Jul 16 2006
For the last few weeks I have been testing an iMate SP5, I had high hopes for it thinking it would be a great complement for my TC1100 Tablet. My main requirements (with scores) were as follows:
- small enough to take anywhere *****
- worked great as a phone *****
- seamlessly receive push email in the background without impacting mp3 playback ******
- basic calendar, mainly used in day view ***
- ability to lookup people in company address book for email and phone numbers X
- mp3 playback of mainly podcasts and recorded conference calls ***
- rock solid stability ***
I really liked it, but won’t be keeping it. In the end it just doesn’t compare with the Treo 650 which with a few important additions is optimised for me to be the perfect device.
The SP5 is a compromise device, if you start out wanting a great phone with a well integrated contact address book then you are onto a winner. The fact that you also get calendar integration and email are real bonuses. Because I have a Tablet I hadn’t expected to use the SP5 to send emails - I have never been very comfortable with a keypad – but the SP5 has well integrated voice email functionality so I ended up using that a lot whenever I needed to send or reply to email.
Size – great, very small and light, keys are a reasonable size
Sound – the external speaker was very loud, much louder than the Treo, sound via the headset was ok too.
Battery life – reasonable – about one day of intensive use
Stability – I have had to restart it on average once every 5 days, once because it completely froze and all the other times because it slowed to a crawl.
Bluetooth – not tested
Storage – Mini SD card, under battery. Not very easy to change but I used a 1GB card and so it was fairly roomy, drag and drop of files made it easy to add/delete files without taking the SD card out of the device.
PC integration – ability to copy files to and from the SD card was very reliable, I copied hundreds of MB’s at a time without a hitch, application installation was quick and easy. I actually didn’t need to use ActiveSync as all my sync was wireless via OneBridge which is just as well as I had an issue with Active Sync, caused by using Windows 2003 Server.
Speed – just acceptable, no where near as fast as the Treo, switching between applications was painfully slow at times. However music always played just fine
Launcher – I dislike the fact that I can not control the order in which the applications appear, but otherwise it works ok
Buttons – rubbish there are not enough hardware buttons and no modifier keys to make the few buttons it does have dual use. I really like hardware shortcut buttons on my Treo so this was a big usability issue for me
Wifi – never got it configured, not sure what I would use it for
Phone – great, I think the signal strength was better than my Treo, the speaker phone was loud and easy to use. The call history is good, quick redial is good. I particularly liked the fact that you could do a type down search against the call history.
Contacts – great, but I really wanted directory lookup, which didn’t work in my configuration – OneBridge GPRS connection to Lotus Notes. I particularly liked the type down search
Email – great for reading, even with the small screen emails were easy to read. Wireless synchronisations worked well, ticking away in the background. On the Treo OneBridge can not run in the background with an mp3 playing without causing the mp3 to stutter every 10 seconds or so, so I had to use on demand sync. Great for sending email as well provided you already have the person in your address book, or are replying to an email. In both cases sending is only viable if you are a keypad wizard or – in my case – you are happy to record and send voice notes. I think voice notes are fantastic and seem a much better idea than sending terse emails that are easily misinterpreted
MP3 player – I really didn’t like Windows media player, it’s handling of podcasts is poor, its library management is fiddly, the lack of a slider to skip backwards and forwards in long podcasts was annoying, the headphones were ok, but I really missed the ability to use the button on the headset to control the media player. On the Treo you can use Headset control to turn any wired headset into a remote control. I tried 3 or 4 alternative media players Pocket Player was the best but it’s no where near as good as Pocket Tunes on the Treo.
IE – ok if you are really desperate to browse the web, but obviously the screen size and slow speed make it a real challenge.
Task manager – rubbish, but then I don’t use task management in Notes, so I never really used it
Calendar – poor – the day view is pretty good, I personally hated the week and month views but I am sure others must use them for something. Creating personal appointments works, but you can not create meetings, invite remote attendees and have this information sync to Lotus Notes.
Voice Notes – I had high hopes for the voice notes function, but the quality was very low and their was no hardware button for it. I use CallRec on my Treo and this is amazing well integrated, especially if you make most of your voice notes whilst listening to podcasts or music like I do. It also records phone calls.
Camera – pretty good, much better than the Treo as expected. I am a big fan of good camera’s in phones I think they are incredibly useful, especially with good desktop integration like that promised by OneNote
RSS reader – I tried out NewsGator Mobile. I had very high hopes for it, the usability and speed were acceptable and I think it would have saved me a little time at my desk because I could use it whilst queueing etc. In practice as it was a beta I found too many bugs in the synchronisation to be able to use it much.
SP5 vs Treo 650
I have used a Treo 650 for over a year so when I was asked to test the SP5 it was only on the condition that I could keep the Treo in case the SP5 failed to impress. I knew the Treo would be hard to beat! What surprised me was how subtle features made the Treo the better SmartPhone for me, and also how good the low cost/free software is for the Treo. It seems obvious to me that the developer community has taken to th palm platform and the Treo in particular with great enthusiasm and fixed many small usability issues.
The SP5 wins over the Treo in only a few areas:
- Smoother multi-tasking, in particular this is noticeable with the email background synchronisation that never seems to affect other functions of the device. On the Treo OneBridge in particular causes mp3 playback to stutter
- Smaller and lighter, the Treo is not a small device, however you do get a keyboard! However the weight really affects me now as I have a couple of great clip in cases that are very easy to use, and get close to the dock in case experience of the Blackberry.
- Voice notes/Email integration, this is very slick and easy to use on the SP5. Definitely a feature I will be requesting on Treo.
- PC integration, especially the ability to drag and drop files from the desktop. I use Card Export on the Treo to do the same thing, but it’s not as reliable or as easy to use
The Treo wins over the SP5 in all other areas, but particularly worthy of note:
- The media playback experience, especially for podcasts and recorded events
- The larger screen and keyboard, make reading longer documents easier
- The touch screen, means that more functions can be surfaces for easy access, on the SP5 you have fewer features and the few there are are hidden away behind several menus
- The voice recording, this really is very slick on the Treo, as I do a lot of my research on the move, I listen to a lot of podcasts, conference sessions, analyst briefings, recorded conference calls etc on my Treo. Using headset control I can pause/play/skip them with a single headset button click and now with CallRec I can record snipets from them, or record notes for myself – ideas, web sites, book names etc – with a single side button click. If a make or receive a phone call my media player auto-pauses and restarts after the call and I can also record all or any part of the call with a single side button click as well.