Is the T-Mobile myTouch 3G the Google Phone to Beat?
What it is:
The myTouch 3G, the second Android smartphone (aka "Googlephone") to be introduced by T-Mobile, after the G1, is essentially a re-branded HTC Magic.
What's different about it?
Unlike the G1 (the first "Googlephone"), the myTouch opts for a touchscreen-based interface, dropping the physical keyboard. The Android 1.5 ("Cupcake") operating system and marketplace have come a long way (improved speed, more apps, better onscreen keyboard) since the G1 launched last year on T-Mobile.
What we like:
On the hardware front, HTC has built a sexier and sturdier phone, a marked improvement over the lackluster design and plastic feel of the G1 (perhaps a side-effect of removing the keyboard). The phone's molded shell doesn't pick up dirt like many next-gen smartphones, which is nice.
Activities like browsing Web pages, flicking through photos, and navigating maps are nearly as smooth as they are on the iPhone, despite the slightly smaller 3.2-inch screen. The battery life is decent; we usually had around a half-charge left after a day of heavy texting and e-mailing (without using Wi-Fi and GPS, which will drain the battery faster, of course). Both GPS and Wi-Fi functions are well-integrated into the operating system; accessing Wi-Fi settings is simple (just a couple of taps and you're ready to go) and GPS data informs multiple apps (travel and weather to social networking and photography).
Android's elegant, built-in alert system, which reveals text messages, incoming calls, and more, is one of the phone's strongest points. It's much like Growl, an essential Mac app that notifies you of system updates and incoming messages. When you receive a text, for example, the menu at the top of the screen displays a subtle alert, revealing the sender and content of the message. A simple touch and drag at the top of the screen shows more information and previous updates.
If you're a user of Google's suite of Web services, then you'll find phone setup to be an eye-opener. It typically involves frustrating transfer software, fixing broken contacts, and wrangling with e-mail services. Upon start-up, the phone asks you for your Google account, syncs up, and moments later will have effortlessly hooked into your e-mail, contacts, and calendar information. If you keep these organized (admittedly, no small feat), then the process is a godsend. Android's dedicated Gmail app is a must-use, and setting up other accounts (like Yahoo! or AOL mail) is as simple as opening the e-mail app and plugging in your e-mail address (e.g. email@example.com) and password.
The phone's camera (the same as the G1's) is elegantly intertwined with sharing; snap a shot and four taps later your picture will be uploaded to Picasa (or sent via Gmail, MMS, or Twitter). The auto-focusing 3.15-megapixel camera makes it easier to get sharper photos, and its low-light performance is better than that of most camera phones. (See sample photos in the gallery below.)
The myTouch comes with a 4-gigabyte (GB), removable SD memory card (upgradable to 16GB). Hooking up to your computer in order to transfer images, music, video, or other files is as simple as connecting the phone via USB -- just like an external hard drive. (It will mount on your desktop.)
What we don't like:
We've been using the device for a couple weeks now, and the on-screen keyboard simply hasn't gotten much easier to use, despite Android's pretty good word prediction. Our typing is faster, but we're still making the types of simple mistakes (e.g. hitting the wrong keys) that usually disappear after several serious days of typing with a new keyboard. Also, as with all touchscreen phones, the screen is a fingerprint-magnet.
As does the G1, the myTouch curiously includes a trackball. If we're moving between paragraphs on a BlackBerry, we'll fling the trackball with our thumbs. Navigating text on the myTouch in the same way, though, leads to two issues. First, pushing the trackball hard and fast doesn't result in the expected amount of onscreen cursor movement. Second, we often accidentally hit the touchscreen, leaving our notes littered with extra 'p' letters.
Perhaps it's just our ears here at Switched, but the included huge earbuds may be the world's most uncomfortable. (They make even Apple's iconic, and notorious, white buds feel genuinely snug.) Similarly frustrating, the myTouch has a USB headphone jack -- an obnoxious standard on HTC phones only partially remedied by the USB-to-3.5mm jack included in the phone's case.
Unfortunately, there's no hardware button for taking photos, which means you have to tap at least three times (if your phone is locked) to bring up the camera app. Similarly, the touch-based shutter button tends to lag a bit.
Video recording is not a strong point, either; the terribly compressed video is blurry at best, and it pixelates heavily with the slightest movement. Fortunately, video sharing (via MMS, Gmail, YouTube, and more) is just as easy as sharing photos.
T-Mobile is pushing the Sherpa app as a location-based recommendation engine for finding local coffee shops, bars, restaurants, etc. Sounds great, but the app proved slow and clunky to navigate. When searching for espresso shops or delis in New York, for example, the results were good. But it was usually easier and faster to use the Web for browsing Yelp or searching Google Maps.
Shazam (After just a few moments of "listening," this seemingly from-the-future app will identify most songs playing.)
The Weather Channel (Weather junkies, here's your fix. The blue channel migrates to Android with hourly, 36-hour, and 10-day forecasts without the annoying smooth jazz)
TaskKiller (Android does allow multi-tasking, so it's possible to open too many apps. Cut the phone-slowing clutter by booting up AppKiller)
Is it worth the hype?
Android lives up to the hype in the sense that its Gmail, calendar, and contact integration alone make it worth an upgrade from a Sidekick or traditional "dumbphone." On the other hand, while Sherpa's results may help you discover new, interesting locations and shops, the app does need a serious speed and design overhaul before it's ready for prime time.
The myTouch 3G is being advertised as custom-fitted to your lifestyle, meaning you can set it (via apps) to be your running mate, stock trading tool, or travel companion. While that may miss the point of how people use Internet-connected devices in real life (We tend to use a hodgepodge of apps spread across a variety of interests.), the Android marketplace is still stuck in Apple's wake when it comes to selection. You aren't going to find any stunningly innovative games like 'Eliss,' offline readers like Instapaper, or even an official Facebook app -- yet.
Keyboard and earbud issues aside, the hardware and OS package feel far more finished than those of the first Googlephone. If you're on T-Mobile and looking for a touchscreen smartphone, the myTouch is a no-brainer, especially with the knowledge that the Android market will improve and enhance the phone's value through new apps. If you're an extremely heavy texter or e-mailer, a BlackBerry may be a better choice, but you're not going to find a better set of applications and Google integration on T-Mobile's service. While Android's apps are still lagging behind the iPhone's in terms of quality, quantity, and creativity, this phone still shines with a user interface to rival the iPhone, mobile maps, strong e-mail capabilities, and some of the best phone-based Web browsing we've seen.
Where to get it:
The myTouch 3G is currently available in stores and online for $199 (with a two-year contract) in white, merlot, and black.