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.