Buying a smart phone or a handheld/phone combo without an operator subsidy or contract may or may not appeal, depending on your wallet situation. If it does, i-mate is building a name for itself as a provider of operator-agnostic Windows Mobile hardware in the UK.
One of the advantages of buying from i-mate is the company's ability to customise devices even in small quantities. Another is its customer support, which is provided through its Web-based Club i-mate service. If you've seen O2's xda range, you'll find the general look and feel of the i-mate PDA2 very familiar: it's closest to the xda IIi in specification and general appearance.
The PDA2 measures 69mm wide by 19mm high by 130mm deep -- matching the xda IIi almost exactly. The case is a little different in design, though, with black surrounds to the buttons that sit above and beneath the screen. The back of the device houses the lens and self-portrait mirror for the built-in 1.3-megapixel camera, while the left edge has a shortcut button to activate the camera, another for the voice recorder, and a volume-control slider.
At the top there's an SD card slot and an infrared port, while the bottom edge is home to the docking connector and headphone socket. We've noted before that the bottom edge is the worst possible location for a handsfree connector, but here it is again. The stylus, which is long but a little lightweight, is housed on the right upper edge.
The PDA2 has a removable battery, a feature we approve of. The product box contains a mains power adaptor, docking cradle, stereo headset, a protective case, spare stylus, printed user manual and quick-start guide. You'll also find a CD containing Microsoft's ActiveSync software and Outlook 2002.
The PDA2 incorporates a tri-band GSM, GPRS phone, housing the SIM card beneath the removable battery. The processor is the top-of-the-range 520MHz Intel PXA 272. The built-in camera is also a high-end unit (for a handheld), capable of shooting stills at up to 1,280x960-pixel resolution. There are ready-made capture settings for MMS video and Contact Photos, and you can also capture video at resolutions up to 240x320 pixels.
The system has 128MB of ROM and the same amount of RAM. On our review unit, 59.68MB of ROM and 101.02MB of RAM were available out of the box, giving a total of 160.7MB of available memory. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are built in and can be separately started from icons on the Today screen. Another Today screen icon allows you to switch the 240x320-resolution screen between portrait and landscape orientations.
The operating system is Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition Second Edition -- not the recently announced Windows Mobile 2005, which we have yet to see appear in a commercial product. The PDA2's screen resolution of 240x320 pixels staunchly ignores the fact that Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition supports resolutions up to 640x480.
The software bundle from i-mate includes KSE Truefax, a manager for JAVA applications, backup and Zip management tools, plus a tool for using the PDA2 as a modem with a laptop. Skype, the Voice over IP client, is also pre-installed. Although it's easy enough to download and install the free Skype client, it's convenient to have it ready to go out of the box.
The i-mate PDA2 has a high-end feature set, and it delivered what we expected in terms of performance. With its fast processor and plenty of memory, we had no problems installing and running a generous amount of third-party software on the PDA2.
However, battery life was disappointing for such a leading-edge system. Our standard MP3 looping test with wireless networking turned off and no mobile phone connection delivered a total of 4 hours and 49 minutes of uptime, and just 3 hours 59 minutes of music. This is somewhat below average, and perhaps less than you might require.
Edited by Charles McLellan
Additional editing by Nick Hide