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Review: Thin, Smart, and Stylish i-mate SPL


Review by Brad Kellett on Wednesday December 27, 2006.

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The i-mate SPL is a device that, quite honestly, surprised me. After my shaky experience with the i-mate JAQ, I didn't have particularly high hopes for the SPL. There is no denying that i-mate has taken a page out of Motorola's design book, with the SPL looking and feeling strikingly like a SLVR, but at just 12mm (0.5") thick, the SPL proves to be a very capable smartphone despite its small size.

Physical Aspects

The SPL is a very solid feeling device, and apart from the cover for the miniUSB port, it is very well designed. The miniUSB port is the sole port on the handset, handling both charging and connectivity - this is great for business users, allowing them to charge the handset with, for example, a laptop computer (which I did on several occasions). The cover for this port is frustratingly hard to get out of the way when you are trying to plug the handset in though; the small rubber link between cover and handset needs to be about twice its current length to be usable.

Measuring up at 115mm x 49mm x 12mm (4.5" x 1.9" x 0.5"), the i-mate SPL is one of the smallest Windows Mobile 5.0 smartphones around. You can barely feel the device when it's in your pocket. Slim handsets are all the rage these days, but most are not smartphones, so the SPL comes to us as a pleasant surprise in this regard. A weight of just 102g (3.6oz) also puts it in a very exclusive class of lightweight smartphones.

Apart from the small niggle with the USB port cover, the i-mate SPL has great fit and finish. The device uses solid plastics, and a metal battery cover only adds to the solid feel. The SPL is plagued by the same annoyance as all handsets with glossy finishes though: fingerprints. The SPL attracted fingerprints even more so than the Motorola KRZR, which is itself a huge magnet for gunk. The glossy black finish is otherwise very classy looking, but expect to be wiping it down regularly.

Anyone familiar with the Motorola SLVR series will be instantly comfortable with the SPL's keypad. Those that are used to a keypad with more tactile feedback will struggle while getting used to it though. I did find that I could use the SPL without looking at the keypad after a short learning curve, and, if you can get over the 'flatness' of the keypad, you are left with a reasonable input method. The backlighting for the keypad is fantastic, featuring the same electro-luminescent style as the SLVR. Even though there is no ambient light sensor present to turn the keypad backlight on and off, usage in the sun was never an issue. My only complaint with the design of the keypad is the size of the d-pad - while the left and right directions have adequate space between them and the adjacent keys, trying to press up and down caused me to press the Internet Explorer shortcut and 2 key regularly, which are located above and below the d-pad. These d-pad directions were just too small to be pressed with any confidence.

The keypad includes call, end, home, and back keys, which are all located around the d-pad. Volume keys and a Windows Media Player shortcut key can be found on the left side of the handset, while the camera key is found on the right. With a long press, the volume keys also act as shortcuts to the voice recorder and 'Quick List' menu, which provides shortcuts to change the active profile and other handy things. The 2.0 megapixel fixed-focus camera is located on the back of the handset, with the self-portrait mirror and speaker found just below.

The miniSD memory card slot can be found underneath the battery cover, and is not hot-swappable. Its odd positioning directly above the battery means that it can be very hard to get out once you have inserted a card. The SIM card slot is also a point worth mentioning, consisting of a thin metallic tray that slides out from below the memory card slot - while it isn't an altogether bad design, it will prove a little hard to use for those with larger fingers.

Indoors, the 2.2" 64k color QVGA (240x320 pixel) resolution display was more than acceptable, but outside it was almost unusable. It becomes extremely washed out, and disappears almost entirely in strong daylight. This is a shame, as otherwise the display is very bright and clear. Color is reproduced quite well, and the display appears very crisp.

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About the author

Brad Kellett
Brad Kellett writes for MobileBurn from his home outside of Sydney, Australia.

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