T-Mobile is trying to claim the Android crown with the myTouch 4G and this superphone is packed with enough features to go toe-to-toe with the cream of the crop. Can it live up to the hype? Read on to find out, friends.
T-Mobile myTouch 4G
Available now for $199.99 with new 2-year contract
- 3.8-inch capacitive touchscreen (800 x 480)
- 1 GHz Snapdragon processor
- 5 Megapixel camera with LED Flash
- 4 GB of internal memory, comes with 8 GB card pre-installed
- microSD card slot, expandable to 32 GB
- WiFi (B/G/N), HSPA+ 3G, GPS, Bluetooth
- 5-megapixel camera with Flash, 720p HD video recording
- Front-facing camera for video chatting
- Genius button for deep voice-action integration
- Well-made piece of hardware – it feels like a premium device
- HSPA+ speeds are great if you’re in the coverage area
- Video-chatting works well and not having to rely on WiFi is great
- Custom UI tweaks actually help
- Android Market is mature now
- Great experience overall
- The camera’s not horrible but it could be improved
- Data connection fluctuates wildly
- Stock Android fans may not like the skin
- Not sure if Genius button is truly needed – I miss a standalone search button
- Why do we need an optical track pad?
Don’t let the myTouch name fool you: this is a top-shelf smartphone that is on par with whatever the competition is offering. The metal backing, dark grey trim and the overall feel of the device makes the myTouch 4G feel like a premium handset. You can also get it in a variety of colors and I’m a little partial to all-black one.
On the face of the device you have a 3.8-inch capacitive touchscreen with 480 by 800 resolution. It’s bright and responsive, although I’m a bit spoiled by Super AMOLED and the Retina Display. Still, you shouldn’t have any problems as the screen is pretty darn good.
Above the screen is a front-facing camera (more on that later), a notification light and a speaker. You have four hard button below: Home, Menu, Back and the Genius button.
Ah, the Genius button. We first saw this on the myTouch 3G Slide and this enables you to use your voice for multiple things like sending texts, searching for businesses and more. T-Mobile has also added in things like a hands-free mode and a Car dock mode to make this more useful.
I’m still not convinced that the Genius button is necessary, as Google is making a lot of these features available with its Voice Actions apps. These will eventually be baked into the OS itself – plus, I kind of miss the dedicated search button a lot. I’ve grown so accustomed to it that it’s kind of a pain when it’s gone.
I also don’t think the optical track pad is needed any more, particularly with the large touchscreen. Sure, it could make one-handed operation easier but I had no problem just touching the screen even when using one hand.
You have a dedicated camera button on the spine, power/unlock and standard headphone on the top and the volume rocker, microUSB port and a docking connector on the other side. The back has a subtle camera module, flash and a speaker, along with an easy-to-take-off battery cover.
The internals are about what you’d expect from a smartphone of this class: 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, WiFi (802.11n support), GPS, Bluetooth, and radios which can take advantage of the HSPA+ network.
I can detract points for having to take off the battery door to swap the microSD slot and for the Genius button and optical track pad but those are minor annoyances. HTC knows how to make high-quality devices and the myTouch 4G lives up to that standard.
I’m going to focus mainly on the preloaded software and custom tweaks on the myTouch 4G because you should know what Android 2.2 means by now: it’s a mature, highly-capable platform to make calls, send texts, surf the web and the Android Market is rounding into shape nicely. Android is still not quite as visually-pleasing as iOS (come on, it’s true) but it is darn good.
The myTouch 4G has a customized version of HTC Sense UI and it’s being called the myTouch UI. It shares a lot of features with Sense like the “Leap” feature which shows you all your home screens at once after double tapping the Home button. You get five home screens and access to the traditional Sense widgets like the Friend Stream for aggregating your social networks.
T-Mobile dipped its finger in the software pie multiple times and it’s mostly positive. The myModes feature lets you quickly switch which mode you’re in: the Kids mode disables phone-calling access, Family mode disables e-mail notifications so you can focus on those rug rats, Work mode puts your e-mail and calendar front and center and the Standard mode is what you’d expect. The modes switch pretty quickly and I found this a neat, little tweak.
Another tweak I like is that there’s an app switcher in the pull-down notification tray. Like I said in the Captivate review, I really love smart additions to the notification bar.
There’s also a Faves app which makes it easier to keep track of 20 of your closest contacts. The mail client also smartly takes advantage of this by having a separate filter for your Faves – this is really cool because my contact list is filled with tons of people and this filters out the noise.
The only problem I had is that I still think the updated Gmail app is better, mainly because I’m used to it. Another weird thing I found is that the myTouch 4G seemed to get mail notifications a little later than other devices. With all the phones on my desk, my room sounds like a freaking Pachinko machine but the T-Mobile myTouch always seemed to get it last. The delay was only by about 30 seconds but it was still annoying.
There’s a car dock mode to help you avoid that naughty texting while driving and this is an opportunity for the Genius button to shine. This lets you use your voice to check e-mails, send out texts and more. The voice-recognition system is pretty accurate but it is a little slow for my liking.
It comes with Swype as the standard keyboard and I’m on that bandwagon. This replacement keyboard makes it simple to bang out messages with one hand. You can turn it off for standard Android typing.
There are a few other things that I’ll cover in later sections but you should know that the software on the myTouch 4G is pretty darn good. Android is a good foundation to build upon and the tweaks make it more usable and a little more visually pleasing.
Of course, the one concern with a custom UI layer is that it can lead to roadblocks with future versions of Android and that can be especially worrisome considering Gingerbread is right around the corner. T-Mobile’s upgrade track record hasn’t been that great either.
Still, unless Gingerbread brings some amazing new features, I wouldn’t be too concerned with the software on the myTouch 4G because it’s rock-solid. The 1 GHz processor means there’s no delay in switching between apps or screens, either.
Web Browsing, Multimedia, Camera
The T-Mobile Android handset also comes with Adobe Flash Player and this works relatively well for many videos and online games. There are still some playback issues but I think a lot of that has to do with publishers than the actual player.
I’ve constantly said that the Android multimedia players are still a step behind the iPhone but the myTouch 4G nicely closes that gap. I’d still give the iPhone media player the nod but this T-Mobile smartphone gives it a nice run for the money.
The media player is called Media room and it handles music, video and FM radio quite well. It also comes preloaded with Slacker and multimedia searches will even go through that Internet radio provider for tracks and stations. I’m more of a Pandora man myself (I pay for the service) but Slacker is pretty darn cool because you can cache songs for times when you don’t have Internet connectivity.
You can also look forward to T-Mobile TV on the device and this works pretty well in delivering free and paid mobile television. There’s DLNA support to stream videos and photos over WiFi to a capable device – this is neat stuff but I’m still not sure how often I’d really use this.
The one negative is that there’s still no standard Android syncing software but this does come with DoubleTwist. I find drag and drop to be enough for me but I don’t really create playlists, so the media syncing software will be much appreciated by many.
Camera and video chatting (special World Series edition)
The myTouch 4G has a 5-megapixel camera with a flash and it is capable of recording at 720p HD video. That’s fairly standard now, as nearly every top-shelf smartphone can do this.
A funny thing happened when I was testing out this phone: the San Francisco Giants won the World Series and there was bedlam in the city. I’m talking cheering in the streets, riot cops, burned mattresses, ghost riding whips and all that you would expect from a city celebrating its first World Series championship.
It’s at these special moments when you want the camera in your pocket to come through and the myTouch 4G did a decent job but I’ve seen much better from cameras with the same specs.
The camera UI itself is fine, as there are are multiple options for exposure, effects, face detection and sharing. The flash works well enough but you’re still not going to get amazing low-light shots. It also launches fairly quickly when you hold down the camera button, which is always appreciated.
My problem is that it couldn’t really handle motion at all. I have so many shots that are just a blurred mess. Shots are also not as sharp as I’ve had with other 5-megapixel cameras like the Samsung Fascinate.
Here are some of the better shots but I missed a few awesome ones.
Standard settings with a lot of light:
The video recording was pretty good, as the high-resolution videos come out well, if a tad bit choppy. I would have liked some image stabilization and the ability to zoom in but those are minor quibbles. I also hate that it doesn’t default to 720p HD, as you have to switch it on.
One of the most appealing features of the myTouch 4G is the ability to do video chatting nearly anywhere over its 3G network. That’s right folks, unlike the Apple iPhone 4 and FaceTime, you won’t have to rely on a WiFi network (T-Mobile is very proud of that, too). The front-facing camera lets you video chat with other mobiles or desktops using Qik or Yahoo chat.
It all sounds amazing but it’s not quite ready for prime time. It works well under ideal conditions – when both have a strong HSPA+ signal or on WiFi – and I was able to video chat with my brother in Texas to show him the World Series revelry. Like the iPhone, you can quickly switch which camera you’re using so you can broadcast what’s around you.
Of course, the problem happens when you’re not in ideal conditions, as video can stutter and lag tremendously and the audio can be downright unusable.
Video chatting on the myTouch 4G is mostly a good experience and it’s really nice not having to worry about being near a WiFi hotspot. The company also said it plans to integrate other video chatting services in the future and I hope Google Talk and Skype are at the top of the list. Check out the video below for a quick demonstration of this in action.
Call Quality, HSPA+ and Battery Life
The call quality on this Android superphone was great: voice sounded clear on both ends and I didn’t hear any static. I would have liked the speakerphone to be a bit louder but that’s about all I can complain about.
As for the “4G” part of the phone, I think that HSPA+ is freaking awesome … if you have strong coverage. The company’s HSPA+ network can get a theoretical 21 Mbps download speeds and I would routinely get between 3 to 7 Mbps when I had coverage.
Of course, the “when I had coverage” part is key. I found the data would wildly fluctuate depending on where I was. In my room and throughout most of the house, I’d be stuck on super slow EDGE. Walking a few blocks gave me full HSPA+ goodness. Much of San Francisco was blanketed with HSPA+ but there didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason which areas had this and which didn’t.
So, HSPA+ is awesome sauce if you can get it but going back to EDGE is very much a drag.
You know the standard routine by now with battery life: a single charge will get you through a normal day with moderate use. Heavy mobile Internet usage will mean you need a charge around 6 p.m.
The Final Take: Is the myTouch 4G king of them all y’all?
We have a ton of superphones to choose from on every carrier, so does the myTouch 4G do enough to stand out from the crowd. I say it does.
I did kind of miss the extra real estate of the Droid X or EVO and the iPhone 4 is still very popular for a reason but I think the myTouch equals or outdoes many of these devices in nearly every category. It’s a good-looking device with a strong, mature operating system and once you go “4G,” everything else just seems like it’s stuck in molasses.
The only drawbacks you may have is the okay camera and the myTouch UI may not be for everyone. If you’re on T-Mobile and want a smartphone, get this handset. If you’re looking to jump to T-Mobile (and have HSPA+ coverage), then you’ll be glad you did if you buy this smartphone.