iPhone vs. iMate

There's been a bunch of praise and second-guessing around the unreleased Apple iPhone. Then it occured to me that I've had all these features and more in my iMate JASJAR (aka the HTC Universal) since the summer of 2005. In fact, I've worked it to death and it needs to be replaced.

My iMate JASJAR is a touch-screen Windows Mobile 5 device with a real keyboard, an SD slot and a tablet-style 640x480 flip screen. My 2Gb SD card is 3/5ths full after a year and a half. I carry 6 to 10 albums at a time, so it’s also my MP3 player. It even has a pop-up virtual keyboard which sucks worse than the iPhone’s, but it also does handwriting recognition and does Palm Graffitti-like recognition too, which is my favourite after the real keyboard. Jobs might think a stylus sucks but I have a choice between finger and stylus, and with these tools, I write faster than he can.

The JASJAR has Bluetooth and WiFi, and Skype comes pre-installed so I have free calling at home, work and hotspots. It has two cameras, one does 1600x1280 and another is for the video phone. And I can write or install 3rd party apps on it. There’s no reason the iPhone UIs can’t be duplicated or improved on WM5, and they will.

And here’s something - my Today screen (the default power-on screen) shows me Text Messages, To Do’s, my Daily Schedule, Birthdays, Weather, and my Contact list. I don’t need to drill into another app to see these. Sure it’s customized. But the iPhone doesn’t let me see these things on the power-up page at all, or allow the customization to make it happen. Not cool. What good is OS X if I can’t use it to do stuff?

What can’t the iMate do? iPhone does random access of voice mail - is it downloaded or is it a new Cingular service? Either way, it’s not a killer feature for me. The unified inbox is a great concept, I like it at my desk. But that’s what it is to me, an infrastructure service and not something I need my cell phone to do. Give me a back-end that unifies my Exchange inbox and my work voice mail (which should be on a VOIP system), and the functionality follows when I run Outlook from any PDA with sound, whether the iMate or a Blackberry device. And if the iPhone doesn’t have an Exchange story, it’s useless to me.

And the iMate doesn’t have the proximity sensor to turn the speaker-phone on and off, though the phone UI has a speaker-phone button that works and I never accidentally got blasted by putting the phone to my ear. The iMate also doesn’t let me resize photos with the scissor-finger move, it’s a great feature but I can live without it. Heck, WM5 needs a good image viewer.  to begin with.

If I hadn’t dropped the iMate a bunch of times and broken the talky parts (though I still carry headphones to listen to music), it would still be my only device. Sure it works with a Bluetooth headset, but after a few months of doing that, I dropped my GSM chip back in my trusty old Nokia that always just works. The same 4-year-old Nokia that I throw against the wall whenever anyone asks why I still use it.

This is what I want in a device: a GSM phone, camera, 640x480 touch screen, accelerometer, speakers, a real back-lit keyboard, microphone, an SD or mini-SD slot, headphone jack, microphone jack, 512Mb to 1Gb of System or Program RAM, the same for on-board storage memory, WiFi, Bluetooth, EDGE, USB, a replaceable battery, and Windows Mobile 5. GPS would be nice but Bluetooth takes care of it.

The iMate JASJAR has all these except the accelerometer, microphone jack, EDGE, and less RAM (47Mb Storage / 43Mb Storage). Anyone meets those specs and I’ll switch from whatever I have and use it for the next 3 to 5 years. I have high hopes for the LG KE850 but it doesn’t look like WM5. A Zune with a phone and Bluetooth would be great but for sure bulky, and its OS wouldn’t likely work with PocketPC or WM5 apps, never mind that it may not ever exist. Nothing from Motorola, Sony, Nokia or Audiovox comes close.

How does the iPhone share up? GSM yes, camera yes (2 Megapixel), touch screen no, high-res no (320x480), accelerometer yes, speakers yes, mic yes, keyboard no, WiFi yes, EDGE yes, Bluetooth yes, USB no, headphone jack yes, mic jack no, expansion no, much RAM no (64Mb), much storage yes (4Gb / 8Gb), replaceable battery no, WM5 no, GPS no. Showstoppers: no third party apps, no keyboard, end of story.

Is it the HTC P4350 or HTC TyTN? Could be. I'm in Paris this week so a closer look at the TyTN might be in order. Why these devices don't hit Canada sooner is beyond me.

Conclusion, the iMate JASJAR is still my killer device. But mine’s a year and a half old and there’s nothing out there to replace it. I don’t want to re-invest in two-year-old technology, but unless I find something soon, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

[Update 2007-02-09] Thanks to Lee for pointing me at the super sexy (for a gadget) O2 XDA Flame, due sometime in the next couple months. Neat-o. Specs? "NVIDIA-powered VGA on a 3.5" screen, Bluetooth, 3G, EDGE, 520 MHz CPU, USB 2.0, WM5 or 6, 802.11g WiFi, IR, touchscreen, VGA out,  2 Megapixel camera, 2 GB ROM, Mini-SD port, and it's about the same size and shape as the Magician." Add a keyboard to that and I'm a happy guy. Oh wait, the Athena? Too big. If I wanted a Jordana I'd have bought a Jordana.

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