i-mate JAQ Review

by Reads (30,304)

Not too long ago, i-mate introduced a Windows Mobile smartphone it is calling the JAQ.

This is one of the first i-mate devices not designed by High Tech Computer of Taiwan. HTC recently decided that it wanted to take a more direct approach to its marketing, which left i-mate looking for a new manufacturing partner, which it eventually found in Inventec Appliance.

The result of this new alliance is the i-mate JAQ and the rest of the company’s new line.

Design & Construction

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The JAQ vaguely resembles the old iPAQ h6300, which had a snap-on thumb keyboard that covered the bottom of the device, making it look like a hammerhead shark.

The JAQ’s keyboard, though, isn’t detachable; that’s just the way that the device is built. It does result in an unbalanced look about the device, with a large thick bottom, and a narrower top.

Let’s just come out and say it — the i-mate JAQ is ugly. Really ugly. Disfigured hunchback kind of ugly.

Which is, shockingly, exactly what i-mate wanted. No, I’m not joking. According to i-mate’s public statements, the point of making the JAQ so ugly is that it’s functional enough for use during the day, but not something that people would be inclined to carry around more than they had to, say when off work, thus minimizing the device’s exposure to loss or theft.

At least, that’s what i-mate says. It may just be an inspired cover story for some really nasty design.

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Of more concern to me than the cattle-stunning looks of the JAQ is the build quality. The plastic used in the casing is fairly low grade, so much so that when you remove the battery cover, you can actually flex it with surprising ease.

I wouldn’t call this a terribly rugged device. On the other hand, it does manage to be fairly light, thanks to the same density of plastic.

On the somewhat brighter side, the ergonomics of the JAQ do lend themselves somewhat to its use as an email and messaging device. The keyboard area is shaped to fit into the hand in a comfortable manner for thumb-typing, and can be held for long periods without problem.

That said, don’t even think of trying to use this as a phone, at least without a Bluetooth headset.

Hardware

Processor: 200 MHz TI OMAP
Operating System: Windows Mobile 5.1 (Pocket PC) with AKU 2.5
Display: 2.8 inch, 320 x 240 pixel transmissive/reflective LCD
Memory: 64 MB RAM; 128 MB flash memory (48 MB available)
Size & Weight: 4.8 inches long x 2.8 inches wide x 0.87 inches thick; 5.6 ounces
Expansion: Single MiniSD slot
Docking: One mini-USB plug
Communication: Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE; Bluetooth 1.2
Audio: 2.5 mm headset/headphone jack; speakerphone; speaker and mouthpiece for  phone
Battery: 1440 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable/replaceable battery
Input: QWERTY thumb keyboard; touchscreen; re-mappable application buttons
Other: 1.3 megapixel camera; Java/J2ME runtime environment

 

Processor

The JAQ contains the same 200 MHz Texas Instruments processor that’s so popular in HTC’s devices. It produces acceptable performance for basic usage without offering enough speed to do VoIP or most of the "fun" uses of a Pocket PC.

Operating System

Based on Windows Mobile 5 with AKU 2.5, the JAQ includes a moderate amount of non-standard customizations.

Most of these are centered around i-mate’s remote management systems: the ability to push data, files, even full applications onto the device remotely from the home office. This is no doubt a tremendous boon for IT departments who need to be able to manage field workers, though it’s less relevant to smaller businesses and individuals, neither of which would probably be investing in i-mate’s software suite.

Size & Weight

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Whoo, mama. I don’t even know what size class to put the JAQ in. Fat on the bottom, comparatively slim on the top, it’s a lopsided device.

Total volume, however, is far larger than almost any of its competitors, either in the Pocket PC phone corner, or keyboarded devices in general.

Expansion

The JAQ’s single miniSD slot allows for up to 2 GB of memory, or potentially a MiniSD W-Fi card.

Docking

For docking, the JAQ has one mini-USB port, and that’s it. Simultaneous data and charging are accomplished by way of a small splitter cable included in the box that allows you to connect both the USB-tipped power supply and a sync cable.

Communication

I found cellular RF performance to be acceptable, on the level of most GSM Windows phones, and even out in the boondocks it rarely lost signal. For good measure, the JAQ also has an external RF connector, suitable for hooking it up to a cellular antenna or amplifier. Bluetooth implementation was at a relative minimum, with no support for Bluetooth headphones. And of course, no Wi-Fi or 3G high-speed data support.

Battery

With a larger than average 1440 mAh battery, the JAQ has quite good battery life, enough that even the most hard-core of business users should be able to get through the day on a single battery. i-mate rates the device for four hours of talk time, but in reality it provides more like eight. This varies depending on signal and usage, of course, but unless you’re connected to the Internet every minute of the day, there should be no question about the JAQ managing a full work schedule.

Input

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Without question, the keyboard is by far the best part of the i-mate JAQ. Flat keys of a decent size, not too hard, with a very solid and responsive click when pressed. The only other keyboard that I’ve found to be as acceptable as the JAQ’s was that of the HTC Wizard models, which is saying a lot.

The keys feature an orange backlighting, not too dim, but not too strong either. I was quite pleased with it, and achieved fast and easy text input with a minimum amount of experience.

Conclusion

One last note, on the subject of price. The JAQ is an unlocked GSM device, not attached to any carrier, which is always expensive. The JAQ represents that in spades, with an individual unit price of not less than $475, and listed for $600-700 at some retailers. That’s far and away above almost all of its competitors.

I can see absolutely no reason why an ordinary user would choose the JAQ over other available devices like the Wizard, Hermes, Motorola Q, or the Excalibur. Its specs are unremarkable, it’s design is less than uninspired, and you’d need to sell a kidney to purchase it.

On the flip side, between i-mate’s famously excellent management software, its ROM customization options, and the fact that only a really desperate thief would even think of trying to steal this thing, I suppose it must be good for IT departments. Particularly sadistic ones with far, far too much money to burn.

The JAQ is an enterprise device through and through. Just don’t expect the employees to be happy about it.

Pros:

  • Good keyboard
  • Easily manageable
  • Large battery

Cons:

  • Ugly
  • Expensive
  • Marginal build quality

Bottom Line:

A business-targeted device for mid-level company drones who don’t get anything nicer.

 


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