i-mate JAM 128MB Charcoal review

Price when reviewed

i-mate is a relatively new brand, but it’s gaining popularity fast. You may own an i-mate handset even if you don’t know it, as most mobile operators use their own names for the company’s devices. You can buy the JAM SIM-free, but the likelihood is you’ll opt for a SIM package like the Orange SPV M500.

The version here is an update to the original, astonishingly small i-mate JAM (available as the T-Mobile MDA Compact), with twice the RAM: 128MB. You’ll see the similarities between this and the T-Mobile MDA Compact II Graphite, but it’s only skin-deep: the MDA Compact II runs Windows Mobile 5.

This JAM Charcoal runs the older Windows Mobile 2003 SE. The key disadvantage is that it stores data and new programs in RAM: if your battery goes flat, you lose everything. Windows Mobile 5 avoids this by storing everything in flash ROM.

Mind you, there are safeguards. Windows Mobile 2003 reserves enough power to preserve RAM for 72 hours, and the JAM’s backup battery bridges 30 minutes when swapping the main battery. If you’re happy to keep an eye on the battery level (you should get two full days with heavy use, three with light use), you can opt for the speed advantage of Windows Mobile 2003.

This is because storing everything in RAM means faster execution, file transfer and synchronising. Synchronising 10MB of test files took one minute for the MDA Compact II, and 50 seconds for this device. Not a huge difference, but the JAM feels faster in general use.

Word, Excel, image and MP3 files were dealt with easily, although you have to add software to view PDFs and PowerPoint presentations. Pre-installed Skype makes little sense unless you add SD-based Wi-Fi: GPRS doesn’t have the bandwidth for it. Phone calls aren’t particularly loud, but the JAM feels almost as comfortable to talk into as most modern mobile phones.

Everything looks fabulous indoors on the bright 240 x 320 screen, but outdoors it’s hard to read. The tiny onscreen keyboard is a little fiddly, so the Bluetooth radio will be handy if you opt for an aftermarket keyboard.

Build quality is stunning: the JAM is a rugged little package. If you want miniaturisation over physical keyboard entry and Wi-Fi, you’ll love this PDA. Just don’t forget about the Windows Mobile 5 version if you want to sacrifice some speed for bullet-proof data storage, and consider Orange’s SPV M500 if you want a contract version.

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