Despite being relatively unknown in the United States, I-mate has produced some popular and solid smart phones for the U.S. market over the years, including the I-mate Jam and the I-mate SP5. And that's why it's so disappointing that the company's latest model, the I-mate Jaq, is a dud. Announced at the CTIA 2006 fall show, the Jaq was dubbed by blog sites and others as a potential Motorola Q killer, but there's nothing killer about it. There are a couple of highlights, such as a spacious QWERTY keyboard and a nice touch screen, but the mobile has a bulky design and doesn't offer any new feature to give it an edge over the competition. The Cingular 8125, the T-Mobile MDA, and the Palm Treo 700wx all offer the same functionality as the Jaq but with better performance and design, so we can't really find a compelling reason to spring for this device, especially considering its hefty price tag of $499 for an unlocked version.
At 4.8 by 2.7 by 0.8 inches and 5.6 ounces, the I-mate Jaq is neither sexy nor sleek. In fact, it's downright clunky and unattractive. Though roughly the same size and shape as the Nokia E62 and the HP iPaq hw6900, the Jaq's lower half is thicker than the rest of the device, as the battery pack and the QWERTY keyboard in the front jut out a bit. Not only does it make the smart phone bulkier, it's also unsightly. What's more, its wide body will take some getting used to when you hold it up to your ear for phone calls, and we found it hard to find the earpiece's sweet spot to hear our callers. (See Performance for more.)
Yet there are a couple of redeeming factors to the Jaq's design. First, it has a nice 2.8-inch touch screen with a 320x240 pixel resolution and 64,000-color output. The wide screen makes it great for viewing Web pages, and images and text are clear and bright. In addition, many users will appreciate the touch-screen capability; it's a feature that Windows Mobile Smartphone Edition devices, such as the Moto Q, lack. Once you've experienced the convenience of inputting data and navigating the device through the touch screen, it's hard to go back to a mobile without it. You can also control the Jaq through the navigation buttons below the display, including Talk and End buttons, two soft keys, a Start key, an OK button, and a four-way joystick.
The other highlight is the full QWERTY keyboard just below the display. The buttons are tactile, and it has a more spacious layout than the keypad on the cramped Treo 700wx. Though most users shouldn't have any problems firing off e-mails with this keyboard, we found the orange backlighting a bit hard on the eyes.
On the left spine, there are Volume Up and Down keys and a Voice Record button, while the power button, the Mini SD card slot, and the 2.5mm headset jack are on the right side. A mini USB port sits on the bottom of the device along with the reset hole and stylus holder. The location of the latter in the bottom left-hand corner is a bit awkward; our natural inclination was to look for it at the top. Finally, there are three notification LEDs above the screen for new messages, Bluetooth, and battery status.
I-mate packages the Jaq with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired headset, and a carrying case. We should note, however, that the power source that shipped with our review unit had a European adapter. We contacted I-mate, and they said they would ship a compatible adapter with U.S. shipments of the Jaq.
The I-mate Jaq's feature set is solid but doesn't offer anything exceptional to give it an edge over the competition or to make up for its poor design. The handheld is powered by a 200MHz Texas Instruments OMAP 850 processor and comes with 128MB of SDRAM and 64MB of ROM. It runs Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC Edition, so you get the full Office Mobile Suite, which includes Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, and a PowerPoint viewer. ClearVue PDF is also onboard if you need to view PDFs. There are a couple of extra utilities and PIM tools, such as a calculator, a download agent, and a 30-day trial of the I-mate Suite, which includes apps for remote access and backup.
With the QWERTY keyboard, the Jaq lends itself to be a powerful e-mail machine. Outlook Mobile comes with the Jaq as part of the Office Mobile Suite, and it supports push e-mail via Microsoft's Messaging and Security Feature Pack. I-mate includes its own e-mail client, which you can set up via the phone's Club I-mate e-mail app. It also supports instant, text, and multimedia messaging.
The I-mate Jaq is a quad-band phone, so globetrotting execs will be able to use the mobile overseas. The address book is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts) and is quite robust. You can store up to 11 numbers for a single entry as well as home and work addresses, e-mail, IM screen name, birthday, spouse's name, and more. You can organize contacts into groups, and for caller ID purposes, you can pair them with a photo and one of eight polyphonic ring tones. The Jaq is not equipped with a camera, however, so you'll have to get images onto the phone another way. You also get a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, conference calling, and a Blacklist app to block numbers.
Wireless options are limited to infrared and Bluetooth 1.2 There's also EDGE support but no integrated Wi-Fi, which is disappointing. We understand that the EDGE capabilities lessen the need for Wi-Fi, but we still like having this option for connecting to the Web. Plus, it certainly looks like the Jaq could handle the addition of another wireless radio.
As far as entertainment, the I-mate Jaq is equipped with Windows Media Player 10 Mobile so that you can listen to your favorite MP3, WMA, WMV, and MPEG-4 files. As always, we recommend you load up these memory-heavy mutlitmedia files on a Mini SD card so that you can save the device's internal memory for other apps. As we mentioned earlier, the Jaq isn't equipped with a camera, which is great for those mobile professionals whose employers ban the use of camera-equipped phones, but we would still have liked to see an option for a camera version. The Jaq also comes preloaded with three games (Bubble Breaker, Solitaire, and I-mate Blackjack).
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) I-mate Jaq in San Francisco using Cingular service, and call quality was poor. As we noted in the Design section, it was hard to find the sweet spot on the phone's earpiece where we could hear our callers plainly, but even when we did, the audio was horrible. There was a noticeable hiss in the background, which drowned out our friends' voices, while our callers reported slightly better call quality. Activating the speakerphone made things worse as we could barely hear the conversation, even with volume cranked to high, and callers reported an echo.
Day-to-day performance was OK. Launching applications took only about a second or so, though there was a bit of a slowdown when we had numerous programs running at the same time--all par for the course. Browsing the Web on the Jaq was also decent as sites loaded fairly quickly, and the wide screen made viewing the pages a pleasurable experience.
The Jaq is rated for 4 hours of talk time and up to six days of standby time. In our tests, we got double the rated talk time. According to FCC radiation tests, the I-mate Jaq has a digital SAR rating of 0.97 watts per kilogram.