T-Mobile myTouch 3G Slide review

Like it or not, T-Mobile has now officially turned its myTouch brand into an entire franchise, thanks to the addition of a second model and an entire line of styled accessories -- but it's not just about the hardware. Far from it, in fact: with the myTouch 3G Slide, the carrier has actually built a custom skin on top of HTC's Sense for Android 2.1, and all kidding aside, this phone represents one of the deepest carrier-customized experiences we've ever seen. Seeing how this phone arguably represents the true successor to the G1 -- T-Mobile's (and the world's) first retail Android device -- it's pretty important that they get this right, particularly considering how critical it is for a carrier's bottom line to capitalize on the meaty, profitable midrange of its smartphone lineup. Does the myTouch 3G Slide live up to the G1's good name? Read on.


You might remember the original myTouch 3G's distinctive packaging, a zippered, stiff nylon pod that made a great keepsake you didn't want to throw out -- it wasn't as small as it could've been, granted, but there's less of an ecological concern when the packaging is designed to not be thrown out. Well, T-Mobile has kept the theme going with the Slide, but it's not quite the same deal; this time around, you get a hard-shell plastic case that's a little bit bigger than the myTouch 3G's package. We'd argue that it's not quite as nice, but you'll still be prone to keep it, especially since it's got a pretty sweet custom foam interior with cut-out spaces for everything the Slide includes: 3.5mm headphones, a micro-USB cable, and the same custom myTouch charger that the older model included. It doesn't look out of place here, because the Slide features many of the same subtle styling elements.

Speaking of the Slide's styling, it looks better in the flesh than it does in pictures, which is great news since many of the shots we'd seen leading up to the announcement made it look insanely plain with a touch of gaudiness provided by the chrome accent along the earpiece. Don't get us wrong, we'd still prefer the phone without the chrome accent and with a bit of soft touch material on the back, but overall, the phone looks tastefully upscale in light of the abundance of glossy plastic. We tested the black version, and we bet red and white look even better. As we said before, even though the Slide has distinct ID all its own, it shares some common design features with its older namesake -- the mirror-finish body, for instance, and subtle upturns at the top and bottom (you might even call it the subtlest "chin" that HTC has produced to date).

We'll admit that we were dreading going back to an HVGA display to test the Slide, but strangely, we missed WVGA resolution a lot less than we thought we would; it might be a psychological side effect of the Slide's generous 3.4-inch diagonal, but whatever the case, we never found ourselves thinking "man, this screen sucks." It's plenty bright, and outside of the occasional web browsing situation, we bet you'll be just fine at 480 x 320. It also felt glass hard to the touch, something that we prefer to plasticky "give" on full touch devices like this that gives it an air of higher quality. On the flip side, there was a ton of resistance and rubbing noise when opening and closing the display; as far as we can tell, this comes from the soft touch keyboard making contact with the screen's rear. It's probably not a problem, but we definitely didn't like the slide action as much as the CLIQ's.

The Slide's controls are a mixed bag, but overall, they're excellent. In particular, the keyboard is one of the best four-row designs we've used in recent memory (LG, seriously, take some pointers from this before you go releasing an Ally 2) with great feel, spacing, and clickiness -- it's readily apparent that HTC's deep experience in making these kinds of keyboards is paying dividends. They've made room for all of the most important keys that you should be able to access without pressing Shift or Alt, notably the comma, period, and "@" symbol, plus you've got Home and Search keys and duplicated modifiers on the left and right sides. HTC aficionados will also be pleased to see that they've carried over the lit Shift and Alt symbols above the numeric row, which makes it super easy to see what character you're about to press. It's a nice touch.

Up front, you've got an optical pad that can be clicked surrounded by four buttons: Home, Menu, Back, and a stylized green "G" where you'd normally expect Search to be on an Android phone -- this is the so-called "Genius Button," one of the major software features T-Mobile is pushing along with the phone itself (more on that in a bit). All four of the buttons -- particularly the outer two -- are a little smaller than we'd like for our big fingers, making it a little tricky to reliably press any of them without risking an accidental press to the right or left. By contrast, the optical pad is plenty large and usable, though as with every other Android phone out there, it's pretty unnecessary; we would've happily taken a slightly larger screen in exchange for killing the pad altogether. At the top you'll find the requisite power button and 3.5mm headphone jack; the left edge (on the keyboard half of the slide) features a slightly concave volume rocker, and the bottom has your micro-USB port, signaling another well-deserved blow against HTC's maligned ExtUSB connector of old. Something tells us it won't be making a comeback.

The right side has your camera button in its standard location toward the bottom end of the phone which you'll use to operate the Slide's 5 megapixel autofocus optics. It's a typical two-stage button that focuses on the first press, a system we prefer by leaps and bounds to the old myTouch 3G's (and Nexus One's) buttonless method. HTC has managed to keep both focus times and shutter lag to a bare minimum on this phone, and we were pleased to see that we could go from the home screen to taking a well-lit shot with no flash in under five seconds. Unfortunately, image quality wasn't stellar; it's a classic case where megapixels (five of them, in this case) are completely unrelated to image quality. It's basically impossible to take a "clear" shot without splotchiness and noise interfering -- every still shot sort of looks like a video frame grab. It'll do just fine for MMS and Twitpic duties, of course.

Looking at sound quality (if it's really possible to "look" at sound quality, that is), the Slide fares very well. The loudspeaker lies in a grill to the right of the camera on back and rests flush when you set the phone down, but it's so loud that it doesn't matter -- yes, it's muffled just a tad, but it's still completely usable. Same with the earpiece -- at full tilt volume, it's extremely loud and plenty clear with virtually no static when no one is speaking.


The other part of the myTouch equation is its extensively-customized software. T-Mobile seems to have really taken the bull by the horns here, starting with HTC's Sense skin and massaging it into something almost entirely different. All of the key elements are still there -- standard Sense apps like Peep and Friend Stream, for instance, plus Android staples like the multi-panel home screen -- but significant swaths of the user interface have been redrawn and rethought. That said, anything that runs on Android 2.1 will run just fine here, so whether the myTouch skin is ultimately a good thing, a really awful thing, or a largely irrelevant thing to your enjoyment of the device is probably a matter of personal opinion.

Perhaps the single most in-your-face element of T-Mobile's changes are the bizarre bubble-encased icons used throughout the launcher and home screen. For the life of us, we can't figure out why they did this; as we mention in the video, one small advantage here is that you can see exactly how much room the icon takes up on a panel when you're trying to organize it or add widgets, but that's a pretty trivial benefit in the grand scheme of things. That said, we found ourselves being less annoyed by them than we thought we'd be, and within a day or two of using the phone, we probably wouldn't give them a second thought.

Design elements aside, two of T-Mobile's major value-adds are the Genius Button and a new Faves experience. The Genius Button is billed as a natural language (or near-natural language) way to do just about anything on your phone, but in practice, we had trouble getting it to do just about anything other than search for stuff on the web. One of the supported commands, for example, is "Where am I?" -- but when we opened Genius and said exactly that, it ran a web search for "Where MI." Problem is, we want to know where we are, not where the great state of Michigan happens to be. We're sure you could spend time learning Genius' nuances and become an expert at getting it to do your bidding, but unless you're really into handsfree operation, we think you'll find that most tasks on the Slide are easier accomplished by just doing them rather than asking Genius to do them for you.

Even though T-Mobile's original myFaves concept has kind of died with the advent of ultra-cheap unlimited calling, Faves lives on as a core part of the carrier's branding and experience. The Slide introduces a new app for managing your Faves, which basically amounts to a speed dial on steroids -- you've got a crazy three-dimensional arc of photos that you can spin through to select users, at which point you can get quick access to their latest social network updates and place a call, send a text or an email, or share a photo or video. T-Mobile includes several different home screen widget styles (including separate ones dedicated to family members) to make accessing these Faves easier, so it's apparent that they expect you to use them. Heck, the rightmost button on the bar at the bottom of the home screen even launches you right into the Faves app. It's neat, but whether you find it useful will probably depend mainly on whether you've got a core handful of people that you keep in touch with significantly more than everyone else.

Overall, we were really happy with the performance of the phone, which runs a Qualcomm MSM7227 core -- it's not quite up to Snapdragon levels of performance on paper, but in practice, this thing generally seems to burn rubber. The interesting bit about testing Android devices is that they almost universally slow down a bit over time after the review is long over -- you've got more apps installed and you're running more background services, after all -- but starting with a really fast clean-slate device is a good start.


Curious software design elements aside, it's pretty apparent in our time with the myTouch 3G Slide that this phone is simply the best Android device T-Mobile has directly offered to date -- and, despite the fact that it's only got MSM7227 silicon and an HVGA display -- it's among the best QWERTY Android sliders to date, too. If you adore your G1 and you're looking for an upgrade (which a lot original G1 owners on contract probably will be this year), the Slide is an obvious choice -- and it spanks the similarly-designed Motorola CLIQ owing to its superior performance, bigger display, and cleaner firmware based on Android 2.1. Well done, T-Mobile; next on your list, give us some seriously high-end Android gear (and no, the Nexus One doesn't count).