Posts Tagged 'T-Mobile'

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.

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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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Visual Voicemail… it’s about time!

One of the few (if only) things that have attracted me to the iPhone is the “Visual Voicemail” feature – the ability to see your collection of voicemails and play any message you wish.  As someone who receives a lot of voicemail messages, this is not just desirable, it’s borderline critical.

Case in point.

During our recent vacation, I received a phone call that I thought was from my wife at our condo.  I missed the call, but wanted to see if she left a message and time was of the essence.  Unfortunately, I had 9 voicemail messages that I needed to wade through first – and some of them were several minutes in length!  Doesn’t it make sense to be able to simply play whatever message I like without having to listen to (or skip through) 8 other messages first?  Absolutely… and it took Apple forcing this upon the network carrier before AT&T made their network function this way.

Let’s get with it, folks.  This is bone-headed, “duh” kinda stuff.  Our old corporate Comdial phone system – installed in 1999 – had this capability with a simple desktop app.  But most of our cell phones can’t do this 10 years later? 

Lame.

Anyhow, I’m thankful to see that T-Mobile appears to be implementing Visual Voicemail sometime this summer.  I don’t know which phones it’ll work with, but it’s a step in the correct direction…

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I’m also looking forward to their “Rhodium” phone! 🙂

REDUX: upgrade your T-Mobile Dash to WM6.1

This time last year (or so), I posted an article on upgrading your T-Mobile Dash phone to Windows Mobile 6.1 – the latest WinMo build available for these phones.  While that article is still very valid and useable, I thought it best to revisit this topic with more current information, including the WM6.1 ROM that I’m now using.

I’ll be rehashing much of the info from my previous post (no sense reinventing the wheel!).  That said, this article should be able to get you from your current state (WM5, WM6 or WM6.1) to the Windows Mobile 6.1-based “EnergyROM”, which I’m liking very much.  Even better, many of the tweaks that I posted in my previous article are no longer necessary – they’re built right in!

Here we go…

First of all, this write-up assumes that you have a fully-functioning T-Mobile Dash phone operating on the U.S. network.  It also assumes that you know how to use your phone fairly well, as not everything is spelled out for you.  Lastly, this procedure may void your warranty, so please be aware of that.

What you’ll need:

  • A functioning, usable T-Mobile Dash phone (aka HTC Excalibur) on the T-Mobile network
  • Windows PC (XP, Vista or Windows 7 –> what I use)
  • USB sync cable to connect your phone to your PC
  • To download this ROM file and unzip it to a local folder on your computer.  The desktop works fine.
    (Note: you will need a RAR compatible unzip program like WinRAR.)

If you’re already confused, then this upgrade isn’t for you.  Otherwise, please continue…

UPGRADING THE ROM

  1. Turn off your phone, remove any MicroSD card you might have, and boot the phone back up again.  When the phone is fully booted (and usable), connect your phone to your PC via your USB sync cable.  Windows should recognize your phone and either 1) launch ActiveSync/Windows Mobile Device Center (pictured), or 2) see it as a removable drive.  Fine.  Things are working normally.

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  2. With your phone connected to your PC, double-click on the “auto.bat” file from the EnergyROM .rar file that you downloaded/extracted in the earlier steps.winmoUpgrade02
  3. The ROM update utility will start.  You should be greeted with a command prompt box telling your to “remove SD card and reboot…”.  We’ve already done this, so hit Enter (any key) to continue.  The ROM will be copied to your phone.winmoUpgrade03
  4. The screen should read “execute SPL now…”  Hit Enter one more time.winmoUpgrade04
  5. Now, hit the middle (silver) button of your phone d-pad.  The screen on your mobile phone should turn white.
  6. Back at the CMD prompt (DOS box), hit Enter once more to continue.winmoUpgrade05
  7. The GUI for the ROM updater should launch.  Keep the defaults and select any “I agree” statements when prompted.  The ROM update itself takes about 5 minutes or so.winmoUpgrade06

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  8. Update successful!  After the update, your phone will reboot by itself and run some behind-the-scenes configurations, which might take awhile.  This is normal.
  9. Upon rebooting again, you will see the Windows Mobile desktop, which is followed up shortly by the “Connection Setup” dialog.  Choose your cellular operator and hit OK to apply those settings.
  10. For whatever reason, this ROM update sets your time, date and time zone quite strangely, which may adversely affect some program installs.  So, go ahead and set those settings now.  Go to START > SETTINGS > Clock & Alarm > Time & Date.
  11. Finally, your phone should be ready-to-go with the WM6.1 EnergyROM.  Congrats!!!  You can re-insert your MiniSD card, if you like.

INSTALLING THE ‘MINI OPERA’ BROWSER

Although this ROM comes with a newer version of the mobile Internet Explorer browser, it leaves some things to be desired.  I’ve found that the (free) Opera Mini browser is very nice to use on these phones, can browse most any website, and is really quite fast – even over the Edge network.

Here’s how to install Opera Mini, if you like.

  1. On your phone, select Start > Internet Explorer
  2. Click the right soft button for the Menu, and select Go To Web Address
  3. Hold the backspace arrow to delete the current text.
    (Note: to disable the XT9 predictive text, hold the Alt key + Space Bar to bring up that menu.  Choose ‘ABC’ from the list.)
  4. Type in mini.opera.com and hit Enter
  5. When the page loads, choose the bottom most option that says “If this version fails to install…” and click the center button on your d-pad
  6. On the next page, select the top option for “Download Opera Mini! (English, Multiple Certificates)” and hit the center button.
  7. Click the left soft button to Continue.  Click OK at the <root> option prompt.  Click Continue again.
  8. Click OK at the warning screen
  9. Click OK at the Security screen
  10. Opera Mini will download and install.  Click YES to launch when prompted.
  11. Click YES at the initial Permissions screen for Opera Mini.
  12. At the Permissions screen, select “Yes, always.  Don’t ask again” and hit OK to continue.
  13. Opera Mini will finish its install.  Click “Accept” and you’re done.
  14. Finally, within Opera Mini, choose Menu (left soft button) > Tools > Settings.  Deselect the “Auto-complete address input” and “24-hour clock” options.  *Highly recommended*.  Hit the left soft button to Save.
  15. Opera Mini is ready-to-rock!  Enjoy 🙂

Note: Opera Mini is a java application, so you won’t see an ‘Opera Mini’ link on your Start Menu.  Instead, launch the Java application, and then launch Opera Mini from within it.  You can assign a hotkey to the Java app, or use MortScript to make Opera Mini its own “program”, so to speak.  More on that in the near future.

PARTING THOUGHTS

The T-Mobile Dash  continues to surprise me with how well it performs after all these years.  Hey… this sucker was originally released in late 2006!  The continuing dev support, especially at XDA Developers, is nothing short of astounding.

Even better, the EnergyROM has breathed additional life into this phone, which is really cool.  It looks great, is a bit faster, handles low-memory situations better, and incorporates a lot of the tweaks I really love.  Very nice work, NRGZ28!!

I hope you enjoy it too 🙂

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More thoughts on the G1 phone: hardware

Having had a few weeks to play around with my new T-Mobile G1 (Android) phone, I feel like I can give a better “review” of this product – both from a software and hardware perspective.

As you ought to know by now, Google has released an open-source OS called “Android”.  Although the first iterations are aimed squarely at the mobile handset market, there is little doubt that Google is attempting to push Android even further.  While still in the ‘infant stages’ as far as operating systems are concerned, Android is surprisingly polished and well-made.  It’s not perfect, mind you, but they never are. 

The very first Android-based phone on the market was released by T-Mobile, which is unusual for a company that tends to have a very not-cutting-edge selection of devices.  With that said, I’m going to focus on the hardware of this device – made by HTC –  for this particular write-up.

Here are my thoughts (thus far) on the T-Mobile G1…

PHONE HARDWARE (General)
Although I found the G1 to be somewhat ugly initially, it’s grown on me quite a bit these past few weeks.  I really like the matte black finish — which does *not* smudge particularly easily — and the phone feels solid in your hand.  The sliding mechanism, which reveals the physical keyboard, feels sturdy and moves easily.  On the down side, however, I have noticed some very slight movement of the screen while I’m on a call.  Slightly annoying, is probably the best description of it, and life continues without issue. 

The lower call / menu buttons feel good, if a bit too flush.  The camera button (on the right) and the volume up/down buttons (on the left) feel fine.  On the negative side, however, I’m not a fan of the “roller ball” that is nestled between the back and home buttons.  It feels cheap to me, seems overly sensitive, and I really avoid using it as much as possible..  Perhaps the Blackberry Pearl users out there will feel right at home, though.

Accessing the battery/SIM card by removing the rear cover was a bit cumbersome, in my opinion, though I’ve not needed to access either of them since.  The cover for the MicroSD card is located near the ‘call’ button when you slide the screen away.  Adding/removing a MicroSD card can be accomplished “on-the-fly”.

KEYBOARD
At this point, the Android software does not feature any sort of “virtual” keyboard, so all text entry comes from the physical keyboard that is revealed as you slide the screen to the right (if held vertically; upward, if held horizontally). 

Like the call / menu buttons on the lower portion of the phone, the keyboard keys feel a bit “too flush” for my taste, which make accurate typing a bit of a chore thus far.  I was, of course, expecting a bit of a learning curve with the keyboard as I migrated from my T-Mobile Dash, but it’s taken longer than I had expected.  Also, the lower portion of the phone (call button area) ends up separating your right hand from the right-side of the keyboard ever so slightly.  That has taken some getting used to.

My biggest “peeve” with the keyboard?  My T-Mobile Dash (also made by HTC) allowed you to type the ALT characters via two methods: 1) hit ALT + the key you need, or 2) hold the key for a moment, which would trigger the ALT character automatically.  Strange as it sounds, the second method became second-nature for me!  I was honestly quite surprised to not have this feature on the G1, since it seems so simple to do.  Both my brother and I are really hoping that this might change with a future software update.

I should also note that the keyboard makes a slight “swoosh” sound when you open and close it.  It reminds me a bit of a door from Star Trek 🙂

SCREEN
What can be said about the G1 screen?  It’s big, beautiful, and nice to look at.  The resolution is nice, and the touch interface is fun-to-use… most of the time.  The truth is, the touch doesn’t always register on the device, which can be slightly aggravating.  At this point, though, I’m going to have to chalk this up to a software issue, and not hardware.  Here’s hoping that a fix is coming down the pike.

Although using a touch interface is nice and very natural, having a screen with fingerprints all over it quickly becomes annoying.  Like many iPhone users that I know, I’m constantly wiping my display off on my pants or t-shirt just to remove the smudges.  A “screen protector” of some sort would probably help with this, but they also typically affect the look of the screen negatively too, at least in my experience.

All in all, the screen looks good – for the OS, pictures, web browser, and so on.  It also seems sturdy and somewhat scratch-resistant.  I carry my phone in either my jacket or pants pocket, and I don’t see any scratches thus far.

CAMERA
I’ll keep this short.  The G1 camera looks quite good, and is very easy to use – two areas where the Dash really fell flat.  There is no flash, and the camera suffers from a bit of shutter lag as the auto-focus does its job.  Still, the pictures look decent and it’s a reasonable “always with me” type of camera.

As a bit of a help to others, you can also click the roller-ball to ‘snap’ pictures, which helps reduce moving/blurring while the photo is taken.

AUDIO
The call quality has been very good, in my experience, though I find the phone to be slightly on the quiet side.  I’ve found little reason to use anything but the ‘max’ volume level for either the earpiece or the speakerphone.  Strangely enough, the Dash (again, another HTC device) had the same issue: just a bit too quiet for my taste.  I’ve also noticed that the ringer is much quieter when the phone is set face-up on a desk – certainly because the speaker is on the back of the device.  Whereas my Dash could be heard across the house, I often don’t hear my G1 very well.  Both phones had the ringer turned up, of course.

I can’t speak for the quality of my voice for those receiving a phone call from me, of course, but I’ve had no complaints.  Also, I’ve talked with my brother G1-to-G1, and he sounds fine.  No real discernable difference from the Dash, in this case.

I have NOT used the USB-to-headphone adapter, unfortunately, though I do with they’d stuck with a simple headphone jack.  The necessity of the adapter likely means that I’ll never use headphones with my G1.  Just being honest here.  The including stereo headphones appear painful, and I will NOT be using them.

CONNECTIVITY
Pairing the G1 phone with my Motorola H375 Bluetooth headset was very straightforward and has (thus far) worked just fine.  As an aside, the H375 has been a great headset!  Well-priced, comfortable, easy-to-use, good quality, and nice to look at!

On the bottom of the G1 is a (now fairly standard) mini-USB port underneath a flexible door.  I could do without the cheap cover – which I might just remove – but I am ever-thankful for mini-USB ports that are frequently featured with newer devices.  The ability to use a single cord to connect/charge my cell phone, Bluetooth headset, and other devices is really great.

Connecting the G1 to my computer was pretty straight-forward as well.  Plug the USB cord into my computer and then the mini-USB connector to my phone.  The phone notifies you that you’re connected, and then you have the option to “Mount” or “Don’t Mount” the phone on your computer.  Essentially, the default behavior when you connect your phone to your computer is to simply charge the phone *only*, which is nice.  To connect to your phone as a storage device, just hit the “Mount” option and it will show up as a connected drive.  You can access any files, photos, or whatever else you might have on the MicroSD card.  The phone memory itself cannot be accessed, I believe.

SUMMARY
Strictly from a hardware perspective, the G1 is a good phone.  It’s really quite sturdy, and the weight – while not slight – feels good in the hands.  I would change a few things, if I could, there’s even more that I wouldn’t change.  HTC did a very good job in designing this phone, and I imagine that it will serve me well long into the future.  In “cell phone speak”, that means 12 – 18 months! 🙂

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Coming soon…my G1 “software” thoughts!

Migrating to the G1 phone?

So…today I picked up a brand-new G1 phone from T-Mobile.  I’ve been using my T-Mobile Dash for over 2 years now, and it’s starting to feel pretty long in the tooth.  Why get the G1?  Well… T-Mobile is pretty well-known for having a poor selection of the “spiffy” phones, and they’re usually late to the game for adopting new technology.  (3G network, anyone?)  Having said that, the G1 phone is a bit of an anomaly for T-Mobile: first to market with something exciting, and so it seemed to be the “phone to get” when looking at their available phones.  Time will tell if that was “good thinking” on my part or not…

REMEMBERING THE DASH
Before I talk about the G1 too much, I should give a bit of a background here.  I’ve been using this T-Mobile Dash since November 2006.  Quite honestly, it’s been a very good phone.  Perhaps the best I’ve ever owned.  At one point, I had gone over 90 days without ever restarting, rebooting, or turning off the phone.  That’s amazing!  The Dash initially shipped with the (fairly painful) Windows Mobile 5.0 OS.  Before too long, T-Mobile and HTC (the phone manufacturer) offered a free/supported upgrade to WinMo 6.0.  The offer of a free OS upgrade for your mobile phone was pretty amazing at the time.  6.0 was better in most regards.  This year, a “gray” release of WinMo 6.1 became available, and it was a very worthy upgrade for the Dash.  Still, an OS refresh can only do so much for an aging phone.

LOSING FUNCTIONALITY?
I’m actually not enormously excited about migrating to the G1 phone.  Why?  Well, primarily because I’m very aware of some functionality that I’ll be losing.  For starters, the G1 does *not* yet support Exchange sync capability, which is something I’ve been using for 2 years now.  Also, there are some seemingly small features that it lacks, and I’m always amazed that new, state-of-the-art phones don’t have these. 

First, my Dash (WinMo OS) has a ring profile called “Automatic”.  In this mode, the phone would automatically set your phone to “silent” when you were in a meeting.  It gathered this information, of course, from your phone calendar, which was synced with my work calendar.  When the meeting was done, the ringer went back to “normal” ring mode.  Have you ever set your phone to “vibrate” and then missed a call because you forgot to put it back?  I used to do that ALL the time, but not since having this feature.  Honestly, every phone with a calendar should have this feature.  It’s a no-brainer to me, but it appears that only Windows Mobile has figured it out.

Secondly, my default ring “style” has for years been vibrate first, then ring.  Assuming that my phone is on my person (or near to me), this gives me about a 90% success rate of grabbing my phone and answering it before anyone has to hear the ring tone.  I guarantee that my co-workers are more than happy to not have to hear yet another phone ringing in the office.  How many phones offer the vibrate first, then ring option?  Not many, and apparently *NOT* the G1.  Aggravating.

Thirdly, the Dash features an in-your-face style keyboard, whereas the G1 is a fold-out style.  Any typing on the G1 will require flipping the screen aside to access the keyboard, since it does *not* (currently) have any sort of a virtual keyboard.  That, of course, allows for a much bigger screen, which is nice, but at the cost of less-accessible typing, in some regards.  Not a deal killer, by any stretch, but notable.

Lastly, I’m aware of some other features that I’ll be losing – at least for now.  “Phone tethering”, which allows me to use my phone as a modem for a laptop, is not available on the G1 right now, as I understand it.  Full “Office files” support is also not available (or just not “built-in”, perhaps), which means that easily opening/editing Word and Excel files is not an option.  Hmph.  The list goes on, I’m sure.

GAINING FUNCTIONALITY?
Of course, it would be very unfair to note the negatives and none of the positives.  The G1 is a nice phone with many desirable features, namely… a nice big keyboard, large touchscreen, very configurable “desktop”, 3G network access (nice!), an open OS platform, GPS built-in, and a fun, if a bit “unproven” user interface.  It’s certainly more “fun” to use than WinMo so far, for what that’s worth 🙂

THE TRIP SO FAR…
I’m not wanting to give a full review on the G1 at this point.  I’ve only had it for a few hours, you know!  I can, however, give some initial thoughts both positive and negative…

+ Screen is very nice
+ Keyboard is (so far) pretty easy to use, and even has two shift keys!
+ “App Market” is nice, and there are some good, free applications
+ Has multiple “desktops” that are all configurable and fun to scroll with
+ Holding a desktop icon allows you to move it or delete it.  Cool!
+ Syncs well with my Google Calendar and Contacts
+ Played very well with my Yahoo! Mail
+ Pull-down notification menu is nice
+ 3G network is nice n’ fast!
+ Built-in browser is really quite good
+ Camera is really good

– Battery life is pretty poor, it seems.  Maybe I’ll get a day and a half?!
– Heftier and larger than what I’m used to
– Can’t find any “speed dial” settings like I’m used to
– No “auto silent” feature, though the app Ring Control might help with this
– Keyboard seems slightly angled when opened.  Strange.
– Phone is kinda ugly 🙂
– Bottom of phone is angled up for no apparent reason

So… that’s all for now.  I need to man-handle this phone for a week or two to *really* get the low-down on it.  I know that my brother is interested in one as well, so I’m going to try and put it thru its paces.

More on the G1 soon!

Upgrade your T-Mobile Dash to Windows Mobile 6.1

NOTE: A newer version of this article is posted here.

 

I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for years (and years).  In fact, I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for as long as they’ve been active in the United States.  Before that we were with Voicestream , the company that T-Mobile bought out to stake a claim on American soil.  During that time, of course, we’ve had several phones.  An early Handspring PDA with a phone add-on that made me look like I was talking into a pizza box.  A couple of Samsung phones.  A Nokia 6820 that my wife still uses.  And there were other phones, I’m sure.

In November 2006, however, I waded reluctantly into the Windows Mobile world.  Not because I wanted a Windows Mobile-based phone, mind you, but because I was beginning to support them in the workplace on a regular basis.  It just made sense.  Most of our company is on AT&T, but I staunchly demanded to stick with T-Mobile.  That being the case, my choices of Windows Mobile-based phones was limited.  Not too limited, however, as I was able to purchase the T-Mobile Dash for not-too-much money.

Designed by HTC to be a "T-Mobile" branded phone, I have to say that this handset has some seriously impressive staying power.  Almost 2 years after they were released, T-Mobile is still selling these phones on their website!  Admittedly, T-Mobile is typically behind the "technology curve", if you will, but they seem to know a good product when they see it.  The Dash is a good phone, and a very decent PDA.  I’ve beat mine to heck, but it keeps chugging along.  I don’t turn my phone off — ever — and this device has been surprisingly stable, especially considering that I sync my work email, calendar, and contacts as well as making phone calls, of course, the occasional game, and much more.  So stable, in fact, that at one point I had not rebooted (restarted, turned off, etc.) this phone for over 90 days!  Can you leave your phone up and running for over 3 months without a restart?  Bet you can’t.  🙂

But I digress.

The point of this article is to help others upgrade to the very latest OS that you can find for the T-Mobile Dash: Windows Mobile 6.1 (WM6.1).  Although these phones initially shipped with WM5.0, T-Mobile (and HTC) eventually offered a free, supported upgrade to WM6.0.  It was a nice move on their part, and a worthy upgrade.  Upgrading from WM6.0 to WM6.1 seems almost trite, but make no mistake about it: upgrading to WM6.1 is a radical front-end change that will leave you feeling like you have a brand new phone!  Perhaps that’s overstating it a bit, but the upgrade is really quite nice to have.

Among the WM6.1 enhancements are…

  • "Sliding panels" homescreen
  • Threaded SMS messaging
  • Improved browser
  • Built-in task manager
  • Better battery life and improved device performance
  • Other stuff

Enough of all that.  Let’s try to get you upgraded!

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First of all, this write-up assumes that you have a fully-functioning T-Mobile Dash phone operating on the U.S. network.  It also assumes that you know how to use your phone fairly well, as not everything is spelled out for you.  Lastly, this procedure may void your warranty, so please be aware of that.

What you’ll need:

  • A functioning, usable T-Mobile Dash phone (aka HTC Excalibur) on the T-Mobile network
  • Windows PC (XP or Vista)
  • USB sync cable to connect your phone to your PC
  • To download these zipped files and unzip them to a local folder on your computer.  The desktop works fine.

If you’re already confused, then this upgrade isn’t for you.  Otherwise, please continue…

UPGRADING THE ROM

  1. Turn off your phone, remove any MicroSD card you might have, and boot the phone back up again.  When the phone is fully booted (and usable), connect your phone to your PC via your USB sync cable.  Windows should recognize your phone and either 1) launch Active-Sync, or 2) see it as a removable drive.  Fine.  Things are working normally.
  2. With your phone connected to your PC, double-click on the "RUU_Excalibur_WM61_Kavana_080330_WWE.exe" file that you downloaded/extracted in the earlier steps.  The ROM update utility will start.  Click the button with "EC" to continue.
  3. You should be greeted with a command prompt box telling your to "remove SD card and reboot…".  We’ve already done this, so hit Enter to continue.  The ROM will be copied to your phone.
  4. The screen should read "execute SPL now…"  Hit Enter one more time.
  5. Now, hit the middle (silver) button of your phone d-pad.  The screen on your mobile phone should turn white.
  6. Hit Enter once more to continue.
  7. The GUI for the ROM updater should launch.  Keep the defaults and select any "I agree" statements when prompted.  The ROM update itself takes about 5 minutes or so.
  8. After the update, your phone will reboot by itself and run the ‘Cold Boot’ config.  This is normal.  Restart your phone when prompted.
  9. Upon rebooting again, you will be prompted with a "Voice Command" program selected.  I chose "Microsoft Voice Command" and clicked OK.  Another reboot.
  10. Finally, your phone should boot up into the new WM6.1 interface and join the T-Mobile network.  Congrats!!!  Your phone has successfully upgraded.  You can also turn the phone off again and re-insert your MiniSD card, if you like.

FIXING THE DEFAULT KEY MAPPINGS

This ROM defaults to an alternate (non-US) keyboard mapping for this phone.  It’s fairly easy to fix, so here we go….

  1. Connect the phone to your PC
  2. Copy the ‘ET9 Full.cab’ and ‘et9.Excalibur.0409.kmap.txt’ files to your phone.  Remember where you put them!
  3. Using the File Explorer, find the ‘ET9 Full.cab’ file and launch it to install.  Install it to your ‘Device’, if prompted.
  4. Under Start > All Programs, use the Resco Explorer program to copy the ‘et9.Excalibur.0409.kmap.txt’ file to the My Device\Windows folder on your phone.  Overwrite the existing file.
  5. Restart your phone and enjoy the proper keyboard mappings!

Note: the pink "T" button in the lower-right hand corner of the keypad now launches the CeleTask task manager application.  Very nice!

RUN THE CONNECTION SETUP FOR T-MOBILE

  1. Go to the Start menu on your phone.  This selection now opens the "Recent Programs" option by default.  Hit the left soft button again for "All Programs", then select Accessories.
  2. Choose the Connection Setup program
  3. Select the ‘United States’ from the first drop-down menu, and then ‘T-Mobile’ as your operator.
  4. Reboot when prompted.
  5. Your phone should now be configured for T-Mobile phone, data, MMS, and SMS access.

DISABLING Xt9 (optional)

The default typing input method for the Dash is the Xt9 I’m-gonna-guess-what-you-really-mean-to-say method.  I find it aggravating and turn it off immediately.  Here’s how.

  1. Open a new text message and begin typing
  2. Hold the "alt" key and "space bar" down at the same time
  3. When the menu pops up, choose the ‘ABC’ option (2nd in the list), and click the middle of your d-pad
  4. Now you can type what you want, how you want.  This selection will stay even with a reboot!

DISABLING THE JOG BAR (optional)

The Dash features a touch-sensitive strip just right of the display. It’s called the JogBar, and I hate it.  Actually, I like the idea, but it really doesn’t work well if you hold the phone up to your head with your right hand.  What happens?  Basically, it touches the side of your face and ends up turning the volume down in mid phone call.  Ooops!  For whatever reason, they *never* thought to include another method for adjusting the volume on these phones.  How about the up/down d-pad, guys?  Crazy, I know.

All that said, I just turn the volume on the phone to ‘max’ and disable the JogBar entirely.  Works out fine.  Here’s how…

  1. Connect the phone to your PC
  2. Copy the ‘SetJogBar.cab’ file to your phone.  Remember where you put it!
  3. Using the File Explorer on your phone, find the ‘SetJogBar.cab’ that you copied over and run it.  Install it to your ‘Device’, if prompted.
  4. Next, make a quick phone call, use the JogBar to turn the phone up all the way, and disconnect the call.
  5. Go to Start > All Programs > and Settings on your phone.
  6. On the 3rd screen, find the JOGGR line, open it, de-select the top 4 checkboxes, and click done.
  7. JogBar is disabled

CHANGING THE HEADER GRAPHIC FOR EASIER TEXT DIALING (optional)

Our home and office phones have letters written on the number keys for easier dialing when calling a number like 1-800-FLOWERS, or something like that.  That has historically been somewhat difficult on the Dash, but an upgraded graphic will cure those ails!  Here’s how…

  1. Connect the phone to your PC
  2. Copy the ‘ms_mobile.gif’ image to your phone.  Again, remember where you put it.
  3. Using Resco Explorer (Start > All Programs), copy the ‘ms_mobile.gif’ file to the My Device\Windows folder on your phone.  Overwrite the existing file.
  4. Reboot your phone and you’ll notice a handy ‘numbers + letters’ graphic at the top of the screen when you start dialing.  Cool.

SIMPLIFY THE HOME SCREEN (optional)

The default WM6.1 home screen includes access to photos, music, and other things that I (personally) don’t use a whole lot on my phone.  I’d rather not have them on the home screen.  Guess what?  That’s easy to change.  Here’s how…

  1. On your phone, go to Start > All Programs > Settings and choose Home Screen.
  2. The first option is called the Home Screen Layout and defaults to "Sliding Panel Media".  Select that box, and hit right or left on your d-pad until it says "Sliding Panel" only.
  3. You’ll also notice a checkbox that says "Show Recent Programs".  If you prefer that the Start button shows All Programs (instead of the new default Recent Programs), then simply uncheck that box.
  4. Hit Done and then hit the Home button.  Your home screen will be changed!

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That should do it!  Here are some before and after shots of the homescreen (not my phone, obviously):

Before

After

Schwanky!

For more information on your T-Mobile Dash, check out the XDA Developers "Excalibur" message board.  Really great stuff there!

Enjoy 🙂