Reviews: Hardware (Devices)

i-mate SmartFlip

     Windows Mobile Smartphones really have not been around for a long time in the grand scheme of the cell phone market. Primarily they have been a niche market product where the style of the device is not what is important to someone purchasing the product. But the functionality of Windows Mobile is ripe for more generic cell phone users to begin getting phones with the operating system, but those users place an emphasis on device size and style. That is where the i-mate SmartFip (HTC Star Trek) comes into play. The SmartFlip mixes elements of the Motorola RAZR product line with Windows Mobile to great a unique and stylish flip phone for any user.

Basic Internals
     The i-mate SmartFlip is powered by a 195 MHz TI OMAP processor. There is 64 MB of RAM and 64 MB of ROM. microSD is the expansion of choice on the device. Bluetooth is included on top of GSM/GPRS with EDGE. The external screen is 128 x 128 pixels showing 16-bit color. The internal screen is 240x320 with 16-bit color. The battery is a 750 mAh lithium battery. Windows Mobile 5.0 is included on the device as well as a number of additional applications included by i-mate like ClearView. The camera is 1.3 megapixels and can be used with the device both open and closed. When closed, the device is 3.88" by 2.02" by 0.62" and weights under 4 ounces. Inside the box with the device is ear bud headphones and a belt clip case.

Device Style
     When closed, the front face of the SmartFlip features a partially textured top with a rubber lower section. The camera is featured on the front face and protrudes slightly. The external square screen is inset in a circular cut out. Below the screen are three buttons. The middle button is labeled as play/pause with those on either side being rewind and fast forward. Notification lights appear below these buttons but showing network connectivity, power status, and other notifications. To the right of the notification lights is a cut out for speaker activity. The right side of the Smartflip has a button for activating the camera and the only connectivity port on the device for connecting power, USB, and a wired headset.  On the left side of the Smartflip are volume controls and a button to activate voice command functionality. Most of the back of the device opens to reveal the battery, SIM card slot, and microSD card slot. The microSD card slot is under the SIM card. The phone must be shutdown and rebooted to change the microSD card. The inside of the SmartFlip is much like a standard flip-phone. The buttons for the numeric pad, navigation pad (directional pad), and other standard Windows Mobile and phone buttons are all RAZR styled.

RAZR-Like Design
     One of the biggest features of the SmartFlip is the devices design. The device is nearly identically sized to the Motorola RAZR V3, except that it is taller when opened. Looking at the device alone it looks to be taller and thinner when closed compared to the RAZR but it actually is not. As I noted, it is taller when opened, but this is nice to get the microphone closer to your mouth for better sound quality for those you are talking to. I am amazed at the small size of the device. Especially coming from the T-Mobile MDA which is on the larger side of phone devices running Windows Mobile, the SmartFlip will even fit in the mini-pocket on my jeans.

As A Phone
When using the Smartphone as a phone, while the speaker is not the loudest I have used, the volume is standard. It is pretty easy to get it placed correctly on your face even without defining marks to help you gauge where your ear should be placed. The send and end buttons appear to be small though they are not placed too closely to other buttons so they are pretty easy to use. The navigation through Windows Mobile using the directional pad is not as easy as I would have hoped for. I will admit, my fingers may be larger, but the directional pad seems a little small and cramped. Of course with Windows Mobile for Smartphone you can use the numeric pad to navigate the devices menus as well. The send and end buttons as well as the directional pad are ridged so they are easy to feel where they are without looking. The soft keys, home, and back buttons are a little harder to feel. While the numeric pad buttons are completely flat but there is definition between the buttons so you can feel when you move your finger between them. There is a light sensor for determining if they blue backlight turns on for the keyboard. Only in dark light will in turn on to help conserve some battery life. In some ways it would be nice if the backlight was always on because seeing the gray buttons on the dark gray background can be difficult in some lighting conditions. The signal strength I get using this phone is about average. I always hope that new phones will have better signal strength, but the often seem about the same. I have noticed that when I use the SmartFlip with my T-Mobile service the phone seems to take longer than T-Mobile endorsed devices to reconnect to the network after a signal has been lost. Generally though, the phone functions brought forth by the hardware are relatively standard and work well.

External Screen
The front screen of the device is bigger than most and features more colors. At 16-bit and 128x128 pixels, the screen is clear and crisp. I used a flip-phone for a long time with an external screen but was never enticed to do picture caller id because the screen was so small and bad quality. With the SmartFlip, picture caller id is great. Clear images and a rather large size. When a call isn?t incoming, the screen defaults to a clock. I like the analog view?it looks very cool on the front face, but of course it can be customized. The same details featured on the title bar on the main Windows Mobile screen are featured on the front face as well. Also the front screen can be used for music playback, which I will discuss in the next section.

As A Music Player
Double tapping one of the front face music control buttons launches Windows Media player. The front face of the SmartFlip will show a customized media player. Music data is listed on the screen, a current position in the track, and when media player is running, the volume control buttons modify the Media Player volume instead of the earpiece. Out of any phone I have tried that supports music playback, the SmartFlip lines up at the top of the list. I am extremely impressed with this feature of the device, and while I might not like that it has a hidden microSD card slot and only has a proprietary headphone connection, it still has some great music playback features. While the most prominent is what I have already cited (the front facing buttons and customized external screen software) but there is another that is just as good. A clear speaker. Many phones now have speaker phone functionality and if they play media, it can be piped through this speaker. Same is true on the SmartFlip but the speaker phone is extremely clear. The quality is actually decent instead of tinny terrible. If you are in a pinch and need a little music without headphones, the phone actually can suffice. The SmartFlip does not include a specific headphone jack. As I previously noted there is only one connection port on the device and it is propriety. Of course i-mate has included headphone and, fitting with the rest of the music features, they are some of the best I have seen as a free inclusion in a consumer electronics package. The ear buds are high quality, not the normal crap that is included. They are stereo, though can be used as a headset as well. The microphone is on a block in the middle of the headphone wire which also includes volume control.

Final Thoughts
     When I show off new devices to people often some of the comments I get are about the size of the device.  Especially when there are ultra-thin devices like the RAZR on the market, it is hard for many people to weight the features of Windows Mobile against the additional size of the phone. This is exactly where the SmartFlip comes in to play. And while the SmartFlip brings ultra-thin style an features, it could have stopped there are still been an interesting production.  The smooth integration of the media playback features give it additional benefits over similar, non-Windows Mobile devices. With the music centric features, I debate on if the proprietary connection port is a bad thing. Sure it is too bad you cannot plug in any headphones, but the SmartFlip includes Bluetooth and stereo Bluetooth headphones are readily available and prices are dropping. The other qualm I have is the hidden microSD slot and the fact that it is microSD instead of miniSD. And while the device may have a couple issues, it does not, by any means, make this a phone I would not be using on a daily basis.  The size of the device is excellent as are the controls and feel of the device.  Unlocked and priced at under $500 from our friends at MobilePlanet, the SmartFlip begs the questions...why get a RAZR?   For any user that wants the features of Windows Mobile in the smallest package possible, the i-mate SmartFlip is just the ticket. 

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