One+ Months Later With the i-mate Ultimate 8502 and 6150

Travel at the end of June kept me from posting my follow-up user experience with both the i-mate Ultimate 8502 and Ultimate 6150; now that things have calmed down it is past time to write about a subject which, to put it bluntly, I have been dreading…

the i-mate 8502

the i-mate 6150

Don’t get me wrong; all of the warning signs were present nearly from the beginning: First of all, i-mate was a company who promised a line-up of devices which looked truly impressive in pictures and print. But then delay after delay occurred; several of the more exciting models never materialized, and other models were substituted. When the four Ultimates which are now available finally began to trickle out, i-mate was experiencing tough times (much of it caused by a continuous chip supply problem), and rumors were rampant regarding the company’s financial problems.

Even though some of the earliest purchasers and a reviewers seemed less than thrilled with the final available devices, I was still eager to try them. My exposure to the Ultimate line at CES was in a controlled setting, and I was easily able to look past the fact that the Ultimates were so somberly black and blocky, because I wanted the powerful user experience that had been promised. In other words, I wanted i-mate’s Ultimate line to live up to their own company’s hype.

The truth of the matter is that I have been hoping for a Windows Mobile device which would reignite my passion for the operating system. I want to enjoy my Windows Mobile PDA again as much as I used to when I was carrying the i-mate JasJar (manufactured by HTC); the specs expected – and at least one of the models promised, which never appeared – whet my appetite.

Now that the final specifications of all models are known, and now that I have been able to extensively use two of the Ultimates, I can safely say that for me, they are not the Ultimate anything. I am not saying that the line is “bad” or that others won’t find value in the devices; they just aren’t my dream phones, and my search will have to continue.

There are several areas where each of these two Ultimate models let me down, and there are also a few ways that each impressed me; here they are in no particular order…

How They Let Me Down:

In General:

1. No support for microSD cards above 2GB. This is a huge FAIL for any device with the audacity to call itself an”Ultimate” PDA.
2. They are ugly. Let’s call it what it is, and put it out there. The devices’ designs could have retained a business-like appearance without resembling something you would use to taser a criminal.
3. They are running Windows Mobile 6.0, not 6.1. There should be an update offered to previous customers; if these are to remain competitive current models, then they should ship with the latest mobile OS.
4. These devices offer me no real “wow” factor.
5. The screens are completely unreadable in sunlight.

The i-mate Ultimate 8502:

1. No VGA screen. I suppose it’s not that huge of a deal on a 2.6″ screen, but I still feel cheated.
2. Slow processor; it’s only 400 MHz and with multiple programs running its deficiencies are felt.
3. There is no front-facing video camera, which is a serious omission for a phone targeted at markets which offer the service.
4. Touted as having a built-in GPS receiver, and there is a GPS on/off button in the wireless manager, but for the life of me I could not see any way to make it work, and there was no included software for satellite triangulation or status. In the device’s System Information tab, it says “GPS: Yes”. I installed Live Search, and with the GPS button “on” pressed “Current GPS Location” when asked for my current location. Five minutes later (while standing outside), I was still waiting. Sorry, but I got tired of looking for it; if there is a built-in GPS radio in there, then it is implemented and executed poorly.

The i-mate Ultimate 6150:

1. The lag when turning the screen on is annoying; seeing the blue button backlights helps you know that it’s been done, but having to wait for the screen to “warm up” (or whatever it’s doing!) is a pain.
2. No GPS; there are budget PDA phones which include this feature, this one should have had it.
3. Battery life is significantly less than that of the 8502; perhaps the fault of the VGA screen.
4. Way thicker than any PDA without a built-in keyboard should be.

What Impressed Me:

In General:

1. I like the joystick on the front of the two devices; it makes navigation and selection easy and intuitive.
2. I like that each model has a jogwheel or scrollwheel, which also aids in one-handed navigation.
3. I do like the solid and substantial feel of both PDAs; using a metal case added a bit of weight, but it also made them feel much better than cheap plastic would have in the same design.
4. Generous amount of storage and program memory, with a caveat: both come with 256MB storage and 128MB program, but the 8502 only allows the user to access 110.80MB storage and 84.41 program memory. The 6150 allows the user to access 135.09MB storage and 99.95MB program memory.
5. Both models include cables which allow the PDAs’ contents to be shown on a TV or monitor.

The i-mate Ultimate 8502

1. I still very much like the keyboard and the button layout.
2. The overall size of the device felt good in my hand; this is the model I was most comfortable with.

The i-mate Ultimate 6150

1. The VGA screen is beautiful.

Here is what it boils down to for me: On each device there is at least one thing that that I like, but there are caveats that must be accepted in order to”settle” on either. And that’s exactly what it feels like…settling.

For instance, I like the keyboard on the 8502, but I want a faster processor, larger screen, GPS that works and a VGA screen; those in countries that support it will also want the front-facing video camera. The 6150 has a slightly larger screen, front-facing video camera, faster processor, and a VGA screen, but there is no keyboard and no GPS. It’s frustrating, and I suspect that if I had the other two Ultimate models in front of me now, I would be similarly disappointed.

I really wanted to like the Ultimate line, but I think that perhaps what needs to happen is for i-mate to begin anew; they could take the best features from each Ultimate and combine them into one frankenphone (or maybe two) which would offer a VGA screen, a built-in keyboard, GPS, large amounts of memory, the ability to use larger capacity microSD cards, a speedy processor.

If i-mate could do that, then I might not feel the need to roll my eyes when calling the device an “Ultimate”.

The i-mate Ultimate 8502 is available from the manufacturer and other retailers.

MSRP: $699.99

The i-mate Ultimate 6150 is available directly from the manufacturer and other retailers.

MSRP: $685

Categories: Reviews

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12 replies

  1. I was reading elsewhere that there’s finally a WM 6.1 ROM (beta) available for the 9502. It also adds SDHC support into the mix meaning that larger cards can finally be read – at least on that device.

  2. Excellent! Hopefully they will make the upgrade available to all of the line, and that would remove two of the issues I faced. :-)

  3. Chris, here’s my problem. Windows Mobile 6.1 devices are shipping and plenty of devices already have upgrades. If they are in BETA then they have already lost.

    i-mate has got to do something drastic. I don’t know what it’s going to take but the machines that are HTC and to a lesser degree MWg are pounding them into the ground. I’m HUGELY disappointed to read this review from Judie because I had hope for these devices and the Ultimate line in general.

  4. Quite frankly I have to agree with you – they are coming far too late to the dance. I’m glad they are trying to get these things resolved, but the devices just didn’t live up to the hype.

  5. I guess I may not having been keeping up with WinMo well enough, but the specz don’t seem all that horrible… Obviously VGA and working GPS would be of benefit, but overall they just don’t seem that bad. And to be honest – I like the “blocky” look and especiialy the black matte finish.

    Oh well, to each their own eh?

    PS… Judie if you ain’t gonna use em… :)

  6. The only device that I really might be interested in is the 8502; and honestly, if you weren’t happy with it…

  7. Ummmm guys? I am sending these back to i-mate tomorrow. Otherwise, I would have been happy to hook you up. :-)

  8. Think that’s bad – Boy Genius Report has a review of the Blackberry Bold which I would characterize as mostly lukewarm…

    Not a good sign for a device seemingly looked upon as the next big thing from RIM.

    They mention more than once that the case has a cheesy fake chrome border — and the screen is subject to scratching.

  9. :( oh well. At least we know they are going back the where they came from and you won’t have to dread having them around anymore!

  10. well we can dream, can’t we…:P oh well. at least they are going to a good home??

  11. Wayne, I’m writing up a first impressions post of the new Nokia E71, and I have to say, it is absolutely brilliant. I think it could be a major thorn in RIM’s side…

    @ Brandon: The specs may not be that bad, but they aren’t good enough in this market. I mean all the “Ultimates” look plain ugly, and don’t have the featureset to compete with phones coming out from companies like Apple and Nokia.

    The review reminds me a lot of my feelings on the Diamond, so much promise, yet failure to deliver.

    The Ultimate letdown…

  12. mmm….maybe they should have been named the “penultimate” series? :)