T-Mobile myTouch 3G, the most bang-for-buck smartphone on the market (for now)

T-Mobile myTouch 3G, the most bang-for-buck smartphone on the market (for now)

Summary: The mytouch 3G is the perfect choice for someone who wants iPhone-like features without buying into Apple's product ecosystem. Here's a look.

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You've probably seen the latest commercial for T-Mobile's myTouch 3G smartphone, where comedian Whoopi Goldberg, NBA coach Phil Jackson and motorcycle builder Jesse James pass the handset to each other.

But did you ever wonder if the thing was any good?

I spent the better part of a month with the myTouch 3G to find out.

The appeal of the myTouch 3G is apparent from the beginning: it's the first fully touchscreen handset (no QWERTY keyboard here) powered by the Google Android operating system, and by extension, it's been positioned as the kind of smartphone that you can feel safe giving to both your parents and kids.

First, the commercial:

The surprisingly light myTouch 3G is sold to be "100% you," satisfied by three colors (black, white, burgundy) and an array of customized backplates, skins and apps from the T-Mobile myTouch Studio. It also comes, in a nice touch for users, with headphones, a screen protector, a soft drawstring phone case, a charger that mimics the shape of the phone itself and a cushioned, branded soft-hard case to pack it all inside.

[Image Gallery: T-Mobile mytouch 3G]

But the aspect of customization also refers to the Android OS that powers the handset. With it, you can program widgets to sit on the three screen-wide home screen, download apps through Android Market and generally do whatever you want with the device -- work, play, whatever.

To challenge this proposition, I used the phone for the better part of a workday, syncing my work and personal lives to the device. The phone supports Microsoft Exchange out of the box, and offers a separate icon for the purpose.

I had no problem syncing my corporate mail account to the device, and naturally didn't have any problem syncing my personal Gmail account, either (Android offers a third option if you have another e-mail provider).

I set up Yahoo! Messenger (work) and Google Chat and AIM (personal) and was effectively on my way.

As is expected, the myTouch integrates perfectly with all Google services. That's a great thing for those of us who use Google services regularly; if you don't, this phone will still suffice, but you'll be missing out on key integration opportunities.

Android uses a notification system that alerts you at the top of the screen of an incoming message. The feature becomes useful if you're in one connection tool and get messaged with another, but the alert is a bit hard to read.

In this sense, the Android flavor of the myTouch 3G (Cupcake) is still fairly basic, and you need to duck in and out of connection apps to keep abreast of your potential avenues of contact. (It's the same limitation iPhone users face.)

Other vendors have already begun addressing this problem, including Palm with its webOS for the Pre and Pixi and Motorola with its Motoblur RSS-based widget architecture for the CLIQ. But unless you're using this device as a hardcore business communication tool, it's not truly essential to navigate three different IM clients at once.

That said, the myTouch can be quite effective if you're a user who prefers a touch interface. It improves on the somewhat-maligned T-Mobile G1, made by the same manufacturer, HTC. In losing the G1's heavy slider keyboard, the myTouch 3G is remarkably lighter, thinner and more pleasurable to use.

(Strangely, I had a difficult time conditioning myself to not confuse the home and power/off buttons.)

The 3.2-inch, 262,000-color, 480x320 pixel resolution screen is as impressive.

The myTouch 3G offers a rollerball that can serve as an alternate navigation method; in practice, I found that the touch-rollerball combo was versatile, intuitive and effective in addressing different situations. (For example, I found myself using the rollerball to navigate menu options; I preferred using my finger for navigating media, such as photos.)

But business-minded users will note the myTouch 3G's lack of Outlook calendar and contacts sync, as well as a missing file manager. And the virtual keyboard was just a bit scrunched for my big thumbs.

Curiously, despite being "about you," there aren't any options to edit photos, or for that matter, a flash for the camera. Furthermore, the handset lacks a standard 3.5mm jack, so you're limited to using the earbuds that come with the phone.

Storage comes in the form of an included 4GB microSD card -- smaller than the iPhone's storage.

In use, I found the myTouch 3G to be mostly smooth in navigation and loading content, but occasionally Android would hiccup for unexplained reason, a moment's snag before the interface would catch up (such as when using the sliding main menu on the home screen).

Integration with Google Maps was great, but I found that about 50 percent of the time it was inaccurate. In New York City, it occasionally mapped me 30 blocks from where I was standing; driving down I-95 in New Jersey, it occasionally pinned me in a field adjacent to the highway, rather than on the road itself.

The Android Market for apps is fine enough, but it's still lacking in surfacing key offerings, such as an official Facebook app. As the Android platform grows in popularity (and it will), this will become a non-issue.

The battery life on the myTouch 3G is much improved over the G1. It's rated at 7 hours and 30 minutes of talk time and 420 hours standby, and I browsed and messaged and e-mailed on 3G for most of the day without a problem.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Currently, the T-Mobile myTouch 3G is the most versatile Android smartphone on the market. It's fairly easy for people of all ages to use, and it can be configured to suit a person's needs rather easily.

The little accessory touches that T-Mobile packages with the device make the purchase price ($199 with a two-year contract) a little easier to swallow.

The mytouch 3G is also a good choice for someone who wants iPhone-like features without buying into Apple's product ecosystem.

With that said, the market for Android phones is about to expand dramatically, and the reign of the myTouch as the best Android phone out there will be short-lived. Motorola, Samsung and HTC have more Android-based handsets in the pipeline, and several (HTC's Hero, on Sprint, and Motorola's CLIQ, on T-Mobile) have shown themselves to be equal to or superior than the myTouch 3G.

Still, when those handsets arrive to market (October), they will command higher prices, and the myTouch 3G will likely be reduced in price. When that occurs, the myTouch 3G will still be able to reinforce its value as the easiest way to transition to a 3G smartphone -- no whiz-bang required.

Topics: Telcos, Android, Google, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility, Smartphones

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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18 comments
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  • What sucks...

    and for me really sucks is not being able to copy text in my mail.

    It just isn't an option so I can't copy Kanji I don't know from Japanese friends and look them up in a dictionary. (Yeah yeah I can copy their address but ... not inside the actual message).

    Other than that ... I am really happy with it.
    javajunkie@...
  • The phone sucks, but android...

    Is pretty good. Especially because you can run linux on it. Did you know someone compiled GNOME for android? I want a G1.
    Subsentient
    • It's great!

      G1 has memory limitations. If you really need a keyboard, so be it but get a better model than the G1. You can and should!
      javajunkie@...
  • HotSpot

    Neither of the phones handle t-Mobile's wireless HotSpot feature. We live out of range of most mobile signals and use our WiFi at home to use our mobiles. Similarly, at many airports, there is a t-Mobile HotSpot.

    I really hope that the next model addresses this serious omission, and also the memory issue mentioned above.
    swineshead
  • RE: T-Mobile myTouch 3G, the most bang-for-buck smartphone on the market (f

    Few corrections/clarifications:

    (1) You CAN run multiple apps simultaneously in
    MyTouch (Android). E.g., say you're browsing email and
    switch to calender, then when you switch back, you
    will go to where you were in email, not start over.
    This is huge deal vs. iPhone and a feature of the
    underlying Linux core.

    (2) MyTouch comes with an adapter so you can plug in
    any headphone with a 3.5mm jack. In fact, the bundled
    buds are 3.5mm and work this way.

    (3) The memory is 4GB, but it's on an SD card that you
    can replace for a higher capacity.

    (4) MyTouch uses Wi-Fi by default to detect location.
    To get accurate detection, you need to turn on GPS.
    Not sure if the reviewer here turned on GPS, but it's
    been very accurate for me.

    Overall, I'm extremely happy with my MyTouch, except
    for the occasional stutters/freezes (mentioned in the
    writeup). Apparently, the next ("Doughnut" 1.6) update
    coming in the next few weeks is going to fix that.
    AllureFX
    • Thanks for clarifications

      Basically, your clarifications are more valuable than the original article! Hope your info gets put in the main article, especially the ease of memory expansion and your "how to use GPS" clarification. Thanks!

      Andrew, you were "driving with the parking brake on"! You didn't touch on the software potential of this phone's using the Android distribution of Linux - any and all GNU/Linux applications can [potentially] run on this device - and the cost of doing so is zero! Not to mention the incredible rate of improvement/development of all things Linux - such as the lag hiccup you noted, now gone.
      bbaston@...
    • Corrections to your corrections.

      Just to clarify your clarifications...

      1.) I didn't mean to say that you can't actually run apps simultaneously, because that's what the notifier is for. What I mean is that, with this flavor of Android, you can't see them at the same time. So you still need to duck in and out of apps to use them.

      2.) I must have missed the jack in my review unit. Still, it remains a drawback to not have a native 3.5mm jack on the device.

      3.) Yes, the microSD card is replaceable with a higher-capacity card. It's also more money out of your wallet.

      4.) Two points about the GPS thing: first, if this is the case, it should be more clear that inaccurate GPS will be had with Wi-Fi, and it shouldn't be the default (otherwise, what's the point?). More importantly, though, the GPS was inaccurate even using mobile broadband on the highway.
      andrew.nusca
      • Not quite

        Actually, you CAN use multiple apps at the same time. Android supports multiple Linux processes as well as threads that run concurrently. E.g., IMEEM app can play network music WHILE you're checking your email. This is impossible on the iPhone.

        GPS is disabled by default because it drains battery. I turn it on as needed.
        AllureFX
  • RE: T-Mobile myTouch 3G, the most bang-for-buck smartphone on the market (for now)

    The phone comes with an adapter (3.5mm) to plug conventional headphones into it. I use it all the time with no problems.
    thefoff
  • Nice phone, bad commercial...

    That commercial grates on my nerves. Music is OK, actors are OK, but the premis that the commercial serves is just wrong.
    Narg
  • RE: T-Mobile myTouch 3G, the most bang-for-buck smartphone on the market (for now)

    Why do all of the Android phones have the same form factor? Where is the innovation?
    Grudly Mandinko
  • Facebook for Android _ yes

    There is an official facebook app. It <a href="http://www.allfacebook.com/2009/09/facebook-for-android-launching-tonight/">launched a couple of weeks</a> ago on September 8, 2009. I found it quite impressive.
    immunity
    • If that's the case...

      ...I had a hell of a time finding it in Android Market among several unsupported Facebook apps.

      That's not good.
      andrew.nusca
      • You can always hit "Search" in the Applications menu

        You can always hit "Search" in the Applications menu. However, the official Facebook app on Android is not as well-executed as the iPhone's, WinMo, and BB, but it works for status updates and commenting/replying. It can also notify you of messages but when you click on the curtain notification, it opens the browser and loads the mobile version of FB. I hope they improve the UI bec it just plain sucks.
        j3pr0x
  • RE: T-Mobile myTouch 3G, the most bang-for-buck smartphone on the market (f

    the phone is great. i own one.

    to play real location-based social networking and C2C ecommerce
    on android phones please download the "flea" and "help the
    most" apks published by fleapapa.om at slideme.org.

    you gain everything and lose nothing.

    by registering to fleapapa.com NOW and posting a request to
    help, request for help, your business, item for sale or in
    need, event or activity, blog article, personal show or
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    naturally become a lifetime vip of fleapapa.com. that means,
    you can post anything legal appropriate and use all future
    services at fleapapa.com for *LIFE TIME FREE*.

    no more hesitate.
    fleapapa
  • RE: T-Mobile myTouch 3G, the most bang-for-buck smartphone on the market (f

    the phone is great! i own one.

    to play real location-based social networking and C2C ecommerce
    on android phones please download the "flea" and "help the
    most" apks published by fleapapa.om at slideme.org.

    you gain everything and lose nothing.

    by registering to fleapapa.com NOW and posting a request to
    help, request for help, your business, item for sale or in
    need, event or activity, blog article, personal show or
    professional profile, or even just words of gossip, you
    naturally become a lifetime vip of fleapapa.com. that means,
    you can post anything legal appropriate and use all future
    services at fleapapa.com for *LIFE TIME FREE*.

    no more hesitate.
    fleapapa
  • RE: T-Mobile myTouch 3G, the most bang-for-buck smartphone on the market (for now)

    i wish to be from the first group who could have this new mobile set. i am international marketer and connected well with the solid market within Middle East & West Africa. but will be helpful to have the quiotation as well.
    freelance consultant
  • RE: T-Mobile myTouch 3G, the most bang-for-buck smartphone on the market (for now)

    Interesting styles when reviewing a non iphone.
    ****you need to duck in and out of connection apps to keep abreast of your potential avenues of contact. (It?s the same limitation iPhone users face.)****** that's true but this isn't mentioned as an issue in iphone reviews?
    *******Furthermore, the handset lacks a standard 3.5mm jack, so you?re limited to using the earbuds that come with the phone.*********
    How about using a adapter?
    ******or for that matter, a flash for the camera.*****
    kind of iphone like, wouldn't you say?
    For the record i'm in iphone user with 3 months left on my contract. I can't say that I've seen a better gadget/phone yet, but it's interesting in the reviews how the same flaws of other phones are overlooked on when reviewing an iphone.
    al@...