myTouch 4G Slide
- Fantastic camera
- Pleasant and easy to use
- Solid and attractive hardware
- Lackluster display and keyboard
- Performance could be better
- Average battery life
The myTouch 4G Slide is certainly a worthy contender in the race for best cameraphone, but Nokia's N8 still rules for now.
It's easy to mistake the myTouch 4G Slide for the myTouch 4G when seeing it for the first time. Both phones look almost identical from the front -- at 3.7 inches, the Slide's glass-covered WVGA capacitive touchscreen is only 0.1 inches smaller than its slate cousin. It features the same baroque earpiece and chrome rim around the screen. Like other myTouch devices, it comes with a row of four bona fide physical buttons (home, menu, back, and "Genius") plus an oh-so-retro optical trackpad above the signature chin. The silver ring around the front-facing camera lives on, along with the myTouch logo and notification LED. Flip the Slide over and it's a much more cohesive design. Gone is the myTouch 4G's mishmash of surfaces and textures, replaced instead by a silver accent along the edges of handset and a matte, off-white "khaki" battery door / back cover with a large, slick, machined aluminum pod incorporating the camera (the phone is also available in a more austere gunmetal and black color scheme). The words "8.0 MEGAPIXEL CAMERA" are prominently etched on the pod, which is flanked by a dual LED flash and a secondary microphone. A molded HTC logo and the speaker grille populate the other half of the back. On the sides of the Slide you'll find a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack and power / lock key on top, a volume rocker and micro-USB connector on the left, the primary microphone, a slot to pry the cover, plus a lanyard attachment at the bottom, and finally, a dedicated two-stage camera button on the right.
Under the hood, the myTouch 4G Slide is almost a dead ringer for the Sensation. You'll find the same Qualcomm MSM8260 Snapdragon SoC with its 1.2GHz dual-core CPU and Adreno 220 GPU, 768MB RAM, and a combination quadband GSM / EDGE plus tri-band UMTS / HSPA+ "4G" radio -- the latter supporting Band IV (AWS) and Bands I / VII (world). Other specs include the usual suspects: at least half the sensors known to human kind (compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, proximity, and ambient light) along with a full complement of radios (WiFi b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0+EDR, GPS / AGPS, and FM). The Slide lacks a qHD display, making due instead with a more pedestrian 3.7-inch WVGA (800x480 pixels) Super LCD panel. We'd gloss over this if the screen was of the same caliber as HTC's Incredible 2, but the Slide's display quality is just average at best. The screen looks fine indoors, but falls apart in direct sunlight, and generally exhibits mediocre contrast and viewing angles.
Judging from all the buzz, T-Mobile and HTC are very proud of the my Touch 4G Slide's camera. Is it justified? Yes, absolutely. We'd rank the Slide's camera at number three in the current crop of cameraphones, beating devices like the iPhone 4 and Xperia Arc, trailing closely behind the second place Galaxy S II, with the N8 taking the number one spot by a wide margin. Now that we've got that out of the way, let's see what the Slide's camera is capable of, how it shines, and where it falls short. We'd also like to dispel the claim that it's "the most advanced camera of any smartphone" since it mostly combines features already available on other handsets.
What makes the myTouch 4G Slide's camera unique is a combination of custom hardware and software. HTC designed a completely new camera module using a backside-illuminated 8 megapixel sensor combined with a quality 3.69mm 1:2.2 wide-angle autofocus lens. At the time of writing the Slide is the only device in HTC's lineup equipped with this module -- sorry, Sensation owners. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that this camera is a serious piece of kit. The lens opening is massive for a phone and the sensor is extremely sensitive, something that we noticed immediately the first time we shot in low light. The only missing ingredient in this tiger blood recipe is the apparent lack of mechanical shutter, something you'll find on every single one of Nokia's imaging handsets from the N8 all the way back to the legendary N95 (and on Motorola's Droid X, incidentally). While the Slide features a dual-LED flash, it's not being used as an autofocus-assist light (like on the Xperia Arc), and doesn't hold a candle to the N8's xenon unit. That being said, we're pretty excited about the dedicated two-stage machined aluminum shutter key, which feels wonderful and provides just the right amount of resistance -- it's better than the N8's. Of course, if you prefer leaving fingerprints all over the viewfinder the camera also includes touch-to-focus along with an onscreen shutter key.
It's by using special software that the myTouch 4G Slide's camera really stands out. The premise is simple: pull out the phone, press the camera button to activate the app (à la Windows Phone), and press it again to take a shot -- bypass the lock screen, collect quality photos, don't go to jail. It's not the first cameraphone that's easy to use (the iPhone 4 is a fast, intuitive, and confident shooter as well), but T-Mobile and HTC wanted to bring the dedicated point-and-shoot digital camera experience to the smartphone, and that's what the Slide delivers most of the time. To achieve this, it uses tricks like continuous autofocus and zero shutter lag (wherein the camera is continuously sampling images and storing them in a circular buffer in order to minimize the delay between pressing / tapping the shutter key and capturing the moment). Unfortunately, while the concept is sound, the implementation is far from perfect. The Slide also provides easy access to scene modes, unlike other cameraphones which tend to bury the setting somewhere deep within the UI -- we're looking at you, N8 and Galaxy S II. As such, the camera features a simple interface with four onscreen buttons to switch between stills and video, select between the front and the back camera, control the flash, and change scene modes as follows:
- Auto, which detects and adjusts settings to achieve the best results in most situations. This actually works quite well.
- SweepShot, a panorama mode similar to what's available on most Samsung and Motorola handsets. The Slide stitches fewer images together but the resulting panoramas, while shorter, are of higher resolution.
- ClearShot HDR, a high dynamic range mode similar to what's available on the iPhone 4. There's a noticeable loss of detail in this mode, even when holding the camera still.
- BurstShot, which takes five pictures in rapid succession. It's similar to the BestPic feature that was available a few years ago on Sony Ericsson's K850i.
- Night, which optimizes settings for night shots.
- Action, a shutter priority mode which adjusts settings for capturing moving subjects.
- Macro, which optimizes settings for close-up shots.
- Portrait, a shallow depth of field mode for portraits. This allows you to specify the diameter and position of a circular area on the viewfinder outside which the picture will be artificially blurred. It's similar to Instagram's tilt-shift feature on the iPhone, but not nearly as polished. There's no gradient between the area that's in focus and the outside that's blurred, just a sharp transition.
- Manual, which provides the following settings (among others) via the menu key: timer, color effects (black & white, sepia, etc...), exposure, white balance, ISO, resolution, review duration, and geo-tagging, face / smile / blink detection.
The myTouch 4G Slide captures 1080p (HD) video at 30fps with initial autofocus and touch-to-focus functionality. Audio is recorded in mono using what sounds like a less than stellar microphone. The resulting videos are reasonably sharp and smooth, but we noticed some dropped frames here and there, something that's rather unexpected for a dual-core handset. It looks like the Slide's camera was optimized for stills, and while video recording is definitely serviceable, it's not this device's forte. Hopefully these issues will be addressed in a future software update, along with the introduction of continuous autofocus and stereo sound.
We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the myTouch 4G Slide not only ships with Gingerbread out of the gate, but comes with one of the most recent versions (Android 2.3.4). Like many of HTC's recent Android devices, it runs Sense 3.0, something that we'd normally be moaning and groaning about, yet somehow really fits here. The Slide follows in the footsteps of the other myTouch handsets by using a customized version of HTC's UI that suits it perfectly -- especially when you consider T-Mobile's target audience (the first-time smartphone buyer). Some things are missing compared to "stock" Sense 3.0, such as the ability to place four shortcuts right on the lock screen, but T-Mobile chose to add some potentially useful features like group texting (powered by Bobsled) and the aforementioned Genius button (courtesy of Nuance), which adds full voice control to the phone. Sadly, there's nothing smart about the Genius button -- it looks impressive on paper but works poorly in practice.
Like most carrier-sanctioned smartphones, the myTouch 4G Slide includes some bundled software, and while none of the pre-installed apps can be removed, several of them are actually somewhat useful. Beyond HTC's Sense apps (such as Friend Stream), you'll find Adobe Reader, Bejeweled 2 (PopCap's popular game), Netflix, Polaris Office, Slacker Radio, T-Mobile TV (for carrier-billed live and on-demand TV), TeleNav, Qik Video Chat, and Zinio Reader. Other familiar apps include the Swype keyboard, WiFi calling, and Screen Share (for DLNA support). T-Mobile rounds things off with its in-house My Account, My Device, AppPack, KidZone, Highlight, and T-Mobile Mail apps. It's worth noting that for some reason the music, video, FM radio, and Screen Share apps must be launched via something called Media Room in the app tray -- but otherwise there are no surprises here.