In the past i-mate has sourced its Windows Mobile Pocket PCs and Smartphones from HTC, the company whose PDAs and smartphones have been badged by the UK's big four mobile network operators as well as by i-mate for the UK market. Earlier this year HTC decided it would start to sell under its own brand name, and i-mate has been exploring other hardware partners since then.
One result is the SPL, the first i-mate Smartphone not made by HTC. The company also has a non-HTC Pocket PC, the JAQ, which is too large and unwieldy for our taste. The SPL, by comparison, is sleek and tidy and meets with our general approval.
Its flat front is very reminiscent of Motorola's RAZR handset and other variants on that theme. In general we don't much like flat number-pads because it can be difficult to be sure you've actually pressed a key. Here a definite sinking of the key area as you press, a sound you can hear if there is no ambient noise, and coloured bars which physically separate the keys, all help make the keys a lot easier to use than usual. These points also extend to the flat navigation button.
Overall, I rather like the hardware design. Shiny black with white and silver flourishes is not an unusual combination for a handset, but it is for a Windows Mobile Smartphone, and the plentiful use of metal doesn't seem to have made the SPL overly heavy: it weighs an acceptable 102g. The SPL is thin, too, at 12mm.
In terms of specifications there are no standout features, and one or two disappointments, but taken in the round the mix is competent.
The 320 x 240 pixel screen is clear and sharp and the 65MB of free memory on our review sample was generous, though you do have to lift the battery to get to the miniSD card slot that lets you add more to that total. The built-in camera shoots stills at up to 2.0-megapixels and has a self-portrait mirror, though no flash.
There is Bluetooth, though no infra-red or Wi-Fi, and the handset is Tri-band. A button on the left edge launches the music player and it is flanked top and bottom by volume controls. Playing music constantly with the screen forced to stay on got us a shade under six hours of audio, which is quite respectable.
A stereo headset is provided and this uses the same mini USB connector as the mains power unit. You get a printed manual as well as a quick start guide, and a belt-clip-style protective case.
i-mate SPL Verdict
The SPL is not inexpensive, coming as it does without an operator subsidy. But it is nicely designed with the look of a fairly standard feature phone but the innards of a capable Windows Mobile Smartphone.