Even though Boy Genius managed to get his hands on the HTC Excalibur
and the T-Mobile Dash
before we did, we still got a unit to take around the block ourselves. It's safe to say the Dash is probably the most T-Mobile anticipated device of the second half of this year, and with good reason. We've loved this thing ever since we laid hands on it -- don't let the pictures fool you, it's way smaller and sleeker than most photos let on. In all reality, the Dash is a fairly unphotogenic device -- which is why we had to make sure to take some bigger and better than usual photos of it. Those angled corners off the screen and the thinning metal bezel on the face makes it look pear-shaped and odd. But once you wrap your hands around it, you'll understand why this is the hottest Smartphone on the American market.
The device itself is rock solid. Like most current-gen HTC devices, it's built like a tank, and feels like it could withstand some serious abuse (though naturally it's purdy enough that you'd never want to test that theory). It's not without fault though; the select and back keys are dangerously close, causing jump-backs from apps a little too frequently. The touch-strip HTC originally envisioned for the Excalibur has been replaced with a touch-sensitive volume keys, which are horrid for in-call use without pulling the phone away from your head. No tactility -- no good.
The keyboard, arguably the most important aspect of this device, is so-so. It does
have good tactility, but our unit didn't register all our keypresses when we were typing quickly (and that's not due to the usual Smartphone two-keys-at-once bug). The spacebar is a bit irksome, as depressing the right side (with our right thumb) would often yield the opposite of what we just mentioned: a space, but no feedback (thus causing us to hit space more than once between words). The addition of AKU3 in this phone gives it XT9 support (which is as useful as it is irritating), as well as hold-down alt keys. The XT9 predictive text engine for QWERTY devices would be welcome if it came with some easy mechanism for turning it on and off, but sadly it does not -- this was confirmed with a number of other Dash users. Our Dash's XT9 would turn on for entering addressees in emails, but would mysteriously turn off when moving to the subject or body fields. Despite a few resets, the problem persisted; it's impossible to engage and disengage at will, something we're hoping they'll fix sooner than later.
On the other hand, hold-down alt keys is a newish feature we can't live without. Instead of hitting alt and dialing a key to get its alternate character (say, alt-l for $), just hold down l for a sec and $ just shows up. Unless you're really into typing llllllllllllll... you'll be happy that now you don't have to hit that alt key as much. We thought it was a bit of a bummer that the only key to engage the camera is slyly placed to the right of the space bar -- not terribly obvious when most devices have side-mounted camera buttons to more quickly and intuitively engage one of the device's most used features.
XT9 in action.
The volume strip settings.
A quick tour through the Dash yields the usual Smartphone fare, generally unencumbered by a ton of operator-installed crapware. The Dash is pretty lean, coming out of box with myFaves, an Oz-based mutli-IM client, a convenient email setup wizard, a new version of the HTC comm manager (below), and the usual WinMo standard apps.
myFaves is pretty easy to setup and use on the device; the update for our Dash was rolled out over the air, and we didn't have to touch a thing. Unfortunately without unlocking the extended ROM, we have no way of removing the myFaves app from the phone and putting it on our other WinMo Smartphones, nor is Tmo making the application available to current devices like the SDA, even though the software obviously exists. (More on that another time.) If you don't want myFaves on your today screen, though, you can pretty easily take it off.
The email setup wizard is a very convenient way to add your server-based email -- it assumes the settings from a number of typically used presets (i.e. it guesses mail.yourdomain.com and tries your user/pass there, etc.) taking a bit of the legwork out of the email setup procedure. We don't really think setting up mobile Outlook email wasn't that hard to begin with -- especially if you're the type to actually use WinMo -- but hey, every little bit helps.
Otherwise the device is about what you'd expect; the EDGE is speedy (for EDGE, anyway, which we've grown disturbingly used to), and the WiFi is useful -- but not that useful. It does indeed lack an external audio port, but has the newish HTC-standard extUSB port (pictured above), which makes use of the otherwise bare bottom half of the mini USB connector for audio-out purposes. Pretty irritating to have to use an adapter, but hey, it's 2006 and you've got alternatives: this phone supports A2DP and AVRC, so you've really no excuse to be running some ugly cable out of a device as pretty as this.
We know what you're burning to ask, though: how does it stack up against the Q? Well, when it comes down to it they're actually two very different devices. Radios excepted, we find the Dash preferable; though it's only got a 200MHz OMAP processor compared to the Q's 312MHz XScale, but it comes equipped with an additional 64MB flash memory. The Dash only has a 960mAh battery compared to the Q's 1130mAh power pack, but under normal usage the Dash held up quite well. So those specs are kind of tit for tat, but the Dash is just so much less utilitarian looking and clunky feeling. It's the slim Smartphone perfected. No, what's really at hand here is your data usage. Do you need 3G, or are you content with Tmo's $30 per month EDGE and WiFi bundle? Both phones are priced at parity, so your buying decision is more likely to come down to data, and less likely to depend upon flash memory or a millimeter of thickness.
But in terms of aesthetics and the ever-powerful touchability, the Dash has it in spades. Its shape and soft touch finish make it far more comfortable to hold in the hand than almost any other Smartphone we can think of in the US market (though it'll have some real competition when the Treo 750
lands on Cingular). In case you couldn't already tell, we feel pretty comfortable recommending this phone to anyone willing to put up with the inherent pains of Smartphone, with or without Tmo's tweaks and myFaves calling service.