Introduction
Before upgrading from a “dumb phone” to a “smart phone,” I did a lot of online research. I read reviews. I watched YouTube videos. Unfortunately, most online reviews are kind of useless. They’ll say things like “There’s a nifty little switch over here. And you can press this button. That does this. This also does that.” I’m hoping my first-impressions review will be a lot more useful, and I will follow up with a more extensive review after I’ve had a few weeks to really get to know this phone.

Background (narcissistic babble—feel free to skip)
For the past few years, I’ve always had a “dumb” cell phone. It makes calls. It receives calls. It allows me to check voicemail. That’s about it. I’d never understood the need for Blackberries or other “smart” phones. I saw people in expensive business suits using those phones and figured I’d never have use for such a thing.

Then the iPhone happened.

Both my wife and I were very impressed with Steve Jobs’ demonstration of the iPhone. I saw it as revolutionary, even though it had its faults. My wife, a big Apple fan, still waited until at least the the second-generation iPhone came out to get one. Once she got it, though, both of us were impressed.

The whole time she’s been using the iPhone, I’ve been enviously looking on, wanting a smartphone of my own. Unfortunately, since I am a Linux user, and hell will freeze over before Apple makes a Linux port of iTunes, an iPhone is out of the question. And, no, I am not going to dual-boot with Windows to run iTunes. No, I am not going to try to jailbreak the iPhone and then have some update break everything so I can no longer sync with Ubuntu. I want something that just works.

Windows Mobile was out of the question. No more Windows for me, thanks. I got a little bit excited about the Palm Pre, but two things held me back from it. 1) all the reviews said the battery life is terrible and 2) it uses the WebOS, which doesn’t look as if it’s going anywhere, unlike Google’s Android, which is far more likely to be installed on more and more phones as the years go by (making its Android Market—the equivalent of the iTunes App Store—increasingly robust).

Like my wife, I don’t like to buy first-generation products. So the T-Mobile G1 was out. But then the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G arrived. Google Android. Second-generation. Linux-friendly (Linux-based, actually). And with my wife complaining about dropped calls with AT&T (American iPhone users have to sign up with AT&T to use a non-jailbroken iPhone), I was ready to give T-Mobile a chance. So I took the plunge. After one day of use, here are my first impressions.

What I don’t like

  • If you’re filling out something, instead of automatically focusing on the text box to fill in, the interface waits for you to manually click on the text box in order to bring up the on-screen keyboard.
  • A few dialogues will give you the option to click Done when you’re done with the on-screen keyboard, but most will have only a Return key to go to the next line. So in order to get the keyboard to go away, you have to hold down the Menu key (a plastic key, not a touchscreen key).
  • Even though there is an onscreen touch keyboard, there are eight hard plastic keys as well. Once you get used to them, they’re fine, but at first they’re a bit confusing, especially what the difference between Menu and Home is. I’ve found the Menu key to be invaluable, no matter what application I’m in. If I’m ever lost, I can press the Menu key and something useful will come up. The search key is completely useless. I have done quite a bit of fiddling in the last day, and I have never used the search key.
  • There is an option to turn off “background data” to save battery life, which is great. Unfortunately, you have to enable it in order to browse the Android Market for new applications. Not awful, but a little annoying. So to browse the Market, I have to turn on Background Data, browse, and then turn Background Data off again.
  • I don’t know why T-Mobile or Google didn’t just include this app as part of the default OS, but there is an app to give you visual voicemail (so you can click to listen to or delete messages instead of going through the menus of a call-in system). Unfortunately, in order to use it, you cannot be connected to a wireless network (unencrypted, WEP, WPA, WPA2). You have to be connected to the regular T-Mobile network only.
  • You have to have a Google email account or sign up for one before you can use the phone. I had one already (which I don’t really use). Still, that’s a ridiculous requirement.
  • There are a lot of times when you’re confronted with a screen and no immediately obvious way to proceed (no submit or enter button, no next or finish button). At first I just got kind of confused and hit the Back plastic key. Eventually, I learned to press Menu to get a contextual menu up, which usually had a useful option. A bit counterintuitive.
  • There’s an automatic playlist (what Apple calls a “smart playlist”) in the music section called “Recently Added.” There does not appear to be a way to add other smart playlists, though (recently played, most frequently played, etc.). You can create new playlists manually, but that’s also not obvious (you have to do a long click on the first song you want in the playlist and then select to add it to a playlist and then select to create a new playlist).
  • There is no official Facebook app, so if you want to do mobile uploads, you have to use third-party upload-to-Facebook apps (which are kind of annoying and don’t always work) or email the photos or videos to the secret upload-to-Facebook email associated with your account.
  • It isn’t obvious how to connect the MyTouch to your computer in order to drag and drop files. I plugged in the USB cord, and it didn’t show up as a removable drive. I checked the output of dmesg | tail in the terminal, and it definitely showed up as being plugged in, but it didn’t show up in sudo fdisk -l even. Eventually, I figured out that you have to go to notifications in the MyTouch and manually dismount (from the MyTouch) the SD card so that it will automatically mount (to your computer). Then after you unmount it from your computer, you also have to manually remount it to the MyTouch.
  • Like the iPhone, the MyTouch will switch from portrait to landscape mode if you rotate the phone, but the animation is not smooth at all. First the screen gets a little blurry, and then it jerkily rotates over. It happens quickly… just not smoothly.

Mixed bag

  • The touchscreen isn’t as sensitive as the iPhone touchscreen. In some ways, this is a good thing. For example, no matter how slim your hands are, the tip of your finger will always be bigger than the onscreen keyboard keys. So when I try to type on the iPhone, I often end up pressing the wrong key (and the autocorrection never works). With the MyTouch, I pretty much never make a typing mistake. On the other hand, I’m not always typing. Sometimes a simple swipe to scroll up or down in a list or on a page will just not register, and I’ll have to swipe again a little harder to get the scroll to actually work.
  • Some reviews I read complained that you can’t just plug a standard headphone into the MyTouch. I can see how that might be annoying, but the MyTouch does come with a USB adapter with a little microphone and play/pause button built into it (and headphones that are half-way decent).
  • There’s no Flash in the web browser. This is makes certain websites non-functional, but the iPhone doesn’t have this either. In fact, I don’t think any smartphone has it. Isn’t this an Adobe issue?

What I like

  • The voice recognition for voice searches is really good. Sure, you can’t mumble. You do have to enunciate. But you don’t have to train it to recognize your voice, and if you do enunciate, usually Android guesses right on what you want to search for. If I’m in a public place, I may feel a bit self-conscious doing voice searches. If I have to do one, though, it’s nice to know that it works, and it’s much quicker than typing using an onscreen keyboard.
  • You can easily delete or move desktop shortcuts by holding them down and dragging them around or to the trash. You can also easily add desktop shortcuts by holding down an empty space and creating a link to an application or even to a browser bookmark.
  • Any song on your phone can easily be made into a ringtone. Just do a long hold on the song, and a context menu will pop up with that option.
  • Apps can be easily installed and removed from your phone.
  • Once you do figure out the whole mounting/unmounting thing, the MyTouch Micro SD card just shows up as removable storage, even in Linux, and you can just drag and drop pictures or music to various folders, and the MyTouch will immediately recognize those once the card is remounted.
  • I like the way the phone unlocks (press the menu key twice) better than the way the iPhone unlocks (press the hard button and then draw a horizontal line with your finger).
  • Web searches seem pretty fast. And Opera Mini is available for free in the Android Market. I’m going to keep both the default browser and Opera around. With Opera, I have it configured not to load images, so when I do text-only searches, it’ll load even faster. With the default browser, I can see websites that do require images.
  • The back button (as a plastic key) is very handy, and it really will bring you back to whatever screen you were last on, regardless of whether you are going from one webpage to the last webpage or from one screen to another screen.
  • I knew ahead of time that Android 1.5 did not support multi-touch (the “pinch” that the iPhone has for photos and webpages to zoom in and zoom out). I thought that missing feature would annoy me, but I haven’t found a lot of situations in which zooming seems necessary. I won’t complain if the 2.0 update includes multi-touch, though.

Conclusion
Overall, I’m quite pleased with it (granted, after only one day). Most of the reviews made it sound as if it’s nothing special (not an iPhone killer, not that much better than the G1). With all the pros and cons I’ve laid out, though, it is still fun and easy to use. It has some counterintuitive or annoying elements, sure. Nevertheless, even after only one day, I’m getting used to those or finding workarounds for them. If American Linux users are looking for a good smartphone that works with Linux, definitely consider the MyTouch 3G.

19 Responses to “T-Mobile MyTouch 3G First Impressions”

  1. d Says:

    oh! I didn’t know you were envious of my iphone!!
    But I am glad you found something that was Linux friendly though. You seem to be having a good time with it. Now that I find your face stuck looking at your phone all the time… lol…

    Enjoy!

  2. evee Says:

    I just got the mytouch yesterday I have a question is there a way to get my pics from a different ad card to my new phone n den save em to the mytouch sd card

  3. ubuntucat Says:

    I’m not MyTouch expert (I’ve had it only one day myself), but I think you can do it by connecting the MyTouch to your computer, dragging the notifications down from the top of the screen and unmounting the SD card. This will allow your computer to use the SD card in the MyTouch.

    Then also hook up the other SD card to a card reader in your computer and use your file manager (Windows Explorer, Mac Finder, Linux Nautilus or Dolphin) to copy the pics from one SD card to the other.

  4. Bernie Says:

    You don’t actually need to manually mount the SD card on the phone once you unmount it. They way you’re saying it gives the impression it’s really complicated (and it’s not). Click once on the phone to mount. Once you’re done, do it again to unmount. The phone should mount the SD automatically. I think you do this with iPods too ;-)

    And also technically, the innards of the mytouch isn’t that different from the ’1st gen’ T-Mobile G1. Hardware is almost exactly the same. The HTC Magics are made up of 2 models, one with 191 MB RAM and the other with 288 MB. MyTouch IIANM is the one with 191MB which makes it identical to the T-Mobile G1. Doing a ‘free’ should show around ~90 MB usable memory. Which sucks. On the plus side, this model is much hacker friendly due to the similarity to the G1.

    The phone to drool over if ya like Android is actually the HTC Hero which is only available in the UK right now.

    Anyway have fun with it. I had mine for 2 months and love it to bits. Got it for the same reason you did actually – no thanks to Windows and I don’t think Apple deserves *that* much money for a computer and phone lol.

  5. Rigel Says:

    Hi, found your blog on tuxmachines. i have a G1 and there are modded releases of firmware you can install on your phone, at least for the g1. It gives you root access, tethering so you can hook up your wireless devices to use your 3g internet off your phone, and allows for multitouch zoom in the browser (no map though due to a locked down api). just be careful you don’t brick your phone. Do a search for jesusfreke.

    Also if your into scripting you should also check into the android scripting environment. It’s by some google developers and allows you to write scripts in python beanshell and lua. ( http://code.google.com/p/android-scripting/ )

    Hope your enjoying your new smart phone!

  6. TK009 Says:

    “There’s no Flash in the web browser. This is makes certain websites non-functional, but the iPhone doesn’t have this either. In fact, I don’t think any smartphone has it.”

    Most if not all blackberry’s have flash in the browser. They are not alone in this ability.

    I would like to replace my blackberry with something more linux friendly, however, after reading this review the My-Touch doesn’t seem it.

    Good Luck with your new phone

  7. Shaun Says:

    After doing some research, I purchased the MyTouch 3G two days ago and love it! Like you, I had a ‘dumb’ phone previously so the MyTouch with Android is really impressive to me. In general, I have the same gripes as you although many are simply due to me learning how to use the phone. I would add to the gripe-list that you cannot remove some of the apps that came with the phone (ie. Amazon MP3). These things are minor to me, however. I’ve adapted to the on-screen keyboard quite well, it easily syncs with linux, and the incredible diversity (and number) of apps available for the phone is amazing. We’ll see what I think in a month or two, but I’m very happy with the MyTouch 3G.

  8. Svartalf Says:

    The main reason that flash is largely unsupported is that nobody seems to have an ARM based version of flash on any OS platform right at the moment, save Nokia with their N770/N8x0 web tablets- and it’s pretty old in what it supports (Flash 7…)

    The N9xx series devices are likely to have a modernized version of that support (i.e. Flash 9 or 10) but it’s not a foregone conclusion, nor does it help anyone save those users unless they want to dabble with packaging up the piece parts and wedging them onto something they weren’t designed for.

  9. Bob Holness Says:

    To get rid of the onscreen keyboard you need merely press the ‘back’ key once.

  10. Shane Kerns Says:

    Despite the myTouch I went out and purchased the G1 for 2 reasons.
    1) Prices dropped significantly.
    2) Most importantly it has a key pad in addition to the on screen keyboard.

    The rest of the features you have mentioned are not of the myTouch but of the OS (Android) itself which also exists on the G1.

  11. Bink Says:

    Any phone that can run the Skyfire Browser (for example the Windows Mobile platform can do this), will be able to run Flash. I have Skyfire on my Windows Smartphone, so whenever I can’t see a site like ESPN or YouTube correctly, I load up Skyfire and the page will look just like on a desktop computer, as in addition to Flash Skyfire also renders video, Silverlight, etc.

  12. st33med Says:

    In my opinion the iPod touch/iPhone unlock is superior to the method on MyTouch simply because the screen for iPod or iPhones are only sensitive to human touch (along with a few other things, but, its a very limited field).

    Any touch screen phones are usually bad knock offs of the iPhone. This is simply because of cheapness of the cell phone business. The touch screens are never multi touch screens. Most of the touch screens need recalibration after a week or two of use, which is awful because I have a DS which never requires calibration.

    The software on the MyTouch sounds like it definitely needs improvement. USB mount by phone software? Yuck.

    One more thing: If you wanted an iPhone, why not virtualize Windows XP, install iTunes, and make a USB filter for your iPhone? It’s the way I do it with my iPod Touch. I put my iTunes music library in a shared folder between host and client so Banshee can play anything I purchased and so the VM hdd size does not balloon.
    Genius? :)

  13. Frames Says:

    The comment on the unlocking mechanism caught my attention, too.

    Not many people seem to care on how easy to unlock an iPhone is. Easy as in “insecure”. To me, swipping a finger left to right and having access to the data stored in a device like this is simply unacceptable (although I think there’s an option to use a numeric pad, too).

    What really amazes me is how little people seem care about that.

  14. Chas Says:

    Recently my wife asked me “what would you like for my birthday?” I answered, in hope rather than expectation, “An iPhone”. Her reply was something like “OK but would it make you any happier?”. She had a point. I know that would enjoy having the gadget for a while, but my “dumb” phone does all that I need, and some things I don’t, without the expensive rental.

    So from someone who doesn’t own a smart phone, and isn’t likely to get one for his birthday, what is it about one of any make that makes ownership so great? Is it the fascination of a new toy, being able to impress your friends, or is there something that they do which makes your life significantly better? I would find the answers to those questions really helpful in any future reviews.

  15. doubleg Says:

    The Mytouch is exactly impressive. Until really looking long and hard at the Mytouch, I was unaware of all that a device like this is capable of. It should really be marketed as a Linux based pocket pc because that’s what it really is.

    So far I am doing these things:

    GPS w/ compass, altimiter, lat., long. etc.
    Maps (google maps for now but I believe you can download maps too for no signal situaitons)
    A guitar tuner
    Audio recording (guitar sessions for example)
    A guitar chord trainer
    Streaming internet radio in the car – oh yeah
    Media player – not just mp3 & whatever Apple uses but ogg too – my format of choice for small but good files
    Web browser Opera – nice and fast
    Wifi phone – you won’t use your minutes
    Wifi analyzer
    3.1 MP Camera/Camcorder
    A level (yes as in leveling a picture)
    Dictionary
    Games
    Terminal emulator (very handy @ work)
    VNC client (work again)
    Browsing networked drives on a Windows network

    And all of this for free. :)

    Honestly, the phone saw no action for the first 2 days there was so much else to see and do.

    I do not care for Apple products personally but someone else’s choice is just that. You’ll have to really look deeply to see what functionality you need and what you can live without. iPhone is a one-app-at-a-time platform. Android is a multi-tasking platform. Soon I’ll be running Debian on the Mytouch. These are the things that matter to me, myself and I which is what I bought the pc/phone for. It most assuredly wasn’t to have the manufacturer actively attempt to break my phone with their firmware updates. ;)

  16. Tazzie Says:

    I’m debating on buying this phone……. Now that you’ve used the phone for a bit longer how do you like it?

    Would you tell your best friend to buy it?

    Taz

  17. ubuntucat Says:

    I will probably write a follow-up review soon about my months-later impressions, but with electronics I can rarely (in fact, nothing comes to mind) make a blanket recommendation to everyone.

    It really depends on what you want, what’s important to you, and what your budget is. My best friend is my wife, who is deeply invested in the Apple ecosystem, so an iPhone is most appropriate for her. I’m heavily invested in Ubuntu and like Google better than Apple, so the MyTouch is most appropriate for me.

  18. Alice Says:

    What is the average number of hours your mytouch 3g lasts? I recently got mine a few days ago and the battery life seems to last only about 8 hours. I have adjusted the background data, screen brightness, and such. Is there anything else you can advise me to do? Should I return to the place I bought it in order to get the battery replaced? Will they charge me, if you know? Thank you for your time!

    Also, your blog was extremely informative. I had difficulty setting up a new playlist and fixing up modifications that would enable my battery life to last long. You were super helpful! Thanks again! :)

  19. ubuntucat Says:

    Hi, Alice. It’s hard to say, exactly, since I haven’t timed it. I have also had it rooted for the past seven months.

    I usually have it charged overnight, and it goes down to only about 60-70% by the time I get home at night. If I’m out both all day and all night, it can get down to 50%.

    I’m using the Cyanogen rooted rom with the Overclock widget (set to overclock when I’m using it and underclock when the phone is asleep). I also turn off GPS unless I really need turn-by-turn navigation. Otherwise, brightness and timeout settings are all the default.

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