As the first Android phone, T-Mobile’s G1 was a much welcomed entry into the smartphone market. And it may have been considered the must-have smartphone were it not for a certain device from Apple. The reason is that while the Android platform itself has a lot of possibility given its open nature, the G1 hardware simply was not great when compared to something like the iPhone. But now T-Mobile is coming back with another attempt at an Android phone in the U.S., which it is calling the myTouch 3G — and it’s much better.
How do I know? Well because I’ve actually had a unit for a few weeks now. You see, the myTouch 3G, which will be available in early August for $199 with a 2-year agreement, is actually the same device as the Google Ion phone that was given to everyone who attended the Google I/O conference a few weeks ago. And technically, both are really the HTC Magic, which was released a few months ago in Europe, and more recently in Canada. But for the myTouch 3G, T-Mobile is offering some other bells and whistles to differentiate it.
The biggest thing T-Mobile is trumpeting for this device is a deep level of customization. Users will be able to customize the menus, wallpapers, icons and a range of other things on the device with the use of themes and skins. This is a sharp break from a device like the iPhone which has a completely un-customizable look and feel.
And the device itself will come in three colors: black, white and what it calls the “distinctive” merlot. (Which only makes me think of Paul Giammati in Sideways, “I am NOT drinking any fucking merlot!”). But there will also be the option to completely customize the shell of your phone too.
The other key point T-Mobile is touting for the myTouch is something called Sherpa, which T-Mobile worked with startup Geodelic to create. Basically, Sherpa is an application that claims to learn from a user’s actions. So, for example, if you’re searching a lot of Thai food, Sherpa should recognize that as something that you like in the future. And it uses your location information to give you tailored results for what it believes you will want based on what you’re around.
Here’s T-Mobile’s spiel on it:
At the heart of the T-Mobile myTouch, Sherpa™ is an application with a built-in learning engine that automatically customizes itself to your preferences. Created by Geodelic, the application learns your likes and dislikes through behavior and user feedback, prioritizing recommended retailers, restaurants and attractions. Seamlessly blending behavior recognition, a recommendation engine and location-relevant information, this combination of learning is exclusive to Sherpa and unlike any experience currently on the market.
But how does the actual hardware of the myTouch stack up against the G1? Very well.
The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s substantially smaller than that G1. This is all thanks to the removal of the physical keyboard. Because myTouch uses the Android 1.5 “Cupcake” software, it utilizes a virtual keyboard. While this will undoubtedly annoy some users, from a design perspective, it was a very good move. It allows for a device that is not only smaller, and lighter (it’s about an ounce and a half lighter), but it looks a lot nicer too.
And it’s gotten a little bump in its specs. While it features the same processor, the myTouch has double the internal memory of the G1 (now 512 MB), which makes applications load and run much more smoothly.
The screen size and resolution remain the same (3.2-inch TFT-LCD 320 x 480). And, unfortunately, while the display is capacitive, it still does not support multi-touch which is a key feature of the iPhone and the new Palm Pre.
The myTouch also has the same 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus that the G1 had. And the device also comes pre-installed with a 4GB microSD card, but this is user-upgradable to any size.
But the most noticeable difference has to be the battery life. In my experience, the G1 had very poor battery life. The myTouch offers a huge improvement in that regard. How much? Well just in everyday use with a couple applications running in the background, my G1 battery would be gone in a few hours. The myTouch battery easily lasts all day in the same environment.
While this device trumps the G1 in every way, the comparison that more people may be interested in for the myTouch is likely how it stacks up against the iPhone. With the removal of the physical keyboard, the devices are more similar now.
Before I get to that, I will say that the biggest factor for which one you’re likely to enjoy more will be if you’re a bigger fan of the more open Android platform, or the more tightly controlled approach Apple is taking with the iPhone OS.
In terms of hardware, there is still no question in my mind that the iPhone is still much nicer. HTC managed many solid improvements over the G1, but when holding the two hand in hand, the myTouch still feels plasticky, and as a result, cheap, compared to the iPhone.
If you have the original iPhone or the iPhone 3G, you’ll appreciate the 3.2 megapixel camera and the ability to shoot video with the myTouch, but the just-released iPhone 3G S matches both of those features now.
In terms of speed, it’s a bit hard to compare the two since the platforms run different applications. The myTouch, like the G1, features a 528 MHz processor which is a faster processor than the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G had. But again, the new iPhone 3G S meets that speed and even pushes past it, in terms of raw processing power.
I’ve only played with the iPhone 3G S for a few days, but I think it’s safe to say that for day to day use of any application and browsing the web, the new iPhone blows past the myTouch in terms of speed. But again, the myTouch seems noticably faster in many regards then the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G.
That’s not the say that the myTouch has no advantages against the iPhone. It has a huge one: It can run third-party applications in the background. Apple has been toying around with the idea, but the Android phones have done this since day one. And as I noted above, while this severely hurt the G1’s battery performance, the myPhone performs much better even with applications running in the background.
But in a move that still isn’t being talked about all that much, Apple may have dropped a bomb on devices like the myPhone 3G not with the iPhone 3G S as much as with the $99 iPhone 3G. At $199, the myTouch is the same price point as the entry-level iPhone 3G S, but I can see a lot of new smartphone buyers opting for the older iPhone for $100 cheaper.
Pre-orders for the myTouch will take place for existing T-Mobile customers on July 8. The device will be $199 with a 2-year agreement, and generally availability is set for early August.