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The poor T-Mobile Dash has been pulling duty ever since October 2006 and while it's received a minor face-lift and Windows Mobile 6.1 upgrade over the years, it's definitely time for the smartphone to retire. More importantly, T-Mobile customers need and deserve something more up-to-date and it looks like the T-Mobile Dash 3G is set to deliver.
The Dash 3G is the carrier's version of the HTC Snap, which was introduced at CTIA 2009 and just recently launched on Sprint. It brings a number of welcome additions, such as GPS, a better camera, and 3G support--something that was missing from T-Mobile's other top messaging, the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8900. The design of the Dash 3G is also heaps better than the Sprint model, boasting a slimmer design, a soft-touch finish, and a roomier keyboard. However, we're slightly disappointed that the Inner Circle e-mail feature wasn't included on T-Mobile's model. Also, at $169.99 with a two-year contract, the price is a little high when you compare it with some of the competition, such as AT&T's Nokia E71x that goes for $100 and Verizon's upcoming version of the Snap, the HTC Ozone that will go for $50. Overall, though, it's a really nice upgrade for current Dash owners and any T-Mobile customers looking for a fast messaging smartphone. The T-Mobile Dash 3G will be available starting July 8.
Now this is the smartphone that we saw and admired at CTIA 2009. Unlike the slick, plasticky Sprint HTC Snap, the T-Mobile Dash 3G is a much more attractive device for a number of reasons. The soft-touch finish on the back makes the biggest difference in our opinion, giving the messaging smartphone a more sophisticated look and high-quality feel. The Sprint Snap just looks like a toy next to it. The Dash 3G is also slightly slimmer at 4.5 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick (compared with Sprint's version at 4.5 inches by 2.5 inches by 0.5 inch), and is comfortable to hold while on a phone call or typing messages. The handset will also easily slip into a pants pocket and won't weigh you down at 4.2 ounces.
The Dash 3G features the same 2.4-inch, 65,000-color QVGA (320x240 pixels) non-touch screen as the Sprint HTC Snap and its predecessor. While bright and easy to read, it falls short of the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8900's sharper display, which has a 480x320-pixel resolution. You can notice the difference in that photos and text look smoother on the Curve 8900, whereas you can see some of the pixels on Dash 3G. We also wish that the screen was slightly bigger to see more information at a glance. As is, there's a bit of scrolling involved to view long messages, Web pages, or simply to see all the different panels on the Home screen.
On the positive side, the T-Mobile Dash 3G comes with a trackball navigator, which allows for smoother scrolling and navigation compared with the traditional d-pad found on the Sprint Snap. Surrounding the trackball are the Talk and End buttons, two soft keys, a Home shortcut, and back button. The single-row layout of these controls is spacious and clean, blending in nicely with the rest of the phone's design.
The T-Mobile Dash 3G's QWERTY keyboard is one of the better ones we've seen in this slate-style phone. A lot of the time there's a bit of a trade-off where the keyboard takes a hit to keep the phone sleek and slim, but HTC managed to fit in a decent-size keyboard while keeping a compact design. Even though there isn't much spacing between the keys, the buttons are large and have a slight curve to them so they're easy to press. They also feel sturdy and not quite as clicky as the BlackBerry Curve's. Finally, we like that the letters and numbers are easy to read thanks to its bold and red markings, and we always appreciate the shortcut keys on the bottom row.
Rounding out the smartphone is a volume rocker on the left side and a Mini-USB port on the right that serves as your power connector and headset jack. We wish the T-Mobile Dash 3G was equipped with a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack like the Curve but at least an audio adapter is included in the box. On back, you'll find the camera and the microSD expansion slot is located behind the battery cover.
The T-Mobile Dash 3G comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a stereo headset, an audio adapter, a soft carrying case, a recycling envelope, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and home page.
The T-Mobile Dash 3G delivers satisfaction as the successor to the T-Mobile Dash, bringing a number of upgrades and new features. If the name didn't already give it away, the smartphone is 3G-capable, offering dual-band UMTS/HSDPA (AWS Band IV & Band I) support. T-Mobile's 3G network is currently available in 130 cities and offers download speeds of up to 1Mbps and an average data rate of 600Kbps with a peak of 1Mbps. While obviously still expanding (T-Mobile plans to expand to 100 additional cities by the end of 2009), it's good to finally see another 3G smartphone from the carrier. The only other 3G phones available are the T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009, and that's not exactly the ideal choice for mobile professionals, and the T-Mobile G1.
In addition to 3G, the smartphone has integrated Wi-Fi, so you have an alternative if you're outside a coverage area or have access to a wireless network. Unfortunately, the Dash 3G does not offer UMA (unlicensed mobile access) support, so unlike the T-Mobile Shadow, you can't use the phone's integrated Wi-Fi to make and receive calls via wireless networks using T-Mobile's Unlimited HotSpot Calling service.
The T-Mobile Dash 3G offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, and text and multimedia messaging. The address book is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts) with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, work and home addresses, job title, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign each contact a photo, a group ID, or a custom ringtone.
Like most of the carrier's handsets, the Dash 3G supports T-Mobile's MyFaves service, giving you unlimited calls to five contacts, regardless of carrier. Individual plans for MyFaves start at $39.99 a month. You also get Bluetooth 2.0 with support for mono and stereo Bluetooth wireless headsets, hands-free kits, personal area networking, object push, audio/video remote, and more.
Beyond voice, a key form of communication on Dash 3G is, obviously, messaging. The smartphone features Microsoft's Direct Push Technology for real-time message delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. You can also access your POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts, and T-Mobile includes a set-up wizard for each of the popular e-mail clients, including AOL, Gmail, Windows Live, and Yahoo. The phone also comes preloaded with five instant-messaging clients: AIM, Yahoo, Windows Live, Google Talk, and MySpace IM.
While the range of e-mail support is good, we're disappointed that HTC's Inner Circle feature wasn't included on the T-Mobile Dash 3G. Basically, Inner Circle lets your prioritize your e-mails by bringing messages from a preselected group of people to the top of your in-box so you can read and reply to them immediately. According to T-Mobile, its MyFaves feature serves this purpose. Fine, fair enough. However, we found the Inner Circle function most useful for managing work e-mail on the Sprint HTC Snap, and we wouldn't necessarily want those same work contacts in our MyFaves group, so a separate e-mail feature would still be nice.
GPS/A-GPS is also now offered on the Dash 3G, so you can get it via GPS satellites and cellular tower triangulation. Like a number of other smartphones, the Dash 3G also includes the QuickGPS utility, which aims to speed up the time it takes to find your location by downloading the latest satellite information via an Internet connection. Google Maps comes preloaded on the device, as does TeleNav Navigation. Both apps provide maps, text-based turn-by-turn instructions, business searches, and traffic data, but only TeleNav Navigation offers real-time voice-guided directions. Note that you get a complimentary 14-day trial of the location-based service; however, afterward you'll have to get a subscription plan.
The final upgrade comes in the imaging department. The T-Mobile Dash 3G gets a bump up from the Dash's 1.3-megapixel camera to 2 megapixels. There are several shooting modes, including video and panorama, and you get the option to choose from several resolutions and image qualities. To ensure that you get the best shot, there are white balance settings, brightness controls, and flicker adjustment.
We were pretty satisfied with the picture quality. Objects looked sharp and colors came out decent even under fluorescent lighting. Its video quality was passable. Not surprisingly, action shots were a little blurry, but the camcorder is a suitable stand in if you have nothing else and need to capture something. After you're done, you can share the images and videos with family and friends via e-mail or multimedia message, and there's even an Audio Postcard app where you can snap a photo and then add an audio recording to send with the image. You can also upload them online to T-Mobile Album or view them as a slideshow on your phone. We'd recommend storing photos and any other multimedia files on a microSD card as the Dash 3G only has 192MB RAM and 256MB ROM.
Beyond that, the smartphone is still running the same Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard operating system. We asked T-Mobile whether it would offer an update to Windows Mobile 6.5 when available, but the carrier said it has not announced anything at this time. In the meantime, you still get Microsoft Office Mobile Suite, Internet Explorer Mobile, and Windows Live integration, along with the basic PIM tools. A dedicated YouTube app is also thrown in for good measure as is the usual BubbleBreaker and Solitaire games. Of course, you can always download more games, apps, and utilities for your smartphone and Windows Mobile has no shortage of titles.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1,800/1,900; UMTS/HSDPA 1,700/2,100) T-Mobile Dash 3G in San Francisco using T-Mobile service and call quality was excellent. On our end, we heard no voice distortion or background noise and audio was very clear and rich. Friends also reported positive results and some couldn't even tell we were using a cell phone. The speakerphone offered plenty of volume, but callers on the other end could sound a bit tinny. We had no problems pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
The Dash 3G is armed with a 528MHz Qualcomm MSM7225 processor, which kept the smartphone chugging along quite well. It wasn't quite as zippy as the BlackBerry Curve 8900, but still responsive for a Windows Mobile device with minimal delays and no major problems during our testing period. T-Mobile's 3G network also delivered in speed. CNET's full site came up in 45 seconds while CNN and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in 4 seconds and 15 seconds, respectively. For comparison's sake, CNET's full site took 52 seconds to load, while CNN and ESPN's mobile site came up in 12 seconds and 5 seconds, respectively on the HTC Snap using Sprint's EV-DO Rev. A network.
YouTube clips buffered within 2 or 3 seconds, and playback was smooth. However, with YouTube videos quality can vary, so we also checked out a couple of WMV and 3GP videos where the picture quality was much better. We also used the audio adapter to plug in our Bose On-Ear Headphones to listen to music. Audio quality was fine, but the adapter protrudes a good 3.75 inches from the handset's side, so that was annoying and certainly an eyesore.
Overall, we were happy with the smartphone's GPS capabilities. Using cell towers, the device was able to immediately find our location on Google Maps. Switching over to TeleNav Navigation, it took a handful of attempts for the built-in receiver to get a satellite fix. However, once locked in, the Dash 3G and TeleNav did a good job of tracking our position as we drove around San Francisco and provided accurate directions to our destinations.
The T-Mobile Dash 3G comes with a 1500mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 8.5 hours (GSM)/5 hours (3G) and up to 15 days (GSM)/20 days (3G) standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get 7 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the Dash 3G has a digital SAR rating of 1.47 watts per kilogram.