i-mate Ultimate 9502 with Windows Mobile 6 Professional

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INTRODUCTION

    "Ultimate" implies something to be the best. The i-mate Ultimate series has changed forms several times since we first heard about it in 2007, but one thing remained constant: the 9502, a device due to be i-mate’s top of the line. Today we present to you our thorough review of the most feature-packed WinMo Professional devices to ever hit our desk, and we’ll help you discover if the "Windows Mobile Sidekick" is worth the high price. Read on for more.

WHAT’S HOT

    Let’s talk specs. Running on Windows Mobile 6 Professional (not 6.1), the i-mate 9502 is an unlocked quadband GSM (850/900/1800/1900) phone with triband UMTS/HSDPA (850/1900/2100). It has a 400MHz Qualcomm processor (same as that on the TyTN II), 256MB ROM, 128MB RAM, a 2.8" VGA screen, WiFi B/G, Bluetooth 2.0, GPS, 3MP rear camera with mechanical auto focus, a VGA front camera for video calls, and a microSD slot. Powering all of this is a beefy 1660mAh battery. For even more detailed specs, click on to PDAdb.net.

Device
Size (inches)
Weight (grams | ounces)
4.44" x 2.47" x 0.52"

132 | 4.65
4.44" x 2.27" x 0.63"

156 | 5.61
4.74" x 2.63" x 0.43"

157 | 5.53
4.33" x 2.09" x 0.59"

117 | 4.12
4.66" x 2.48" x 0.47"

130 | 4.58
4.56" x 2.33" x 0.67"

188 | 6.63
4.64" x 2.36" x 0.48"

129 | 4.55
3.96" x 2.34" x 0.67"

133 | 4.76
4.68" x 2.44" x 0.67"

188 | 6.63
4.58" x 2.42" x 0.47"

120 | 4.20
4.56" x 2.33" x 0.65"

178 | 6.28
3.92" x 2.41" x 0.60"

137 | 4.83
4.24" x 2.09" x 0.53"

117 | 4.12
4.17" x 2.00" x 0.85"

151 | 5.34
4.41" x 2.24" x 0.49"

122 | 4.30
4.57" x 1.70" x 0.64"

140 | 4.94
4.88" x 2.44" x 0.53"

130 | 4.56
4.21" x 2.20" x 0.55"

120 | 4.20
4.53" x 2.47" x 0.47"

146 | 5.15
4.63" x 2.19" x 0.67"

158 | 5.57
4.35" x 2.07" x 0.67"

158 | 5.57
4.56" x 2.41" x 0.51"

125 | 4.41
4.44" x 2.36" x 0.55"

133 | 4.69
4.01" x 1.98" x 0.55"

124 | 4.37
8.28" x 4.67" x 1.08"

640 | 22.5
4.48" x 2.52" x 0.59"

154 | 5.43
4.17" x 2.38" x 0.68"

147 | 5.18
4.01" x 2.00" x 0.71"

165 | 5.82
4.41" x 2.24" x 0.49"

122 | 4.30
4.41" x 2.28" x 0.73"

140 | 4.94
4.01" x 2.00" x 0.45"

110 | 3.88
4.56" x 2.36" x 0.70"
200 | 7.05
4.30" x 2.40" x 0.60"
120 | 4.23
4.20" x 2.30" x 0.60"
136 | 4.79
3.70" x 2.30" x 0.60"
126 | 4.44
4.48" x 2.39" x 0.51"
116 | 4.09
4.60" x 2.60" x 0.50"

134 | 4.70

4.10" x 2.10" x 0.60"
150 | 5.30
4.40" x 2.32" x 0.75"
190 | 6.70

BOX CONTENTS



For those that missed the unboxing video, here it is again.

In the box we get a power cable with international plugs, a real leather case, USB cable, miniUSB to composite cable, extra stylus, plus getting started guide and reading materials.

PRODUCT FEATURES
(all images link to higher resolution)

The 9502 is a handful. If only they could cut down on the area above and below the screen, it’d be a bit more petite. In-hand, the device feels high quality. A combination of metal and plastic is used on the casing.

The screen is reflective, meaning that it’s difficult to view in bright conditions. A screen protector could remedy this. Note how the screen is surrounded in a polished metallic bezel. Nice touch.

The screen easily slides open with one finger thanks to the strong spring assist. The keyboard is quite small.

Note that even though my hands are on the small side, my thumbs covers four keys at once. Later in the review we’ll see how this keyboard compares to that of the HTC TyTN II.

I know it’s a bit blurry, but here you can see the illumination of all of the buttons on the 9502 at night. This can be turned on via the light sensor.

    In a closer view of the keyboard, we can see that there is a function key in the bottom left to call up the blue symbols on the keys. There is no LED to indicate caps lock has been set. Note the convenient location of the soft reset hole in the upper right.

    On the top, we have a shortcut to messaging and Pocket Internet Explorer, plus a front-facing VGA camera for video calls. Sadly, US users of the 9502 won’t be able to use this functionality. There is also a status light on the left side of the ear speaker.

On the bottom there is a D-Pad with a select button, plus call start and end keys. Above that are oddly-placed hardware soft keys, an OK button, and Start button.

Tilting to the bottom, we see the microphone surrounded by leather texture. A bit tacky.

And on the top, we have the same leather texture, with a power button on the right, and stylus silo on the left.

Speaking of the stylus, the one included is retractable, unfortunately, and feels cheap.

On the left side we have a scroll wheel (sweet!) that presses inwards, plus another OK key, wireless manager launcher, and miniUSB port for syncing/charging/TV-out (also sweet). Speaking of TV-out…

…here is a video demonstration of the TV-out capability.

    On the other side, we have a standard 2.5mm headphone jack (aka "mini headphone"), which is the best we can ask for. The real standard 3.5mm isn’t found on too many devices these days. To the right of that is a button for camera, record, and volume up and down.

Where’s the microSD slot, you ask? Well, i-mate makes you pull off the back to get to it. At least you can keep the battery installed, though, unlike some devices.

And here’s the back. There is a lock switch on the bottom, next to two rubber feet.

    The 3MP camera has a mechanical autofocus, so that if you press down the camera button halfway, it’ll focus itself, then a full press will take the picture. This worked quite well and produced above-average shots. You’ll see the pictures on the second page.

    The speaker also resides on the back. I’m a frequent user of the speakerphone. The best speakerphone I’ve ever used was on the BlackJack I and II – you could have the phone an arm’s length away and still have the other party hear you. Also, the speaker would seldom distort, even at high volumes. The speakerphone on the 9502 was as good, if not better, than that of the BlackJacks.

Removing the 1660mAh battery, we can see the SIM card slot.

Continue over to Page 2 to see the i-mate next to other phones you may know, plus a tour of software.




COMPARISONS

From left to right, we have the Treo 700w/x, iPhone, HTC TyTN II/Kaiser, i-mate Ultimate 9502, glofiish X800, and BlackJack II.

Here’s a side shot of those devices in the same order. The thickest phone to the party is the Kaiser, third from top, with the 9502 not too far behind, fourth from top.

And here’s a shot from the bottom…

…and a skewed shot from the top.

Compared to the HTC TyTN II, the Ultimate 9502 has a tiny keyboard. The screen sizes are the same…

…but the 9502 has VGA resolution (480×640) versus the Kaiser’s QVGA (240×320). Both screens here are set to max brightness. The TyTN II’s screen seems to be brighter, but a bit washed out. Click on the image for a larger shot.

SOFTWARE

This is the default Today screen, which is free from any trialware or even promotional i-mate entries. Refreshing. We have Live Search installed by default, though I prefer Google’s.

Before using the phone, you must change the phone’s band setting if you’re in the US. By default, it’s set to the Australian bands which don’t include the 850 or 1900 US bands. To do this: Start>Settings>Personal>Phone>Preferred mode.

There are four items here that are unique: Device customization, i-mate Configuration, and Enterprise Support, and Enterprise Activation…

…and when I try to access Enterprise Support/Activation or Device Customization, I get this dialogue. It seems that these three programs are for use in a corporate environment, which is why I am unable to access them.

Though when I run the Configuration, the device auto configures the network settings from AT&T/Cingular. This happened automatically after I inserted my SIM card for the first time.

This is the second part of the Start menu. I added Opera and Spb Benchmark; they don’t come included.

    This is what the wireless manager looks like – it’s got a unique skin applied. Something I found quite irritating was that in order to use GPS (in Google Maps Mobile, Windows Live Search, or a standalone navigation program), you must first turn on the GPS from wireless manager. On most other Windows Mobile devices, GPS is turned on automatically as soon as a request is made from a program. How was GPS performance? Good. It took an average of 1:15 to acquire a signal under cold start conditions, which is slightly less than the TyTN II and some other devices I’ve tested.

Speaking of wireless, here is the standard Windows Mobile Internet Sharing application, which I found to work fantastically well on the 9502.

You have the option to use Bluetooth, but I wanted to gauge the speed over USB…

    and running a test at SpeedTest.net, I clocked in at 822kb/s down and 289kb/s up with the 9502 tethered to my laptop as an external modem. Three consecutive tests revealed similar figures. At the time, the device indicated that I was receiving an HSDPA connection, though these numbers are much closer to the speeds of UMTS. This was probably caused by location relative to the nearest cellular tower.

Moving on, we see that the 9502 includes Office Mobile 2007, which is great.

Unfortunately, we don’t get Microsoft Voice Command. The included application requires training.

Let’s check out settings. To start, everything in the Personal tab is standard.

Once in System, we see some new things. Like Keyboard Backlight…

…which lets you specify how long the keyboard backlight should remain on.

Moving down the System tab, we have another unique entry – TV Out.

The TV Out option box is scant on options. From here you can turn it on and off…

…plus change from NTSC to PAL resolution. I kept it on NTSC, as displays in North America typically don’t use PAL.

After a soft reset, and with Pocket Controller and ActiveSync running, we have 26MB of free program memory. Though that seems a bit low, I never ran into a shortage of memory while multitasking with many applications open.

And in the Connections tab, everything is standard for Windows Mobile.

We get the Microsoft Bluetooth stack on the 9502, which is good.

    I really like the phone skin. It’s high contract and looks great under VGA resolution. You have the option to make a voice or video call with the buttons on the bottom. Here in the US, we still can’t make video calls. You can also access Speed Dial and Call History…

…which also sports elements of the high contrast skin.

This is what it looks like when you’re on a call. From here you can enable speakerphone, which, like I said earlier, is of great quality.

    The camera application gives the user control over many aspects of the image capture, such as white balance, contract, brightness, metering, and fill light. The interface is operated by a strip at the bottom, which is intuitive but slow to operate. Pressing the question mark will reveal an explanation of each function. At the top, we see how many images can be stored on the selected medium. You can choose to store photos on a storage card or on the device.

The camera can take up to 3MP shots, which is 2048×1536 resolution.

As mentioned, the 9502 has mechanical autofocus, so pressing the shutter button lightly will reveal the light blue cross hairs. When the camera has focused, as seen here, the cross hairs will turn dark blue.

Taking the camera outside, we see that the color reproduction is pretty good. Click for the original image.

That’s Bella. The light coming from outside added too much light to the shot, but the detail on her fur is quite high.

In lower light shots, we get a bit of noise from the 9502 camera.

Jump on to page 3 to see Speed Benchmarks, Pros and Cons, and Conclusion….

BENCHMARKS
    Spb Benchmark hasn’t been updated in ages, but we still use it because it gives us some insight into how one device performs in comparison with others.

Here, the TyTN II does better in the file system index.

Though in the CPU index, the Ultimate ranks higher.

BATTERY
    So how’d we do on battery life given all the power-hungry features of the 9502? Well, you’ll be surprised. For three days, I succumbed the 9502 to 75% screen brightness, moderate internet browsing over UMTS and HSDPA, several sessions of GPS usage, and a dozen calls (with speakerphone usage). At the end of each day, which concluded a 14-hour period of time, I had 10-15% of my battery remaining. As long as it gets me through the day during periods of heavy usage, and the 9502 passes this test (barely, mind you), I’m happy.

HELP SUPPORT

    The 9502 comes with a very comprehensive manual, should you need to turn to it, that explains the functionality of Windows Mobile in great detail, plus the unique features of the 9502.

BUGS AND WISHES

   
I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that the 9502 isn’t cheap. Well, you’re right. Prices are around $830 USD for this unit, which, although is as much as a solid laptop, is also about the same price of the HTC TyTN II when it first became available.

    The phone is huge and it’s no looker, either. It’s not built to be pretty, it’s built to be a powerhouse, and at that it succeeds quite well. Bringing this out on a Saturday night may have some of your friends question if you’ve brought a brick with you in your pocket, but you’ll be sure to impress them with its fancy screen and snappy performance. =D

    Ah, the keyboard. Surely i-mate could have made the keyboard closer in size to that of the TyTN II. Though as with any new keyboard, becoming used to it is just a matter of time, I fear that for some with oversized hands, the keyboard on the 9502 could be out of the realm of comfort.

    And here’s a weird one – in order to use the GPS on the 9502, you must first enable it from the Wireless Manager. Is this an issue of battery life? Why can’t the program using the GPS determine when to turn on the GPS?

PURCHASING

   
I should recap that because this is a Quadband unlocked phone, you can use it on the T-Mobile and AT&T network in the US. If you do a Froogle search, you’ll find the Ultimate 9502 selling for about $830 USD. If you want to save a few dollars, email our friends at Negri Electronics via [email protected] They can take a few dollars off of the price you see floating out there.


PROS

  • Excellent performance

  • VGA screen


  • Sidekick-like form factor


  • GPS/WiFi/HSDPA


  • TV-out


  • Solid build quality

  • Outstanding speakerphone
  • Scroll wheel
  • Decent battery life

  • Above-average photo quality with mechanical autofocus

CONS


  • Expensive


  • Big, bulky, and heavy

  • Small keyboard
  • GPS initiation requires extra step
Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

OVERALL IMPRESSION


    I think that Adam Lein said it best in his review of the TyTN II: The TyTN II truly is the ultimate mobile companion…

at least for now

. That was written in September of 2007, and no longer is the TyTN II the best. The 9502 is faster, (a bit) thinner, and

more enjoyable

to use than the TyTN II. The 9502 is the no compromise, "ultimate" mobile companion that money can buy as of the date of this review. It’s expensive, and it’s going to leave a bulk in your pocket, but if you want the most capable Windows Mobile device yet, this is it.


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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.