T-Mobile's Android slider packs a punch
The HTC MyTouch 3G Slide from T-Mobile USA is the Android smartphone that has seemed to fly under the radar. Released at a time when Snapdragon processors and AMOLED screens are all the rage, the mid-range specs on the Slide disguise the performance and feel of this qwerty slider. Packing its own flavor of the touted HTC Sense UI and running Android 2.1, the Slide was a phone I was itching to get my hands on and put it through the paces. Hit the jump to see my impressions of this solid, but forgotten phone.
We'll spare you the unboxing, as we've seen about as many of those as we can take :) . The packaging does deserve a little look however.
You won't find the normal everyday cardboard and paper box. The Slide comes in a hard shell plastic case, reminiscent of a small jewelery box. Inside you'll find everything in its own padded compartment, where it fits nicely safe and sound. Speaking of everything, included are a microUSB cable and an AC-to-USB charging block, the various manuals and "getting started" guide, and an above-average quality headset with inline remote, earbuds and a shirt clip. A part of me thinks having this sort of packaging is a really nice touch, while the other part realizes that you'll probably just end up putting it in a drawer, not to be seen for the life of the phone. In any case, it's different. And in today's competitive market, different is good as long as it's done well -- and in this case (pun intended!) it is.
The exterior hardware
The Slide is mid-range in size as well. It's 4.5 inches tall, 2.4 inches wide, and 0.6 inches thick. It's relatively slim even though it packs a four-row horizontal sliding qwerty keyboard, and it feels good in the hand. With the keyboard closed, it feels very much like one of the previous generation (G2) HTC devices. The similarities end there though, as we'll see as we go through things.
Up front, you have a capacitive touchscreen (3.4 inches at 320 x 480 resolution), four physical buttons -- Home, Menu, Back, and the Genius Button in place of the expected Search button (You can check out how it performs here, where we put it head to head against Vlingo), and a trackpad that also acts as an action button. Up top you have an attractive chrome earpiece, a light sensor and an LED for notifications. Slide it open, and you have the four-row keyboard, which we'll get into later.
On top you have the power button and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. On the bottom, there's the standard microUSB connector and two microphone grills -- not that there's dual mics on the phone itself, but there are two openings to help things from being muffled by cases or fingers. I found the microphone preformed just fine, callers said that I sounded normal during usage. Around back you find the 5-megapixel camera, with LED flash and the speaker grill. In my opinion, the speaker on the phone is excellent, both for media and when using as a speakerphone.
I've been playing with a souped-up Froyo ROM on my N1 for a while, and I was sure the transition to using the Slide was going to be painful at best. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out how wrong I was. The Slide is a snappy device, both on paper during benchmarking and in real-world use. It certainly won't be breaking any land-speed records, but it's more than able and holds its own against some of the other newer offerings in the Android world. It does all this with a 600 MHz Qualcomm ARM 11 processor, and a respectable 512 MB of ROM and RAM. Very nice to see that HTC and T-Mobile didn't hold back in the memory department. The battery is a 1300 mAh Li-Ion, and I have zero complaints about battery life -- even with poor signal I was easily able to get a full day's use of e-mail, messaging and talk.
The inevitable comparisons
Because it's an Android horizontal slider, it's going to be compared to the Motorola Droid. And because it's an HTC horizontal slider, it's going to be compared to Windows Mobile-powered HTC Touch Pro 2. Neither comparison is fair, and the MyTouch 3G Slide stands well on its own. But for the sake of completeness, have a peep.
The Slide's keyboard falls right in the middle here. The layout, button spacing, and lack of a horribly placed D-Pad makes the Slide's keyboard better and easier to use than the Droid's. The Touch Pro 2's fifth row -- and the simple fact that the Alt. characters are screened in a different color -- make it better and easier to use than the Slide's keyboard. Having said that, the sliding mechanism is fine, and you'll find yourself quickly getting used to using it with decent speed and accuracy, so forget how it compares to other qwerty sliders and give it time to grow on you.
The Slide runs HTC Sense 2.1 -- but with a twist. Commonly known as Espresso, it's unique to the Slide and includes a horizontal homescreen. All the standard Sense features you know and love are there, as well as a few Slide specifics. Have a look at the walkthrough below where I go over some of the differences and similarities.
As you can see, things are mostly what we're used to in the software on other HTC Sense devices, like the Incredible or the Hero or the Desire. T-Mobile has added and changed a few things, mostly for the better.
- T-Mobile's App pack -- a set of applications suggested by T-Mobile, and an easy way to browse them.
- T-Mobile's My Account -- an application that lets you view your current T-Mo account settings.
- T-Mobile Visual Voice Mail -- A visual voicemail app specifically for T-Mobile customers.
- My Device -- contains the User Guide, and settings for things like ringtones, wallpaper, mobile networks, screen settings, etc.
- MyFaves -- An interface (complete with widgets) to your T-Mobile myFaves.
- MyModes -- A MyTouch 3G exclusive that allows themeing of the Sense Espresso UI.
- MyTouch Music -- A T-Mobile supplied streaming music application.
- The Genius Button -- T-Mobile's answer to voice commands and search.
- IM -- The HTC Instant Messenger client.
- Swype -- The fabulous keyboard replacement. The Slide gets its own version, and it works identical to the standard.
- Barcode Scanner -- The Slide includes the popular application, available for everyone else from the Android Market.
While nobody here is happy to see carriers make changes to default software, in this case it's not that bad. None of the apps are too invasive, and a few are even handy programs you would want anyway.
The Slide comes with a 5-megapixel fixed-focus camera, with software zoom and effects -- i.e. the same camera software in every other Sense UI phone, which isn't a bad thing. You won't be replacing even the most basic point and shoot with the Slide, but it's fine if you think of it as just a cellphone camera. Stills turned out fair, even in my less-than-capable hands. Here's a sample (in order) of a pair of inside shots under a 4 foot flouro light, a pair of outside shots, and a pair of zoomed in shots. They're full resolution, so mobile viewers beware. Pardon my messy office -- visitors usually don't get to see the basement :)
The same things apply to the video capture. Quick videos grabbed in VGA resolution are acceptable from a cellphone, but don't toss out your HD camera, or even your Flip.
Final thoughts and impressions
The Slide is first and foremost a phone and communication device, and it does an excellent job at both. Call quality was fine on both ends, the speakerphone performed well, louder and clearer than any other Android phone I've used, which is quite a few. Wireless and GPS were both rock solid, and it handles all my e-mail and messaging needs with no issues. Bluetooth performance is as good as any newer HTC device -- not perfect, but good enough in most cases. Battery life was great with no tweaking, easily making it through a full day right out of the box.
On the multimedia side, the Slide performs much better that expected. The 3D gaming experience is on par with any of the new Snapdragon phones, albeit at a much lower resolution and screen size. Music sounds decent from the unit's speaker, and the included headset is as good or better than most mid-range stereo earbuds I've used in the past, including some very well known brands. Video playback was great, no stutters or pixelation from streaming video or playing movies from the SD card.
There are a few things that could be better. The phone's plastic body is pretty "creaky." Both closed and with the keyboard extended the phone just doesn't feel as solid in the hand as I'd like. Removing and replacing the battery door is a nuisance, and you get the feeling that if you had to do it often you'd soon be replacing it. There's also the (non)issue of the screen size. Not too long ago a 3.4-inch screen would have been big, but today it's the bare minimum. For me, it's a decent trade for being more pocketable and feeling better against my head on a call, but it's something you need to decide for yourself.
The MyTouch 3G Slide is certainly something you should consider, especially if the 1GHz, big screen phones don't tickle your fancy. The form factor is great, the size is perfect as a phone, and it performs well against the new breed of superphone. I wouldn't have anything to complain about if I were to use this as my daily driver.