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 Siemens SX66 and the Audiovox PPC6601. 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 Audiovox SMT5600. 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.
As for the other controls, on top of the device is the power button as well as the IR port. On the right side is the dedicated camera button; it launches the VGA-quality camera, which is located on the back and includes a tiny mirror for self-portraits. On the left side of the device is the volume rocker. Unlike on other devices, the rocker doesn't pull double duty scrolling through menus. On the bottom is the USB port and the minijack for the included stereo headphones. Unfortunately, the headphone jack doesn't accept standard headphones. A major gripe that we have with the design of this device is that the Mini SD memory card slot is located beneath the user-removable battery, preventing hot-swapping.
We like that the I-mate SP3i's battery can be charged through your computer's USB port or with the included power adapter. The device also comes with a belt holster and stereo earbuds that let you listen to music, watch videos, or talk hands-free.Running Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, the I-mate SP3i offers all the PIM applications you'd expect from a full-fledged PDA (address book, calendar, in-box) and Pocket versions of Word, Excel, and Internet Explorer. A major plus is Windows Media Player 10.0 Mobile, which provides for seamless integration with the desktop version of Media Player 10.0. Additionally, Media Player 10.0 Mobile is capable of playing WMV and WMA files (video and audio, respectively), as well as MP3s. Hard-core music fans will also appreciate the application's support of album art.
The I-mate SP3i has 32MB of RAM (64MB of ROM), which is more than enough for your contacts, calendar, and any other information. Our test unit shipped with a 256MB Mini SD card, which we used to store photos, music, and videos. We consider this smart phone a high-end device, so we were disappointed that it isn't equipped with integrated Wi-Fi. However, you get an infrared port and Bluetooth. And since we didn't get the device from a wireless provider, the Bluetooth functionality wasn't hobbled. This means that you can use Bluetooth for wireless headsets, wireless data transfer, as well as a modem to connect your Bluetooth-enabled laptop to the Internet. The I-mate SP3i also ships with a speakerphone, but using it wasn't as simple as we would have liked. You have to activate the feature prior to making calls, so switching between the speakerphone and the handset in the middle of a conversation isn't possible.We tested the triband (GSM 900/1800/1900) I-mate SP3i in the San Francisco Bay Area using Cingular Wireless service, and call quality was good on both ends. Additionally, the included stereo headset was great for phone calls but really shined with digital audio files. We also appreciated being able to use a wireless Bluetooth headset. We paired the I-mate SP3i with the Logitech Mobile Freedom Bluetooth headset with no problems. While the I-mate ships with a speakerphone, it's neither the best-sounding implementation, nor is it necessarily simple to use. The I-mate SP3i has a rated talk time of 3.5 hours and a rated standby time of approximately six days.