operation. With
each speed increase TI seem to become more power efficient too and that
reflects in the talk time of 5 hours - up one from the SP3.
The phone now runs Windows Mobile 5, this is
based upon Windows CE 5 and calls for a different memory model that
before. If you've just figured out how Pocket PC and SmartPhone do
that whole RAM/ROM overlay thing… un-learn
it; in CE 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 sits
on the hard drive (ROM) and gets loaded into RAM when it runs. 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 noticeably
snappier in action, so too is the primary role of the SmartPhone; being
a phone. The SP3 running Microsoft Windows SmartPhone 2003 realized that
it had a duty to answer and place calls over and above all other tasks;
and this it did quite well, much better than Pocket PC Phone Edition
does. This latest version of the operating system re-enforces that sense
of duty despite having the Smart part of the phone do a little extra
work as that takes place; Photo ID being a good example. In the SP3 the
Photo ID application was a bundled third-party application that whilst
functional never felt part of the picture (no pun intended). Photo ID
on calls is now integrated and despite sending the processor to the ID
database with each call placed or received the performance remains snappy
and responsive. This is a great thing because in a recent survey one
of the features most requested by phone users was that the phone be a
For more information on Windows Mobile 5 on the Pocket
PC, see the MobileTechReview
For SmartPhone the differences are much more subtle that before, the
difference between Windows Mobile 2003 and the Smartphone 2003 OS were
significant, now, much more familiar. It's true that the SmartPhone version
has been tweaked to be usable with keyboard alone but it's more a tweak
than a re-write of the UI.
Memory is 64Mb RAM and 64Mb FLASH ROM. At rest
there is 17Mb of RAM available, 7MB Flash ROM. With email, web, camera,
contacts, Windows Media, Call History and file manager running, available
RAM is still 16Mb.
One feature carried over from the previous model
was the unusual location for the mini-SD expansion slot; it's under
the battery, I don't mean south of the battery I mean, you have to
take out the battery to change it. Think of it as a hard drive; buy
the biggest you need / can afford, install it and forget it. In my
case I have a 1Gb Sandisk mini-SD card that fits a few maps for my
GPS software, some application data for my RSS news reader and an afternoons
worth of music. I'd like to be able to swap the card more easily, like
you can with every other Phone / PDA / Anything that uses removable
memory. It's an odd choice of location but oddly, after saying all
of that, it's never been a huge problem, in fact the only time I've
ever changed cards on my SP3 was when I was watching movies on it whilst
in flight and then I didn't have the phone part on so was not a any
risk of missing calls.
Display, Gaming and Multimedia
The display and the new joystick lend the unit to a bit of gaming; not
a strong point for me, I still haven't finished the daft 'Jawbreaker'
game that comes with it! What does work is my favorite video player betaplayer
which has recently changed its name to TCPMP. Watching some content that
I created for Smartphone at just 150Kbps revels the new display to be
much more detailed and hence deserving of higher quality. At 250-350Kbps
MP4 with AAC or MP3 audio TCPMP played back content in excellent quality
for a fantastic 6 hours on a charge - That's NY to London! It's true
that you don't have a phone after that so carry a spare battery. Note
that 6 hours is with the radios turned off.
The 2.2" display at 240 x 320 resolution is
both bright and detailed, the contrast ratio is high yet the power
consumption from the backlight is low.
Sound quality is good, plenty of dynamic range and
good clarity. There is a switch-on thump when the audio electronics are
activated and deactivate but one thing that did show up was a balance
problem; the right-hand channel is clearly louder than the left resulting
in a shift in balance that is especially evident on vocal tracks. I suspect
that the problem can be resolved but as a Music phone this is a bit of
a big issue. I tried a couple of units to make sure that I didn't have
a faulty unit but each had the same problem. I noticed the same problem
with the i-mate SP5 but the QTEK 8310 does not have this problem.
One feature of owning an i-mate product is the included
access to Club i-mate.
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. Overall,
I think that video playback on the SP5m is good, good enough to make
a second video player purchase redundant. The screen is small so you'll
need to consider that for yourself.
The SP5 is equipped with a 1.3M pixel camera
and self-portrait mirror but no flash. The native resolution is
1280 x 1024, quality is on a par with other phone cameras; good
for party snaps. The version of the phone that I am using has not
been customized by a carrier so I had to carry out a great deal
of configuration to get the MMS email function working; once there
photos can be quickly snapped and sent to friends, relatives and
insurance companies. Like most HTC cameras, the SP5m's shows color
fringing and blown out lightlights, and it can't handle night shots
well. That said, it's better than many of Motorola's current cameras,
but much worse than Nokia and LG's recent offerings.
Video performance was on a par with its
HTC peers; a few frames a second at H.263 encoding. A gimmick
only I'm afraid.
Original images taken at full resolution and resized down
to 320 x 240.
The shutter wasn't fast enough to capture the target (front
of fire engine).
Bluetooth support is very much improved in WM5
and now works with a much broader range of devices. Of particular
note is its support for Human Interface Devices; Keyboards and
Mice. I was very pleased when I paired my Dell (Think
BT keyboard to the phone and it worked instantly! More interesting
though is that the menu's automatically changed to the typical
underscored entries and dropped the numbers by the menus for letters
and it won't go back! For those new to Smartphone, when you press
'Menu' the menu items have a number by the side to allow you to
quickly jump to that item… They've now gone,
even a re-boot won't restore my menus! - Pass me the registry editor.
The phone also paired and recognized the Think
Outside BT mouse, it even showed a mouse icon by the entry but
unfortunately, it couldn't figure out what to do with it. This
shows that the code base differences between Pocket PC and SmartPhone
have indeed narrowed somewhat.
So why get so excited about attaching a keyboard
to your phone? Well, it's all about protecting your investment.
I still want a device that has a big screen, keyboard but only
weights 80g and fits in my pocket; I'm not going to get that but
if I saddle myself with a large Pocke tPC Phone I'm going to end
up carrying a large device with me all the time for functionality
that I'll use less often. By allowing an external keyboard on a
phone I can choose to carry the keyboard when I anticipate needing
it, or, not buy the keyboard right away. In use, the keyboard and
phone combo allow full speed typing with an admittedly small but
very clear screen.
Pairing with a number of headsets, the Motorola
HS850, the BlueSpoon
AX2 and the Mini Cooper worked well. Each
offers excellent call volume and clarity within the limitations
of the device.
The incorporation of Wi-Fi in an EDGE device
is interesting. I thought it would be a little redundant but it's
clear that the performance of the Wi-Fi interface is better than
EDGE; Web pages draw more quickly and Active-Sync completes in
a shorter time. The effect on battery life is marked; the radio
defaults have it switch off after just a few minutes of inactivity;
it restores when you begin to use the system again but it does
not seem to start up to grab email, instead preferring the GPRS
The Wifi solution is intended to permit dynamic
switch for data between Wi-FI, EDGE and regular GPRS as conditions
change. T-Mobile Hotspot, Panera free wifi, home. The integrated
'Comm Manger' software is launched from its own dedicated button
on the side and allows switch on and off of the various radios.
It can call for an 'Active Sync' there too; useful if you're hitting
a wi-fi hotspot and want to activate wifi, sync and go.
Security on Wi-Fi is good, it supports
WEP, WPA, and LEAP and can be configured to remember your favorite.
spots. One nice option is the ability to turn off the "Hey
I've found a new hotspot; want to connect?" nag screen.
When I want Wi-Fi, I'll go and find it thanks. I'll be interested
to see if they produce a SmartPhone version of the Skype application.
The SP5m features a removable 1150mAh battery behind a much improved
battery door. I can't say that there'll be an extended option,
but if so it'd need a new back to accommodate it.
Battery life is a claimed 5 hours. I suspect that'd be a stretch.
With just 20 mins of calls and some browsing plus hourly active-sync
I'm down to 60% battery on the meter. I'm not worried as that appears
equal to my SP3 and in reality it pans out to be a couple of days
usage but 5 hours would I think have to be five hours straight
talking in a good reception area with the display off.
If you want to deplete your battery as
fast as possible though, switch on Wi-fi and take a drive through
a "Wi-Fi" neighborhood;
I managed to consume 20% in 20 Minutes… If you do the math
you can see how quickly you could run the battery flat!
The Smartphone is a phone first then a PDA so
the list is shorter than Pocket PC. There's no Word/Excel/PowerPoint
but there is Email, Calendar, Contacts and Tasks plus Windows Media
Player, Internet Explorer and Pocket MSN. i-mate add the HTC applications
for Camera and Video Camera though the output is viewed on Microsoft's
integrated Pictures and Videos app. System tools include an HTC
File Manager but no Registry Editor.
The Windows Mobile 5.0 Microsoft applications
have all been enhanced across the board. All have been given new
interface tweaks to improve appearance and functionality. It's
50% window dressing and 50% evolution. Good examples are the inclusion
of photo's in the contacts which are supported right through to
Microsoft Outlook. The platform includes a
JAVA virtual machine with a dedicated download manager.
Anti-Virus: The SP5m ships with an Anti-virus client from Computer
Associates. Innocuous in use, it downloads definitions automatically
and intercepts file request scanning email and files on open. It
will, no doubt be itself the target of a virus such is the hacking
community but I suspect it will hold up being a long time fan of
CA's desktop AV solutions.
For those who are familiar with SmartPhone
and with Windows 95 and above, the Start Menu was a great idea;
press start and up comes a list of all of your programs and useful
places to go. Microsoft has replaced it with something like Windows
3.1 Program Manager. It's a screen full of icons that you must
navigate to using the joystick. It's not awful but unfamiliar.
I think that it was re-introduced as a more familiar choice for
Motorola and Sony Ericsson users. Apparently it can be returned
to normal through a registry tweak at "HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Shell\StartMenu\GridView = 0"… now
you know why I want the registry editor.
ActiveSync is the Microsoft application used
to link the phone to the desktop. Physically it's a USB connection.
From the software you can browse your phone as a disk device and
set up and configure synchronization. Sync. of email, tasks, favorites,
calendar and contacts can be completed with the included Outlook
Client or your installed Microsoft Office. Email, Calendar and
Contacts can be synchronized with a Microsoft Exchange server over
the air. Note that I couldn't get Task sync working but need to
spend more time on that problem. You can't underestimate the value
of synchronization, especially over-the-air; it's great to get
a new contact number, type it into your PC then, call it on your
phone. Read emails on your phone, reply and forward; great stuff.
The version of Active-Sync that ships with Widows Mobile 5 devices
is now 4.0. Visually it's similar but helps separate server sync
with local sync.
Third-party software for the Microsoft Smartphone
abounds and there are version optimized for the new OS features.
It's unlikely that an investment in Microsoft Smartphone would
leave you wanting for any application.
This review has been a short introduction
to the new i-mate SP5m. It's very clearly a worthy evolution
of the breed. It's faster, smarter and more connected. There'll
need to be a ROM update for that keyboard problem and perhaps
the SIM issue. The audio problem is odd given the phones slant
towards music playback, I await i-mates comments. But, with its
issues it is still such a Swiss Army Knife of phones that I'm
prepared to rough it. The last SP3 started in this way and after
a few updates ended as being my favorite phone, it became like
an essential tool that never went blunt. The SP5m starts just
shy of that but will no doubt eclipse its forbear. For that start
I must give it 4½ out of 5.
Pro: A really good phone, great screen, fast access to your corporate
Cons: I'll never type as fast on T9 as on a thumb-board. Active-Sync
4.0 not as compatible with apps and the audio problem is a show-stopper
for the keen audiophile.
Web Site: www.i-mate.com
Where to Buy: Our review unit came from Mad Monkey
Display: 65K color t ransflective
TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 3.5". Resolution:
240 x 320, supports both portrait and landscape modes.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1000 mA. 1800 mA extended battery available for purchase.
XScale PXA 255 400 MHz processor. 64 MB built-in RAM
(55 megs available). 32 MB Flash ROM with 2.85 megs
available in File Store for your use.
x 2.78 x .53 inches. Weight: 4.67 ounces.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.
WiFi 802.11b (also supporting LEAP) and Bluetooth.
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
as well as handwriting recognition. Additional applications:
Camera, Wireless Manager, GoodLink requires account),
Wireless Modem (use the phone as a modem over BT,
IR or USB), Audible Player, Clear Storage (wipes
out all data and resets unit to factory defaults).
ActiveSync 4.0 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.
SD (Secure Digital) slot supporting
SDIO and SDIO Now!.