After the bulky, pocket-bulging i-mate Ultimate 6150 and 8150, this latest, slimmer i-mate is a real treat. Measuring in at 116x55mm and 15mm thick, the 8502 is similar to RIM's BlackBerry Pearl 8120 when in your hand or pocket, albeit a little heavier.
The best part is that compared to the previous Ultimate phones, the 8502 has even greater mechanical input. On the left side there's still a jog-wheel and 'OK' button, on the right side is volume adjustment buttons and a dedicated camera key.
Below the 2.6-inch QVGA display is a full QWERTY keypad; a feature that seems to have been quite a tricky obstacle for smartphone designers lately. Business users who are replying to emails and messages want the speed and accuracy of a QWERTY keypad, and everyone wants smaller, lighter mobile handsets. The tiny keys in the 8502's keyboard are the trade off in this case, however, we have to say the i-mate engineers have done a good job trying to compensate for the size by raising each of the buttons to a pyramid-like point, making the keys slightly more distinguishable when typing quickly. Even still, a numeric keypad or half-size QWERTY pad, like on the BlackBerry Pearl, would have made more sense given the space available.
The 8502 and its sister phone the 9502 have the prestigious honour of being the first full HSPA smartphones available in Australia, to be followed by a couple of Samsung phones and the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 mid-year. HSPA refers to support not only for HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) downloads but also HSUPA (High Speed Uplink Packet Access) uploads as well.
HSPA data may seem like overkill on a mobile device for anyone who doesn't intend to send large files attached to emails. Where the speeds will be really handy is when the handset shares its mobile broadband with your PC. It's here that HSPA should offer a similar mobile broadband experience to your fixed line ADSL2 connection.
When released the Ultimate 8502 and 9502 will be available exclusively through Telstra. As with all other Next G phones, the new i-mates will be able to stream mobile TV, like Foxtel. The Ultimate series phones also feature video-out, which coupled with mobile TV gives you a low-res (VGA) alternative to paying for subscription TV at home or in a motel.
In addition to HSPA the 8502 features a full compliment of connectivity options. Mobile data charges can be avoided using the built-in Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g), and similar to the HTC TyTN II, the 8502 has a GPS receiver integrated into its Qualcomm processor chipset.
Running Windows Mobile 6 guarantees certain functionality and compatibility for owners of the 8502. Push email via MS Exchange, media playback with Windows Media Player, and document editing with mobile Office. i-mate also includes data security by allow the phone's owner to remotely lock their device and clear all data on the phone using a password-protected online log in, as well as the option to sound an alarm -- like a car alarm -- to coerce thieves to return your phone, or at least dump it in a bin somewhere.
With the release of the new Ultimate devices so close to the previous batch we were expecting to see similar processing performance -- until we discovered the downsizing of processors. The 520MHz processor of the 6150 and 8150 is now a 400MHz Qualcomm chip with 128MB RAM. Luckily, we've been unable to detect any significant reduction in performance, helped in part by the lower display resolution.
In fact this "shrinking" of hardware seem to be part of a necessary tweaking rather than cost-cutting. We're just speculating, but it would seem that the power usage has been dropped by lowering the speed of the processor and the resolution, rectifying the dismal battery life we experienced in the previous generation; our strongest criticism of the 6150 and 8150. The single day battery life has been extended to a very manageable three days with light to moderate usage during our tests.
Battery life aside, using the 8502 is an almost identical experience to the previous i-mate Ultimates. Web browsing is zippy, call quality is excellent and the onboard 2-megapixel camera is a little above average, assisted by the LED photo light.
The 8502 is exactly what an incremental update should be: it's better. Its smaller size, greater range of connectivity options and longer battery life are necessary and welcomed improvements, and the processing performance is at least comparable to the older phones. Being the first true HSPA handset in Australia is a noteworthy milestone and edges the Ultimate 8502 out in front as the best Windows Mobile smartphone we've seen to date.