What is immediately striking about the i-mate 9502 is the bright 2.8-inch touch screen that occupies most of the front panel. The generous 640x480 resolution means you can really enjoy multimedia content on this phone.
Unlike its smaller sibling, the i-mate Ultimate 8502, the QWERTY keyboard on the 9502 is hidden underneath a sliding screen. While it's quite small, raised keys means typing is acceptable. In a similar manner to the iPhone, the 9502 automatically detects which way the phone is oriented and tips the screen accordingly.
We had no problem using the small raised QWERTY keys on the 9502, but in truth we liked the touch screen so much that we tended to use it much more. The inclusion of a stylus stops the screen getting covered in finger prints, and in case you loose the stylus the 9502 even comes with a spare. A handy button is placed at the bottom of the screen that provides a shortcut to the 'soft' touch screen keypad.
At 116 by 60 by 17.8mm the 9502 is just fractionally larger than its smaller sibling, the 8502. While this isn't a small phone, it's a compact for the range of features it offers -- and much smaller than a monster like Nokia's E90 Communicator.
The 9502 offers a range of additional buttons, and we like the scroll wheel placed on the top left hand corner along with the with e-mail and IE key shortcuts. One annoying feature is that the button placed on the left hand side of the phone sits right next to the sliding screen, which opens in a spring loaded fashion. This left us occasionally pushing the screen rather than the "OK" or "wireless" shortcut.
Given that we preferred the stylus and touchscreen to the QWERTY keyboard placed underneath the screen, it is our view that the 8502 is the better design of the two i-mate releases. However bear in mind for extra AU$100, you get twice the display resolution (640x480 rather than a 320x240), more battery life and a higher resolution camera in the larger 9502. This more than justified the extra price in our view.
The i-mate 9502 Ultimate packs pretty much every feature we have ever seen in a smartphone -- and whole bunch more we have never seen before -- including full HSPA access. However a word of caution here; with full HSPA Telstra will advertise at a maximum of 7.2mbps download and 1.9 mbps upload network maximum, but don't expect to get anywhere near these speeds.
We spoke to IDC telecommunications analyst Mark Novosel, who reported a maximum download speed of 2.2 Mbps, and 0.35 Mbps upload speed using HSPA in the North Shore and Eastern suburbs of Sydney. He was using an identical i-mate 9502 to our review unit. In our experience with the phone, the speeds reported by Novosel are realistic or even optimistic.
However given that the 9502 includes support for 802.11g/b Wi-Fi networks, you may be able to find a hotspot and avoid the whole 3.5G speed issue altogether. No doubt the built in Bluetooth will also come in handy.
Both the i-mates are also exclusive to Telstra, which is a major drawback in our view. We are not suggesting that the Telstra is a bad carrier, but a lack of choice for consumers is never a good thing. Further, customers on existing contracts will need to change carriers to get their hands on an i-mate 8502 or 9502.
Battery life on the 9502 is excellent -- with moderate use including video calls -- the i-mate 9502 battery lasted about three days. The battery life is also aided by the fact that the screen on the i-mate powers down after a short delay if it's not in use.
It's no surprise that that 9502 has excellent battery life, it includes the biggest battery pack we have even seen -- at 1660 mAh. Compare that to a 1,350 mAh battery in the HTC Touch Dual, or 900 mAh on the Blackberry Pearl 8120, and you will see why it comes out on top. If you open up the back of the 9502, you will see the battery is huge.
The 9502 also packs a 3 megapixel shooter, which takes nice photos on the big screen. It also comes with a flash, and range of photo editing and camera features which have become standard on smartphones.
The 9502 also comes with GPS, which is increasingly become standard in smartphones -- probably because it's a great feature.
As a phone maker, i-mate is a exclusive supplier of Windows Mobile phones -- so if you don't like the OS, don't buy an i-mate. However, the option to skin your i-mate with a interface shell to make it more user friendly using a program like Sbp Mobile Shell 2.0 may make using Windows Mobile 6 more attractive.
We liked Windows Mobile 6 as an mobile OS on the 9502 -- but there is no doubting that it's a slow platform. The i-mate 9502 packs a lot of processing power, with a 400 MHz Qualcomm processor and 128MB of RAM, it's a lot faster than the desktops we remember using in the early 1990s. But once you start running several programs, the Windows Mobile interface starts chewing through your memory. It's also slow to boot up on the 9502.
The i-mate 9502 is also the first phone that we have ever seen with an RCA three pin video output -- meaning you use it as alternative to a laptop when making presentations. While this is an exciting step in smartphones one step closer to being true UMPCs, we see this feature as really to rudimentary to be useful.
The i-mates limited processing and storage power could be a problem for presentations that contain large images or complicated features, such as video. Also bear in mind that the features offered on the Windows Mobile 6 addition of Power Point are much more limited than the desktop version.
One feature of the 9502 that i-mate spent considerable time promoting is security -- the 9502 will ask you for a pin code every time you turn it on -- a useful but hardly unique feature.
However a security feature which is unique to the i-mate is the inclusion of "secure i-Q," a feature which allows users to remotely lock their phones, or even set off an alarm using a Web interface. Phones locked using the secure Web interface have no way to be unlocked via the handset, and you can even remotely wipe all the data on the phone.
We are mixed about Secure i-Q. While it provides a very powerful security feature -- the Web interface also adds additional security vulnerabilities. If someone was able to break into it, they could remotely wipe every i-mate phone! And set off loud, permanent alarms! This vulnerability is compounded by the fact that the quick start option for setting up an Secure i-Q account only requires very weak security details. For example it might be possible to access the account of a new user with only their "favorite movie" and phone number.
i-mate offers the 'Secure i-Q', Web interface for additional security. Just make sure you set up a more secure password than offered in the quick start interface.
There is no doubt the 8502 is an impressive phone, with a raft of features including full HSPA, a big high resolution touch screen and Windows Mobile 6. This phone is designed for business users -- and we think i-mate have really hit the nail on the head in this market with the Ultiamte 9502.
However be aware that Telstra's advertised data rates can be taken with a grain of salt, and set up a strong password when using Secure i-Q.