Gone are the days when $50 got you a flip phone that could make calls, send texts and shoot super-low-quality thumbnails. T-Mobile's myTouch offerings aim to provide all the functionality of a top-tier smartphone, coupled with the kind of hardware and software top-tier handsets were offering a year or two ago.
After letting HTC and LG have a go at the myTouch series, T-Mobile tapped Huawei to design its latest devices, the myTouch and myTouch Q, a garden-variety slab and a full QWERTY slider, respectively. This time around, the carrier chose phones with more expansive 4-inch, 800 x 480 displays, among other improvements to the design and internals. Unfortunately, software wasn't considered in the upgrade: both of these run the aging Android 2.3 OS. Suffice to say, skinned Gingerbread is likely to turn off some shoppers, but it's still worth asking if people on a budget might appreciate these devices when they go on sale Wednesday for $50, post-rebate. So are there any redeeming qualities to speak of, if not the software experience? Read on to find out.%Gallery-161778%
- Great battery life
- Android 2.3 is quite stale
- Lackluster display
- Subpar camera
- T-Mobile bloatware
As we've mentioned before, the latest myTouch offerings are quite similar in appearance aside from the Q's added heft, stemming from that QWERTY slider. All told, the design here calls to mind previous myTouch offerings, with their rounded corners and curvaceous frames. This time around, though, Huawei added a touch of silver to the front speaker grill and opted for a soft-touch coating on the handsets' back covers. The change in material keeps those pesky fingerprints away and generally feels really nice in the hand. Overall, we'd call that a decisive improvement.
Gallery: Beats Music hands-on | 20 Photos
Gallery: Beats Music hands-on | 20 Photos
Another change from the last-gen devices is that both the myTouch and myTouch Q sport front-facing 0.3-megapixel cameras to the right of the speaker grill. Last time, only the myTouch featured a video chatting camera above the touchscreen. Speaking of touchscreens, these 4-inch TFT LCD displays with WVGA resolutions have four capacitive touch controls along the bottom: Menu, Home, Back and the myTouch's standard Genius button. There's also more of a lip at the base of the non-PenTile screen that keeps with the curvy design Huawei seems to have had in mind.
Moving around to the right side, you'll find a button for controlling the camera, which ends up on the top side of either phone if you're shooting in landscape mode. We'll get into specifics a bit later, but in brief: this control activates the shutter and allows you to access the camera from any screen. Up top on each device, you'll find a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, while the volume rocker sits on the left. Heading around back, a 5-megapixel camera is positioned at the top with an LED flash just below, along with speaker grills.
Under the hood, it packs an unspecified 1.4GHz Qualcomm MSM 8255 processor and 1GB of RAM. In terms of storage, 4GB of internal memory is included while both devices house microSD slots. Additionally, both handsets have Bluetooth 2.1, GPS and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi connectivity and light, proximity, compass and accelerometer sensors. As far as bands are concerned, the duo feature quad-band 4G UMTS/HSPA+ (bands I, II, IV & V) and are both quad-band GSM world phones (850/900/1800/1900 MHz).
Neither is super thin and they're actually thicker than last year's models.
Now let's delve into the differences between the two. Aside from the myTouch Q's thicker silhouette, there are only a few aesthetic disparities. Neither of the two is super thin and they're actually each about a millimeter thicker than last year's models. While the micro-USB socket is located on the bottom edge of the myTouch, the same connector is found on the left side of the myTouch Q, which becomes the bottom of the QWERTY slider once it's in use. The only other glaring difference is the location of the rear speaker. On the Q, it makes its home close to the base, but on the slab, it sits up top near the rear-facing camera. Under the battery cover, things shift around a bit from one device to the other, but either way you'll find SIM and microSD slots there, along with a 1,500mAh battery.
And then, of course, there's the keyboard. While it generally looks and feels much nicer than the one on the previous model, the experience left us a little disappointed. Starting with the good, the keys are so well-spaced that even if you have chubby thumbs you shouldn't find yourself hitting multiple buttons at once. The entire set is slightly recessed, though, with a lip enclosure that ultimately seems like a bit of a hindrance. Individual keys are subtly raised, which provides some feedback when you're pecking out a tweet, but otherwise, the typing experience feels clumsy. The entire keypad is backlit as well, but only when it's first exposed, which makes this feature a bit underwhelming. Another odd feature is that holding down a letter key only brings up symbols and not uppercase versions of each character. In order to properly capitalize sentences, you'll have to regularly employ the Shift key. This took some getting used to, but ended up becoming second nature after maybe three emails.
Both models are larger than their elder statesmen, thanks in part to the larger display size. Again, they're both noticeably thicker -- about 0.05 inches each, to be exact. The myTouch measures 4.8 x 2.46 x 0.41 inches (122 x 63 x 10.5mm) and tips the scale at 4.9 ounces (139g), while the myTouch Q hits the tape at 4.9 x 2.5 x 0.56 inches (124 x 63.5 x 14mm) and weighs 6.5 ounces (184g). While the myTouch still feels quite nice in the hand -- similar to the OG Incredible, actually -- the Q is much more formidable in both size and heft. Of course, this isn't much of a surprise, thanks to the keyboard, and we doubt that professional QWERTY users will mind the added bulk much. Last but not least, there are several color options. In addition to the black handsets seen here, the myTouch will also be available in dark red, while the myTouch Q will be offered in white.
At first glance, the 4-inch, 800 x 480 displays on the myTouch and myTouch Q look quite nice, with surprisingly good color saturation. Don't expect any stellar viewing angles, though: start looking at either device from an off angle, and the displays quickly lose any charm they had head-on. In particular, outdoor viewing is quite challenging, but it's about what you'd expect from a $50 smartphone. On the text input front, the display is quite responsive to finger input, which is a relief for folks who don't want to commit to the Q's physical keyboard.
At first glance, the 4-inch, 800 x 480 displays on the myTouch and myTouch Q look quite nice, with surprisingly good color saturation.
How does the display handle YouTube videos and other multimedia? Certainly, if you're itching to see a link that one of your buddies just posted on Facebook, you'll be fine for a brief viewing session. Color reproduction is pretty average, though, and that's with the "high quality" option enabled. Any prolonged video watching would only make the flaws even more apparent -- not to mention, more annoying. Video playback via Hulu Plus isn't even supported, so you might not even get to the point where you suffer low-quality video for extended periods of time. We gave Netflix a go and found the same color inaccuracies, but the myTouches were at least able to deliver fluid video quality. The stream only hiccupped a handful of times during an episode of "30 Rock."
This is our greatest disappointment with the myTouch and myTouch Q. As we previously mentioned, the two phones run Android 2.3.6, which is beginning to taste quite stale at this point. That said, the software at least runs well. Browsing web pages, sending tweets, snapping pictures and cranking out a few brief emails is a low-hassle affair. Occasionally, we noticed a brief delay when launching apps, but nothing to gripe about too much. As for multitasking, we were able to power up Spotify, respond to emails, monitor TweetDeck and access various websites without a substantial lag in performance.%Gallery-161780%%Gallery-161781%
There is, however, quite a bit of T-Mobile bloatware installed on the two devices. These include Access T-Mobile, a Setup app, T-Mobile Mall, T-Mobile Name ID and T-Mobile TV. The stock features aren't all bad, though, as a few manage to come in handy. First, Swype is on-board for those whose who prefer a connect-the-dots approach to brisk typing. Additionally, the myTouch-standard capacitive Genius button offers quick access to voice-activated calls, texts, web searches and other commands -- not unlike Siri and S Voice. Last time around, that button was a Q-only feature, but it now has a home on both models. We had no trouble with the Nuance Dragon-powered voice dictation: the software works as advertised regarding calling, searching and texting. As it happens, though, this is the app that took the longest time to launch. Wrapping up, there are swipeable shortcuts on the lock screen to text messages, the call screen, the camera or the regular unlock function. While this is nothing new (we've seen a similar setup on Acer tablets), it's still pretty useful for getting to frequently used apps quickly.
This may not surprise you, but these are hardly excellent cameras on either device. Still, they'll do in a pinch. When shooting outdoors, though, the colors on the myTouch Q are consistently softer than what you'll get on the regular myTouch. Overall image quality is pretty mediocre with a good bit of noise creeping into most photos, even fairly well-lit ones. In low-light situations or those that required a flash, we noticed a sharp drop-off in our shots -- many were downright awful. When taking night shots, both cameras had difficulty focusing as well. Unsurprisingly, it's a similar story with the 720p video from the rear-facing camera. You can use the camcorder if you don't have a better camera handy, but you probably won't want to hang on to any of that footage for the sake of posterity. We'll admit that we're spoiled by the flagships like the HTC One X, so this forgettable camera might in fact be a decent find in a handset at this price.
Gallery: Guild Wars 2: Origins of Madness | 18 Photos
Gallery: Guild Wars 2: Origins of Madness | 18 Photos
Once you launch the camera app, a second menu appears on the left side of the screen (topside in portrait mode) opposite a red on-screen shutter button. In that menu, you'll find selections for Settings, Flash, Back (switching between cameras) and Video. Only the Setting option houses a sub-menu, where white balance, video quality and a handful of photo effects reside. While we found the white balance controls were somewhat helpful in improving the quality of our shots, the only color effects that were even remotely useful were the monotone and sepia filters. As we mentioned, there's a physical shutter control located at the top of each myTouch in landscape mode. On either phone, it's a more comfortable option, even without two-stage autofocus. Whichever shutter you press, there's always a two-second focus delay before the phone captures a photo. Speaking of focusing, tapping on the display affords a quick refocus, but only in the center of the frame.
Again, the video quality isn't much better. We were able to capture 720p video but the quality was far from stellar. In video mode, autofocus is disabled so you're left to physically move your phone to compensate. In the end, our videos turned out choppy and the audio quality left a lot to be desired. The color variation that we saw in our still shots is in play here as well -- visible in the myTouch video above and the myTouch Q sample below it. The handsets do an okay job at picking up audio, but the recordings aren't very clear on playback. We weren't expecting top-quality results here, so ultimately, we weren't disappointed.
Performance and battery life
In our barrage of benchmark tests, the myTouches mostly stayed neck and neck. Of course, this is to be expected, given that they feature the same internals. On one test here or there, one device would creep ahead, but the results were never lopsided. Compared to last year's myTouch series (those were the ones made by LG), these Huawei models showed a marked improvement in nearly every test.
|Huawei myTouch||Huawei myTouch Q||LG myTouch||LG myTouch Q|
|SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms)||2,602||2,827||3,936||4,239|
|GLBenchmark Egypt Offscreen (fps)||19||19||17||16|
|SunSpider: lower scores are better.|
As for battery life, both the myTouch and myTouch Q perform respectably. In our standard rundown test, the myTouch managed to eke out over seven and a half hours of runtime while the Q lasted nearly an hour less. (The test consisted of a looping video alongside mail, Twitter and Facebook all set to update at regular intervals.) Compared to last year's pair, battery life is up by roughly an hour. In terms of real-world usage, we found that both handsets could easily manage a full day of tweeting, sending out the occasional email, playing back music, snapping photos and navigating to a new dinner spot. Through that, both myTouches lasted more than a full workday; after a solid 13-hour run there was still a bit of juice left in the tank when it was time to call it a night.
The network speeds we recorded using T-Mobile's HSPA+ "4G" service were right in line with our expectations. More data-heavy tasks required a brief wait, but downloading apps and the like never took more than a few seconds. During a run of speed tests, the numbers hovered around the 5Mbps to 7Mbps range for downloads and 1.5 to 2.5Mbps for uploads. Of course, there were a few times where download rates dipped way down to 2.5Mbps or so, but these low numbers were the exception, not the rule.
The in-call experience on both phones is quite pleasant.
The in-call experience on both phones is quite pleasant. Calls went off without a hitch and the sound quality is crystal clear. The speakerphone is also good for devices of this caliber and we had no problem using it from the opposite side of a desk. In general, we felt free to focus on the conversation at hand instead of whether or not we could hear the folks on the other end. Things were a little less rosy when we tried to maintain a conversation in a bustling coffee shop, but even then we could make out what our friends were saying.
The outdated appearance of skinned Gingerbread is a big shame indeed, but even with that glaring flaw, the myTouch and myTouch Q are nonetheless two somewhat capable devices. To be quite honest, though, you'd be much better off throwing down the extra $50 over at AT&T and getting the One X, whose price has dropped to $100. Over at Verizon, $100 will buy you unskinned Ice Cream Sandwich (and soon, Jelly Bean) on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Set on T-Mobile? If you have to bite right now, the Samsung Galaxy S 4G carries better specs even with its Android 2.3 software. You'd probably even be better off to wait for a price cut on either the Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G ($100) or the HTC One S ($150).
While the keyboard on the myTouch Q has been upgraded slightly, the task of typing isn't as comfortable as we'd like. However, strong build quality and a stellar calling experience partially make up for the software flaws. Folks who have gotten cozy with earlier myTouch-series devices should be pleased with the improvements to the hardware and the browsing experience. But if you hitch your wagon to either of these myTouches, make sure your expectations are realistic.