A first look at the world's thinnest Pocket PC Phone

Most of the latest and greatest QWERTY devices are non-touch screen Windows Mobile Smartphones. i-mate is starting to roll out their new device that actually uses a touch screen like the Treo 750, but this model has integrated 802.11g WiFi, scroll wheel, higher resolution display and more. The i-mate JAQ3 is the world's thinnest Pocket PC Phone Edition device and after some initial testing it may be a promising device for those looking for a solid, powerful device that is still pocketable.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

One of the guests we had at Mobius Boston 2006 was Jim Morrison, CEO of i-mate, and he offered to send us an i-mate JAQ3 to test out when they were available. Well after driving in the snow for a bit, I picked up the JAQ3 today and wanted to post some photos and initial thoughts for you to consider as the device starts to become available in the U.S. The JAQ3 is a Pocket PC Phone Edition although as you can see in my image gallery it looks a lot like a Windows Mobile Smartphone. Actually, it is the thinnest Pocket PC in the world!

UPDATE: A reader pointed out I did not put the size of the device in my first thoughts and since I was focusing on the form factor I made a mistake and should have put some dimensions into my entry. The JAQ3 is 126 x 67.5 x 14.5 mm and 160 grams compared to the T-Mobile Dash at 111.5 x 62.5 x 12.8 mm and 119 grams.

My Mobius buddy Paul put up a review of the UBiQUiO 501 that is a "sister" TechFaithWireless manufactured device like the JAQ3. However, after reading Paul's review again there are some key specs that are much improved on the JAQ3. The following specifications are different:

  • The JAQ3 includes AKU 3.2 which is the latest Windows Mobile 5 operating system update
  • The JAQ3 uses a TI OMAP850 200 MHz processor versus the TI OMAP750 on the UBiQUiO model
  • The JAQ3 is a quad band phone so Cingular customers can use it too
  • The JAQ3 also supports EDGE data connections
  • The JAQ3 has a scroll wheel on the upper left side
  • The JAQ3 number keys are on the right side of the keyboard so you can enter number by pressing them with your right thumb in single handed mode
  • Java client is included on the JAQ3 that runs Google email application well

I have only had a chance to use the JAQ3 for just over 3 hours, but so far I am pretty impressed with the device. My Windows Mobile device of choice right now is the T-Mobile Dash and I posted some comparison photos of it with the JAQ3 in my image gallery. As a power user I generally prefer the Phone Edition variant of Windows Mobile over the Smartphone implementation because it allows me to use all my favorite Pocket PC applications like Office Mobile, Laridian PocketBible, Agenda Fusion, and more. Many people also prefer the touch screen interface on Phone Edition models. Other hot competitors in the Phone Edition market are the Treo 700/750, HTC TyTn, and HTC Wizard models.

i-mate has the same excellent feeling rubberized casing that is on the T-Mobile Dash so it gives you a bit better grip on the device. The JAQ3 is not too much thicker than the Dash, but is longer. It feels quite light and after looking under the back cover it seems like they could have slimmed it down even more. There is a camera button, for the 2 megapixel camera, an OK button, and a 360 degree rotatable scroll wheel on the left hand side. The scroll wheel is used to select items, scroll web pages, and adjust phone call volume. Ebook reading is also made much nicer with the scroll wheel and the 240x320 display has a higher resolution than the Treo 700 and 750 devices. A power button, miniUSB connector, and 2.5mm headset jack are located on the right side. The stylus silo can be found on the bottom and the metal/plastic telescoping stylus is quite securely held in place. The stylus has a decent heft and good length too. The infrared port and miniSD (TransFlash) slot are located on top. The 2 megapixel camera, no flash or mirror, is found on the back just above the speaker that is used for external sound and the speakerphone. Most of the back is taken up with the battery cover that hides the 1250 mAh battery and SIM card slot.

When you look at the front you will see an indicator light up on the upper right that changes colors, depending on the status of the device. The speaker for phone calls is centered above the display. The display is 2.4 inches and has a 240x320 resolution that looks great, especially with ClearType activated. There are 8 hardware buttons around the directional pad with the keyboard located below these. A couple of these can be reassigned to your favorite applications too. The JAQ3 has a well designed QWERTY keyboard with the number keys on the right hand side that have a slightly rougher texture so you can easily recognize them by feel. Directional keys are also found on the lower right of the keyboard. I typed one document and a couple of emails using the keyboard and the keys are easy to press, have good tactile feedback, are well backlit, and well spaced.

The i-mate JAQ3 will soon be available from U.S. importers in the United States for about US$590 as an unlocked device. This is actually a lower price than most Pocket PC Phone Edition unlocked devices that I have purchased in the past from US$700 to US$950. However, this is about US$200 more than locked devices like the Treo 750 and Cingular 8525, but there are no contract obligations with this device.

I plan to do a lot more testing with the i-mate JAQ3, particularly in regards to testing out the 200 MHz processor. I want to see how well video plays, if Skype is usable via WiFi, if I can run lots of applications simultaneously, how well music plays through the A2DP profile, and how stable and reliable the device is during daily use. I did make and take a few calls on it and those sounded loud and clear.

UPDATE 2: Also, the RF reception has been outstanding with 3 and 4, out of 4, bars appearing on the device at my house using T-Mobile. This is just about the best RF reception I have seen on any device. It seems the RF reception I had during my initial testing was a bit of an anomaly as there appears to be a serious issue with the wireless radio easily losing signal, even in areas with full coverage. I have had to actually turn off the phone part of the device and turn it back on in the connection manager to reaquire my signal in areas that I know have excellent coverage. Others I have been talking with have also seen these reception issues and at this time I would recommend you save your money until an update is issued by i-mate to fix this problem. A phone, even if it is a high powered smartphone, is worthless without solid phone performance. I will be testing the JAQ3 more, but for my own use I have gone back to the T-Mobile Dash and Nokia N93 for daily usage.

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