Smartphone Thoughts: T-Mobile's Dash: Powerful, Slim, and QWERTY

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Friday, October 13, 2006

T-Mobile's Dash: Powerful, Slim, and QWERTY

Posted by Janak Parekh in "HARDWARE" @ 06:00 AM

A "Mini-Review"?
For better or for worse, I'm known for my voluminous reviews on Pocket PC Thoughts, including my reviews on the Samsung i700 and the Treo 700w. This review is going to differ for a number of reasons. First, I only got the device yesterday, so I won't be able to comment on long-term usability, battery life, etc., and the pictures aren't quite at the quality I'd like them to be. Second, I'm not a T-Mobile subscriber, so I can't do extended tests on data or coverage. Nevertheless, as a veteran Smartphone user (I used the Samsung i600 for about a year on Verizon) I sat down with the phone and put it through the paces.

Note that this review is primarily geared towards existing Smartphone users, as it glosses over Smartphone OS use and focuses on differences with other Smartphones. If you have questions about how the Smartphone operates, feel free to post it as a comment, and I'll do the best I can to answer it.

On to the review!

Box Contents and First Looks
User submitted image
Figure 1: The T-Mobile Dash packaging.

The Dash comes packed in a T-Mobile-designed cover, and it's clear that a significant branding effort was done throughout the product. The unit comes with the standard fare, including manuals and a CD, a belt-clip carrying case, the Dash itself, a US charger, USB sync cable, a headset, and the battery packed separately.

User submitted image
Figure 2: The unit as shipped.

Upon removing the unit from its plastic contents, it's clear how T-Mobile is consumerizing the device -- there's helpful shortcuts on the screen protector sticker, including the basics like figuring out one's phone number. (I presume that's particularly important for people who order the unit online.)

User submitted image
Figure 3: Sticker removed.

Removing the sticker yields a very glossy, 320x240 landscape display. Unfortunately, the days I've tested it have been cloudy outside, so I haven't managed to do an outdoors test yet. The styling, which looked a bit "toy-like" in some early pictures, actually manages to look reasonably classy. There is one dedicated T-Mobile button, which is used for their T-Zones WAP service.

User submitted image
Figure 4: Holding the Dash.

The Dash is extremely comfortable to hold in the hand. My first impression was, "hey! They took the iPAQ 4150 form factor and used that as inspiration for a Smartphone" -- it literally feels that svelte and comfortable. The back of the unit is slightly rubberized, giving a great grip. The device feels well-engineered overall; there are no creaks and the device doesn't flex anywhere. It's remarkable how far we've come since the first HTC Windows Mobile unit, the iPAQ 3650 (HTC Macaw, if I remember correctly).

User submitted image
Figure 5: Rear of the device.

The back of the device is simply arranged; there's the 1.3MP camera, a mirror, what looks like a speaker grille, and the battery cover. The battery cover doesn't have a fancy latch; to open it, you press it down slightly at the top middle and slide it down. While it doesn't lock in with a satisfying click, there's plenty of friction, and it does feel like it'll stay firmly in place.

User submitted image
Figure 6: Under the battery cover.

The battery, SIM, and microSD slots are all located under the battery cover. The SIM is actually at the top left, right above the word "HOW"; the SIM sits recessed. The microSD slot is on the right side, and is not obstructed by the battery, which is a good thing, although you still need to remove the cover to switch microSDs. Not perfect, but better than having to turn the device off.

User submitted image
Figure 7: The famous touch strip. But wait, what's that volume icon?

Figure 7 shows a quick shot of the touch strip on the side of the device. However, if you compare this to the pictures of the touch strip on other versions of the HTC Excalibur, you'll notice the two buttons are missing and a volume icon has been added in the middle. I'll talk about this later in the review, but it appears that T-Mobile has removed the scrolling ability of the touch strip, opting to make it strictly a volume control now. 8O

User submitted image
Figure 8: The charging LED, illuminated. The WiFi/BT led is on the bottom of that little earpiece oval. I tried to photograph it, but gave up trying to guess the time interval between blinks.

Two LEDs are cleverly concealed on the top of the Dash, at the top and bottom of the earpiece, representing the power/phone (orange/green solid when plugged in, and blinking when there's signal) and the WiFi/BT indicator (green for WiFi, blue for BT). Oh, by the way, the WiFi seems to be 802.11g; when I connected to my work network, it said that the receive rate was 54mbps. I doubt the unit can actually stream web content at that speed, but it's good to see the use of a "G" chipset.

Figures 9 and 10 show the bundled carrying case, which is designed to be worn on the belt. It's simply designed, and while it looks classy, in my opinion the Dash's value proposition is that it should fit in a pants or a jeans pocket without any noticeable bulge. In any case, the case uses a magnetic front flap, and has a simple belt clip on the back. The material is a nice (faux?) leather.

User submitted image
Figure 9: Front view of the Dash carrying case with the Dash inserted.

User submitted image
Figure 10: Side view of the Dash carrying case with the Dash inserted.

Up next: a few comparison shots, and pictures of the Dash turned on. 8)

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