T-Mobile myTouch 4G review

Here it is ladies and gentlemen, the heir apparent to the myTouch 3G throne and T-Mobile’s second HSPA+ handset, the myTouch 4G. The new device, which is manufactured by HTC, has all the trimmings of a flagship device: 1GHz processor, front and rear facing cameras, vivid touchscreen display, and, depending on whom you ask, a 4G radio. The myTouch 4G is getting the lion’s share of T-Mobile’s ad buys these days, but how does the handset perform when put to the test by your friends at BGR? Hit the jump to find out.

The Inside

While the first iteration of the myTouch handset — the myTouch 3G — was a solid device, it certainly was not one you could have considered a flagship. However, even with the presence of the G2 and HD7 in its handset lineup, the 4G looks to be the T-Mobile’s franchise device. Combine the advertisement blitz with the device’s spec sheet… and we think it’s fair to say that the mT4G is the S-Class of Magenta’s offerings.

Let’s go over some raw specs. The myTouch 4G comes standard with a 1GHz, second generation Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255 Processor; 3.8-inch TFT display with an 800 x 480 pixel resolution; 5 megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash, face finder, digital zoom, and the ability to record 720p, HD video at 30 frames per second; front-facing VGA camera; 768 MB RAM; 4GB of internal storage; an included 8GB microSD card (capable of expanding to 32GB); Wi-Fi b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1+ERD; AGPS; and a 1400mAh battery. This impressive package weights in at just 5.4 ounces stands 4.8-inches tall and is 0.43-inches thick.

The myTouch 4G runs the Android 2.2 (Froyo) operating system and is skinned with T-Mobile’s myTouch UI. The overlay is a mash-up of several HTC Sense elements and a number of T-Mobile tweaks that, for the most part, do not hinder the phone’s performance. If you’re an Android purist, and can only tolerate handsets running un-modified versions of Google’s mobile OS, you may not enjoy the myTouch experience. For the majority of consumers, however, we feel the myTouch will do just fine. With T-Mobile’s UI comes the ability to change profiles, set screen lock timeouts, link contacts, and more. A lot of the “upsides” of the device we’ll highlight later in the review are a direct byproduct of the myTouch overlay… so we really can’t stay too many bad things about it.

The Outside

The myTouch 4G really is, in our opinion, quite a looker. The device is available in four different colors – black, white, red, and plum – and feels incredibly natural in one’s hand.

On the lower portion of the device’s front are the three Android keys: home, menu, and back. The fourth key, which is typically a search key on other Android handsets, has been replaced with a “Genius” button. The four keys sit just below the screen and are physical keys (not soft keys) that are beveled with rounded edges; the keys feel and function perfectly. Centered below the buttons is an optical track-pad. Just like the BlackBerry Bold 9700, the track-pad can navigate around the OS, scroll through webpages or emails, and, when depressed, select UI elements. We didn’t find ourselves using the track-pad for navigation very often, but it makes editing text infinitely easier. Tap the screen to get the cursor in the general area then slide your thumb left or right over the track-pad to zero in on what needs to be edited. Perfection.

On the upper section of the device is a centered earpiece (duh!) that is flanked on the left and right by an LED notification light and the front facing camera, respectively. The right side of the device is home to the dedicated two-stage camera button and the left side contains a volume up-down rocker, micro-USB port, and docking station contact-points. The top of the device houses the 3.5mm headphone jack and a flush-mounted sleep/wake/power button; the bottom of the device is nearly void except for a pinhole for the device’s microphone. Both the volume up-down rocker and the power button sit flush to the device and are painted in your myTouch’s selected color; the dedicated camera button is raised, textured, and chrome colored. The back of the device has an LED flash, camera lens opening, and speaker grill.

Regardless of which myTouch color you chose, the front of the device looks exactly the same: all black. There is a dull-chrome bezel that wraps around the front touch panel that leads your eyes to the colored portion of the phone. We do have to give T-Mobile and HTC credit for the way the color flows on this particular piece of hardware; it complements the phone without being tacky or distracting. We might even be able to tolerate the plum version…. might. The part of the device that actually wears the color is the plastic casing that wraps around the top, bottom, and sides of the phone. The colored piece also wraps around the back of the handset and borders the battery cover and camera bezel. The battery cover is made of metal and the plastic camera/speaker bezel is painted with the same dull-chrome color that is used on the front of the device.

Now, above we mentioned plastic, and we know what you’re thinking: cheap. This is simply not the case. The device has an extremely solid feel and a really comfortable-to-hold form. It has a little bit of an iPhone 3GS feel to it – especially the white and black models – and that isn’t a bad thing. You really do feel like you’re palming a well-built, durable piece of hardware.

The Upside

Earlier in the review we told you that the myTouch UI brought some desirable features to the myTouch 4G that are not present in stock Android. These features include profiles, threaded email, and security timeouts.

Profiles are something that have been around forever but are missing from stock Android and iOS. Currently, RIM’s BlackBerry OS and Nokia’s Symbian are the only two major players that utilize profiles as part of their mobile OS and we’re not really sure why. For us, profiles make life easier so we’re happy to see them in the myTouch 4G. The device allows you to edit/choose between four pre-configured profiles — Standard, KidZone, Home, and Work. With profiles – referred to as myModes by T-Mobile – you can control your handset’s theme, wallpaper, lock wallpaper, ringtone, notification tone, email notifications, and call forwarding. The KidZone, Work, and Home profiles are preconfigured to have certain behaviors, but they all can be adjusted. The KidZone profile, for example, disables access to messaging, the dialer, and more in case you want to let a child play games on the phone – which we think is pretty neat. If none of the preconfigured options is what you’re looking for, or you want more than the four profiles, you are free to add them. The recently released DROID Pro also has profiles — thanks to the BLUR interface — and we hope this feature makes its way into stock Android at some point.

Mobile email is a big motivating factor for users to take the plunge and buy a smartphone, and the client on the myTouch 4G does not disappoint. The device uses the standard Gmail application to handle Google’s email implementation and uses a client similar to the one found on most HTC sets for Exchange, POP, and IMAP accounts. If you pin the “Mail” icon to one of your home screens, it live-updates with a magenta badge and white text (think iOS) displaying how many unread messages are sitting in your inbox. The client also offers several views: the standard inbox, a Favs view (to browse all the messages from contacts you’ve marked as favorites), an attachments view (to see all messages carrying a document payload), and a conversation view. For us, since we usually have an inbox full of related messages, the conversation view is super helpful. You can also flag Exchange email and move messages into any standard Exchange folder (Trash, Drafts, Sent, etc). The myTouch 4G also respected the fact that our Exchange administrator had configured a password requirement and prompted us to set a device password upon account configuration.

Battery life on the myTouch is very good. You can easily get 18 to 20 hours out of the battery with moderate to heavy use (not including tethering). The device has a feature called “fast boot” that is on by default. With fast boot enabled the device never actually fully powers down, instead it sort of hibernates. If you’re familiar with BlackBerrys then you’ll know what we’re talking about. When you turn the device off and power it back on, it boots in a matter of seconds, because the device was never really all the way shutdown in the first place. It is a great feature, especially if you want to turn your phone off in a meeting, but does tax the battery more than you’ll want it to if, for example, you turn the device off while you’re sleeping. Having the device off for 8 to 9 hours while we were catching some Z’s spent around 15% of the handset’s battery. We chose to turn the feature off and deal with a 45 second boot time. We like that the option is there, but it is just something to be mindful of as it is on by default. We managed to use our laptop tethered for just over three hours before the battery of the device fully discharged — which is right on par with other Android sets.

Other niceties included the ability to set a security timeout after the screen sleeps, the media room application for sharing digital content using DLNA, the SWYPE keyboard, carrier supported visual voicemail that is free, and the device’s ability to make calls using a connected Wi-Fi network. Call quality over both Wi-Fi and cellular is very good, no anomalies or hiccups to report and the speakerphone is on par with other HTC-manufactured handsets.

The Downside

There were several things about the handset that we didn’t really love and we thought we would point out. First and foremost: the camera. It really is just okay. HTC isn’t known for making the best smartphone shooters and they definitely aren’t doing anything to help break that notion with the 5 megapixel showing on the myTouch 4G. If you’re indoors pictures are blurry and grainy and it is really easy to get completely distorted pictures with very little camera shake. The 720p video the device takes is very good, but getting quality stills out of the myTouch proved to be a challenge.

Another odd issue we were having was slowness and lag when we connected a laptop via the device’s Wi-Fi hotspot feature. We could browse for 20 or 30 minutes at a reasonable pace — some fluctuation in speed but that is expected — but after 30 or 40 minutes the phone’s hotspot would become unresponsive. Once this happened we tried toggling the Wi-Fi hotspot functionality on and off but the only thing that seemed to remedy the issue was a reboot. We saw several tech bloggers throw out S.O.S.’s on Twitter — asking for T-Mobile’s APN addresses — that mentioned the spottiness of the service as well, so we’re pretty sure it wasn’t our device or our location at fault. We mucked around with the handset’s settings a bit and couldn’t really come up with a workable solution. Our connection speeds also topped out at just under 5Mbps even though we were testing in an HSPA+ market.

The third major disappointment was using video chat on the device. It’s just bad. There, we said it. We love the fact that you can utilize VC over your phone’s cellular data connection but even on Wi-Fi we found the audio and video to be choppy, delayed, and uninviting.

Some other annoyances include the fact that in order to switch keyboard layouts you don’t navigate to Settings > Language and Keyboard. Instead, you have to go to an editable text field, press and hold the screen, select text input, and pick a keyboard from there. SWYPE is on by default and it was several hours before we eventually stumbled upon the hidden setting. Not all that intuitive.

Peep, HTC’s Twitter client, is what the myTouch uses for Twitter contact-list synchronization, but you can’t directly access the program from the application menu (it has no icon). For this reason you’ll end up downloading the official Twitter client (which is better in our opinion) and have duplicate notifications until you remove your Twitter/Peep account from the phone’s list of accounts.

Also, the three buttons present at the bottom of all home screens – Phone, All Applications, and myFavs – are not customizable. We like having the phone button on the left (which it is) and the browser button on the right — a la Nexus One — but couldn’t make it happen.

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line: the myTouch 4G is a great phone. It has a great build and feel, workable UI enhancements, and some awesome convenience features. Are the data speeds and video-calling capabilities – two of the features T-Mobile is marketing the hardest – the most amazing we’ve ever seen? Not really, but your mileage may vary.

At the end of the day if you’re a user looking for a smartphone to keep you organized on a network with affordable voice and data plan offerings we can highly recommend the myTouch 4G. If you’re a gadget nerd looking to replace your HTC EVO, keep on looking.

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