T-Mobile Dash (aka HTC Excalibur) review: T-Mobile Dash (aka HTC Excalibur)

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The Good The T-Mobile Dash has a sleek design with a vibrant color screen and features integrated Bluetooth 2.0 and Wi-Fi; push e-mail capabilities; multimedia functions; and a 1.3-megapixel camera. The quadband smart phone also has good call quality and extralong talk time battery life.

The Bad The T-Mobile Dash's volume touch strip isn't always responsive. The camera interface is also confusing and picture quality is subpar.

The Bottom Line With a sleek design, good performance, and a robust set of productivity and wireless options, the T-Mobile Dash is an all-in-one hit and earns its reputation as a Motorola Q killer.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

It was bound to happen. With all the buzz and hype surrounding the Motorola Q, it was only a matter of time before a competitor would come and knock it off its pedestal--and that time is now. Today, T-Mobile, along with smart phone manufacturer HTC and Microsoft's Windows Mobile division, finally introduced the T-Mobile Dash (a.k.a. HTC Excalibur), and after putting it through its paces, we find that it deserves its title as a Moto Q killer for a number of reasons. It has integrated Wi-Fi (a feature the Q and BlackBerrys lack), Bluetooth 2.0, and push e-mail capabilities right out of the box. Plus, it delivers on performance with snappy response time, excellent call quality, and long battery life. Of course, the smart phone isn't flawless. Its design won't appeal to everyone, and it's already garnered some harsh criticism around the Web. The new volume control touch strip is also a bit temperamental, and using the device's camera interface is unnecessarily confusing. That said, if you're in the market for a Windows Mobile smart phone to help you stay connected and be more productive on the road, we think the Dash is an excellent choice. The T-Mobile Dash is expected to be available starting October 16 for $199 with a two-year contract or $249.99 with a one-year contract. We fully confess that we were wrong about the T-Mobile Dash's design. We may have called it ugly as sin at one point, but once we had the final product in our hand, we changed our mind. It may be that the silver bezel gives the device a weird look, but it's really more handsome in person. On first glance, the Dash may remind you of the RIM BlackBerry 8700g, with its form factor and full QWERTY keyboard, but this smart phone has merits of its own. At 4.4 by 2.5 by 0.5 inches and 4.2 ounces, the Dash is thinner and lighter than the 8700g (4.3 by 2.7 by 0.7 inches; 4.7 ounces) and shorter than the Q (4.5 by 2.5 by 0.4 inches; 4 ounces). More importantly, it feels good in the hand. The Dash has a nice contour shape and curved edges that make it a little more comfortable to hold and use as a phone than the blockier Moto Q. In addition, the Dash features soft-touch covering that gives the unit a rubberlike texture, so it's easy to grip and use one-handed.

The T-Mobile Dash is shorter than the Motorola Q but just a hair thicker.

One point we want to make up front is that the Dash does not have a touch screen. Like the Q, the Dash runs Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone Edition, which doesn't support this functionality, so navigating the mobile's menus and registering commands are handled via the external controls. It's not difficult, but we also appreciate the convenience of a touch screen, and if you've previously owned a smart phone with this feature, using the Dash may take some acclimation--you may even find it doesn't suit you. All that said, the Dash has a brilliant, 2.4-inch TFT screen. It's just slightly smaller than the Q's 2.5-inch screen but displays the same 65,536 colors and 320x240-pixel resolution. As such, colors are vibrant and images and text are sharp--great for viewing Web pages and video. And more good news, the display is still readable in direct sunlight. You can customize the home screen with preinstalled or personal background images, change the backlight time, color theme, and font size. There are two status LEDs above the display that blink different colors for wireless connections, messages, and battery status.

Below the screen is the standard array of navigation controls: two soft keys, talk and end buttons, a shortcut to the Today screen, a back button, and a five-way toggle with a center select button. The layout is spacious enough that most users shouldn't have a problem pressing the wrong key. The full QWERTY keyboard is also easy to use; the buttons are tactile and well backlit. For making phone calls, you can use the silver-highlighted number keys (doubled up with letters) that occupy the left half of the keyboard. It's not apparent at first, but to dial a phone number, simply press the number keys; you don't have to bring up a phone app. Also, the bottom row of the keyboard includes quick-launch buttons for the camera, T-Mobile's T-zone service, and your messages. Though we had no problem creating e-mail and notes with the Dash's keyboard and found it easier to use one-handed, we give the slight edge to the Motorola Q in this department due to its extra spacing between keys.

The T-Mobile Dash features an easy-to-use keyboard, though we prefer the extra spacing of the Q's QWERTY keyboard.

The T-Mobile Dash has an interesting design element that we haven't seen on any other smart phone. To the right of the screen is a touch strip that lets you control the volume of the device. Theoretically, you just have to touch the designated area to turn sound up or down, but we found it to be a bit temperamental. Sometimes our commands registered immediately, while other times we had to repeatedly touch the designated area before the volume changed (more so with volume up than with volume down). Plus, left-handed users may have difficulty accessing the strip if you're using it one-handed. We'd much prefer a jog dial or dedicated keys. However, you can adjust the sensitivity or turn off the functionality completely through the Settings menu.

We're not huge fans of the volume touch strip.

On the back of the Dash, you will find the camera lens and self-portrait mirror but no flash. There is a Micro SD expansion slot behind the battery cover along the right side. It's a bit difficult to locate at first and its location a little inconvenient, but we'd much rather have it there than not at all. Finally, there is a power button on the left spine and a mini USB port on the bottom of the unit.

The T-Mobile Dash comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a protective case, and a wired headset. The T-Mobile Dash is designed to help you stay connected and be more productive on the road, and it comes with a strong set of features to help you accomplish that goal. In fact, we think its winning combination of PIM tools, wireless options, and form factor give it an edge among its competitors, including the Motorola Q, and even its HTC siblings, such as the T-Mobile SDA and the Cingular 2125.

As we mentioned earlier, the T-Mobile Dash runs Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone Edition. While you don't get the full Microsoft Office Mobile suite to edit documents, you do get the ClearVue Suite (ClearVue Document, ClearVue Worksheet, ClearVue PPT, and ClearVue PDF) for viewing said files. We successfully transferred and opened all four file types to the Dash without any format loss. Other productivity tools include a download agent, a voice recorder, a calculator, and a task manager. One app that we missed was the Memory Manager utility found on the Q, which helps you keep track of used and available memory. Speaking of which, the Dash has 64MB of SDRAM and 128MB of Flash ROM, supplemented by the Micro SD expansion slot.