Last October, we would've never guessed that T-Mobile would bother to circle back with HTC on the myTouch 3G to craft a slightly modified version that fixes everyone's single biggest complaint -- the lack of an integrated 3.5mm headphone jack -- but here we are now in January with that very product resting in our hands. Even crazier, though, is that the only version of the modified phone (or, at least, the only version announced so far) is a limited edition tie-up with Fender and pitchman Eric Clapton. Strange bedfellows, indeed -- maybe just strange enough to work. Seriously, who doesn't want a phone endorsed by one of the hippest, most storied brands of the 20th century?
Enter the myTouch 3G Fender Limited Edition, a phone that takes the classic myTouch 3G formula, tacks a 3.5mm headphone jack along the upper right edge, coats the shell in faux sunburst fiddleback maple (just like that Buddy Holly or SRV Strat you've always wanted), and tosses in a few custom accessories and apps you don't get with the standard version.
Physically, the phone looks far, far better in person than you might picture in your head after having it described to you. This isn't some 99-cent applique we're talking about here -- the fake wood that's covering this thing could easily fool someone who isn't... you know, a wood "expert," if only it didn't seem too far-fetched to use real tree pieces on a consumer-grade phone. Both the wall adapter (which shares its styled shape with the standard myTouch) and the headphones also enjoy the treatment, and they all look great. No, seriously, we're not messing around.
Fender clearly took the partnership seriously, too -- it's not just the wood, but everything about the package from the zippered case with a pick-shaped logo to the crushed velvet pouch has an awesome, chic, high-quality feel. Honestly, we'd probably carefully remove the phone itself and zipper everything else back up and put it away as though it was a treasured collectors' item, but anyone who plays an electric guitar understands the awesomeness of the inside of a Fender case; if you're the kind of person who never leaves home without a six-string, we can see why you might want to carry the pouch around, too. It's silly, but it's fun and makes for a great conversation piece.
Once you turn the phone on, you'll notice that you're right back into familiar myTouch territory with a few key differences. As the Fender name indicates, everything that has changed with this version is music-oriented, starting with the jack and leading through to the bundled apps; T-Mobile has (wisely) swapped out Android's default music player and replaced it with HTC's, for example. It's the same one you find on the Hero, and apart from graphic transitions being a little laggy, it works very well and looks a whole heck of a lot better than anything Google has done so far.
Musicians (particularly guitarists, we suspect) will appreciate the handset's Musical app, which serves as an umbrella for a handful of tools. It's got a metronome, tone generator, and tuner -- all handy for impromptu gigging on the road -- along with keyboard and percussion instruments that can be manipulated on-screen. Make no mistake, the instruments are purely novelties -- the screen's way too small to effectively use a keyboard, and even if it were, the lack of multitouch makes chords impossible. Interestingly, the app can be used as a MIDI controller over WiFi, a surprisingly pro-level feature for an app that doesn't have much practical purpose. Don't get us wrong, it's fun to dink around with and we'd bet it's great for parties or a quick game of Name That Tune, just don't expect to record your next masterpiece with it.
Next up is Solo Lite, a stripped-down version of a guitar app that any Android user can find in the Market (for free, no less, so existing myTouch owners shouldn't feel ripped off here). It sounds surprisingly good and can be configured to play the chords of your choosing, but as with Musical, we don't see how this is of too much practical use. It's cute, it's fun, and you shouldn't expect much more.
Unfortunately, both Musical and Solo suffer from some pretty extreme lag, symptoms of the myTouch's anemic 528MHz core. We're guessing they'd fly on a Snapdragon, but the apps tax this poor, outmatched processor to its frayed limits. The rest of the phone works every bit as well as a regular myTouch, but these apps seem to really be designed for something with a little more "oomph."
So, let's take a quick look at the Fender's other big deal: that 3.5mm headphone jack. We wish we could be a little more excited about this, but HTC seems to have rushed this one -- it obviously shoehorned the jack into a device that wasn't designed from the start to support it. The placement of the jack is totally fine, but we experienced far more hiss while listening to music than we've grown used to with recent music-capable phones; by and large, manufacturers seem to have gotten the hang of noise suppression, and the myTouch is a marked step backwards. Granted, we were using Shure SE530s for the test -- earbuds that are honest enough to make almost anything sound like crap -- but when you put it head-to-head with nearly any other modern phone with a jack, this one's going to come out on bottom.
Look: it's a Fender-branded myTouch 3G. Existing myTouch owners really shouldn't feel bad about the inclusion of this afterthought of a 3.5mm jack, and fresh customers looking to get into an Android set on T-Mobile clearly have better choices in the range (and there'll be far, far more over the course of 2010, we suspect). That said, there's something about the Fender branding and the exquisitely-crafted details that tugs at our heartstrings here, and honestly, we might carry this one around just for the cool factor. And who knows -- when you become the next Jimi Hendrix, maybe it'll be worth something to someone some day.