i-mate JAQ3 Pocket PC Phone Review

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The i-mate JAQ3 bears a significant external resemblance to the UBiQUiO 501, a Pocket PC phone made by a Chinese company called TechFaith Wireless. There’s good reason for this, as the JAQ is built by TechFaith Wireless as well.

This is one of i-mate’s first collaborations with TFW, having used Inventec Appliance for the lackluster original JAQ. The company was forced to turn to these since the end of its collaboration with High Tech Computer (HTC).

Don’t be mistaken, though; there are notable differences between the JAQ3 and the 501. Specifically, the JAQ3 has microSD expansion rather than miniSD, and quad-band GSM/EDGE instead of the tri-band GPRS on the 501.

Design & Construction

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Looking at it, one of the first impressions of the JAQ3 is that it’s the slightly fatter cousin of the Samsung BlackJack. This is deceptive, of course, as the JAQ3 is a Pocket PC phone, rather than a WM Smartphone like the BlackJack. But the design similarity–if not to the BlackJack specifically, then to the overall class of thin keyboard smartphones–is undeniable.

And thin it is–the JAQ3 measures just 0.57 inches thick, making it one of the slimmest Pocket PC phones on the market, significantly beating out all the Treos and the HTC Hermes, albeit in a larger footprint than those others.

The main design feature of the JAQ3 is quite plainly the keyboard. A full 39-key layout, it takes up over half of the device’s face, laid out below the directional pad in the tradition of the Treos and the slim Windows smartphones.

Tactile-wise, the keyboard certainly is more than usable. I’d rate it just a little bit below that of the Samsung BlackJack, but above even some of the larger Pocket PC phones made by HTC, like the Hermes/Cingular 8525. The directional pad and the eight main buttons–four navigation keys, plus two app buttons and Send/End–all are equally clickable.

The feel of the casing is very pleasant, too. It has a solid feel of high-quality plastic, with an almost rubbery grip to it, and is basically impervious to smudging. Equal parts ruggedness and style.

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The microSD slot is up on the top of the device, covered by a small rubber cap–presumably a dual-function item, designed both to prevent debris from getting into the slot, and to prevent the obscenely tiny card from escaping without permission.

Next to this sits the status LED, used to indicate system connectivity and charging. Off to one side, fairly easy to miss as it’s blended into the black casing, is the infrared port.

I feel conflicted about the JAQ3’s small screen. While it does help keep overall device size down, it’s barely 2.4 inches diagonal, which makes for some quite cramped conditions. Unlike the similar size screens on Windows Mobile Smartphones, the JAQ3’s interface wasn’t designed for such a cramped display, nor do those other devices have to cope with a touchscreen. That makes for some hair-fine tapping at points.

In case you should ever end up hunting for it, the reset button can be found under the battery cover, in a deeply recessed niche next to the stylus. Don’t ask me, I don’t know why.

The only totally sour note in the external hardware department is the stylus. It manages to be annoying in two ways–both by being a telescoping toothpick model, and by being very difficult to remove from its silo. My best advice is to ignore it and just use a finger if you need to interact with the screen. Unfortunately, that further complicates the minute screen dilemma noted above.

Right side: power button, USB port, and headphone jack.

I must take a moment out to laud the JAQ3 for one particular thing: maintaining separate audio and USB connectors. At a time when so many devices are using a combined connector, and the proprietary headphones and headsets that come with it, a normal 2.5 mm stereo/headset jack is most welcome.

Left side: jog dial, OK/close key, and camera button.

Overall, the design of the JAQ3 is surprisingly good. It doesn’t strike you as a knockout style at first, but in use it’s quite robust, and has an understated usability. The keyboard is good, placement of all the controls and connectors are good, and the build is of excellent quality. i-mate clearly made a good decision in dropping its previous contract manufacturer–the JAQ3 is vastly superior in design to its ignoble ancestor.

Performance and Usability

The JAQ3 shares the same marginal 200 MHz TI OMAP processor that most Pocket PC phones do; adequate for the most basic usage but worthless for VoIP and difficult for video.

Running the Linpack benchmark for Windows Mobile, the device scored a significantly less than stellar 0.59 megaflops, compared to 1.34 mflops for the 400 MHz Cingular 8525 and 1.9 for the 624 MHz Dell Axim X51v.

Overall, the system performs well enough for business use, though I wouldn’t try a lot of high-end anything on it.

Software and Extended Features

One of the things that i-mate leans on rather heavily in its press briefings is the "i-mate Suite" of management tools.

The short version of the i-mate suite explanation is that it’s a management service that lets you do pretty much anything with, to, or for the device over the air. Remote backup, remote restore, installing programs, pushing files, wiping and locking lost or stolen units, and on.

The bottom line is that if you can think of something that you’d want to do with the device without having it in your hand, the i-mate Suite can probably do it. It’s not all remote apps, though–there are also a variety of functions such as i-mate Backup that can be invoked from the device itself.

In addition to the pre-loaded software related to i-mate’s own-brand services, they do throw in a few other trinkets: a copy of ClearVue PDF, an installer for ComputerAssociates anti-virus, Cyberon Voice Commander, and a few games (i-mate branded, naturally) to mention the most notables.

The Java environment on the JAQ3 is Esmertec’s Jeode platform. I’ll give it this; it’s gotten a lot less annoying since last I tangled with it. In fact, it’s made it to the point of being a rather nice Java environment, although it seems to be still a bit more resource hungry than it should be. On the already slow JAQ3, this leads to marginal performance in Java applications like Opera Mini. It also makes difficult the process of MIDlet installation. It does, however, support fullscreen mode, eliminating the top and bottom bars to make more screen space, something that the Intent Midlet Manager used on most other PPC phones does not.

Connectivity

Not much to say here, really. The JAQ3 has the standard package of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, along with its GSM/EDGE radio that’s remarkable only in its ordinariness.

It is a bit disappointing not to see 3G in a device like the JAQ3, given its fairly hefty price tag. I find it hard to believe that so many expensive smartphone devices can’t bring themselves to include 3G, but they can stick it in the new RAZRs they’re giving away for free.

Of course, the JAQ3 deserves only a certain amount of blame for this, since it’s hardly surprising that with so many of its competitors taking the cheaper road it wouldn’t stick its proverbial neck out either.

Battery Life

The JAQ3’s battery life once again proves that engineering isn’t a science, it’s an art. Despite having only a 1250 milliamp-hour battery, the device manages to go for 4-5 hours of talk time, even with other use, matching other devices with slightly larger batteries, and even besting some of its direct competitors like the Treo 750.

Of course, factors like a small screen, lack of 3G, and a slower processor do contribute to battery savings, but even most other devices with these "features" still don’t have an advantage on the JAQ3 for battery life.

Conclusion

There’s no question that the JAQ3 is a vast improvement over its predecessor in almost every way. It’s got better hardware, a better design, and a broader user appeal.

While I can’t say that I’ve been particularly awestruck by any given feature of the JAQ3, the simple truth is that it’s about as close as you’re going to get to the physical design of the Cingular BlackJack or Motorola Q while still having full Pocket PC software compatibility and features.

If that’s your goal, then you’ve got a winner. Otherwise, the JAQ3 is decent, but some other device may be more fitting to your needs.

Pros:

  • Solid design
  • Jog dial
  • Management suite

Cons:

  • microSD slot
  • No 3G
  • Slow processor

Bottom Line:

  • A quite respectable but not extraordinary Pocket PC phone with a tablet-QWERTY design.

Hardware

Processor: 200 MHz TI OMAP CPU
Operating System: Windows Mobile 5.1 (Pocket PC) with AKU 3.2
Display: 2.4 inch 320 x 240 transmissive / reflective LCD
Memory: 64 MB RAM; 128 MB flash memory (45 MB available)
Size & Weight: 5.0 inches long x 2.65 inches wide x 0.57 inches thick; 5.6 ounces
Expansion: Single microSD slot
Docking: Single Mini-USB connector
Communication: Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE; 802.11b/g Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 1.2
Audio: 2.5 mm stereo headphone/headset jack; speakerphone; earpiece & mic
Battery: 1250 mAh replaceable Lithium Ion battery
Input: 39-key thumb keyboard; 5-way directional pad; two re-mappable application buttons
Other: Jog dial; i-mate Suite management software; Java/J2ME environment

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