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i-mate PDA2K Review

Rec 03-aug-2005 13:48

I'm a longtime fan of the ARM architecture and the iPaq handheld computer family. However, my first iPaq -- a Compaq H3650 -- wasn't all that satisfactory because of limited connectivity: IrDA and USB only.

What I whanted was a good WiFi-capable iPaq with integrated cellphone. After some research and taking advantage of a trip to the USA, I've chosen the i-mate PDA2K as the best price/performance ratio.

Feb-2007 updates:

  • Some phone operators here in Brazil now offer PDA2K clones at reasonable prices;
  • My new dream phone is the i-mate JASJAR.

About the PDA2K

Tech specs: 400MHZ XScale PXA263 ARM processor, 128MB RAM, 64MB Flash-ROM, SD/SDIO card slot, three integrated radios: WiFi, Bluetooth and quad-qand unlocked GSM cell phone, 240x320 (portrait QVGA) at 16 bits/pixel, 640x480 CMOS camera.

For another detailed review with lots of pictures, take a look at:

I won't bother repeating what this page says; I'll concentrate in my own usage experience.

What I like

  • Integrated WiFi is king: I've signed up to Vex's service and now my airport waits are productive again. I can read and send emails (the mailer program even supports SSL), browse the web quite decently (Pocket IE has a special mode that makes the site usable even with the limited screen real estate). Other built-in networking apps include a pocket version of MSN. I've also got third-party SSH and VNC clients.
  • GSM Cell Phone: quite good overall.
    • Dialing someone from the phonebook takes more clicks than I think it should, but the same can be said of most other cellphones.
    • Sound quality is indistinguishable from a normal cellphone.
    • Service bootstrapping was instant and glitch-free: my SIM card was recognized instantly and even my operator's (Oi, at the time) was correctly set up. The SIM manager utility made short work of importing my contacts.
    • Sending and receiving SMS messages is much more practical than any cell I've seen.
    • GPRSs works fine. Tooke me some time to figure out how to configure, but once set up it works nicely. I seldom use it though because it's absurdly expensive here in Brazil.
      • Particularly cool is an app that allows you to export the GPRS modem via Bluetooth, so you can use the PDA2K as a wireless notebook modem.
      • Another impressive feature is that the modem has a V.34 codec that can connect to analog audio modems, so you can connect to old analog ISPs.
    • You can change ringtones, send and receive MMS and all those bells and whistles of recent cellphones.
  • Voice recorder: Great sensitivity and dynamic range, comparable in quality to dedicated digital voice recorders.
  • Movies: Using Windows Media Encoder in my notebook I can compress a 2h movie to about ~200MB, which easily fits in my 1GB SD card. Now I have private movies in the airplane without having to take the notebook out of the backpack.
  • Battery: Lasts more than a whole day, even with a hard workload. At the end of a day with 1h of WiFi usage, 2h of movie-watching, several incoming and outgoing calls and quite some app usage, the battery was at 45%. What consumes most batter by far is the WiFi radio -- you can feel the unit heat up when it's in use. A 1h movie takes only 10% of the battery. When I put it in the charger at night, it's usually at 70%, so I usually leave the charger at tome.
  • Sliding Keyboard: For long texts, it's a lot better to use it than the virtual onscreen keyboard. I never got used to the character recognizer.
  • SD Card slot: With a good capacity card, space management isn't that critical anymore.

What could be better

  • As it runs Windows Mobile 2003, it sometimes locks up or gets unstable just like any Windows. A 10-second soft-reset fixes everything. I never needed to do a hard-reset, so I've never lost any apps.
  • One annoying instability is that the loudspeaker sometimes goes mute, so I can't hear the other party when a call comes in. Soft-resetting and getting back to the caller is the workaround.
  • The bulit-in camera sucks. It takes barely passable pics at 320x240 and terrible ones at 640x480. Videos 160x120 at look reasonable.
  • The 240x320 screen is usable, but 480x640 would be so much better.
    • There's a program called Nydiot Virtual Display which emulates larger resolutions at the expense of image quality.

What bothers me

  • The bluetooth stack does not support sending the digital audio to the handsfree -- although it does support sending the cellphone audio. In other words: I can take and receive calls with the bluetooth handsfree headphone/mic, but I can't listen to MP3s or use Microsoft Voice Command to voice dial. It bothers me particularly because I know it's not a hardware limitation; it's just lousy drivers.
    • Note: of course, everything works just fine with the included wired headphone/mic combo.

If I could change it...

...my priorities would be:

  • 480x640 (portrait VGA) screen
  • Digital audio capability in the bluetooth stack
  • 1.2Mpixel camera with flash LED

And if it would run on Linux, then it would be just perfect.

It should be possible to run Familiar Linux on it just as I did with my aging H3650. However, as far as I know the telephony features aren't supported yet.


  • Although it weighs only 210 grams, it's a lot larger and heavier than typical cellphones. It does fit in my pant's fron pockets, but not very confortably.
  • It is quite rugged. I lost count on how many times I dropped and it still works perfectly. But I'd say it requires more care than most cellphones.
  • There's a version of Skype than runs on it just fine.

Where I bought and how much it costs

I paid US$ 989 on it, including the Motorola HS 820 bluetooth handsfree and the 1GB SD card.

If you're planning to buy something like it, here are my tips:

  • Get yourself a high-speed SD card. Don't buy the cheaper low speed ones.
  • Don't buy the HS 820. It's passable at most. Get a real good bluetooth handsfree.
  • The built in apps are usable but limited. There are much better third-party apps out in the net.

iPaq vs Palm

Many people ask me which one is the best. The answer is: depends on the kind of user you are and what you want to do with it.

A practical but rather oversimplistic answer:

  • Palms are best for novice or average non-technical users that want simple things that work and are not into tinkering.
    • Applications tend to be simpler and more intuitive.
    • They tend to crash far less often than iPaqs.
    • Technically, they're less capable computers -- their processors are usually slower, they usually have less memory, etc. They're comparable to the old 386 and 486s in terms of processing speed.

  • iPaqs are best for power users that don't get satisfied with standard things and are into heavy customizations.
    • They're comparable in performance and capacity to ~100-200MHz Pentiums.

Note: Standard 486 or Pentium PCs do not run on those machines; the comparison is just about raw processing power.

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