i-mate SP3i

  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent


  • Compact and lightweight
  • decent battery life
  • good utility software
  • integrated Bluetooth


  • Small keys
  • inconvenient memory expansion slot location

Dubai-based i-mate recently entered the UK market with the i-mate JAM, a handheld/phone combo based around Windows Mobile for Pocket PC Phone Edition, Second Edition. That has more recently resurfaced as the T-Mobile MDA Compact, which we will review shortly. The company also sells the i-mate SP3, which we know as Orange’s SPV C500. The SP3i, reviewed here, is a new smartphone available from Expansys, both network free (£294.95 inc. VAT) and with a Vodafone contract (£59.95 inc. VAT).

Like the i-mate SP3 (Orange SPV C500), the SP3i is a small, neat and light smartphone. Most pockets should absorb its 44.5mm by 107.5mm by 18mm dimensions and 102g weight easily enough. The hardware design is distinctive, with two-tone black and silver for the front, and a stripe of grey adorning the otherwise black rear. The screen is not touch-sensitive, so user input is via buttons. The number pad is very small indeed -- the outer two columns of keys are the smallest at just 11mm wide and 5mm tall. The inner column’s keys have 14mm of width and the same height. The keys are bevelled to make them easier to find and hit correctly, but the stubby-fingered may find it a challenge to tap out numbers or text. Above the number pad sit home and back buttons, and above these are call and end buttons. Interestingly, both the quick-start guide and the full user manual put these rows in the wrong order -- not a big problem, admittedly, but it does niggle. Above these keys again, and immediately beneath the screen, lie two softkey buttons, coloured black. You can’t mistake them for anything else, which is a plus point over some phones -- particularly clamshells, where these buttons are generally a long way from the menus they activate. Navigation within and between applications is handled by these various buttons and a joypad-style action button, which provides four-way directional movement and a ‘press to select’ feature.

With a 200MHz Texas Instruments OMAP CPU at its heart, the i-mate SP3i is on a par with Orange’s SPV C500 in terms of processing power. There is 23MB of available memory, but you can augment this with a MiniSD memory card. You don't get a card in the box, but these are widely available -- expect to pay around £25 for a 256MB card. Irritatingly, the card slot is located underneath the battery, so you'll have to power down the SP3i to swap cards. Bluetooth is built in. Owners of the i-mate SP3i get free membership of Club-I-mate, which provides free and paid-for downloads, as well as device support. A ROM upgrade was available for download as we wrote this review, for example. There is a built-in VGA-resolution stills/video camera, with a launch button on the right edge of the device. Still images are available at 640 by 480, 320 by 240 and 160 by 160 pixels, video at 176 by 144 and 128 by 96. You can set a limit on the size of video file captured. There is a range of ambiance settings for different lighting conditions plus some filters, and you can adjust the gamma, brightness, saturation and hue settings manually. Up to 4x digital zoom is available on the lower resolutions. There's an album for viewing images, and switching between this and the camera itself is straightforward. Images can be sent as MMS and email messages from the album or the camera, as well as filed, and renamed. As well as the Photo Album and some games, i-mate adds a Task Manager that can close running applications, freeing up memory; in a similar vein, Space Maker will delete data like email, SMS messages, call history and voice notes; there's also a rather good File Manager, a Java Virtual Machine and a Photo Contacts application.

The compact and lightweight i-mate SP3i is an easy phone to justify carrying around. The camera and on-board games may not appeal to all business users, but i-mate's extra utilities make device management -- and in particular application, data and memory organisation -- relatively easy. The camera is an example of good user interface design, and although the buttons are small, they are sensibly arranged. The joystick works well too. Battery performance was strong. We ran our looping MP3 test, forcing the screen to stay on throughout, and achieved a respectable 5 hours 34 minutes of life from a full charge. Real-world usage tests resulted in a weekend’s use without the need to recharge -- ideal for the professional who spends a night or two away from base. Beneath the number pad is an ambient light sensor that adjusts the screen brightness, saving battery life. If the sensor judges the conditions to be dark, it will also activate a backlight behind the keys when one is pressed -- an extremely useful feature.


Technology GSM
Application Software File Manager, Games, MSN Messenger, Microsoft ActiveSync, Microsoft Java Virtual Machine, Microsoft Pocket Internet Explorer, Microsoft Pocket Outlook, Photo Album, SIM Manager, Task Manager, Windows Media Player
Phone Navigation Buttons navigation button
Type smartphone
Band GSM 900/1800/1900 (Tri-Band)
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider not specified
Operating System Family Windows Mobile
Operating System Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition for Pocket PC
Input Device Touch screen
Messaging & Internet
Cellular Messaging Services MMS
Messaging Services MMS
Data Transmission GPRS
Wireless Interface Bluetooth, Infrared (IrDA)
Technology TFT transflective
Display Resolution 176 x 220 pixels
Color Depth 16-bit (65000 colors)
Diagonal Size 2.2 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 5.6 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 2.2 in
Manufacturer Texas Instruments
Media Player
Supported Digital Audio Standards WAV, WMA, MP3
Supported Flash Memory Cards miniSD
Technology Lithium ion
Run Time Details Talk: up to 210 min
Standby: up to 140 hrs
Digital Camera
Video Recorder Resolutions 640 x 480 (VGA)
Brand i-Mate
Product Line i-Mate
Model SP3i
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards MP3, WAV, WMA
Power Adapter
Type power adapter
Installed Size 32 MB
Technology SDRAM
Flash Memory
Supported Flash Memory Cards miniSD