T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide review Not too long ago, things were pretty simple in T-Mobile's Android land. For us (the nerds, geeks, power users, early adopters, and other misbegotten social deviants) there was the G series of phones with plain Android, culminating recently with LG's delightful G2x. If you wanted to buy your mom an Android smartphone, you'd point her at the myTouch series of handsets with custom HTC Sense-based skins, like last winter's myTouch 4G. Life got a bit more complicated with the introduction of LG's Optimus T, Samsung's Galaxy S 4G, and other devices that don't neatly fit into the carrier's grand branding scheme. Well, fear not! T-Mobile and HTC went ahead and refreshed last summer's lovely myTouch 3G Slide with a dash of dual-core tech lifted right from HTC's Sensation flagship and a bespoke 8 megapixel shooter said to be "the most advanced camera of any smartphone". Those are fighting words... so does the myTouch 4G Slide (as it's called) beat the likes of Samsung's Galaxy S II, Sony Ericsson's Xperia Arc, and Nokia's N8 in terms of imaging performance? Is the sliding keyboard as pleasant to use as its predecessor? And most importantly, is this your mom's next phone? Read on for our full review. Hardware It's easy to mistake the myTouch 4G Slide for the myTouch 4G when seeing it for the the first time. Both phones look almost identical from the front -- at 3.7 inches, the Slide's glass-covered WVGA capacitive touchscreen is only 0.1 inches smaller than its slate cousin. It features the same baroque earpiece and chrome rim around the screen. Like other myTouch devices, it comes with a row of four bona fide physical buttons (home, menu, back, and "Genius") plus an oh-so-retro optical trackpad above the signature chin. The silver ring around the front-facing camera lives on, along with the myTouch logo and notification LED. Flip the Slide over and it's a much more cohesive design. Gone is the myTouch 4G's mishmash of surfaces and textures, replaced instead by a silver accent along the edges of handset and a matte, off-white "khaki" battery door / back cover with a large, slick, machined aluminum pod incorporating the camera (the phone is also available in a more austere gunmetal and black color scheme). The words "8.0 MEGAPIXEL CAMERA" are prominently etched on the pod, which is flanked by a dual LED flash and a secondary microphone. A molded HTC logo and the speaker grille populate the other half of the back. On the sides of the Slide you'll find a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack and power / lock key on top, a volume rocker and micro-USB connector on the left, the primary microphone, a slot to pry the cover, plus a lanyard attachment at the bottom, and finally, a dedicated two-stage camera button on the right. The myTouch 4G Slide is as pleasant to handle as it is to look at. It's a solid, well-made device with a heft that inspires confidence despite the extensive use of plastics. Both the weight (184g / 6.5oz) and thickness (13.2mm / 0.52in) are on par with other sliders (HTC's G2 comes to mind). Still, it can feel somewhat bulky if you're accustomed to slates like the myTouch 4G. Pop the back cover and you're greeted by a 1520mAh battery that's also compatible with the Sensation, SIM slot, and microSD card reader (an 8GB card is supplied). There's an interesting design touch here: the camera is mounted in a machined aluminum cylinder which is partially anodized in a beautiful shade of apple green. Sadly this is most obvious when the battery door is removed, and will likely go unnoticed by the casual observer. Sliding the handset open reveals a staggered four-row QWERTY keyboard with black keys on a silver faux-aluminum background. While the mechanism (which is not spring loaded) is adequately smooth and sturdy, the keys themselves feel mushy compared to the myTouch 3G Slide. We'd have preferred keys with better defined tactile feedback. The other problem is the backlight, which only turns on when it's pitch dark, making it difficult to read the keys in low light. In practice, we ended up using the onscreen virtual keyboard (we installed SwiftKey X) more often than the physical QWERTY keyboard. So if you're considering the Slide for its keyboard, try before you buy -- you've been warned. Under the hood, the myTouch 4G Slide is almost a dead ringer for the Sensation. You'll find the same Qualcomm MSM8260 Snapdragon SoC with its 1.2GHz dual-core CPU and Adreno 220 GPU, 768MB RAM, and a combination quadband GSM / EDGE plus tri-band UMTS / HSPA+ "4G" radio -- the latter supporting Band IV (AWS) and Bands I / VII (world). Other specs include the usual suspects: at least half the sensors known to human kind (compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, proximity, and ambient light) along with a full complement of radios (WiFi b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0+EDR, GPS / AGPS, and FM). The Slide lacks a qHD display, making due instead with a more pedestrian 3.7-inch WVGA (800x480 pixels) Super LCD panel. We'd gloss over this if the screen was of the same caliber as HTC's Incredible 2, but the Slide's display quality is just average at best. The screen looks fine indoors, but falls apart in direct sunlight, and generally exhibits mediocre contrast and viewing angles. Calls sounded acceptable, and we didn't have any issues with reception, but our tests showed more variability in HSPA+ performance than other devices on T-Mobile's network. It's nothing to be concerned about, but it's worth a mention. As for battery life, we recorded a rather paltry four hours and 43 minutes on our newly minted battery rundown test (which basically involves starting with a full charge and looping the same video until the phone shuts down). Our battery usage test -- which attempts to replicate a light day's use (making a few minutes' worth of calls, reading email, checking social networks, and occasionally responding, texting, surfing the web, or uploading some pictures) with plenty of idle time -- scored 15 hours and 35 minutes, which puts the myTouch 4G Slide somewhere in the middle of the Android pack. One time, we even managed to squeeze a full 24 hours from the battery, but that included six hours of sleep. Just don't leave your charger at home, OK? Camera Judging from all the buzz, T-Mobile and HTC are very proud of the my Touch 4G Slide's camera. Is it justified? Yes, absolutely. We'd rank the Slide's camera at number three in the current crop of cameraphones, beating devices like the iPhone 4 and Xperia Arc, trailing closely behind the second place Galaxy S II, with the N8 taking the number one spot by a wide margin. Now that we've got that out of the way, let's see what the Slide's camera is capable of, how it shines, and where it falls short. We'd also like to dispel the claim that it's "the most advanced camera of any smartphone" since it mostly combines features already available on other handsets. T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide sample shots What makes the myTouch 4G Slide's camera unique is a combination of custom hardware and software. HTC designed a completely new camera module using a backside-illuminated 8 megapixel sensor combined with a quality 3.69mm 1:2.2 wide-angle autofocus lens. At the time of writing the Slide is the only device in HTC's lineup equipped with this module -- sorry, Sensation owners. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that this camera is a serious piece of kit. The lens opening is massive for a phone and the sensor is extremely sensitive, something that we noticed immediately the first time we shot in low light. The only missing ingredient in this tiger blood recipe is the apparent lack of mechanical shutter, something you'll find on every single one of Nokia's imaging handsets from the N8 all the way back to the legendary N95 (and on Motorola's Droid X, incidentally). While the Slide features a dual-LED flash, it's not being used as an autofocus-assist light (like on the Xperia Arc), and doesn't hold a candle to the N8's xenon unit. That being said, we're pretty excited about the dedicated two-stage machined aluminum shutter key, which feels wonderful and provides just the right amount of resistance -- it's better than the N8's. Of course, if you prefer leaving fingerprints all over the viewfinder the camera also includes touch-to-focus along with an onscreen shutter key. It's by using special software that the myTouch 4G Slide's camera really stands out. The premise is simple: pull out the phone, press the camera button to activate the app (à la Windows Phone), and press it again to take a shot -- bypass the lock screen, collect quality photos, don't go to jail. It's not the first cameraphone that's easy to use (the iPhone 4 is a fast, intuitive, and confident shooter as well), but T- Mobile and HTC wanted to bring the dedicated point-and-shoot digital camera experience to the smartphone, and that's what the Slide delivers most of the time. To achieve this, it uses tricks like continuous autofocus and zero shutter lag (wherein the camera is continuously sampling images and storing them in a circular buffer in order to minimize the delay between pressing / tapping the shutter key and capturing the moment). Unfortunately, while the concept is sound, the implementation is far from perfect. The Slide also provides easy access to scene modes, unlike other cameraphones which tend to bury the setting somewhere deep within the UI -- we're looking at you, N8 and Galaxy S II. As such, the camera features a simple interface with four onscreen buttons to switch between stills and video, select between the front and the back camera, control the flash, and change scene modes as follows: Auto, which detects and adjusts settings to achieve the best results in most situations. This actually works quite well. SweepShot, a panorama mode similar to what's available on most Samsung and Motorola handsets. The Slide stitches fewer images together but the resulting panoramas, while shorter, are of higher resolution. T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide panorama samples ClearShot HDR, a high dynamic range mode similar to what's available on the iPhone 4. There's a noticeable loss of detail in this mode, even when holding the camera still. T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide HDR samples BurstShot, which takes five pictures in rapid succession. It's similar to the BestPic feature that was available a few years ago on Sony Ericsson's K850i. T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide burst mode samples Night, which optimizes settings for night shots. T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide night mode samples Action, a shutter priority mode which adjusts settings for capturing moving subjects. Macro, which optimizes settings for close-up shots. Portrait, a shallow depth of field mode for portraits. This allows you to specify the diameter and position of a circular area on the viewfinder outside which the picture will be artificially blurred. It's similar to Instagram's tilt-shift feature on the iPhone, but not nearly as polished. There's no gradient between the area that's in focus and the outside that's blurred, just a sharp transition. Manual, which provides the following settings (among others) via the menu key: timer, color effects (black & white, sepia, etc...), exposure, white balance, ISO, resolution, review duration, and geo-tagging, face / smile / blink detection. There's no doubt that the myTouch 4G Slide takes beautiful pictures. Still, as we mentioned above, the Galaxy S II usually performs better and the N8 still plays in a league of its own. The Slide manages to gather a lot of information, but that's no match for the massive amounts of detail captured through the N8's impeccable Zeiss optics. It also exhibits more noise in normal light than the Galaxy S II, despite both phones using similarly sensitive sensors. We didn't experience any problems with exposure but white balance was sometimes a little off. We also noticed what looks like chroma aberrations or JPEG compression artifacts in shots. Low light performance is impressive -- like the N8, the Slide preserves detail at the expense of some noise, thus leaving the door open for post-processing. In addition to the above gallery, here is a ZIP file containing the original photos along with matching samples taken with the N8, Galaxy S II, Xperia Arc, and Canon's s95.
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