While you may not necessarily recognize the I-mate name, if you follow trends in smart phones and, more specifically, Windows Mobile-based smart phones, you'll no doubt recognize many of the devices that the company has created for other manufacturers, such as the and the . The I-mate SP3i hasn't been picked up by any providers here in the States, but we managed to get our hands on an unlocked version and were able to put it through its paces using a Cingular Wireless SIM card. As a dedicated cell phone, the I-mate SP3i is a treat to use; it's sexy, the large screen is great, and we love the smart-phone functionality of Windows Mobile 2003 SE. Kudos aside, buying an unlocked smart phone may not provide the same kind of seamless enterprise integration that you'd experience by purchasing a device through a wireless provider. Add to that the I-mate SP3i's hefty price tag of more than $400, and it becomes clear that this device is for hard-core road warriors, not so-called newbies. Unlike Windows Mobile-based smart phones that look more like PDAs, the I-mate SP3i looks like a basic candy bar-style phone, similar to the . At 4.2 by 1.7 by 0.7 inches and 3.6 ounces, the I-mate SP3i is both sleek and lightweight but still manages to offer an extraordinarily large 2.2-inch backlit TFT LCD, which displays a 176x220-pixel resolution and shows off 65,000 colors. Again, don't let the device's small size fool you. This is a feature-rich phone that packs a ton of bells and whistles.
While other smart phones boast full QWERTY keyboards (or variations of it), the i-Mate SP3i has a standard dial pad like you'd see on any other candy bar-style handset. Below the screen are two soft keys: one for the Start menu and the other for contacts. In between the two soft keys is a joystick that acts like a five-way toggle. Pressing down on the joystick selects the highlighted item onscreen. Like everything else on the I-mate SP3i, the joystick is quite small and not necessarily easy to use. Quite often, we had to press it multiple times before the desired action took place. While this may sound annoying, it wasn't actually that bothersome. It's by no means a deal breaker. To the left of the joystick is the Talk button, and to the right you'll find the End button. Below the Talk button is a dedicated Home button, and below the End key is a Back button, which takes one step back through the menu system.
The backlit number keys are raised slightly, but because so much of the I-mate SP3i's real estate is devoted to the display, the keys are quite small. While dialing by feel was simple enough for us, users with bigger fingers will find themselves inadvertently hitting the wrong keys. Since the I-mate SP3i is a full-fledged smart phone rocking Windows Mobile 2003 SE, you'll be able to send and receive e-mail. That said, we're not sure how many people will be willing to send complex e-mail using a standard cell phone dial pad. Of course, this is a matter of personal preference.