Review: T-Mobile Dash 3G takes the Dash torch and runs with it

Summary:This summer is a blockbuster season for touchscreen smartphones with the Palm Pre, iPhone 3GS, Nokia N97, HTC TouchPro2, and T-Mobile myPhone. However, not everyone is crazy about touchscreen devices and they just want a solid smartphone that gets the job done in a compact form factor that is easily operated with a single hand. One of the hottest selling smartphones ever for T-Mobile has been the T-Mobile Dash. I personally used this device for about a year and have given out a couple I had to family and coworkers who still enjoy using the Dash today. T-Mobile announced the Dash 3G a couple weeks ago and I have had the chance to spend the last week and a half evaluating one of them. Actually, T-Mobile may have a tough time getting this review unit back anytime soon :) You can check out product images and software screenshots in my image gallery along with a short video of it in action and my thoughts on the device below.

This summer is a blockbuster season for touchscreen smartphones with the Palm Pre, iPhone 3GS, Nokia N97, HTC TouchPro2, and T-Mobile myPhone. However, not everyone is crazy about touchscreen devices and they just want a solid smartphone that gets the job done in a compact form factor that is easily operated with a single hand. One of the hottest selling smartphones ever for T-Mobile has been the T-Mobile Dash. I personally used this device for about a year and have given out a couple I had to family and coworkers who still enjoy using the Dash today. T-Mobile announced the Dash 3G a couple weeks ago and I have had the chance to spend the last week and a half evaluating one of them. Actually, T-Mobile may have a tough time getting this review unit back anytime soon :) You can check out product images and software screenshots in my image gallery along with a short video of it in action and my thoughts on the device below.


Image Gallery:Check out product photos of the T-Mobile Dash 3G.
Image Gallery: Dash 3G keyboard
Image Gallery: Dash 3G in hand

The T-Mobile Dash was an almost perfect non-touchscreen smartphone with a long lasting battery, bright display, very functional keyboard, compact form factor, rock solid stability, excellent functionality as a one-handed device, and relatively low price. I know several other mobile enthusiasts that thoroughly enjoyed using the Dash even though they could use just about any other mobile device if they wanted to. I found the Dash just needed a few more things to make it an even better device, including support for 3G data networks, GPS integration, and a better camera, and I thought we lost our chance of ever seeing this upgraded model when HTC and others started focusing primarily on touchscreen devices.

Many of the people I interact with as part of the Mobius group also enjoyed using the T-Mobile Dash and we asked about this device just about every time we met with HTC. I was very pleased to hear that HTC listened and took our feedback as they created a very nice successor to the Dash with the Dash 3G. I am most likely going to have to pick one up when they become available and I am sure my wife will be taking it from me as soon as she gets a hold of that keyboard.

As I will discuss in detail, the T-Mobile Dash 3G steps up in a couple of ways and is an even better product than the T-Mobile Dash. You now get support for T-Mobile's fledgling 3G network, the processor sees a major bump in performance, the battery gets bumped up, and a GPS receiver is included in the device. The form factor is very similar, but HTC actually significantly improved the QWERTY keyboard. The T-Mobile Dash 3G isn't the most powerful Windows Mobile device, but that is not what it is designed to be and given the intended customer it is just about a perfect upgrade to the Dash.

Specifications

Here is a rundown of the specifications of the T-Mobile Dash 3G, with a list of the differences between it and the T-Mobile Dash shown below:
  • 2.4 inch 320x240 pixels non-touchscreen display
  • Quad-band GSM and dual-band UMTS (1700/2100 MHz) support for 3G data
  • 528 MHz processor
  • Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard
  • Integrated Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP stereo support
  • Integrated 802.11 b/g WiFi
  • 2 megapixel camera
  • Integrated GPS receiver and Windows Live/Bing Search application
  • 5-way trackball
  • HTC extUSB/mini USB port for charging/syncing/headset
  • 1500 mAh Lithium ion battery
  • Weight of 4.2 ounces
  • Size of 4.6 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches

Looking through the list of specs you can see that the Dash 3G is actually 0.4 ounces lighter than the Dash, has a 528 MHz processor compared to the older 201 MHz processor, has a larger capacity battery (1500 mAh compared to 960 mAh), and sees a bump in camera resolution from 1.3 megapixels to 2.0 megapixels.

In the box

The T-Mobile packaging is quite compact and fairly standard for T-Mobile phones today. You will find the T-Mobile Dash 3G, SIM card, battery and charger, stereo headset, USB cable, audio/charging cable, carrying pouch, Start Guide, Tips & Tricks brochure, User Guide CD and a terms and conditions pamphlet. The CD and paperwork is all found inside a small compartment on the top flap when you open the box. The Dash 3G is there in front of you and underneath is where you find all the rest. The pleather slip case should do a fair job at keeping you Dash clean. The audio/charging cable is a small dongle with the HTC extUSB male end on a 1 inch cable with a small box that contains 3.5mm, 2.5mm, and extUSB connections on one side so you have different options for headsets.

Hardware

The QWERTY keyboard is better than the previous Dash due to larger buttons, more noticeable key travel, and the material used on the keys. The numbers are arranged in a modified phone keypad arrangement that slants from left to right. The # and * keys are not in this pattern though, which is a bit odd. They are accessed by first pressing the Alt key, which is highlighted in red.

There are shortcuts for the camera, messaging, and one custom one (set for T-Mobile web page by default). I reassigned the button to launch a recent applications page. Pressing and holding launches Microsoft Voice Command. You can also press and hold the Sym key to toggle vibrate on or off and the A key to lock the keyboard. I would like more support to customize shortcuts, similar to the Blackjack 2.

Above the keyboard you will find (from left to right) the send button, left soft key, Home button, trackball navigation controller, back button, right soft key, and end button. I pretty regularly hit the wrong key on the left or right (soft keys and other keys) and their closeness will take some practice to adjust to.

The trackball is similar to the BlackBerry Curve/Pearl and works pretty well at getting around. It is particularly useful for getting around the Home screen. Pressing in on it acts to select the object.

The only thing on the left side is the volume button, but there is a small opening towards the bottom for a lanyard. Along the upper right side is where you will find the miniUSB port (under a nice cover) for syncing, charging, and headsets. There is nothing on the top or bottom.

The back has a nice soft touch material with a 2 megapixel camera lens up in the center. The lens is surrounded by a solid piece of metal to give it a quality feel. There is also a mono speaker on the upper left of the back.

The SIM card and microSD card slots are under the back cover towards the bottom of the back. The microSD card is inserted straight up the middle if the back. The SIM card can only be inserted by removing the 1500 mAh battery.

Software

The software on the Dash 3G is typical Windows Mobile Standard that unfortunately still does not support Office document creation. Some T-Mobile additions include an account support utility, Microsft Voice Command, Java client, OZ IM clients and Windows Live/Bing Messenger.

Usage experiences: The T-Mobile Dash 3G is very snappy and responsive and you can definitely notice the bump up in processor speed. The battery was already very good on the Dash and even with push email turned on for 16 hours a day, 15-20 minutes of calls, 15-20 text messages, and some basic surfing I have been seeing an easy two days of battery life.

The Dash 3G looks to be an excellent device for the heavy texter with the fantastic keyboard, but it is not really designed for a great mobile browsing experience. The browser is the standard Internet Explorer Mobile one and has limited capability. I never really used my Dash much for browsing and focused on email and text messaging with the device. The T-Mobile 3G network is still only in limited cities, but I have seen great coverage in King County here in Washington. In addition to the browser and email speeds with 3G, you may benefit from the simultaneous voice and data capabilities.

The camera actually takes pretty decent photos in good lighting conditions and I am more pleased with it than I thought I would be.The trackball is quite slick and after getting used to using this on some BlackBerry devices I almost prefer it over standard directional pads.

So far call quality seems to be just fine, but I will test this out more as I spend more time with the device. I don't make many calls with my phones and focus on the data aspects.

In addition to the lack of Inner Circle, the Dash 3G does not support UMA. I thought T-Mobile would have included this since their latest BlackBerry devices support this WiFi capability. I am not sure if not including UMA was a technical issue with Windows Mobile or not deemed to be necessary because of the popularity of UMA usage.

Pricing and service options

The pricing and availability information (just a mention of July) has not yet been provided, even in the official press release. UPDATE: The T-Mobile Dash 3G will be priced at $169.99 with a two-year contract and qualifying data plan.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Smartphones, Wi-Fi

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.