Reviews: Hardware (Devices)

i-mate JasJar

     The big question on the table is can a PDA really live up to being a mini-laptop? Years ago many companies tried to make Handheld PC's based on Windows CE as a sort of mini-laptop.  While many enjoyed these products, I never was thrilled with them. With the i-mate JasJar, i-mate has decided to resurrect the concept of a Handheld PC but running the latest software from Microsoft, Windows Mobile 5.0. But do not get that statement wrong, the i-mate JasJar is not outdated hardware by any means. The JasJar packs every punch of a device on the market and it has some new features as well. It can do it all including everything any other PDA can do as well as other phones and even some laptops. Thanks to Dennis over at "Convergent Technology", for the opportunity to review this amazing device.

Basic Internals
     Either this should be called the Advanced Internals section or I should just list what the JasJar is missing inside. It is powered by an Intel XScale Bulverde 520 MHz processor with 128 MB of ROM and 64 MB of RAM. The 3.6" VGA screen shows 16-bit color on the 180-degree swivel screen. The phone is tri-band GSM/GPRS with UMTS support. Two external antennas are support. WiFi (802.11b) and Bluetooth are both embedded. There are two speakers and a built-in microphone, with full duplex support. For cameras it includes both a 1.3 mega pixel and a VGA camera. An SDIO slot is included. There is a standard headphone jack which also supports headsets. The battery is 1620 mAh. Of course the device is powered by Windows Mobile 5.0.

Device Style
     The i-mate JasJar packs a unique style with it swivel screen and other features. i-mate is partially picking up on the old style Handheld PC they also are not the first company to introduce a PDA with a swivel screen, it is a new style for the Windows Mobile space. At first glance, the JasJar is a clamshell style. The top of the JasJar when is closed is about the only surface without functionality. Inside the device is the landscape screen with phone ear piece to the left and directional pad to the right. Also there is a VGA camera for video conferencing. Also inside is the 62-key keyboard that features one-handed use keys, phone keys, quick launch buttons, and more. Around the edge of the JasJar is where the connectivity options are located. At one end is the SDIO card slot. On the back is the mini-USB port, reset button, and headphone/headset jack. Also on the back is extra send/end buttons for when the screen is swiveled into PDA style mode. ON the front is a number a buttons include backlight, camera, voice command/recorder, an up/down switch and dual speakers. The back of the device features a 1.3 mega pixel camera with flash. Part of the back removes for access to the batter and SIM card slot.

As a Phone
     As a phone, the JasJar is relatively large. I don?t really think anyone would consider this device if they only wanted a phone but still that is obviously a major feature of the device with the additional send and end buttons, the inside speaker, and the microphone. The unique swivel screen makes the JasJar convert from almost a clamshell phone (with the headset going the ?wrong? way) into a candy bar style device. Like the PDA2k and other i-mate Phone Edition products, the screen of the JasJar rests on your face while you are talking on the phone, which is fine as long as you have a good screen protector that doesn?t collect smudges from your face. The phone really only works in this position. I was thinking that you could simply use it while it is in its laptop style just with a bunch of device in your hand. But that really isn?t practical. Dialing can be done either from the screen or using the keyboard. Obviously it is even easier than normal to find contacts because you have a full keyboard along with all the one handed functionality of Windows Mobile and the Phone Edition functionality. But the best way to use the JasJar as a phone is also the main reason I think Bluetooth was included. That?s right, a Bluetooth headset. It simply makes the most sense for the JasJar because it allows you to continue using the device (of course Windows Mobile 5.0 supports multitasking like other versions of Windows Mobile) and don?t have to have it up to your face. While a wired headset (which is actually full headphones) is included, and the headset is extremely nice, you just have to go Bluetooth with this device. Very cool.

As a PDA
     Instead of saying that this device is a PDA, I almost feel like it should be classified as a sub-sub-laptop. i-mate considers the device a mini-laptop which could be a good descriptor. Technically, you could throw in a Bluetooth mouse like the one from Think Outside and it would be even more like a laptop. Almost the phone time I had the device I didn?t even use the stylus except for some software where it just wasn?t practical to use a keyboard. It is important to note that I am very much a fan of keyboards on PDA?s, but still, I think that most users would find the keyboard to be the predominate method for use. Unlike previous versions of Windows Mobile, Windows Mobile 5.0 includes quite a bit of strong functionality for accessing Windows Mobile functionality for the device. Of course keys like the Windows key and OK (not enter, there is an OK key) are very important to navigating Windows Mobile, but the new one-handed use keys for accessing options and menus in Windows Mobile 5.0 is great. I found I was tapping the screen less the longer that I used the device because I was getting used to the keys. It does take a little getting used to but navigating from the keyboard works well and can replace the stylus for basically all built-in Windows Mobile 5.0 software. With Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, and the functions of Outlook, I was almost forgetting the device wasn?t a Windows laptop and was in fact a Windows Mobile 5.0 based device.

The Keyboard
     Obvious one the major features of the JasJar is the keyboard. Without a good keyboard, what is the point of the style of the device. I have been wary of soft button keyboards. Usually they simply don?t have the feedback that is needed for easy use like a hard button keyboard or a real key keyboard. But the JasJar does it. While the keyboard might take a little getting use to simply because of the structure and feed, it is a quick learn for the thumbs. Even with my rather large thumbs, I was able to easily use the keyboard. What is great is that the keyboard has a light sensor. If it detects that it might be too dark for you to see the keys, then it with turn on a backlight so you can see what the keys are. I was actually quite surprised at the brightness as I wasn?t expecting it to show through the keys as much as it does. The keyboard is structured very similar to a standard keyboard except is uses the function key to add extra functionality and key support. As I said previously there is even a special OK button which will close or ok out windows. The keyboard also includes buttons for phone functionality, specifically send and end. But for anyone that wants to send text messages, I think a keyboard on a device is the only way to go. My text message bill will decrease quite a bit when I have to return the JasJar as the keyboard is so much easier than T9 or stylus input?for me at least. I am willing to take a little larger device if I can tap out messages and other text easier. Even more than text message, the keyboard makes it easier to use Word Mobile, surf the internet, and use MSN Messenger.

Accessories and Connectivity
     The stylus blends into the back of the device. It is actually kind of difficult to find the stylus. An extra is included in the box though I would be worried about losing both because the stylus seems like it could easily fall out. Like other i-mate products, the JasJar does not include a dock or a cradle, but then again, if you consider this device to be an alternative to your desktop or laptop computer, you figure you either will be connected through the mini-USB port or connect via Bluetooth. I think that the JasJar makes the most sense if you think about it as an extension of your coming as a real mobile alternative to your desktop or laptop computer. Obviously it is also your phone so it goes everywhere with you so the JasJar is always available for you to get your work done wherever you are. While the device is expensive, it seems to me to be built strong so you don?t even really need a case for the JasJar. Remember, the screen and keyboard both are protected when the device is closed. About the only thing that is not protected is the camera on the back of the device. A case is included in the package which the device can slide into, though it may add quite a bit of bulk for some users.

Final Thoughts
     The biggest downfall of the i-mate JasJar is simply the price. At over $1000, the JasJar is not in the price range for everyone and likely mostly makes sense for business professionals and IT professionals that need powerful computer that fits in their pocket. I wish that the device was cheaper so that more people could have access to all the features of the product and Windows Mobile 5.0 because the JasJar really connects with Windows Mobile and makes a complete solution. (I think it would be great to see a version with the same style but without things like the phone and dual cameras with a cheaper price tag.) But the price tag does say one thing, there isn?t much more you need to add to this device. It come with everything. You don?t need a phone because that is built-in. An add-on keyboard isn?t need, WiFi is included, Bluetooth is included, and there are two cameras. About the only thing you need to add, in some cases, is more memory. Many users won?t even need extra memory. So it comes down to the fact that if you want it all and you really want a device that can act almost like a laptop but still be a PDA, the price tag shouldn?t matter. Simply put, the JasJar is an absolutely amazing product.

Dave's Score - 9.5
This means, this product is about as close to "the best" as you can get.  This product embodies quality in its design and application, and is something I would use.  Though you still should consider it for yourself, most would probably be happy with this product even if they were unable to try it prior to purchase.
 

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Feel free to email me about your own PDA, questions, comments, articles, rumors, and reviews.  I can be reached at dave@davespda.com.