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I've had it said to me on more than one occasion that Windows Mobile phones are all the same. Sure they look different; some have hardware keyboards and some plain numeric, but there's nothing radical under the hood. It's still dour old Microsoft powering the show, with even the latest version of its mobile operating system beginning to show its age now that Apple has shown its hand and Google has begun to muscle in.
There's no denying that Microsoft desperately needs to revamp its mobile operating system, but the effect of this isn't all bad. Its inertia has forced handset manufacturers to take the lead and as a result we've seen a constant stream of hardware innovations over the past two years or so: GPS, HSDPA, touch-sensitive and high-resolution screens are commonplace now, and bundled software extras are also an area where manufacturers seek to stand out.
With i-mate's latest business email companion - the Ultimate 8150 - the innovation is somewhat more unusual. On the outside it looks pretty standard stuff - but on the right side is an unusual socket that hints at something slightly different. This smartphone can be hooked up to an external monitor. The ability comes courtesy of nVidia's GoForce 5500 graphics chip, which allows output of resolutions up to 1024 x 768 and it works rather splendidly. Using a special cable supplied in the box, which also carries audio, you simply hook the 8150 up to a spare D-SUB socket on your monitor and then switch between external and built in screens as you would on a full blown notebook. Cunningly, once you switch to the external output the touch screen on the 8150 turns into a touchpad and you use it to control a cursor on screen in much the same way as you would on a notebook.
The target audience of such a feature is, of course, the mobile presenter - it offers the opportunity to travel light and yet still be able to display basic slideshows. But contractors could also find a use for it. While you're out on-site, with the addition of a Bluetooth fold away keyboard, it turns any spare monitor into a mini workstation. In fact, just to prove a point, I wrote the entirety of this review on the 8150 hooked up in just this way.