We posted the first of three parts of the King of the QWERTYs feature with the BlackBerry Tour and now are moving on to take a look at the T-Mobile Dash 3G. You can check out my earlier review for some other thoughts on the device since this feature will look at a few specific categories across all three forward facing QWERTY devices and won't cover the device in detail. The three selected devices are the RIM BlackBerry Tour, T-Mobile Dash 3G, and Nokia E71x. You can check out a few photos of these three in this image gallery.
Microsoft smartphones began a few years ago with non-touchscreen candy bar form factor devices that had a slightly different flavor of the OS compared to the Pocket PC OS. These smartphones were highly focused on phone calls, with data as a secondary need. We then saw more touchscreen Pocket PC phones launch alongside these non-touchscreen smartphones and over the last couple of years the trend in the Windows Mobile world has been on optimizing the touch experience. The T-Mobile Dash/HTC Excalibur was an extremely popular form factor and device across the spectrum of users. I know several serious mobile phone enthusiasts, who have access to just about every device available, that swear by the Dash and were very disappointed to see no apparent follow-up over the last two years.
I think all of these people, including myself, breathed a sigh of relief when we saw HTC announce the HTC Snap/T-Mobile Dash 3G device last month. The T-Mobile Dash was successful because of its form factor, battery life, optimized phone experience (smart dialing) and stability and I am pleased to see the T-Mobile Dash 3G improves on just about every area of the Dash, except for the display resolution. It turns out the display resolution (240x320 pixels) is a current limit in the Windows Mobile Standard OS so there is nothing else HTC could have done with the Dash 3G/Snap in this area.
Operating SystemThe T-Mobile Dash 3G runs the Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard operating system. It may be possible to upgrade to the upcoming 6.5 OS, but there appears to be very little changed in non-touchscreen devices with this update. Thus, I doubt carriers will be quick to provide an update to 6.5 for the Dash 3G, or other HTC Snap variants.
The Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard OS is highly optimized for phone functionality and has been one of the most stable operating systems I have used on smartphones. Most of the grumbling you hear about regarding Microsoft's mobile operating system is related to the Professional (touchscreen) operating system that is not as sleek and snappy as the non-touchscreen variant. The distinction should be gone with Windows Mobile 7.
Some of the phone optimizations include smart dialing (start typing a name from the home screen to call a contact), profile support (now being provided by HTC and others on touchscreen devices), and easy one-handed capability. If you like Windows Mobile I recommend a Standard device for heavy voice users and a Professional device for heavy data users.
Windows Mobile Standard includes quite a few utilities and applications in the OS, but one area that continues to drive me crazy is the inability to create new Word or Excel files in the Office Mobile suite. There is a free and easy utility (MoDaCo DoNew) you can add to enable this, but this should be provided out of the box by Microsoft or HTC.
Exchange email support is excellent with the ability to search your server, create appointments with attendees, and more. Internet sharing (tethering) is a provided utility on the device, but usage may vary by carrier.
The 6.1 Standard home screen sliding panels are very efficient at getting you to your data and status quickly and easily.
I with that Microsoft would improve the native shortcut capability of QWERTY Windows Mobile devices though since there are only a couple of keys provided that launch applications. The Samsung Blackjack II had excellent keyboard shortcut support that I would like to see implemented on all of these front facing QWERTY devices.
Similar to the 90s era Settings found on the RIM BlackBerry platform, Windows Mobile Standard still has a very basic look and feel to their settings. On the T-Mobile Dash 3G you will actually find five screens of available settings. This is great for the geek and tweaker, but may appear a bit daunting to a standard consumer and needs an overhaul.
HardwareThere are currently three variants of the HTC Snap device with the T-Mobile Dash 3G and Sprint HTC Snap being the two most similar to the HTC branded Snap device. The Sprint HTC Snap does remove the trackball in favor of a more traditional directional pad. The Verizon HTC Ozone not only alters the replaces the center trackball navigation controller, but alters the keyboard quite a bit. For purposes of this feature article I will be using the T-Mobile Dash 3G as the device to lead the pack since I have personal hands-on experiences with it and after reading several articles it has the best QWERTY keyboard of all three of these devices.
The most obvious improvement in the Dash 3G over the Dash is the redesigned QWERTY keyboard. The keys have a soft touch coating, are quite large, curve up to a crowned raised center, and have good positive feedback. IMHO, the Dash 3G keyboard is a close second to the BlackBerry Tour and some may like the soft touch finish enough to consider it even a better keyboard design.
The Dash 3G also now supports T-Mobile's 1700 MHz 3G network, has a decent 2 megapixel auto-focus camera, has plenty of available memory with 256 MB ROM and 192 MB RAM, has integrated Bluetooth and WiFi radios, has an integrated GPS receiver, and a rather high capacity 1500 mAh battery.
The form factor is awesome with a large soft touch stylish back cover, glossy plastic on the front with pearl-esque highlights, and large hardware buttons above the keyboard. I have come to enjoy the trackball and find the one on the Dash 3G to perform well, especially with the sliding panels home screen. There is a volume control bar on the upper left side, but that is about it as the Dash 3G is a simple, focused device.
While the display doesn't have the highest resolution available on smartphones today, it is very bright and for most situations looks excellent. This is definitely a messaging focused device and not a multimedia powerhouse.
HTC uses their ExtUSB port for syncing, charging, and a headset which does let them reduce the size of the device. An audio adapter is provided and with the limited focus on multimedia I really do not have much of an issue with use of this port.
CarriersAs discussed in the hardware intro paragraph there are three slightly different variants of the HTC Snap, depending on the carrier that offers the device. The focus of this article is on the T-Mobile Dash 3G, but if you are with Sprint or Verizon Wireless you can pick up a device very similar to this as well.
T-Mobile may be the smallest of the four major wireless carriers, but they regularly win awards for customer service, have some of the lowest rate plans, and I was very pleased with them for over 6 years. They are a GSM carrier so you can pop in your SIM card and use their devices or other unlocked devices.
With a 2-year contract and online instant discount ($180) you can pick up a Dash 3G for $169.99. Full price (may apply to you if you are an existing customer with no upgrade discount available) is $349.99. Individual eligible voice plans start at $39.99 with unlimited voice for $99.99. T-Mobile unlimited data is available for $24.99 or $34.99 if you want unlimited text messaging included. Unlike the other three major carriers, T-Mobile really doesn't have a lot of extra subscription service offerings such as streaming music or TV.
If you are a Sprint customer then you can find the HTC Snap available for $149.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate and $150 instant discount. Sprint is one of two major CDMA carriers in the US and has been reported as having one of the fastest networks available. Unlike Verizon, Sprint has the BEST pricing options available for those looking for lots of minutes and unlimited data. Their EVERYTHING plans give you unlimited data, texting, phone calls, Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV and more all in one low price (compared to other carrier unlimited plans). I found the coverage to be about the same for Verizon and Sprint so if that is the case for you then Sprint is the way to go for more full featured plans that should save you some serious cash. The Tour is also available for $199.99 from Sprint after rebates and activation of a 2-year contract. Unlimited Everything is only $99.99 though compared to almost double what you pay with Verizon to get the same carrier features.
You can also find a variation of the HTC Snap on Verizon Wireless known as the HTC Ozone that appears to have a ridiculously low price of just $49.99 after a $70 online discount. Voice plans start at $39.99 with unlimited voice for $99.99. Unlimited data is available for a whopping $44.99 per month (may be why the phone initial price is so low), Visual Voicemail is $2.99 per month and text messaging measures from $5 to $20 per month.
3rd Party ApplicationsThere are not many 3rd party applications loaded on the T-Mobile Dash 3G by default since the Windows Mobile OS provides most all of the essentials you need to use the device. However, there are a few handy applications, including T-Mobile My Account, Java client, Microsoft Voice Command, Voice Recorder, OZ Instant Messaging clients (AIM, Google Talk, MySpace IM and Yahoo! Messenger), Handango InHand, Google Maps, Windows Live Search (now labeled Bing Search), YouTube, and TeleNav (subscription GPS software/service).
Even though the Marketplace for Mobile store is not yet available, there are thousands of applications available from various vendors and developers for Windows Mobile devices. I have been able to always find a Windows Mobile application to fulfill my needs and think there are more than enough for you to choose from. Gaming is not a huge part of the T-Mobile Dash 3G so don't expect to see much in this regards.
Final ThoughtsFor those T-Mobile customers who enjoyed using the T-Mobile Dash I think you will all love the Dash 3G with the improved keyboard and solid design. T-Mobile Dash fans now get GPS, 3G data, and a better camera on a super pocketable and powerful Windows Mobile smartphone. The Dash 3G is priced a bit high compared to other smartphones on the market today, but is still much less than I paid in the past for such a powerful phone.
Windows Mobile is getting a bit dated, but the non-touchscreen Standard variant of the OS has always been pretty lean and optimized for the phone experience so I really don't think people will have much to complain about with the Dash 3G operating system. I would like to have seen a higher resolution display, but it is quite bright and very visible. I don't think we will see many more of these forward facing QWERTY smartphones running Windows Mobile so you may want to get a Dash 3G before they can no longer be found.
While the BlackBerry Tour QWERTY keyboard may be the best of the three we are taking a look at in this series, I would still take the T-Mobile Dash 3G over it due to the integrated Exchange experience, super thin and pocketable form factor and inclusion of a WiFi radio.