T-Mobile myTouch 4G: Impressive and Speedy
At a Glance
The latest addition to the T-Mobile myTouch family, the myTouch 4G ($200 with a two-year contract from T-Mobile; price as of 10/28/2010) has the most impressive specs of the myTouch phones to date, boasting a front-facing video camera, HSPA+ data speeds, and HD video recording. HSPA+ coverage isn't everywhere, however--and it might be spotty in cities that do support it.
The first thing I noticed about the phone is its stylish, yet sturdy design. The phone, HTC-designed, feels more high-quality than the previous, plasticky myTouch models. The plastic is still there (on the face of the phone and on the hardware buttons), but the device is primarily metal and has the feel of a higher-end phone. The phone will come in four colors: white, black, plum, or red.
The phone has a vibrant 3.8-inch WVGA display, which nicely showcases the phone's user interface. Below the display, you'll find four hardware buttons: Home, Menu, Back, and Genius (more on that one later). Measuring 4.8-by-2.4-by-0.43 inches, the myTouch 4G is a manageable size.
Like the other myTouch phones, the myTouch 4G comes in a handy case for storing all of your phone's accessories.
Custom Skin Over Android
Running Android 2.2, the myTouch 4G has a custom skin, which is sort of a mash-up between that of the HTC Sense and the myTouch skin we saw on the myTouch Slide.
As on the HTC Sense, you get a dynamic weather app and a socially-aware address book (which aggregates your friends' contact information from your social networks). You also get HTC's Friend Stream, which takes all of your friends' status updates, links, and photos from your various social networks and displays them in a single feed.
Another unique, user-friendly feature is MyModes, which lets you customize your phone for your work life and for your personal life via widgets, homescreen apps, and wallpapers. If you want to avoid work e-mail and appointments as much as possible over the weekend, you can simply set those applications to be hidden from your homescreen when you leave your office. You can program MyModes to switch by location (using GPS), or you can switch it manually.
The Genius button, mentioned earlier, is a useful tool for smartphone newbies. Press it, and you jump to a simple voice-command menu. From there, you can use commands to make calls, compose and send texts and e-mails, search the Web, and more. It worked fairly well in my hands-on tests, taking a few seconds to figure out what you said, but producing generally accurate results. The more you use the feature, the better it gets, too: It employs Nuance's Dragon Dictation Software, which gradually learns your voice and thereby improves response time.
Remember T-Mobile MyFaves? T-Mobile's cheap calling plan of yore (which permitted users to make unlimited calls to five people of their choice) is back--this time, in the form of a speed-dialer application on the Slide. The app has a kind of 3D effect that you spin through to get quick access to your favorite friends' contact information, pictures, and social networking account links. You can add up to 20 friends as your "faves." You can easily get to the MyFaves screen by hitting the dedicated hardware button on the phone's face.
The myTouch has a new feature called Media Room, which organizes all of your music, video, and Internet radio in one place. For media syncing, the myTouch comes with the excellent doubleTwist software onboard. Of course, you also get the dedicated YouTube app, which also supports HQ videos. HQ versions of YouTube videos are leaps and bounds better in quality than the normal, fuzzy YouTube videos.
While I like that the myTouch skin provides customizability, I don't really like what HTC and T-Mobile have done with the 4G's camera interface. Rather than the stock Android 2.2 interface, which gives you access to white balance and exposure controls, the myTouch's camera does all this automatically for you. It isn't a big deal, but it is an example of how these skins can sometimes interfere with features found in stock Android. I honestly think that the myTouch would be slightly better--and perhaps even faster--if it ran the stock Android OS.
Despite these gripes, I was really happy with how my photos taken with the myTouch's 5-megapixel camera turned out. On a gloomy World Series day in San Francisco, my outdoor photos looked pretty good, considering the low light. Photos taken indoors looked sharp and vibrant, but perhaps a bit overexposed (a common problem with smartphone cameras). The camera also has an LED flash, autofocus, and face detection.
The phone's high-definition camcorder captured pretty sharp video of a busy San Francisco street (all of those people in orange and black are headed toward the Giants' stadium for the World Series Game 2). The sound isn't the best, however--especially if you are in a windy area, as we were. See and hear the sample video below:
The myTouch also has a front-facing camera, which lets you make video calls with or without a Wi-Fi connection. I only briefly tested this feature over HSPA+ as I could find only a few spots where signal strengths were strong enough to make a good video call. In a café on Van Ness St, where we achieved our fastest data speeds, video chat looked really good. And of course, video chat worked fine over Wi-Fi.
You have two options for video chat: Qik or Yahoo Messenger. Both integrate nicely into your address book, too, alerting you which of your contacts have video chatting capabilities. Since I've used Qik a lot with other devices, I opted to use Yahoo Messenger's video chatting app. It was really easy to set up with my existing Yahoo account, and it was simple to make calls directly from my list of contacts.
We are going to be testing this feature in more depth over HSPA+, so stay tuned for a follow-up article; meanwhile, see below.
HSPA+: How Fast Is It?
The myTouch 4G runs on T-Mobile's 3G HSPA+ network, but the company defends the MyTouch 4G name by pointing out that the connection speeds seen on the phone are on a par with LTE and WiMAX.
And from what we've seen, T-Mobile's HSPA+ network really is kicking out speeds comparable with existing 4G networks--in certain places. Sitting at in a café in San Francisco, where HSPA+ service is available (and strong), a T-Mobile rep achieved download speeds of 3.5 megabits per second and upload speeds of 0.66 mbps per second in one test, then 4.5 mbps down and 1.31 mbps up in a second test. The rep said he'd seen download speeds of 6 mbps earlier in the day.
Unfortunately, over at our offices on the other side of town, we didn't achieve such high speeds. An average of three tests yielded download speeds of 28 kilobits per second (or 0.03 mbps) and an average upload speed of 86 kbps (or 0.08 mbps) over the regular 3G network. At least in San Francisco, it really depends on where you are in the city to get the high HSPA+ speeds.
Unlike Sprint, which charges $10/month for 4G, whether you have coverage or not, T-Mobile does not charge an extra fee for HSPA+.
Call quality was pretty good, but I did hear some strange static in the background of a few of my calls. Callers on the other end of the line were quite pleased with how my voice sounded. I made my test calls on a blustery, noisy World Series day (with multiple helicopters flying overhead), but my contacts said that they could barely hear the background noise.
Like a few of the older BlackBerry models on T-Mobile, you can make calls over Wi-Fi with the myTouch 4G. In fact, the myTouch 4G is the first phone on T-Mobile to have this option. My calls over Wi-Fi worked just fine, but be aware that if you leave that Wi-Fi hotspot, your call will be disconnected.
The myTouch 4G is powered by the second-generation Qualcomm 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 768MB of RAM. The phone is incredibly snappy, both in the browser (over Wi-Fi especially) and throughout the software. Native video playback was also quite impressive.
T-Mobile and HTC definitely have a real winner here with the myTouch 4G. The powerful processing speeds paired with HSPA+ data speeds are hard to beat when it comes to watching videos and browsing the Web. The camera is also quite good (though the camcorder's microphones aren't the best). If you don't have HSPA+ available in your city, however, you might want to hold off on buying a myTouch 4G until coverage is expanded. You won't be able to make video calls over the network unless you have HSPA+ connectivity (you can still make them over Wi-Fi, though). Even in a city where it is supported (like San Francisco), HSPA+ still has a ways to go for area coverage.
Mark Sullivan also contributed to this review.
For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.