Times are rough for fans of Android and QWERTY keyboards. The top-dog performers seem to never have one, and the phones with great ones are are few and far between. I know I love them, and I can't be alone. When I heard rumors that the myTouch 4G was getting a Slide version, I was hopeful. When I found out it would have better specs that the original myTouch 4G, I really started anticipating it, and when HTC announced it would come with a much improved camera, I got a little excited.
The real question is, how well does this thing compare to all the hype? It's the same question we have every time we hear about new high-end phones, especially when the new features get touted everywhere. Hit the jump, and we'll have a look.
If you take anything away from that video, it should be how snappy the phone is. It performs very well, and handled everything I could throw at it relatively easy. And it should -- it's got great specs and is driving less pixels than it's big brother the Sensation, which is no slouch when it comes to running Android well. We'll talk specs and performance in a bit, for now let's have a look at the external hardware.
The first thing you'll notice is how different the myTouch 4G Slide feels from the "regular" myTouch 4G. The phone isn't really that thick (dimensions are 4.80 x 2.60 x 0.54 inches), but it's weighty at 6.5 ounces and is all wrapped up in a smaller overall package. It feels bigger than it is.
That's not to say it doesn't fit nicely in your hands. It's very well built and all the components were assembled with tight tolerance, giving it a very quality feel. The front of the phone has everything you'd expect a high-end phone in 2011 to have, plus more. Up top there's the earpiece with the usual array of sensors for proximity and light, and the obligatory VGA front-facing camera. At the bottom, you have the optical trackpad (which works very well) and four physical buttons -- home, menu, back, and the Genius button.
On the right side of the phone you have the two-stage physical camera button. A dedicated camera button is always a nice touch, especially when it's done well. And this one is done well. Push it partially to focus, fully to snap a picture. It's advertised as "zero lag," and while zero response time isn't possible, it's close enough that I won't call them on it. We'll talk more camera in a bit. On the other side of the phone, you have the volume rocker and the microUSB port. Both are well placed and easy to use, but I would have liked to see the USB port on the other side so that it's more out of the way while the keyboard is open.
The top of the phone holds the 3.5mm headset jack, and the power switch. We get to play with a lot of phones here, and little things like a poorly designed power button can be infuriating. That's not a problem with the Slide. It's placed in a position that's comfortable to hit and needs a positive push to activate so you won't trigger it by brushing against it. The bottom of the phone is pretty bare, with only a place to attach a lanyard or charm, and the microphone.
Around back, you'll find the 8MP camera and dual LED flash assembly, wrapped up tastefully in brushed metal. Like all HTC cameras, the lens protrudes away from the back of the phone, but there is a small lip on the metal ring so you're not resting directly on the glass. The back is a one-piece battery door, covered with a very nice soft touch coating over the plastic. Removal and replacement is easy, but solid.
Under the battery door you'll find a 1520 mAh battery, a standard SIM card slot, and a microSD card slot that holds up to a 32GB card. An 8GB microSD card is included with retail units, and it's accessible without removing the battery. The camera lens looks odd while the cover is removed, I assume it sits so far off the main body for more focal length.
The 3.7 inch SLCD panel is a very nice display, works well outdoors (above right), and the 480x800 resolution works great for the size. Like everything else, you really get the feeling that it was designed with the whole package in mind versus just focusing on one part. The myTouch 4G name carries a stigma of poor displays, but if our review unit is a good representation, all that has been addressed. You'll appreciate the crisp display, and while the colors seem a little pale after seeing and using SAMOLED or NOVA displays, they still provide a great look with plenty of contrast. Needless to say, I was impressed.
The horizontal sliding keyboard is the star of the show here. The chicklet-style keys are perfectly spaced, and have just the right mix of mushy and clicky. The only thing that keeps it from being the perfect horizontal QWERTY is how close the keys are to the right and left edge of the phone. You'll find you're reaching outside of the area that feels most comfortable to hit the function-style keys on the edges, and it takes a bit of getting used to. After extensive use, I found it's a fair trade for the generous spacing offered between the keys. Another very nice touch is the subtle light when the alt or caps keys are activated on the upper left of the keyboard tray. You will like this keyboard. You will use this keyboard. As a matter of fact, if your only criteria for a smartphone is Android and a good sliding keyboard, you can stop reading.
Did I mention I like the keyboard?
- 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon MSM8660 1.2GHz CPU
- 768MB RAM (576 available at boot)
- 1.1GB application storage
- Android 2.3.4
- VGA front facing camera
- 8MP backside illuminated sensor HDR camera with zero shutter lag
- HTC Sense 3.0
- 3.7-inch WVGA super LCD
- Four-row horizontal keyboard
- 8GB microSD card (expandable to 32GB)
- 21Mbps HSPA+ 4G speeds
- 802.11 b/g/n Wifi, A-GPS, Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP and EDR
- 1520 mAh battery
- 4.8 x 2.4 x 0.52 inches, 6.5 ounces
The phone runs great. It moves through the homescreens as well as any stock Android phone, the carousel spins like a fan if you want it to, and the weather animations are smooth. This is with T-Mobile's version of Sense, lovingly referred to as "Espresso," on top of Android 2.3.4. The only time things aren't instant is when opening or closing big apps, like some games. The software and hardware mesh well. Calls are clear on both ends, and that tiny speaker is a surprisingly good speakerphone. GPS was just fine, working exactly as expected with Google Maps navigation and TeleNav alike. Bluetooth, Wifi, sensors -- no problems of any sort. But all that pales compared to the battery life. Right out of the box, battery life is excellent. No shutting things down, manual refreshing, or cranking the screen brightness way down. Just use it, and even a heavy user should have no issues getting a full day out of the battery. An asynchronous dual-core CPU may not be ideal on paper, but if this is what it can do, bring it on.
The Slide runs Android 2.3.4, overlain with Sense 3.0 "Espresso" -- T-Mobile's custom version of Sense reserved for the myTouch line. The changes are mostly visual, the biggest of which is the omission of shortcuts on the lock screen. You can choose to show or hide messages and your call log, but no quick access to apps like the normal version of Sense 3.0. The T-Mobile theme engine is included, but you'll have to wait for specialized Espresso 3.0 themes as the ones currently in the Market aren't working. The Espresso look isn't bad in itself, it's just different from what we're used to in Sense.
The nice new touches in Sense 3.0, like the quick settings and recent apps in the notification area and customization of the app drawer are all there, and like "normal" Sense it's chock full of customization settings. Also included is the "Genius" button. It's a fancy word for voice commands that T-Mobile uses on the myTouch series. Using it, you can search your phone or the web, call or message a contact, get directions, even open applications all using your voice. It works really well, but doesn't really offer much over the standard Android voice controls. And it replaces the search button, both on the face of the phone as well as the hard keyboard, which is mighty inconvenient when you want to search while inside an app, like the market or the internet. It's a good idea, and it's done well, but it needs a better way to trigger it.
There's a bit of bloat in the app drawer, some of it useful, some not so much. Besides applications you're liable to download on your own, like Adobe reader or Zinio, you have things like KidZone which locks the phone to a few apps that you define, so your kids can play Angry Birds, and Highlight, which is a generalized news aggregator. The FM radio and Slacker are hidden in the Media Room app, and Polaris Office does a fine job editing documents. Some things, like T-mobile Mall, are not so useful for power users. We'll get over it, at least until a way is found to remove them.
Two little issues, one specific to the Slide and one with Sense in general. It's Android 2.3.4, but the front facing camera doesn't work with Google Talk. Instead, the default video chat application is Qik. The PC client is included on the SDcard, but it's a poor substitute and puzzling why it was done. The second gripe is the way Sense worms its way into your contacts, writing tags in the notes field. If you are using two different phones, running two different versions of Sense, it's a never ending battle of linking or dismissing link suggestions for your contacts. This won't affect most users, but if you fit the description you'll have to deal with it. Thankfully, the dismiss all button works as intended.
A big deal has been made about the camera on the Slide, and rightfully so. Instead of just throwing a bunch of megapixels at mediocre hardware, the camera has been improved in the right areas. Touted as the "most advanced smartphone camera," it features zero shutter lag, a backside illuminated sensor, and an f/2.2 aperture. That translates into "good" if you don't understand all the camera geek talk. The software has been revamped, with HDR stitching (putting together different exposures into one image for rich saturated color) one of the new options. It's a lot to live up to, and the Slide mostly does.
A smartphone camera is never going to take pictures as well as a dedicated, quality camera. But we have reached the point where a smartphone camera can replace an average point and shoot. The shutter works as advertised, and the difference in the hardware is easy to see. In the hands of the average Joe (or Jane), the Slide will take pictures as well as a cheap point and shoot digital camera. Just like a cheap point and shoot, you'll see your flaws, but even the flawed pictures are good enough to keep. If you're a more advanced photographer, you have plenty of settings to adjust and your pictures will show it. Here's a random sample of different scenes and light settings:
- The second and third picture are using the HDR setting. Compare to the fourth picture.
- The thumbdrive was in low light with no flash. Notice the pink tint -- it was under a pink buglight. The camera accurately shows the color my eyes see.
- The tenth picture, of the lantern, was done using the portrait effect to blur the background.
- The rest of the pictures are just set to auto, and quick snaps of anything that caught my eye.
The video camera takes clear, and very vivid .mp4 videos. It suffers, like most of the recent 1080p cameras have, with image stabilization at 1080p. Here's a quick example from the ballfield where I had just finished exercising with my dog Rex.
The video turned out well enough, colors were great and it wasn't choppy. But the audio? It's tinny, and sounds more like a phone call. There's always the possibility of a bad unit, but there's also the possibility that it's in need of a fix. I'm afraid even our own Alex and his silky English accent can't salvage this one. If this is a widespread issue, hopefully it's something that gets addressed.
Wrapping it all up
The myTouch 4G Slide is a great all-around phone. Yes, everybody should try it out and make their own choice, but I would feel good recommending it to anyone. The camera works mostly as advertised, and a photobug would have a ball with it. T-Mobile did a fine job keeping the best features of Sense 3.0 while still giving it their own touch. While it took me a couple days to get used to the keyboard, I ended up really liking it, and found it one of the best I've used. While it may not be a stylish as the Sensation, it's tastefully done and a great choice for anyone who needs or wants a sliding QWERTY keyboard, and I hope HTC can offer the Doubleshot to folks on other carriers as well.
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