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In the concluding part of his search for a smartphone, JOHN HARRIS ends up at a shootout between a handset with the lot and an 18-month-old relic.

Active ImageMy mate Robbie has given up trying to call my mobile phone. He is sick of getting either my voicemail or an annoying sequence of fumbling noises before the line goes dead.

The bane of my buddy’s life is two months of handsets tests to find the perfect fusion of communication and computing device. “I don’t care if your phone is smart enough to get money from Eddie McGuire,” he complains. “You ought to learn how to answer a call with it.”

After dozens of missed calls, I selected two finalists: The i-mate K-JAM and the Palm Treo 650. Just like that tragic World Cup playoff between Australia and Italy, only one handset made it through.

The i-mate K-Jam (RRP $1229) is a beautifully compact unit powered by Windows Mobile 5 software. With a slider keyboard, an extendable stylus and a touchscreen keypad, it packs a lot of performance into limited real estate. As well as a 1.3 megapixel camera, the 150 gram handset comes with built-in wireless networking, so it can use a low-cost local network for Internet access and email rather than the costlier mobile network.

The K-JAM comes with a lot of software, including Outlook, Windows Media Player, Internet Explorer and plenty of helpful phone programs. The sheer volume of this software made the phone complex to use at times.

The K-JAM is very easy for texting messages: The screen changes from portrait to landscape view when you slide out a mini-QWERTY keypad on the left hand side.

From a business perspective, an outstanding feature of the K-JAM (and Windows Mobile 5.0 phones in general) is the ability to manage their security from Microsoft Exchange 2003. This includes a policy setting that can require a password to unlock a handset and Web-based remote wiping of applications and emails if a device is lost or stolen.

The K-JAM’s major downside was its screen visibility. My admittedly poor eyesight struggled to read the screen in daylight, even with the font size bumped up. This was inconvenient for a convenience device like a mobile phone. Also, I didn’t warm to the touchscreen keypad. It was very easy to “dial” the wrong number.

By contrast to the snazzy new K-JAM, Palm’s Treo 650 is a well-loved old warhorse. Launched in February last year, it remains a popular model despite shortcomings that include no FM Radio, limited memory and just a 0.3 megapixel camera. However, the 178-gram handset does provide a reliable phone, an easy to read screen in daylight or night along with simple email retrieval from Exchange.

Convenience features include a world clock with local time and two other international locations â?? I set one to San Francisco, where I sometimes do business, and Ottawa, where my daughter's best friend lives. What really won me was the 650’s touchscreen. Using my finger or a stylus to find a function is much quicker than mucking about with arrow buttons.

The Treo’s integration of programmable buttons, clear touchscreen and good design made it easy to use the 650. This clever combination made the Treo 650 so smart that choosing it was a no-brainer.

John Harris is managing director of Impress Media Australia. You can email him at jharris@impress.com.au or visit his website at www.impress.com.au .
© 2006 Impress Media Australia

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