TechWeb

Review: T-Mobile myTouch 3G

Sep 26, 2009 (03:09 AM EDT)

Read the Original Article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=219500657


T-Mobile myTouch 3G
(click image for larger view)
T-Mobile myTouch 3G

T-Mobile and HTC have together enjoyed a reasonable amount of success with their joint Android offerings. The G1, released in October 2008, has sold over one million units (despite its shortcomings). That makes the G1 -- and Android -- a winner in the eyes of many.

In February 2009, HTC debuted the Magic, its second handset using the Android platform. The Magic went on sale via Vodafone in the United Kingdom earlier this year. The Magic has also sold more than one million units worldwide, and is now for sale from T-Mobile USA as the myTouch 3G with Google.

For anyone hesitant to adopt the Android platform in general or the HTC G1 in particular, the myTouch 3G should convince most to make the leap.

Hardware Improvements

Let's face facts: The G1 was not the most attractive smartphone ever made. Not only was it bulky and heavy, it had a difficult-to-use physical QWERTY keyboard and suffered from some serious battery life problems. The myTouch 3G is a vast improvement on all fronts.

It loses the physical keyboard completely. This means it is far lighter, smaller, and easier to carry around than the G1, but it also means you have to perform all text/data entry via an on-screen software keyboard. Some users have problems with that, but it works for many (i.e., the millions of iPhone users).

Even though there is less to love, the myTouch 3G is a better all-around device for everyday use. The plastics feel good in the hand, and all the controls are easily found and used with your thumbs. The myTouch 3G keeps the trackball from the G1, and this is a good supplement to the touch screen for navigating the menus.

Speaking of which, the capacitive display on the myTouch 3G is brilliant. It is bright, colorful, and sharp. E-mails, documents, applications, Web pages, and video all look fantastic. The display is responsive to user input, and I noticed very little hesitation or delay when interacting with the phone.

The one bummer is that the myTouch doesn't support full multi-touch (a la iPhone-style) out of the box. Some third party applications support their own flavor of multi-touch, and its possible multi-touch will come to future versions of the Android platform.




As for battery life, the myTouch lasts far longer than the G1 did. The G1 struggled to get through one day of heavy use, sometimes conking out before 5 p.m. The myTouch 3G was easily able to see me through an entire work day, through a social evening, and still remain alive through the night. Most users will still want to charge the myTouch 3G every night, but should be confident that it won't fail before they hit the hay.

Other essential performance elements include solid signal strength and good volume benchmarks. These two play an important role in making sure you don't miss phone calls or other messages as they arrive. The myTouch 3G easily connects to T-Mobile's 3G network wherever it is, and will revert to EDGE when no 3G is available. It also has Wi-Fi if you're really looking to do some speedy browsing.

Android 1.5

The myTouch 3G runs the latest version of Android available to the masses, which is known as Android 1.5 "Cupcake." Cupcake was distributed to HTC G1 owners several months ago and brought with it a number of upgrades compared to Android 1.0 and 1.1. The myTouch puts Android 1.5 to good use, though there are still some limitations that need to be addressed.

As with the G1, a Gmail account is required for the myTouch 3G to work properly. Users can't get past the initial set-up pages until they sign into or create a Google account. Once users sign in, the myTouch 3G pulls down and sets up Gmail and Gmail Contacts on the device. All end-user data syncing is done via the wireless network. (During initial set-up, I'd recommend you connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi. This may help speed up the process.)

Android features customizable home screens where users can place applications or links for just about anything. There is a built-in Google search bar for fast(er) access to searches. The search bar offers Google's voice search, which lets users speak their queries rather than typing them. Since there is no physical keyboard on the myTouch 3G, I found this to be helpful.

The main menu can be accessed via a software tab at the bottom of the home screen. Just swipe upwards to open it. Everything on the main menu is listed in alphabetical order. The physical menu key on the front of the myTouch opens a secondary menu that is specific to whatever screen or application is being used.

The basic usability of Android 1.5 compared to 1.0 isn't all that different, so anyone upgrading from a G1 will notice minimal changes with the basic operating system.

My one serious complaint about the myTouch 3G hardware is that it has only a miniUSB port for connecting the device to accessories. While this isn't a problem for connecting to a laptop, if you want to use any other sort of accessory (such as stereo headphones) you're going to have to use an adapter. Granted, HTC supplies such an adapter in the box, but it's a hassle to use, and I'd prefer to have a 3.5-mm headset jack or other jacks/ports to use. That limitation aside -- and the lack of a real, physical QWERTY keyboard -- the myTouch 3G is a very usable phone.




Messaging

The myTouch 3G offers pretty much most forms of messaging that a smartphone should. The most robust is, of course, Gmail. The Gmail experience offered by Android is by far the best way to interact with Gmail on any mobile device. Users can see full message headers and perform other vital actions, such as starring and labeling e-mails, directly from their device. The Gmail client is rich, and users can type out e-mails in either portrait or landscape fashion. Turning the phone on its side brings up a landscape keyboard that is larger and somewhat easier to use than the one available when the myTouch is held vertically.

If Exchange support is necessary, you're in luck. HTC has crafted a special application called "Work E-mail." It supports Exchange ActiveSync and will let you receive, read, and send e-mails to and from your work account. I didn't find the options quite as robust as those offered by the Gmail client, but it covers the basics.

The myTouch also supports other POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts.

As for other forms of messaging, SMS, MMS, and IM are all supported. Text and picture messages are threaded by contact, which makes it easier to read and keep track of conversations. Android has baked-in support for Google Talk, but also supports AIM, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo IM.

Media

Android and the myTouch 3G include a music player, camera, video player, and video capture.

The music player software appears to be a carry-over from Android 1.0 and hasn't been updated or revised at all. It's certainly capable, and if you don't mind using a headset adapter, you can listen to tunes as you work, play, or browse on the device. It's not going to light the fires of serious music lovers out there, though.

The myTouch 3G has a 3.2 megapixel camera -- same as the G1 -- and the software used to control it is as bare bones as it gets. There is no physical camera button on the myTouch, so users have to press the screen of the phone itself to take pictures. The camera works quickly enough, and it's easy to operate, but I didn't get the best results when I tested it for image quality. It would be nice if the camera software offered more control over how the camera behaves, such as the ability to adjust white balance or exposure. It doesn't.

The myTouch 3G also captures video, and can upload straight to YouTube. While the ability to share video directly from the phone is excellent, said video rates "average" in my book. The quality just isn't there.

Bottom line, Android still has a lot of growing to do in the media department.




Web And Apps

The myTouch 3G has a highly capable browser that I found to be much snappier than that of the G1. T-Mobile's 3G network is speedy (where available) and the myTouch 3G's browser renders Web pages quickly.

Perhaps the biggest improvement is that the browser now supports multiple windows. This means you can have several Web sites open at a time and jump back and forth among them with relative ease. There is a floating menu bar that will appear or disappear at will, and it lets users navigate the Web and otherwise control how the browser functions. Full HTML isn't a problem for the browser, though full support for embedded video is still lacking.

Google's own services, such as Maps, run very well on the myTouch 3G. I found Google Maps for Mobile to be extremely robust, and it offers nearly as much functionality as the desktop version. Paired with the myTouch 3G's onboard GPS, and I'd say most people could forgo a stand-alone GPS unit. My favorite features are the way Street Views works and how maps and directions can be sent to others. I also tested Google's Latitude location-sharing service. It works OK, but not perfectly. I have to wonder why Maps for Mobile can pinpoint me down to the meter, but Latitude often gets the town wrong.

The Android Market application store continues to grow. Thousands of applications are now available for the Android platform, and this is certainly one of the myTouch 3G's strengths.

Perhaps what most sets the myTouch 3G apart from the G1 is that it comes with the ability to grab T-Mobile's Apps Pack. The Apps Pack is an application from the Android Market that learns user behavior and will suggest other applications and/or services from time to time.

The Sherpa application is also on board. This application can be very useful in helping people find and locate local resources, points of interest, and other attractions. Users can also set preferences so if you perform a search for "coffee shop," it will know that you prefer Dunkin Donuts over Starbucks (or whatever your favorite coffee store is).

Bottom Line

The myTouch is a handsome device that offers plenty of power to the connected user. Media features may be lacking compared to the competition, but tight integration with Google services and the Web make it a solid pick for those who live more of their life online than off.


InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on smartphone security. Download the report here (registration required).


For Further Reading

The G1 Wows Consumers, But Enterprises Must Wait (registration required)

Google Android To Challenge RIM For Enterprise Users

HTC: 1 Million Android Magic Phones Sold

Android App Users Not Inclined To Pay

T-Mobile's myTouch 3G Coming In August