Archive for August, 2009

Quick Look: T-Mobile MyTouch 3G

t-mobile-mytouch-3g-300x274[1] Last December, I purchased the T-Mobile G1 – the very first Google Android-based handset to market.  Although it seemed like a good idea at the time, we just weren’t ready for each other.  The OS was in its early stages of development, and I wasn’t ready for a “learning experience”.  A few months later, I sold my G1 off to some unsuspecting 20-year-old and ran back to my T-Mobile Dash.

So what’s the deal now?  Why am I talking about the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G?  It’s pretty simple: it was time (again) for a new phone.  The Dash was going on 3.5 years old, and simply didn’t offer what I needed – better speed, a touchscreen, and a “fresh face”.  I kicked around the notion of getting another WinMo device, but the phones that I really wanted were pretty darned expensive – even purchasing them “used”, which would’ve left me without a warranty.  The MyTouch 3G (MT3G) release date was just around the corner and it piqued my interest.  A slightly larger ROM size (vs. the G1), smaller form-factor, bigger battery, and – most importantly – an OS that has matured since the G1 launch.  After checking out the early reviews, I decided to place a pre-order and renew my contract for another 2 years.

<gulp>

mytouch[1]

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
T-Mobile really upped the ante in the production and marketing of this phone.  The packaging is impressive, and comes with a nice zipper case, adapters,t-mobile-mytouch-3g-androi-phone-01-r3media-540x303[1] chargers, and most everything you need – including a screen protector, if that’s how you roll.  It feels like T-Mo put some real thought and effort into making the MyTouch a successful product – beginning with the launch, and  (hopefully) followed-up with good, long-term support.  We’ll see.

The MT3G is a very nice looking phone.  It looks decent enough in online reviews, but much better in person.  I have the “black” variety, but (evidently) the “white” and “merlot” look very nice as well.  Your choice.  This is also a very sturdy handset that feels good in the hand.  While it’s smaller than the G1 – mainly due to losing the physical keyboard – it still feels very well-built without feeling heavy.  In fact, it’s roughly 25% lighter than the G1, which is nice. 

The back of the casing is smooth without feeling dangerously slippery.  The buttons are of good quality, save for the trackball which always feels cheap to me – whether on the G1, MyTouch, Blackberry, or whatever.  Personal preference, I guess, because a lot of people seem to love them.

All in all, the MT3G gives a good first impression.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?
myTouch I just gotta say this: “MyTouch 3G” is a truly horrible name.  I feel silly typing it, and I’m embarrassed to say it out loud.  They’re really pushing this “my” thing – make it your own, each is unique, etc. — and I understand that completely, but “myTouch”? 

Ewww.  Icky.  Lame.

Moving along now…

ANDROID… ALL GROWN UP
google_android_[1] Aside from the hardware changes (as compared to the G1), the MT3G is sporting the newest revision of the Android OS — version 1.5, dubbed “cupcake” – which is also what G1 owners have automatically upgraded to.  This is certainly more of an evolutionary upgrade to the Android operating system, but they’ve made some very good changes.  The “onscreen keyboard” was a must and really works very well,  voice recognition is in there, an updated browser, video recorder, stereo bluetooth support, and a lotta bug fixes.  Essentially, it’s keeping pace with the likes of the iPhone, which isn’t an easy task.  That said, considering that this OS is less than 1-year old, Android is a pretty impressive feat – with more features coming this year!  I’m not a huge fan of Google, to be honest, but for the anti-iPhone person out there (like me!), Android is one of the best options out there.

10[1] Perhaps equally as important to the long-term viability of the Android OS is the 3rd party support.  What the OS lacks in features/usability is often compensated for with downloadable apps, utilities, and other such “niceties” that make Android just that much better.  Case in point: I initially begrudged Android for how many clicks were required to simply call the ten people I spoke to most often.  With a free application like ‘Any Cut’, however, I can easily make shortcuts on my home screen to those contacts/numbers.  In other words, what used to take 9 clicks on the phone, now takes only 4 – which is much more inline with what I’ve been accustomed to on my T-Mobile Dash.  Quite simply, the app support for Android is growing – and continues to grow on a daily basis.  While most of the stuff is useless, there are many handy utilities that I really rely upon now.

Here are some favs…

  • Locale – great for setting phone conditions based upon certain criteria.  For instance, when the GPS detects that I’m “at work”, then set the phone volume to 50%.  How cool is that?
  • HTC Keyboard – although the standard Android virtual keyboard is good, the HTC variant is even better.
  • Any Cut – put handy shortcuts to most anything… right on your desktop!
  • VirtueBible FE – this free Bible reader is really well made, which markers and memorization support.
  • SMS Popup – I really like the way this no-frills, free app handles incoming SMS/text messages.  Should be built into Android!
  • Robo Defense (Free) – a super-fun tower defense style game.

Android has more work to do to be the “de-facto mobile OS”, but they’re making great strides with very good community support.

POINT BY POINT
It seems only fair that I look at my previous review and hit on the negative points I made.  Have they resolved these issues?  Let’s find out…

  • Consistency: I had made some initial dings against Android in the area of “consistency”, and sadly I think that this (for the most part) still holds true.  There are still those occasions when the trackball is necessary, when a long-press doesn’t exist, and when hitting the MENU button does nothing.  More than anything, I guess, you get used to these things.  Every operating system has its “quirks”, and Android is no different.
  • Home Screen Area(s): I had also complained that the Android home screen – which is broken into a “virtual desktop” type arrangement – would typically be unknown to the casual user.  This is still the case, of course, and many updated ROMs are taking this even further – with 5 or 7 virtual desktops!  Chock this up to a “feature”, I suppose, as it’s just how Android functions.
  • Notification Bar: The top portion of the home screen houses the “notification bar”, where items like missed calls, voicemail notices, and text messages go.  In the early build of Android, it seemed like ‘swiping’ this area down to view it was somewhat iffy.  Be it a software or hardware change, this really appears to be much more responsive on the MT3G.android_marketplace[1]
  • Menu: Bringing up the menu to get to your applications is something a lot of folks will do quite frequently.  If you have tons of shortcuts on your desktop, then I suppose you may see the menu less than most, but I’m guessing that 90% of installed apps are still launched by opening the menu, scrolling, finding the icon, and tapping it.  Sadly, the performance of the menu is still pretty pitiful – and I’m not sure why.  Whereas the notification bar is very smooth, the revealing of the menu is choppy and distracting.  Hopefully the next version of Android will resolve this, as it’s a fairly noticeable portion of the OS.
  • Performance: I know that the Android team has gone to great lengths to improve the all-around performance of this OS, and it’s really paid off.  The basic functions: phone calls, messaging, email, etc., are quite snappy.  The occasional app can still bog the phone slightly – certainly noticeable when downloading/installing a new app – but for the most part it all moves and responds well.  I rarely feel a need to restart my phone, as it almost seems to move better over time.  Nice!
  • 3G Speed: Whether it be a phone issue, OS issue, or phone network problem, the 3G speeds were nothing to write home about on my G1.  I’m happy to say that the 3G speeds are now quite snappy, especially compared to the old Edge network.  As a comparison, the 1MB Simple Mobile Speed Test from DSL Reports showed a 1,538 kbit/sec download speed on the 3G network (full bars).  Impressive!  That same test using the Edge network came back with a measley 125 kbit/sec.  Ouch :( 
  • Dropped Calls: During my brief (few month) stint with the G1, I had an noticeable increase in dropped calls.  Hardware issue?  OS?  3G network?  I’m really not sure, to be honest, but the MT3G has performed very well in this area.  Maybe 1 dropped call in the past few weeks?  Whatever the number, it’s very low.
  • Stability: The Android OS – as well as this phone – continues to be very stable, with very few applications “hanging” or requiring a force close.  This was mostly a non-issue before, and it continues to be so.
  • Quick Dialing: As I noted previously, the default dialing experience with Android (and other “full-featured” phones, to be honest) leaves a bit to be desired.  Unlocking the phone, finding a person, clicking on their name, and selecting/dialing their number seems to take way longer than necessary.  This is my opinion, of course, but such a basic function should be much easier.  Thankfully, apps like Any Cut allow you to make shortcuts to particular numbers for particular contacts right on your desktop.  In my case, my left-hand virtual desktop is dedicated to my “speed dial” and “speed message” favorites.  Unlock the phone, swipe to the left, and click the icon.  Done!
  • Voicemail: With my G1 phone, I had noted that something seemed to receive a “voice command” while I would be checking my voicemail.  I don’t know what the deal was there, but it happened fairly frequently.  With the introduction of the MT3G, T-Mobile has also introduced a long-needed functionality: visual voicemail.  As a downloadable app (free), I can simply launch Visual Voicemail, look at the list of voice messages, and play whichever one I like.  I can rewind, fast-forward, or delete them as I please.  The biggest gripe I have right now is that the Visual Voicemail app doesn’t pipe audio out to my bluetooth headset, when connected.  Strange, but not the end of the world.  I also assume that they’ll fix this is a coming release.

3RD PARTY ROM SUPPORT
One of the most exciting things about Android + HTC devices is the ability to “root” and install 3rd party ROMs.  In fact, this really contributed to my leaning toward another HTC phone.  Although my Dash was initially easier to load up with a 3rd party ROM, the MT3G is probably even easier with the 1-Click Root method, which I’ve taken full advantage of.  At this point, I can download any 32B-compatible ROM from the XDA Developers site, copy the .zip file to the SD card on my phone, reboot, and install a new ROM. 

Those are slightly oversimplified steps, but not by much.  Seriously. 

The most impressive ROM I’ve used so far is the eViL HeRo v1.6xb ROM, which is really fun to look at, but has some performance issues on this hardware.  Thankfully, HTC has revealed a *very promising” Hero update that oughta resolve many of the performance updates with this version of the Android OS.  I’m really looking forward to that, and will dedicate a separate write-up to that experience.

MAKE IT YOURS
In addition to the 3rd party ROM support, one of the most impressive features of the Android OS is the ability to really customize and make it yours.  Not to rip into the iPhone too heavily (you already know that I’m no fan), but every single iPhone I’ve seen looks the same – save for the wallpaper.  It’s a screen  with 16 icons or so, flipping to the right for more icons, and on and on.  Very boring, if you ask me, but that’s the Apple world – absolute control over the user experience, which (in all honestly) has served them well.  It’s not what I want, though.  I want my own world where I can tinker, fiddle, customize, and make it unique.  I do this on my computer desktop, and I want the same with my phone.  The WinMo world offered this, and (even more so) the Android OS does as well.

SUMMARY
Call me crazy, but I’m quite happy with the MyTouch 3G phone – name aside.  This is an attractive, fun-to-use, well-built phone that really competes well with the likes of the Palm Pre and iPhone.  I mean that very seriously.

htc_magic_2[1]With several more Android-based phones due out this year, prepare yourself for the onslaught.  You’re going to be seeing a lot more “Google phones” from different carriers.  That is ultimately a good thing, as the OS and app support will continue to thrive, but also means a certain “loss of exclusivity”, which has thus far really belonged to T-Mobile.  Still, I’m quite happy with this phone right now, and it will certainly keep me happy until I find out what Microsoft has in store with the upcoming WinMo 7.

Thanks for reading.

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Now Playing: August 2009

Been a bit light on my “listening” lately, but here are some current standouts…

  • The Hourly Radio, “History Will Never Hold Me
    • Found this band via a rabbit trail on the Zune Marketplace.  Perhaps via another recent fav, The Working Title?  Anyhow, I’m really enjoying this album so far.  It starts off well enough, but seems to pick up steam by the 3rd and 4th tracks.  Highly recommended for any ‘Jimmy Eat World’ or ‘The Working Title’ fans.
  • Jeremy Enigk, “OK Bear
    • As an old friend (and fan) of Jeremy Enigk, I was definitely looking forward to his next solo album.  While “OK Bear” didn’t grab my attention right away, it has since grown on me.  I like it quite a bit.  I prefer his last release, World Waits, but this is a strong release, and very much ‘Jeremy Enigk’ all the way.
  • Edie Brickell, “Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars
    • Sometimes albums don’t really “hit” you for, oh… 20 years or so, as is the case with this release.  I heard their big hit “What I Am” on the radio recently, was blown away by the guitar solo, and decided the album was worth checking out again.  You know what?  It’s really good.  The musicianship is amazing, the vocals are great (if a bit lacking in variation), and the whole package has held up quite well since its release in 1989.  Give it a spin and see what’cha think!
  • Neko Case, NPR “Live Concerts From All Songs Considered”
    • Very fun, live Neko Case concert from NPR.  I know she’s a talented vocalist, but she’s also really, really funny!  Check it out… it’s free!  (Note: the humor really takes off about 45 minutes in.)