i-mate Jasjar PocketPC phone
Review HTC has been tempting its fans with the Universal handset since the beginning of the year. The prospect not only of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GSM/GPRS connectivity but also 3G, and with them a landscape-oriented display and full QWERTY keyboard, not to mention Windows Mobile 5.0, has fuelled interest in the machine since T-Mobile announced in February that it would be offering the machine on its network.
Other carriers quickly followed suit, as did long-time HTC partner i-mate, and it's in the form of the i-mate Jasjar - who comes up with these names? - provided by i-mate's UK retail partner Expansys that I've got my hands on Universal now it's finally shipping. I have to say, it was worth the wait.
Out of the box, the Jasjar looks like a classic palmtop, circa 1990, albeit spruced up with a 21st Century metallic grey casing and sweeping curves. Inside sit its dark grey, rough-textured QWERTY keyboard and crisp, bright 3.6in, 640 x 480, 65,536-colour display. To the right of the screen is a tiny camera. On the front of the device, below the keyboard, are a pair of compact stereo speakers. Round to the left sit an SD card slot and the power key. On the back of the base is a mini USB port and a stereo earphone jack.
The screen is hinged with sufficient resistance to allow the display to be placed at any angle. It moves smoothly before locking off at an almost horizontal angle. Beyond that, it's spring-loaded, presumably to make it hard to push it too far back. However, I don't think it would take much pressure to break it. The hinge is by no means delicate, and can take some rough handling, but it still needs to be treated with respect.
In part, that's because the hinge incorporates as swivel mechanism, allowing the display to be turned clockwise through 180 degrees. Turn it and push it back against the keyboard and you have a classic PDA-style tablet. It looks slightly odd, because not only is the screen not centred horizontally, but the casing isn't symmetrical in the vertical plane.
The stylus is tucking into bag of the device, flush with the edge of the casing. The display automatically flips into portrait mode but it can take three or four seconds to do so, irritating when you're flipping the device to take a phone call and surprising given the machine's 520MHz Intel XScale processor. Above the screen is the handset's earpiece; below the display is a typical rectangular five-way navigation control. Holding the Jasjar in your right hand, you've got HTC's now customary volume rocker control and a button to activate the screen's backlight sitting below your thumb. On the other side of the machine are small, round call make and break buttons lit with appropriately colour LEDs. Pressing the green one invokes Windows Mobile's Phone application - pressing the red button gets rid of it.
Below the backlight button sits the machine's infra-red lens, then a key to activate the voice dialler and another to run HTC's own Camera application. The Jasjar's main camera is mounted on what is now the back of the device - it's the base when it's in palmtop mode. It's a 1.3 megapixel job with an LED illuminator for dark lighting conditions.
Here's the first glitch: the Camera app expects the screen to be in landscape mode. That's fine if you hold the device as you would a digital camera, but not if, like most folk, hold it upright as you would a phone. The image quality isn't bad, but it's not about to replace your digital camera. The app's on-screen controls allow you to flip between the main camera and the front-facing one, included for video calls.
Video calling is, of course, a key feature of 3G mobile phone networks, which the Jasjar supports. That said, I tested the device with my regular O2 SIM card. i-mate's offerings are sold unlocked so they can be used on any network. Other versions of the Universal, such as O2'S XDA Exec and Orange's M5000, are network specific, so I'll be focusing on the device's 3G support when I look at those machines. With the Jasjar, which is likely to be used with the buyer's existing SIM, most likely a 2.5G card, I restricted my review to its GSM/GPRS capability.
Which is good, by the way. I tried the Jasjar in a number of urban locations and had no trouble making GPRS connections for email checks and web access. GSM call quality was excellent too.
These aren't the only wireless technologies the Jasjar hosts - to the telephony networks you can add Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Bluetooth is essential for a device like this which is a little big to hold up to your ear. Windows Mobile 5.0's Bluetooth support is much improved over previous versions of the OS, allowing me to answer incoming calls using the button on my Motorola HS850 headset. Pushing the button invokes, after a second or two, the new OS' Voice Speed Dial app, so you can call select contacts without having to open the device up first. At last, you can make phone calls without first having to take your PDA out of your bag.
Wi-Fi works better than before too. With the Jasjar I had no trouble connecting either to the office's WEP-protected WLAN, or the WPA-enabled network I have at home. Wi-Fi performance was good, and makes web browsing and instant messaging on a handheld a real joy. The only flaw isn't HTC or i-mate's fault: it's Internet Explorer, which simply isn't a patch on the likes of Palm's Blazer browser at reformatting websites for the host device's display.
Incidentally, i-mate bundles the PocketPC version of Skype with the Jasjar, but I was unable to get it to work. I even re-downloaded it from Skype's own site, but with no joy. Some folk have claimed there's no incompatibility between the two, but there are plenty of reports from Jasjar owners suggesting there is an issue here.
All the wireless modes can be activated or deactivated separately using the Jasjar's Wireless Manager app, which also links through to each technology's control panel in Windows Mobile 5.0's Settings section. Wireless Manager appears as an icon at the bottom right of the Today screen, between the new battery icon and a tool to rotate the display orientation manually.
Below them is a bar containing two mobile phone-like soft menus, each activated by a key on the keyboards. Either side of those keys are extra call make and break buttons, and between them are keys to activate the Contacts and the video call apps, respectively. The keyboard also boasts a Windows key to activate the Start menu; keys to call up Messaging and Internet Explorer; an OK button to dismiss dialog boxes and windows; plus all the usual alphanumeric and symbol keys - including £ and € - you'd expect.
The Jasjar is the first Windows Mobile device I've used you can operate without recourse to the stylus. The Tab and arrow keys take you to any on-screen UI component, selecting it ready for activation using the Enter key. In tablet mode, you'll still need the stylus, but I found myself using that mode less and less. The only thing you can't do directly from the keyboard is activate the scroll bars and with the screen in landscape mode that's something you'll need to do.
That said, the keyboard itself is perhaps one of the Jasjar's weakest features. To make the keys as large as possible, there's no gap between them, and while each is gently convex, I still found it too easy to press the wrong one. The feel is good, and typing with two thumbs while holding the device in both hands made short work of text messages and emails. But touch-typing is out of the question, and typing with both index fingers little better. I'd have preferred slightly smaller but clearly separated keys. Still, it's way better than the calculator-style keys we used to get on palmtops.
The symbols, entered by pressing the FN key and then one of the alphanumeric buttons, are printed on the keyboard in red, on top of dark grey. If the light conditions are low enough, the keyboard backlight kicks in when a button is pressed, and that's a big improvement.
The Jasjar's 1620mAh battery sits behind a plate on the base of the unit, underneath the main digicam. The SIM goes underneath the battery. I was impressed with the unit's battery life. With Bluetooth on most of the time and Wi-Fi a fair bit too, both being used while activated, and with plenty of calls being made over the cellular network, I got well above two days' usage out of a single charge, more than most smart phones provide. There's a caveat: I didn't use 3G. I'll be considering the effect of 3G when I look at the network-branded versions of the Universal.
And now we come to the real problem: the price. The Jasjar is not cheap. UK supplier Expansys, which kindly provided the review unit, wants £690 for it. That's reasonable given the engineering that's gone into the Jasjar, but it's nonetheless a significant outlay. Buying it with an airtime package may help, but you'll be signing up to a hefty monthly payment if you want to reduce the up-front cost significantly, and it may be more cost-effective to stump up the asking price. You can get the Jasjar for £177, but you'll pay at least £600 for the next 18 months in monthly airtime fees.
Less of a problem than the price is the Jasjar's weight. It's 285g, making it one of the more chunky PocketPC handsets out there. It certainly feels a lot heavier than i-mate's PDA 2K, aka the Orange M2000 or the XDA IIs.
There's no doubt: the Jasjar - and, for that matter, other versions of HTC's Universal - is a stunning mobile data tool. I'm concerned about the long-term durability of the screen hinge, but there's little else to fault but the understandably high price. It's connectivity is second to none. Even if, like me, you don't use its 3G capability, it works perfectly well in GPRS mode, and I was happy to wait until I was in range of a Wi-Fi network to use the high-bandwith apps. The keyboard makes entering information, web addresses, text messages, emails and instant messaging comments a doddle. There's the classic problem that the device is too large to make a good phone, but the improved Bluetooth support renders that issue negligible. ®
|Pros||Windows Mobile 5.0; good keyboard; fine screen; excellent wireless support.|
|Cons||Expensive; it's a weighty device; careful with that screen hinge.|
|Price||£690 without airtime; from £117 with Vodafone airtime|
|More info||The i-mate Jasjar site
The Expansys Jasjar site