I have wanted to like Android for quite some time. I really did. I kept trying device after device hoping that the next device would be “the one”. Sadly, that never seemed to happen. Even with those devices that I initially liked I found myself growing tired of both the device and the operating system within a relatively short period of time. As a result, the Android handsets I purchased ended up on eBay within a relatively short period, and those that I had received as loaner review units went back without any remorse on my part. Yes, I wanted to like Android, but none of the smartphones I tried were able to win me over.
That was, until now.
I’ve been using the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G for the last week or so, and I have to tell you… I like this device. I like it a lot. How much? Well, let me put it this way, I forwarded my iPhone’s number to it the other day and haven’t missed the iOS handset one bit.
Yes, this iPhone fanboy is actually using an Android headset as his primary device and… liking it!
Before we go any further let me get one thing on the table and out of the way; this is not a good-looking phone. In a beauty contest it would be lucky to come in 10th. If it were a model it would be starving. At a dance this phone would turn heads but not for the right reasons. Yes, this is an unattractive a piece of hardware that seems a bit “thrown together”.
It has a metal back that appears to have texture but is actually smooth. It has a rubbery material around the sides that makes it easy to grip but looks somewhat unpolished. That might be okay, except that the front of the device looks like it belongs to an entirely different headset.
Put it all together and the MyTouch 4G is a bit of a Frankenstein phone (FrankenPhone?) that seems to have a little bit from one device and a little bit from another, and then parts from a third or even a fourth. It makes for a truly hybrid-style device, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
But here’s the thing, I don’t care.
I don’t care that it isn’t the most attractive of handsets. I don’t care that it looks a little bit like a bunch of parts were slapped together. I don’t care because, as a whole, the device works so well for me that I can overlook just about any aesthetic issues I might have with it. This is a case of “function is so good that form becomes secondary”, and as I have used it, I have grown to like its looks more and more.
So let’s talk about what I find to be so great about this device.
First of all let’s talk about the build quality. It is phenomenal. The handset is rather heavy. At 5oz it is only slightly heavier than the iPhone 4 and the Motorola Atrix which weigh in at 4.8 oz each, but it FEELS significantly heavier for some reason. It’s well-built and it feels more solid than just about any other device I have used. It feels solid like the iPhone 4, but doesn’t feel like a delicate flower the way that an iDevice does. [Are you listening Apple?]
No, if anything, this phone feels like it’s a little bit more on the ruggedized side of the spectrum. The rubber material that goes around the side of the phone may not look all that attractive, but it makes the phone more durable, easier to grip, and it makes me feel confident when placing the device on any surface or trying to hold onto it while walking around. Yes, this is a smartphone that is meant for the real world!
After reviewing the Inspire HD for the AT&T network a few weeks ago, I was a bit concerned about the build quality of products being put out by HTC. Some of the back plates didn’t fit properly on that device and it got worse over time. It just didn’t feel like the high-end device that I know the company can create. I was concerned that this might be the new norm for handsets from HTC. Thankfully this phone shows that is not the case.
One example to explain what I mean. The metal plate on the back of the MyTouch 4G is thick and heavy just the way a phone’s back panel should be. It snaps into place quite securely and literally needs to be “popped” off when you want to access the battery; the fit is so good that if you are not careful you can lose a nail or two trying to open it. Unlike the Inspire HD, the fit is tight and perfect; strangely, both are made by HTC.
The screen size strikes the right balance. It is a little bit larger than the iPhone’s screen but it isn’t too large the way those behemoth 4.3″ screens that are becoming so commonplace right now are. Yes, the size of the MyTouch gives you enough screen real estate to do what you need to do, but not so much that it’s difficult to hold the device and manipulate the phone with one hand.
And then there are the buttons. This phone actually has REAL physical buttons. You know, the type of buttons that actually have to be PUSHED and actually make a clicking sound. You know, the things Steve Jobs said we don’t need! Yes, the MyTouch 4G has real physical buttons and… I like them! A day into using the phone I suddenly came to the realization that I missed physical buttons. They are there to give the tactile feedback and make it easy to use the phone without looking at it, and I’m sold. They just work well and, like the rest of the phone, feel heavy-duty.
The optical D-Pad in the center took some getting used to, but after a few days I found it to be quite nice for navigating the phone.
The camera works just fine. The rear 5mp camera takes nice pictures and shoots decent video. Overall it is on par with the majority of 5+mp phone cameras I’ve seen recently, and it does mean you can go without a point and shoot or pocket camcorder.
The phone also has a front facing camera that shoots stills and video. This isn’t a camera you would want to rely on for pictures, but it will do fine for video chats.
The phone is running Android 2.2. Sure it would be better if 2.3 were pre-loaded but, at least at the moment, 2.2 seems to be standard. To me 2.2 seems like the first “mature” Android release.
When I got the Nexus 1 last year I turned off a lot of the graphical wizbang features to save on battery life and to make sure it maintained enough speed. That’s not an issue with this phone. It has HTC’s Sense UI and speeds though it with ease. Sense actually works great on this device. I was tempted to use a 3rd Party program such as Launcher Pro, but I’ve really found that the Sense UI does what it needs to do with good speed. It, combined with some of T-Mobile’s unique features such as the MyFavs feature, makes this an incredibly customizable, and easy to use, handset.
We are now seeing the release of the first handsets with dual-core processors. That means that this handset is already old technology. That’s the bad news. Fortunately, there’s good news, too. The MyTouch 4G may not have a dual-core processor, but it is incredibly fast. If you didn’t know you had a single core processor, you wouldn’t think twice about the speed of this device. In other words, from a spec perspective it is old technology, but from an actual “real world usage” perspective it’s more than fast enough.
Yes, every now and then I found that it did have a period of slowdown, but it didn’t happen that often and it didn’t happen for very long when it did occur. The 1 ghz processor holds its own just fine.
The T-Mobile Factor
The other thing that made using this handset so enjoyable has less to do with the handset and more to do with the carrier. Usually having devices modified to be specific to one of the major carriers in the United States is a bad thing. They lock the handset down, they add tons of crapware and they replace some applications with paid services so they can make more money. In this case, however, having the handset designed specifically to work with T-Mobile in the US is a very good thing.
The Genius Button launches voice recognition powered by Nuance, and one of the standard keyboard choices is Dragon Dictation. It is, as I have often written, the best voice recognition currently available.
Then there’s T-Mobile’s WiFi calling feature. I’ve noted elsewhere on the site and on Twitter my AT&T iPhone gets lousy reception at home. I tried to get a microcell from them, but it isn’t available in my area. AT&T’s suggestion to me was that I dropped my iPhone down to EDGE speeds since I might see better connectivity that way; that’s unacceptable! T-Mobile, on the other hand, had a number of handsets can now use their “WiFi calling” feature. It’s built into this phone, and it simply means that you are able to make calls over any known a WiFi connection once you set it up. Sure, the WiFi calling feature uses plan minutes, but T-Mobile has great plans with unlimited minutes and even if it didn’t getting good reception at home is priceless … and T-Mobile doesn’t even charge for it.
The T-Mobile TV functionality that is there is interesting, but it costs $10 a month and isn’t something that I would ever use. But it is available and does not seem to crap up the handset.
Yes, there is a lot of good news with the MyTouch 4G. The handset is made by HTC ,and the build quality is great. (This is in contrast to the Inspire HD which was quite problematic in my opinion.) HTC’s Sense UI adds a degree of usability to the handset that is quite welcome. Some have written that the interface is a little bit stale, but that isn’t my experience at all. And the battery life is good; good but not great is how I would describe it, but that is pretty much the case with all current powerhouse smartphones.
Left HD7, Right MyTouch 4G
Unfortunately the news isn’t ENTIRELY good. Unfortunately this handset seems to suffer from an issue that I’m finding across all the current HTC devices I’ve tried. The speaker stinks. Seriously, it leaves a good deal to be desired. It is usable, but it is not enjoyable for more than a brief conversation. The sound is a bit crackly and it’s a little bit too soft. This is not a handset that you would want to use to listen to music unless you’re using a headset or some sort of connected speaker.
I have no doubt that HTC could do a great job with the audio quality of their handsets, but for some reason, at least in my experience, they don’t. Since the speaker is usable this isn’t anywhere near a deal breaker for me, but I really wish that the audio quality was better.
So let’s get to the bottom line of this phone. What do I think of it?
I’ve been using the phone as my primary handset for about a week and a half now. And in that time I’ve come to like using it more and more. I was impressed the first day, but that has been the case with most of the Android devices I have tried. This one, however, actually grew on me. I like its weight, I love the way it feels in my hand, the screen is gorgeous, and it’s fast.
Left Motorola Atrix, Right MyTouch 4G
In fact, I asked for a two-week extension on keeping the review unit so that I could find the time to compare it to the Motorola Atrix that just came for review and decide which one I want. Yes, for the first time since the iPhone came out, I am not using an iPhone as my primary handset.
Left iPhone 4, Right MyTouch 4G
In addition to the iPhone I also have a Windows Phone 7 handset that I can use if I like, but the MyTouch is the one that has been seeing the most use.
iPhone 4, Motorola Atrix, MyTouch 4G, HTC HD7
I think from an aesthetic perspective the iPhone wins hands down. From a power and cool accessory perspective, the Motorola Atrix now wins handily. From a “new stuff to play around with” the HD7 running Windows Phone 7 wins. But from an overall usability perspective, the MyTouch 4G is a winner. It’s easy to check and reply to e-mail via voice, and it’s easy to find what you need and to customize each of the home screens so that they work the way you need to work. Sure all Android phones do that, but HTC and T-Mobile add a whole additional layer. The battery life is good but not great. When are I lowered the screen brightness I found that it did much better, but it still leaves something to be desired. But after all isn’t that the way things are these days with pretty much all these powerful smart phones? I like that this phone doesn’t need to be “babied”.
I was ready to go back to my iPhone when this review period was over, but I can’t bring myself to do that. I’m finding it too easy to access and reply to my e-mail and to keep up with my social network messages. So, to T-Mobile I go… Unless the Motorola Atrix that just came for review wins me over.
One final note. The big winner for me when it comes to Android is the ability to use voice transcription anywhere you might use a keyboard. I wrote the vast majority of this review using the MyTouch 4G and its Genius Button integration. Try doing that with iOS.
The MyTouch 4G is available on the T-Mobile network for $250 on contract.
What I Like: Heavy and well-constructed; crisp middle-of-the-road screen size; physical buttons; good back camera, usable front camera; holds signal well; T-Mobile customizations add to ease of use; Genius Button/Dragon Dictation make this a great device to use on the go; rubber on sides makes it comfortable to hold
What Needs Improvement: Battery life is average; speaker is horrid; already “old technology”; Android 2.2