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

Using the Dash
As I mentioned earlier, this review is geared towards Smartphone users, so I'm not going to show most of the regular WM5 Smartphone screens.

Turning on the dash shows an extensively-animated T-Mobile logo, replete with sound. This was a little shock to me, because I was used to earlier static Pocket PC and Smartphone startup screens. I presume this is part of Microsoft's new efforts to enhance operator branding. Personally, I prefer static screens, but this is the way the industry seems to be going.

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Figure 20: The Dash's default home screen.

Note that T-Mobile has added a "Set Up My Email" to the home screen. This launches an email configurator utility that, presumably, has preprogrammed settings for T-Mobile accounts, making it easier for the average user to configure their email account. I'm sure those of us that have our own third-party accounts can manage without it, and thankfully, they've added a "Hide Me" for that very reason.

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Figure 21: The E-mail Setup tool. I didn't go farther, as my account is on my own server and is unlikely to be helped by this tool.

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Figure 22: The Communication Manager.

Launching the Communication Manager from Start or by clicking on the WiFi status on the home screen brings up the above-shown app. I've watched the evolution of these Managers from the earliest versions on the JasJar, and it's gratifying to see the level of control you now have over controlling what the unit will do. Switching functions off and on is a snap.

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Figure 23: The About screen.

This is the first device I've used that has AKU3. Good to see that T-Mobile used the latest AKU!

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Figure 24: Among other improvements, here's AKU3's built-in Internet Sharing tool. About time this is standardized across devices, and the Dash is one of the first to have it.

Please, Palm, please release AKU3 for my 700w. Please...

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Figure 25: System Information screen.

For those of you who are curious about details about the unit itself, here's the System Information screen with all of the low-level detail.

There's several other programs on the device beyond the standard WM5 fare, including a MyFaves tool to manipulate T-Mobile's new free calling feature for selected numbers (and which communicates your preferences over-the-air); T-Zones, which is T-Mobile's WAP portal, a T-Mobile HotSpot helper tool to enable you to easily connect to their service at Starbucks and many other locations, HTC's own (very decent) Task Manager, ClearVue file viewers, an extra Instant Messaging client, and a few miscellaneous tools.

User submitted image
Figure 26: Oz's Instant Messaging client.

T-Mobile bundled an IM client capable of AIM, ICQ, and Y! instant messaging. I think this is a great addition for those that don't use MSN Messenger. I've always perceived of T-Mobile as a "consumer-friendly" carrier, compared to the behemoths that are Verizon and Cingular, and this is a good example of just that.

Overall, the experience of using the Dash is exactly what you'd expect a Smartphone to be. The unit is reasonably fast, the screen is gorgeous, the device is easy to use. However, there are two quirks, one minor, and one major. Let's start with the minor one.

User submitted image
Figure 27: The annoyance known as xT9.

The Dash includes a new predictive text input mechanism, xT9. This is an evolution from T9, and to be perfectly honest, it's actually quite a bit nicer than the T9 implementations in previous Smartphones. However, I don't need it when I have a full thumbboard! Essentially, given a full thumbboard, xT9 acts as an autocomplete. Most of the time, it's actually right -- you can then hit spacebar to finish the word and continue onto the next. But then there are cases like the one in figure 26, when it actually gets in your way. It's completing Jason's last name here, and exiting it without completing the word is actually very nonintuitive. In this case, I could just scroll to the left and hit Enter or Space. However, when there are no correct completions, I have no idea how to get out of it without completing. :? Worse, you cannot use arrows to scroll when xT9 is completing; it grabs the arrows' focus for navigating between the words listed at the bottom. This makes doing things like writing emails rather tedious for me, especially when I type a few letters and xT9 wants to helpfully, but wrongly, complete it.

Fortunately, I have a simple solution: hit ALT-SPACE, and switch to ABC. Problem solved. ;) The only catch is that while the input method sticks, it appears specific to the app in question, so you may have to switch a few apps once before you have all of them in regular multitap (well, singletap on a QWERTY), unless a registry hack is available. Now, some of you may actually like xT9, but I find that the whole point of QWERTY is that I can type out all the words without thinking of completion.

Now for the big gripe: as I mentioned earlier, the scrolling touch strip, aka the JOGGR from the generic HTC Excalibur, is gone. T-Mobile saw fit to replace it with a generic volume control. I guess this makes sense from a consumer standpoint, but I was really looking forward to being able to scroll rapidly using the JOGGR.

User submitted image
Figure 28: The JOGGR/touch strip control panel has been replaced with a volume-only version.

You can basically set the strip to change volume in-call only, change volume everywhere, or do nothing. I am very hopeful that someone can release an add-on to restore the original functionality, because I think that was one of the coolest aspects of the Excalibur, and a nice answer to the jog dial of the Blackberries. As to if it's even a real "scroller" hardwarewise, it's hard to say, since there's so few positions for volume. You can essentially use it as a pair of up/down volume keys. Not much else to do. :(

Moving on... we're almost finished with the review. The next page talks about the Dash's phone quality and other last observations before concluding. What do I ultimately think of the Dash? Read on!

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