At least the UI is very nice, with tap-to-focus, relatively in-depth image adjustments (ISO, exposure, saturation, contrast) and some built-in filters
The 720p video is becoming a must-have feature in this class of phone, and we're happy to report that the myTouch handles it ably. You can switch in-between camera and video modes nearly instantly, and recording starts instantly as well. Footage is nicely saturated and not too terribly compressed, and even quick pans and tilts look fine, although there's no avoiding the regular shake of a non-stabilized handheld camera like this. Check out a sample below:
Ugh. Please, T-Mobile, make it stop. We can hear the gears turning in the T-Mobile HQ's hive brain: "We'll make a mostly vanilla G2 with a slide-out keyboard for those hardcore users, but Regular Joe Consumer? He can't handle straight-up Android. Let's take this paintbrush loaded up with plastic and cruft and inconsistencies and a little bit of HTC Sense and smear it all over Froyo."
Does it sound like we're taking this a little too personally? Because we are. Android has gotten too good for these shenanigans, and while the basic consumer might never know the difference -- might even like some of these HTC-built widgets and T-Mobile themes -- we can't unsee the excellent elements of Froyo that have been trampled on to make way for their inclusion. T-Mobile went to the trouble of putting seven different themes on this device, each which packs a different background image, a slight alteration of the UI's "chrome," and swaps the color of various buttons and other elements. To be honest, we wouldn't be that offended by all of this if there was just a blessed eighth option that said "none." As it is, we're stuck with T-Mobile's idea of a good UI (which naturally clashes with a half dozen other UI styles present in various apps and the original Google look that peeks through now and then), and the added weight it adds to the experience.
For instance, when you grab for the notification tray, there's a subtle lag that breaks the illusion of pulling something down and sometimes made us feel like we'd mis-touched -- despite the fact that the processor on this phone is incredible, and blazed through regular applications. Swiping between home screen areas can slow down slightly at times, and the swipe gesture to unlock the phone (a downward pull on a horizontal bar) feels unsatisfying and lacks the swipe-to-mute option.
Do we sound nitpicky? Good, let's continue. Another big gripe is the loss of Google's own Calendar app for HTC's similar but inferior one. In fact, HTC's calendar app versus Google's is sort of a case-in-point for what we're talking about UI-wise. The week view on Google's version is very "chromeless," you might even call it ugly. HTC spruces it up with some rounded corners, pastel versions of the different calendar colors, and gradients through each item to make events look a little bit like pieces candy. The problem? HTC decided to excise the text out of every single event, no matter how large, making the view basically useless. This isn't a new problem for HTC Sense, but we're going to keep railing against it until Google / manufacturers / Regular Joe Consumer wise up.
On the bundled application front, T-Mobile goes for the "more the merrier" angle, with games, productivity applications, and T-Mobile's own "My Account" and "App Pack" additions. Here are the notables:
It's set as the default keyboard, though you can revert to the Android original if you'd like. Opinions in the staff are split over Swype, but it's definitely grown on this writer over time.
We already talked about this above, but we just wanted to mention it again because we love it so much.
A nice UI for browsing through your music and video library, FM radio, and Slacker all in one place. We're still surprised Google doesn't offer something better by default, but this is one place where it's nice to have a third party step in.
A DLNA media pushing app from Twonky.
A pretty ho-hum implementation of T-Mobile's famous / infamous Fave Five service. We probably wouldn't mention it if it wasn't bolted to the bottom of the home screen to the right of the app drawer.
This is an unfortunate carry-over from the myTouch Slide. In place of the typical search button, there's a stylized "G" that launches a voice-controlled app. The voice control is powered by Nuance, the guys behind Dragon Naturally Speaking, and to their credit, it's some of the best voice recognition around. It differentiates between affect and effect, and even recognizes "Engadget." Unfortunately, we just don't want voice recognition in lieu of good old fashioned text searches. There's no easy way to switch the button to a search button that we've found, which would be an acceptable compromise, and instead we've got a nice gimmick to show off to friends, but are short a core feature of Android in payment.
A slightly-branded version of Qik. Obviously, this is one of the phone's most important features, and we're glad that it doesn't feel entirely tacked on, despite the 3rd party creator. Most importantly, it ties into the HTC social network amalgamation functionality (which is mostly useless otherwise... we prefer the actual Twitter and Facebook applications, thanks). The phone finds Facebook profiles that might match up with phone numbers or email addresses you have in your address book, and asks you to "link" them by hand. It's not a hard process, but we were surprised when it popped up again for another round. Only, this time it was for adding Qik users we already knew. Once you've added someone to your Qik buddy list, you get a concise list of contacts from within Qik that only shows the people that have Qik, with a video icon next to them and (here's the best part) a green lit-up icon if they're online! If you make a call with someone that's not on your buddy list, you can add them after the fact, and then the magical-contact-linker will prompt you to associate the Qik buddy with a contact card if it pulls up a match. FaceTime should really take notes.
Calling-wise, Qik was quick to establish a connection over 3G. For an incoming Qik call, the phone rings just like a regular phone call, even if it's locked. Unfortunately, Qik seems to have a capped quality level that presents pretty blocky video to both ends, even if you have WiFi. Hopefully this will improve in the future. For now, it works, and you can indeed brag to your iPhone friends that you can make video calls wherever without a jailbreak or other hackery. Better yet, we like the fact that we already know a lot of people with Qik video chat-capable devices, and that they aren't all using the same device. Check out a demo below:
One last thing that should be noted is that most applications perform brilliantly on this phone. The browsing experience is pretty much butter, even with the embedded Flash, with almost iPhone-level pinch-to-zoom and scrolling responsiveness. In other apps we noticed that some of the typical lag we had come to expect in that particular application's performance was all but erased. Kudos to Qualcomm for the processor, and a grudging thanks to T-Mobile and HTC for not putting so very much cruft on here to actually slow down the handset -- though we'd love to see how much it would scream with stock Froyo.
We've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we typically get blazing fast internet, on par with a low-to-mid-level home broadband connection (2 to 3Mbps down and 1.3Mbps up, with similar speeds on our laptop when tethered with the phone over WiFi). There's actually little difference in browsing between our cell connection and WiFi. Video calls are as clear as Qik can make them at this point (not very clear), and our voice call quality is perfect.
The bad news? As far as we can tell, we've rarely strayed from HSDPA. Basically, T-Mobile has a very good "3.5G" network in NY, which is either vastly underutilized or just plain good. This excites us for the potential HSPA+, and indeed, we've probably bumped into it unwittingly on occasion (you have to dive pretty deep into the phone to know what sort of connection you're getting, the menu bar simply displays an "H" next to the signal bars). Still, when buying a "4G" phone you have to be aware to what extent a "4G" network exists to support it, and T-Mobile has a ways to go.
Overall, the myTouch 4G hits almost every checkbox when it comes to features and functionality, but sadly misses the mark completely when it comes to aesthetic and "purity" of the Android vision. In T-Mobile's attempt to make a consumer-friendly phone, we'd argue they've driven in the other direction. Luckily, many of our qualms with the phone can be chalked up to personal preference, and a power user could potentially finagle a stock Android ROM onto here, so we'd encourage any prospective buyers to check out the phone for themselves before we fend them off entirely. For the rest of us, we'll keep dreaming of the Nexus Two that this phone most assuredly isn't.