- Large 5in. screen
- 8GB hard drive
- Quad-band GSM with 3G and HSDPA support
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS built in
- VGA-out and USB host capability
- Unresponsive keyboard
- Unwieldy for voice calls without a handsfree kit
- Not a viable substitute for a notebook PC
Windows Mobile devices come in a range of shapes and sizes, from candybar-style smartphones to relatively large clamshell-format handhelds. With the larger data-centric devices, the presence of a usable keyboard is very important. In the past we’ve seen miniature keyboards on the front of devices, keyboards that slide out of a long edge and even a miniature convertible-Tablet-PC-style design in i-mate’s JASJAR (which was also taken up by various UK operators, including Orange, who badged it as the SPV M5000).
T-Mobile’s Ameo, which is an operator-badged version of the HTC Advantage, is a first, though. The Ameo is a large-format handheld with a 5in. screen and a separate, attachable keyboard. The question we're asking is: can it replace a notebook and a phone, and lighten the mobile professional's load?
The Ameo is certainly not a pocketable device. It comes in two sections, and you'll need to carry both in order to be fully productive. The main system unit measures 133mm wide by 98mm high by 16mm thick; we weighed this portion at 298g. The keyboard is very slightly shorter than the main section, a mere 4mm thick and weighs 78g. This brings total device weight to 376g rather than the 355g quoted on T-Mobile’s web site.
The two sections of the Ameo are magnetised, and the keyboard part can be placed keys-down on the screen to protect both units. The main section has angled rather than straight top and bottom edges, and when you want to use it with the keyboard, you lay the keyboard flat on a table and then align connectors on each section. More magnets come into play, and the main section then snaps into position at a rather upright angle to the keyboard. In this configuration it looks like a diminutive notebook computer.
The magnets in use here are pretty strong, and the two sections snap together vigorously. Even so, it's not that difficult to knock the screen section over by pushing it from the front, and it's questionable how robust this design will prove in everyday use.
The Ameo's screen is vast compared to that of your average handheld, measuring 5in. from to corner. It has full VGA resolution (640 by 480 pixels) and can display 65,536 colours (16-bit colour). On its upper left side is a mini joystick with a press-to-select button; beneath this is an OK button and one that activates the Windows Mobile Start menu.
Between them, these buttons allow you to interact with the device without tapping the touchscreen. When you do need to use the screen, the icons are large and easily tappable with a finger. For handwriting recognition and other fine-grained work there's a short, clear plastic stylus that sits in a housing on the top right edge of the main system unit.
Three status lights sit above the screen on the right, while the right edge houses a camera for video calling and a button that, in T-Mobile’s iteration of this device, you use when browsing the web (see below).
On the left edge is a volume slider, VGA-out and USB host ports, a mini USB mains power/sync cable connector, and a 3.5mm headset jack. The right edge houses the main device power button, a button for managing the main camera and a button that on a short press activates Comm Manager for controlling wireless connections and on a long press lets you make a voice recording. There's also a speaker on each edge.
On the bottom edge is a covered section housing the battery, the SIM card and a miniSD card slot. It's not particularly easy to access the SIM card as the battery has to be removed, but you'll need to do this very rarely. This is also where the connector for the keyboard is located.
The keyboard section offers a full layout of QWERTY keys, each of which is 10mm wide and 6mm tall. These are well spaced, with 3mm of clearance top and bottom. A double-width space bar sits on the bottom row, which is also populated with various function keys, including three of the four that comprise the familiar 'inverted-T' cursor control cluster on a full-sized keyboard. Each QWERTY key has a second function accessible by hitting a ‘shift’ key on the bottom left of the keyboard, while further symbols are provided by an on-screen tappable grid (this is fired up by hitting the ‘shift’ key and a second key).
A number pad is integrated into the keyboard too, both for data entry into applications and for dialing phone numbers. With the phone dialer on-screen, you don't need to hit the ‘shift’ key to access numbers.
A row of keys above the number pad provides shortcuts to Call and End and various other features, including the Windows Mobile softmenus, T-Mobile Web’n’walk, the Start menu and Windows Mobile's messaging software.
The keyboard is generally well designed, but there's very little return on the keys and no audible click when they are depressed. With at least one and ideally both, of these features, we feel we’d be able to type fairly quickly; but with neither we constantly had to slow down and check the screen to ensure that typing was accurate.
Furthermore, the two-piece design of the Ameo makes it impractical to hold the device in two hands and type with the thumbs. The two sections are simply too likely to slip apart, with the system unit falling to the ground and potentially becoming damaged.
T-Mobile provides a zipped pouch for carrying the Ameo. This has room for the keyboard section as well as the power adapter, stereo headset, VGA-out cable, spare stylus and USB cable. Another case has magnets to keep the keyboard section in place, while the system unit is gripped by plastic hooks; you can join the two parts of the Ameo in situ using this case. You also get a printed user manual.
The Ameo includes a quad-band GSM phone with GPRS, 3G and HSDPA support. Technically there's no issue with making ordinary voice calls, but in terms of ergonomics the device is far too large to hold to the ear: a handsfree kit will definitely be a more comfortable option.
A front-facing camera caters for video calling, and here the experience is very positive. The smaller video window measures about 30mm from corner to corner, the larger one about 70mm. The angle at which the Ameo sits when its keyboard is attached means that it can rest on a desk and show a perfectly adequate image of you to the caller. In this respect it's one of the best devices we've used for video calling.
The Ameo is powered by Intel’s PXA270 processor running at 624MHz. The device also includes a dedicated graphics chip in the shape of ATI’s W2284. There is 128MB of RAM and 256MB of ROM. After a hard reset, our review device reported 117MB of free memory. The Ameo also has an 8GB hard drive, which the device identifies as a ‘MicroDrive’. For further expansion there's a miniSD card slot, which is SDHC-compatible, allowing for higher-capacity cards (>2GB) to be used.
The Ameo runs Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC Phone Edition. This means it lacks the many enhancements offered by the recently launched Windows Mobile 6.
There is a SiRFstar III GPS receiver built in, but the Ameo does not currently come with any navigation software. We spoke to ALK, which has traditionally made its CoPilot navigation software available with other T-Mobile devices, and were informed that CoPilot would be available with the Ameo direct from T-Mobile in due course.
The Ameo has a VGA-out connector and is supplied with a cable, although this is exceptionally short and will be almost impossible to use with a PC; it will also be a fiddle to use with notebook computers whose connector is on the back of the casing. Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) and Bluetooth (2.0) are built in, but not infrared.
In addition to the front-facing camera for video calling, there's a 3.0 megapixel camera at the back of the system unit. This can shoot stills at resolutions up to 2,048 by 1,536, and video at up to 352 by 288 pixels. It has an LED flash and the main screen of the Ameo functions as a viewfinder. Icons frame the view in the main screen, providing tappable access to settings — the Ameo’s large screen makes it easy to hit these with a fingertip.
As usual, T-Mobile provides its own Windows Mobile Today screen with a distinctive look and feel. A row of tappable icons along the bottom of the screen accesses battery status, system settings, the phone dialer, SIM contacts and recent calls, File Explorer, Web’n’walk; you can also flip the screen orientation between portrait and landscape modes at the tap of an icon.
The standard Windows Mobile 5.0 applications are supplemented by Adobe Reader, a Zip file manager, enhanced voice recorder, a printer utility that will support Bluetooth and IPP (Internet Printing Protocol) printers and a utility called X-Button that allows you to configure the ‘X’ in the top right-hand corner of application screens to end rather than simply minimise programs.
The Ameo includes an application called VueFLO. This is toggled on and off by pressing a button to the right of the screen on the front of the device. VueFLO allows you to scroll through web pages simply by tilting the Ameo forwards and backwards. It works well enough, but we're not convinced that it's any more useful than scrolling using the small joystick at the top right edge of the screen.
In addition to Pocket Internet Explorer (PIE), T-Mobile provides the Opera web browser, which opens when you go directly to Web’n’walk. One of Opera's benefits over PIE is its ability to open web pages in tabbed windows.
Performance & battery life
The Ameo delivered 7.5 hours of continuous music from a full battery charge, which is quite respectable. However, this is a high-spec device and if you push its 3G, Wi-Fi and GPS usage you'll find that the battery runs down a lot faster.
Using the Ameo during the review period was generally a rewarding experience. As far as the hardware design is concerned, our only real gripe was the unresponsive keyboard. Using Windows Mobile on the large 5in. screen was entirely positive, with tappable icons always easily accessible to the fingers. Of course, it's a beast for making voice calls unless you use a handsfree kit — but that's an inevitable trade-off with a a large-screen, high-spec device.
Overall, we feel that the Ameo, which costs from free to £429.99 (inc. VAT) depending on the tariff, lacks the power and versatility to be a convincing replacment for a notebook. For that, you'd need to step up to a slightly larger and more expensive Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) running Windows XP or Vista. It may also prove too unwieldy and expensive to pass muster as a regular handheld, however tempting all of its functionality may be.