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JasJar i-Mate (Universal) review

Postato 17 Settembre 2005 da in English Contents

Link alla versione italiana.


  JasJar i-mate (HTC Universal) Review: ‘A New Direction’.

INTRODUCTION

It’s difficult to properly place the JasJar, alias HTC Universal, in the PDA scene: it’s more than a simple PDA Phone, partly down to its larger than normal dimensions, but mainly because it comes with a UMTS data transmission module, Videocall and Voice Over IP capabilities. It’s less than a sub-notebook (i-Mate refers to it as a ‘mini laptop’) both in size and because it can’t run common desktop-based applications – yet it can still easily cope with all the typical functions that you would expect from a notebook.


The i-mate JasJar can be opened like a book and it appears as a typical clamshell device, or you can choose to completely rotate the screen and let the JasJar assume the form of a typical tablet PDA.

 

Thus, the JasJar, whatever shall be the the final verdict of our review, can be accredited with the unquestionable merit of having taken a new and unexplored path for PDAs. Thanks to its successful ergonomic design it can be comfortably used as a mobile video phone (although this aspect could undoubtedly be improved, as we’ll explain later) as well as a common PDA device. This is also because the new Windows Mobile 5 OS boasts an improved set of applications compared to the past that allow for a much more agile, efficient and productive web surfing experience even when faced with the most intricate web pages. In the same way, even the Office applications show much more versatility and can assure even further improved compatibility with their desktop counterparts.

It isn’t the ultimate PDA, as many handheld fans may have wishfully proclaimed, but it is certainly the forefather of a new family of devices that will no doubt focus on processing power, full connectivity, voice communication, video transmission and full-blown multimedia; their winning points and strengths being, of course, having all these features rolled into one machine. It would seem like the ideal balance between ‘data-centric’, ‘voice-centric’ and ‘media-centric’ that appears to address Bill Gates’ own definition of the Pocketable Computer. Much like recent market development and news has led us to believe over the last few months, the JasJar alone appears as the probable answer (especially in future reincarnations) to the Smartphone onslaught; this high-end handheld will stand as protector of the PDA category and take up the challenge against the invasion of smart and clever cellphones that are being sponsored by mobilephone carriers.

Don’t compare it to a QtekS100 (a successful example of a small-sized Pda Phone), even less so to a Motorola Mpx220 (a smartphone with several positive aspects that deserved better fortune); avoid attempting comparisons with a Pocket LOOX 720, a Dell Axim X50v or a multimedia player like the Archos Pma 400 because you’ll only find few common similarities. Take the JasJar for what it really is: ‘A New Direction’.

{mospagebreak heading=- Introduction&title=- Packaging, Accessories and Tech Specs}
PACKAGING, SUPPLIED ACCESSORIES AND TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS



Packaging.

The external packaging of the the box that contained our i-Mate JasJar proudly shows a photo of a smiling young man; perhaps he’s in a video conference call with a beautiful woman, maybe he’s watching an exciting Divx film or it could be that he’s gazing at an upwards-trend graphical chart that shows a huge boost in his Sales Division – whatever the reason for his happiness we can be sure that this upbeat professional figure is certainly holding the most advanced Pda Phone currently available. It’s time to take his place and tear open the box to see what’s inside! Apart from the JasJar, here’s a list of the accessories included:

  • USB 2.0 Syncronisation Cable (with a mini-Usb plug for connecting to the JasJar);
  • Power Cable/Supply Unit (Note: the model that we tested, the ‘Worldwide English’ version does come with a European adapter for the British plug);
  • Pair of (wired) stereo headphones;
  • Spare stylus;
  • Carry case;
  • International warranty;
  • Installation CD (with Outlook 2002);
  • Printed manuals – a rarity nowadays (‘Quick Start’ and ‘User Manual’).

    Technical Specifications.
    The User Manual gives a detailed list of the JasJar’s technical specifications:

    • 520Mhz Intel Bulverde CPU;
    • Windows Mobile 5.0;
    • WiFi 802.11b;
    • Bluetooth 1.2;
    • Integrated 1.3 Mpixel Main Camera;
    • Integrated Vga Second Camera;
    • Qwerty keyboard;
    • 640×480 Vga touchscreen with pivot action/swivel movement;
    • 128Mb Rom, 64Mb Ram;
    • I/O Secure Digital Slot;
    • Front/Rear videoconference calling;
    • 5 Hour Battery Life in Conversation;
    • 10 Day Battery Life in Standby;
    • Weight (including battery) 285 g;
    • Size: 12.7 x 25 x 81 mm.


    Included Accessories.

    Upon opening the box we did immediately notice that there was no included docking cradle, as has become a tendency with all Pda Phones: the reasoning behind this lies in the fact that this way the device can still be held and used as a phone while it is connected to either the PC sync cable or the power/charger cable (both supplied with the unit, even if slightly short). The Usb sync cable, which provides enough electrical current to recharge the handheld battery within an acceptable period, is just a standard ‘Usb to mini-Usb cable’ which can be easily found and substituted if necessary (or if you need to charge/sync your handheld in several locations).

    Headphones.
    The included stereo headphones are both elegant and light. Again, just like the Usb and power cables, they too could have been provided with a slightly longer cable length. These wired earbuds have an attached volume control along with a double function button used to accept and close incoming calls or, via a quick press, put on hold and re-open a previous call. We’ll leave comments on their music reproduction capabilities to a later stage of the review.

    Cd e manuals.
    The manuals are very detailed and clear. The included CD, on the other hand, only contains ActiveSync 4.0 and Outlook 2002. There’s not much more to say, apart that such a high-profile (and high-priced) unit as this could have offered more. That said, the CD does also include all the necessary Windows drivers that allow you to use the JasJar as a Usb or Bluetooth modem.


    Protective Case.
    The included protective case is of medium quality, made of an external ‘pleather’ (simil-plastic leather) covering and a synthetic interior coating that tries to emulate velvet. It offers an acceptable level of protection against accidental drops, dust and external elements like sun, grease, dirt and water drops. Unfortunately, this protective case is in no manner ergonomic and forces you to pull the Pda Phone out of its case everytime you need to make, or reply to, a phone call. Finally, the absence of a belt-clip drivers home the point that the JasJar really did deserve more.
    {mospagebreak title=- Form Factor}
    FORM FACTOR
    (Aesthetic looks, build quality)



    Beautiful: no real objections or criticisms to be made. Now that we can carefully study its looks and aesthetic design we can begin to understand why the man pictured on the box packaging had so much to smile about! It’s squared yet smooth-edged design, its brushed aluminium finish coupled with a casing in highly-resistant plastic and the unexpected but well-chosen dark-brown colouring all make the JasJar stand out as a highly individual and stylish handheld that won’t go unnoticed.
    All things considered its size does not seem excessively worrisome when the device is proudly paraded on its own. It appears just as tall and as wide as any other handheld with a Vga screen although, on the other hand, its thickness does betray a much heftier depth when compared to its rivals that come without a telephone module and external Qwerty keyboard. Its apparently small aspect owes a lot to its dark colour tones and tapered edges but when placed alongside other Pdas the JasJar’s true dimensions are put into proper proportion. Although perhaps a subjective opinion, we would still say that the device remains pocket-sized.


    Let’s compare the JasJar, for demonstrative purposes, with another handheld that fits a strong technicological package into a compact size: the Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX 720 (which will be our comparative model for the rest of the review). The extra millimetres that the JasJar has to carry can be noticed quite clearly in the photo.


    Even more obvious, as anticipated, is the noticeable thickness of the i-mate Pda Phone. These extra dimensions all add up and make for a conspicuous weight and presence when the device is placed in one’s jacket or trouser pocket.

    The JasJar’s build quality is of a high level. We’d go as far as saying that this is probably the PDA with the best construction assembly that we have ever come across. Although only the top part of the device’s casing has a thin aluminium sheet covering, the plastic used for the rest of the handheld’s external shell is very rigid, so much so that the only real way of distinguishing it from the metal part is by ‘feeling’ for the difference in ‘temperature’ between the plastic and aluminium parts.
    {mospagebreak title=- Hardware Functions}
    HARDWARE FUNCTIONS


    The front view of the Pda offers little in the way of comments. The centre of the top lid hosts the i-mate brand, while on the right three slits unobtrusively conceal the eternal speaker that is used during telephone calls.
    In fact, it is possible to use the JasJar as a normal cellphone even when it is closed, but the only accessible buttons (see photo below) are those assigned to accepting and closing phone calls. The lack of an external display screen that shows the number of an incoming call is strongly felt – those who really need this feature could always try coupling this Pda Phone with a Bluetooth Headset that has its own display (like the Jabra Bt800 or the SonyEricsson HBH-660, for example). Also, assigning personalised ringtones to your most important contacts is anoher way of choosing whether to answer, not answer or lift open the display when a call comes in.
    No other functions are available, not even a voice command call of a contact number, when the handheld is in its closed ‘standby’ position.


    The right side of the Pda reveals a series of buttons, each one with its own functions, all bunched in between the side speakers. Starting from the left we can see the photocamera button, a Vocal or Text Notes button (a light, rapid press starts the vocal commands application ‘Voice Speed Dial’ which we’ll comment on later), the Infrared (Irda) port, a switch for the backlight and a volume control button.


    The rear underside of the JasJar is home to the 1.3Mp photo camera. Right next to it is a Flash Led. The black coloured panel clearly indicates the battery (and Sim-card) cover while the rubber feet that keep a safe distance between both the Pda casing and the Photocamera lens and any desktop surface are also visible.


    The left side is dominated by the two telephone function buttons, with the unmistakable red and green phone icons; these happen to be the only two buttons that can be used when the display is folded shut over the keyboard. Further left, two rubber caps protect the external GSM and UMTS antenna inputs that can be used in cars to increase signal reception. On the right, in the following order, is the miniUsb sync socket, the power supply plug, a small reset hole and the headphone jack.


    The JasJar has both an SD I/O slot and the power on/off button at its base. In between these, barely visible and positioned slightly higher, is a tiny microphone slot.

    Lifting the screen lid leaves you staring at what is one of the JasJar’s strong points: the ergonomic layout of the keyboard seems perfectly designed, so much so that two handed typing (one finger per hand, just like with other thumboards) can be quick, very quick, to the point that even those used to two handed typing on a full-sized keyboard will find themselves at ease (although with obvious limitations) after only a few minutes of practice. The keyboard is of an ‘extended’ nature in the sense that all principal characters can be typed via a single keypress, but even ‘Function’ + ‘Button’ combinations are rapid and easy. 

    If you closely observe the above photo you’ll be able to notice the presence of a ‘Start’ button – represented by the typical Windows flag icon – among the other buttons dedicated to the principal web applications (Email and Browser). This comes in as very useful as it greatly facilitates the opening of the Program menu without having to use the stylus.

    The top row of the keyboard is occupied by the keys dedicated to the telephone functions, the address book and the ‘Softkeys’. Although essential when you are trying to use the device without pulling out the stylus, we would have preferred that the ‘Softkeys’ had been positioned directly on the base frame of the rotating monitor – in fact, they are often inaccessible when the display is folded over the keyboard, forcing the use of the stylus, or one’s fingers, on the touchscreen.


    The keyboard has a red backlight that is visually pleasing: in dark surroundings it automatically lights up when a key is pressed. After a user-set period of time (default time is 10 secs) the backlight switches itself off again.


    The multi-directional navigation pad, with a central selection button, is placed immediately under the display To its left you can see the internal photocamera lens which is used when making videocalls.
    The Bluetooth Led is positioned on the far right, in line with the swivel hinge.


    Above the display, between the i-mate and JasJar name branding, you’ll find the speaker dedicated to phone use and the diffusion of audio Over Ip (Via Skype). To the left, once again in line with the hinge, there is another Led, this time with a double function – Red, battery charging status, Green, WiFi activation.
    {mospagebreak title=- Preinstalled Software}
    PREINSTALLED SOFTWARE


    Windows Mobile 5.0 comes with an number of new features, many of which have been widely discussed over the last few months. Pocket Word now handles Tables and Images, Pocket Excel includes Graphic Chart Reports and Powerpoint Mobile makes its first appearance on the latest OS.

    Along with the standard core applications, this handheld also has some applets, like the ‘Midlet Manager’ (obbligatory choice due to the fact that the carrier locked JasJar devices will make vast use of Java technology for the mobile phone aspects) and the ‘Sim Manager’, in charge of handling all the contacts and numbers to be found on the Sim-card.


    Here an example of Midlet Manager at work: the new Opera Mini, Java Web browser, installed on JasJar


    Wireless Manager.
    The ‘Wireless Manager’ is a sort of ‘Control Panel’ for all the wireless connectivity modules (WiFi, Bluetooth and Phone) and does its job well. From here it’s possible to turn on or off every separate protocol (even all together at once) and to directly access their relative configuration menus.


    Voice Speed Dial
    This is a truly amazing program – in over 30 different test attempts it always succeeded in correctly recognising the voice commands. It allows users to associate words or sentences to contact names or to automatically dial numbers, but it is also able to start programs that are listed in the ‘Programs’ menu as well as operate certain system commands. Even the above screenshot was captured via a voice command (with just the one sole ‘Ok’ button press) without having to use the stylus. We told JasJar to “Take a Screenshot!” and once he had obediently done that, we then ordered him to ‘Close’. In the same manner we were able to open and close applications, lower and increase volume and screen brightness, take photos and, lastly, free memory by asking him to “Close all Background Applications”. In all these instances, the voice recognition did not fail once (of course, we were in an ideal, quiet environment).


    i-Mate Backgammon.
    We found an impressive software even amongst the games, namely i-Mate Backgammon. This classic boardgame can be played by a single player against the ‘bot’ (who proved a scarce challenge) or online, against real-life opponents. Unfortunately, in four separate game session attempts and with different web connections (Broadband via WiFi and UMTS) we were never able to find an online adversary. We hope that was just a case of bad luck because even i-Mate’s ‘Artificial Intelligence’ server opponent proved an easy challenge (both games we played ended in a resounding 7-0 in our favour!).


    Skype.
    Do we need to say more about this program? Well, we will mention that i-mate chose to preinstall Skype directly in the Rom memory. This application is the best of its kind in the VoIP field and, on a device like this, able to connect under any circumstance, the application is a must-have.
    The Contacts/Address Book even has a context menu that be called-up via a Softkey and allows users to ‘Call with Skype’. It couldn’t be easier.

{mospagebreak title=- Display, Audio and Photocamera}

MULTIMEDIA CAPABILITIES (Display, Audio and Photocamera)


The Display.
Although we did say at the beginning of the review that the i-mate JasJar couldn’t be compared to any previously released Pocket PC, we were of course referring to its unique design concept. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that we can’t make comparisons between the hardware and software elements that are common to all Windows Mobile devices – that’s why we’ll be putting the i-mate JasJar side by side with a Loox 720. Both devices have amazed the SoloPalmari team with their multimedia capabilities and the best place to start is with their impressive VGA displays!
The screen is one of the first things that positively impresses users, well before they even start to become familiar with the PDA  The TFT matrix display presents clean colours and well-defined contrast and the 640×480 resolution screen is amazingly sharp due to so many pixels being placed into such a relatively small space. Actually, the JasJar’s screen has a 1" wider diagonal width when compared to the Loox’s display (that’s 3.5" for the Loox and 3.6" for the JasJar).
Although apparently bigger, it’s worth noting that the JasJar’s screen does have a noticeable black area that frames the display.
Moving onto the actual visual quality of the JasJar’s display, it compares favourably with the Loox 720, often considered as one of the Pocket PC devices with the best multimedia capabilities. We can go further, the screen on the i-mate we tested appears to be perhaps even better than that of our Loox 720.


A close-up shot of the top-left corner on the JasJar’s display reveals more precise details: colours are rich, variations in tones are finely graduated and the individual pixels are barely visible even though we have zoomed up on the screen.

The above photo shows the same top-left corner as viewed on the Loox 720.The image quality, while excellent, does show some subtle differences when compared to that of the i-mate – wouldn’t you agree that the colour tones in the ‘red’ pane of the Windows logo appear to have less gradual variations? The contrast also appears to be less pronounced when compared to the JasJar’s display.

To summarise, the JasJar has a great display, probably one of the best to be seen on a handheld.

The touchscreen responds well to the stylus and shows perfect calibration; it reacts well to a light touch, without being over-sensitive, and it doesn’t require heavy pressure from the stylus . This is a quite important aspect for a PDA that will probably be mostly used in its clamshell (mini-notebook) mode with the screen at a 90 degree angle to the keyboard – had the touchscreen required a heavy pressure then would have meant that the user would have had to hold the PDA with the other free hand while tapping on the screen to prevent the handheld from flipping over! As it is, the i-mate works perfectly.


L’audio.
The included headphones are elegant, light and have their own volume control dial. The sound output through the headphones is powerful and full-bodied when listening to music. The JasJar has no added treble and bass equalizer controls nor any other effects like 3D surround yet even at maximum volume the sound never distorts and maintains a perfect audio balance. It played our favourite Jazz titles as good as,if not better than, many well-known dedicated MP3 players.

Unfortunately, audio reproduction via the external speakers is not as rewarding. A reasonably acceptable output can be achieved at low volume although all stereo effects are lost – not really that surprising given the small (and hidden) nature of the external speakers.

Like before, we decided to compare the JasJar’s audio capabilities with those of the Pocket LOOX 720 (which many users have suggested as being as capable as an Appple iPod). For our comparative tests we used the same headphones (the ones included with the JasJar) on both devices – we also used the same audio file, a Mariah Carey track, which was ideal for our tests due to the perfect mix and range of tones provided by Mariah’s voice. The final verdict is obviously based on a subjective opinion but, after listening to the same track several times on both PDAs, it would appear that the JasJar just beats the LOOX, mainly because the JasJar doesn’t distort sound even at maximum volume.

Video reproduction is smooth thanks to the 520Mhz CPU and shows no lag while playing audio and video together – which is another way of saying that the JasJar, with headphones in place, provides an immersing ‘cinema’ effect either when on the morning bus to work or at home in the dark of your bedroom.


The Photocamera.
The I-mate JasJar (HTC Universal) wins more points for being best of its class (compared to other PDAs, not true digital cams) even in the photocamera sector. The external integrated camera (contrary to the internal camera which is only suitable for videoconferencing) is able to take pictures at 1.3 Mpixel resolution while also being capable of recording videos in Motion Jpeg or Mpeg4 formats. The included software that is used to operate the camera is fast and comes with an array of options such as ‘Panoramic’ shots   (a guided mode that allows you to join three photos) and a ‘Sports’ mode (that allows for a series of rapid, successive shots).


The above photo was taken without using the inbuilt flash. A red background often confuses digital cameras but the JasJar does well and the green/blue/grey tones of the foreground objects are preserved and not overcome with reddish hues.


To compare the I-mate’s snapshot abilities to those of the Loox 720 we decided to use a page of printed text. Pictures were again taken without the use of a flash.
Above you can see the less than satisfactory results obtained with the LOOX’s camera.


Although even the JasJar presents an overwhelming hue to the final picture, at least the text results readable in some areas, as can be seen on the full-size 1600×1280 image (click on the small image to see the original file).

thumb_foto6_1.jpg.jpg
Photographs taken in the outside sunlight fare much better, as can be seen in the shot of a poster advertising the arrival of 4 new superheroes at a nearby cinema.


Another shot taken in the open, and at distance, depicts one of Rome’s many historical monuments with good results (click on the miniature to open the 640×480 original).
{mospagebreak title=- Benchmarks, Battery Life and Software Stability}

Benchmarks, Battery Life and Software Stability.

Benchmark Results.


Before proceeding, we’d like to make clear the following: SPB Benchmark, probably the most important and familiar Pocket PC softwares used for doing benchmark test, showed evident incompatibility problems with Windows Mobile 5.0. This meant that many of the usual tests were not carried out and it consequently means that the obtained results, at times quite negative, will have been most certainly affected by the fact that many test were indeed unable to be  completed.


Above is the first benchmark result: the Jasjar’s score for typical system speed is much, much lower that the values obtained by the Pocket LOOX 720 (1400) and the Qtek S100 (1143). The low result obtained in SPB Benchmark by the JasJar only serves to ratify what we suggested above – there is obviously some kind of incompatibility problem between the software and Windows Mobile 5.0.
At the same time, however, it is true that the I-mate’s ordinary, everyday, overall running speed doesn’t reach remarkably impressive levels. In fact, even when used in its ‘out of the factory’ set up (with no extra third-party software installed), the device is not always immediately responsive to user input – although it’s never anything that truly hinders the handheld’s operation. These traces of lag are most noticeable when switching from the Telephone software to other programs, and vice versa, as well as when changing the screen orientation (which happens automatically when the display is rotated on its hinges).


The tests run to directly calculate the power of the CPU (identical to the 520 Mhz X-Scale installed on the Loox 720) seem to be much closer to the real nature of the handheld. The JasJar’s score of 1807, while 300 points less than the Loox’s 2108 points, is not surprising in a device that has been successfully optimized for long battery life.


Once again, the next tests confirm our suspect of severe incompatibility issues between the benchmarking software and Windows Mobile 5.0. While not blindingly fast when reading database and .exe files from the Rom memory or Secure Digital card, the benchmark results are far too low to properly represent the JasJar’s true speed. The Pocket LOOX 720, certainly not one of the fastest PDAs in this aspect, scores 1164 points – the difference between the scores is abyssal and cannot honestly represent the JasJar’s snappy speed when reading and opening files that are located on the internal and external memories.


Even the Graphics speed benchmarks are woefully wrong (the JasJar’s 215 points compared to the 1042 points reached by the LOOX 720). The above result would indicate that the JasJar should be around five times slower when, for example, opening a high resolution photograph – that, obviously, isn’t the case.

Finally, the incompatibility problems are most evident when running the ‘Platform Index’ test. This benchmark gives a value for the overall system speed and makes use of the standard inbuilt applications like Mobile Word and Mobile Excel. These latter programs are opened successfully by SPB’s benchmark software but then a series of errors and slow-downs prevents the completion of the benchmarks.

We can conclude this series of tests by stating that the JasJar doesn’t excel in general system speed in the same way it does in other aspects (such as hardware configuration and design). Not being able to properly conduct all out normal tests we can only conclude with a personal opinion – the JasJar isn’t the fastest PDA out there. Anyone moving from a previous generation Pocket PC probably won’t notice any major difference in speed (which thus remains more than acceptable). However, anyone moving from a more recent PDA without Phone-calling capabilities (like the Loox 720) will most likely notice the speed difference – although we’re sure that they’ll gladly accept this compromise when they understand the overall quality of the JasJar and they come to appreciate the many features, some unprecedented, that make the I-mate such a remarkable PDA.

Battery Life.
The JasJar comes with a 1620mAh battery which ensures very good battery life. Luckily, the SPB Battery Benchmark appears to work with no issues.


The battery test was run in ‘Standard’ mode with brightness set at maximum and a simulation of typical handheld use (opening and closing programs, tapping on the screen, tapping on the keyboard).


While the test was running we also kept all the communication protocols (Bluetooth, WiFi, Telephone and Irda) active – in fact, a 802.11b server connection was active. The result is very positive: more than seven hours of continuous use!


It’s interesting to note that the PDA starts shutting down system services like WiFi and access to the external memory card when the battery power drops below 10%. This is to make sure that phone calls can be made right until the battery is completely exhausted.
Finally, we can confirm the new feature of Windows Mobile 5.0 that manages to save the data stored in memory even when the battery is flat – all our data was preserved even after our test completely uncharged the battery.

OS Stability and Software Compatibility
The JasJar is a very stable device when run with its factory setup and included software. Windows Mobile 5.0, together with the updated Office apps and the browser never really required a soft-reset.

Unfortunately, some problems do arise when non certified Windows Mobile 5.0 programs are installed. Slowdowns and erratic behaviour has happened after installing some well-known softwares that hadn’t yet been updated to Windows Mobile 5.0 – it can be difficult to pin-point which application is causing the issue and we have been forced to do some hard-resets to get the handheld running well again. However, we’re certain that these issues will soon be smoothed out as software houses update their programs for this latest Windows Mobile version.


On a closing note we’d like to mention that Active Sync 4.0 is much faster than before thanks to the USB 2.0 support. The speed improvement is most noticeable when browsing through the files via desktop and when installing applications.

We would like to kindly thank www.expansys.it for providing us with the Pda reviewed in this article.

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