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New Android, BlackBerry Smartphones Show Old Problems

Much of today's review of T-Mobile's myTouch 3G and Verizon Wireless's BlackBerry Tour 9630 may look familiar. It should: The myTouch shares many of the virtues and flaws of last year's T-Mobile G1 (in addition to being saddled with one of the dumber product names around), and most of my critiques of the Tour also applied to last year's BlackBerry Bold.

tour_mytouch.jpg

I was afraid that was going to happen, even though there were many reasons it shouldn't have.

"Android" should not equal "T-Mobile," and yet Google's promising smartphone software has now spent most of a year handcuffed to the carrier with the worst broadband coverage in America. Likewise, BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion has had plenty of time to see other companies do smartphone interfaces right, and yet it seems to think prettier icons and cleaner fonts will keep it in the game against the likes of Apple's iPhone and the Palm Pre--while Verizon, in turn, should have recognized long ago that its bland lineup of phones needs something a little more exciting than RIM's latest incremental advance.

The myTouch (have I mentioned how much I hate that name, and all the other "my-something" Fisher-Price monikers?) and the Tour also suffer from some unexpected defects. I cover most of those in the column, but a few didn't make the paper:

* Real phones have real headphone jacks, but G1 and myTouch manufacturer HTC only includes a USB port on each phone. On the G1, that limits you to using the special headphones in the box. The myTouch includes a USB dongle with a standard headphone jack as well as a set of headphones with a regulation plug; daisy-chaining those parts together makes the myTouch look like a cobbled-together electronics project.

* The myTouch, unlike the Tour and the Pre (but like the iPhone), doesn't include a flash for its camera. Shouldn't that be standard equipment by now?

* Consistency matters, and so one BlackBerry should offer the same core functions as another. The Tour breaks that rule; not only does its browser fail to perform as well as the one on the BlackBerry Storm, it doesn't let you install system-software updates over the air.

* Verizon has noticed that people hate having to listen to voicemail messages one at a time, but charges for the privilege of opting out of that. The Tour includes a separate Visual Voicemail application that lets you play and delete voicemail messages from an onscreen menu--for an extra $2.99 a month.

Have you tried or bought either phone? Share your observations in the comments below. Then talk to me about your new gadget--or any other tech topics you have in mind--during this afternoon's Web chat, starting at noon Eastern.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 7, 2009; 11:14 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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Comments

"[RIM] seems to think prettier icons and cleaner fonts will keep it in the game against the likes of Apple's iPhone and the Palm Pre..."

Sadly, that was pretty much what plagued Palm until the Pre. Well, that and the dreadful Palm Desktop. So you would think RIM would know better, but I guess not so much.

In Canada (where RIM is based) cell phone rates are the highest of any so-called developed country. The Palm Pre won't even be available until the end of this month. Maybe RIM needs to get out more.

Posted by: catester | August 7, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm really considering buying the myTouch since T-Mobile's coverage where I live is awesome and on par or better than AT&T and Verizon. Being the pessimist that I am, I've been looking for reviews to dissuade me from buying it, and this blog article didn't do it for me.

You're biggest complaints about the myTouch are the lack of a 3.5-mm headphone jack, flash for the camera, and the name.

"Real phones have real headphone jacks" Seriously? That is a major logical fallacy. Phones are used for talking. While 3.5-mm headphone jacks are cool for listening to music, for a few bucks more, you could buy some cool-looking bluetooth headphones.

Is not having flash on a cell phone camera a deal-breaker for me?

Does a phone's name really matter, if it works as well or better than other competitors?

Posted by: bryant_k | August 7, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

The cell phone manufacturers all seem to give you some neat stuff and then leave out something you really want and do something really dumb. It seems like the bean counters weigh in and say OK, you gave them that, so don't give them this. Add to this the overwhelming array of models. Everything you want is out there somewhere, just not all in the same phone.

Part of the problem is the way phones are locked in to carriers. The FCC should require carriers to off no-contract pricing for unlocked BYO phones. If you don't have a subsidized phone, you shouldn't have to pay for one (and rates are set on the assumption that you have a subsidized phone). Take a closer look at Nokia. The N-series comes closest to having it all but for some reason the carriers have locked them out of the US market (just like soccer and universal health care).

Posted by: emacee1701 | August 8, 2009 3:39 AM | Report abuse

Whilst the myTouch 3G has those two limitations (lack of flash and a standard 3.5mm jack), one has to decide if they're a deal breaker. After all, there's no such thing as a perfect design!

Posted by: technophilia | August 8, 2009 5:05 AM | Report abuse

"Android" should not equal "T-Mobile"

As far as i see it this assumption is not correct.
Android is focused on the freedom of manufacturers and carriers NOT so much on the freedom of end-users to do anything they want with their device.

So it's solely T-Mobiles decision how to sell their product and that completely matches Androids basic idea.

Besides, here in Europe Android phones are already available through multiple carriers and you can get them unlocked for any carrier for a few hundred bucks more.

Posted by: ezome | August 8, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Rob,

Perhaps you should cover new ground by exploring non-obvious handsets such as the Nokia 5800 XM, Nokia E71 and Nokia N97 ?
Sure I am biased because I write software for these phones, but they really do enable an uncrippled software+ hardware experience and worldwide GSM interoperability.
Heck the Nokia 5800XM is even cheap without carrier subsidies (the usual gripe about unlocked handsets)

Posted by: TheYoungBuddha | August 8, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Those seduced by all the hype surrounding the I-Phone seem to forget why Blackberry has inspired the reverence and loyality of it's many followers: the keyboard is fast and accurate. The design of operating system, with its context-sensitive menus, is so flexible and efficient it allows you to customize icons in such a way that you can navigate through essential functions with a single thumb. Texting and emailing is superlative, and if the admittedly limited Blackberry browser isn't good enough, you can download the free Bolt or Opera browser for a near desktop experience. The Tour's faster processor, better camera, streaming capabilities, and world coverage are incremental improvements over great products. When are the pundits who snear at Blackberry going to realize that Blackberry makes a great device for real people?

Posted by: IdlerBill | August 8, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

This article is so biased. Rob, maybe you need to do more research and write columns that are tailored towards informed decision-making as opposed to what's wrong about Google/T-Mobile partnership.

The whole headphone jack? Hahahaha! Come on dude...Bluetooth! Who needs 3.5 jacks when technology evolves user connectivity? The less wires, the better the product! Isn't that the scream and yell of Apple users?

And what about T-Mobile being the bottom of the barrel in regards 3G speeds? True enough, but did you inform readers that the AT&T/iPhone is curse by the SECOND worst in the industry with speeds of only 1.7 in comparison to T-Mobile's 1.0? That's not much to brag about if I was an iPhone user. At least T-Mobile users won't have to worry about battery burn out due to high speeds...

All in all, T-Mobile, for a fairly new player in the game, is safely making a great impression in overall customer service and service and that's what matters the most. Every phone has it's flaws...and I'll take the ones you've mentioned over the iPhones flaws or Verizon's smokestack phone line-up.

I love my T=Mobile service and thank you for you influencing me to GET the new myTouch 3G! =]

Posted by: cbmuzik | August 8, 2009 7:24 PM | Report abuse

Agree with cbmuzik 100%. I should also add that if you've been a loyal T-Mobile customer (I think 90 days minimum; 7 yrs in my case), you can very easily get from them the unlock code for the myTouch. This is very important to people like me who travel overseas a lot and need to switch out their SIMs to get the more reasonable "local" rates vs. roaming. Just try to get AT&T to give you unlock instructions for the iPhone...

Posted by: technophilia | August 9, 2009 12:14 AM | Report abuse

...doesn't include a flash for its camera. Shouldn't that be standard equipment by now?

The flash on any cell phone is only good up to about 10 feet, which is pretty useless, much like all of the flashes at the Super Bowl, which only perfectly expose the back of the head of the person 2 rows in front, but not the halftime entertainment on the field, which is lit up enough to probably get a perfect exposure with a pin hole camera!

Posted by: jojokimmo | August 10, 2009 8:30 AM | Report abuse

I feel exactly the same way as Rob (this rarely happens). I don't understand why it's taking so long for hardware manufacures to delop andrid phones on decent hardware. Developers of the non-Mac world are chomping at the bit for it. On toip of that, what's the deal with broswers not running flash? At some point these compmanies have to let go of this crap idea that controlling how people access and view the internet is the best thing fro their buisness. I'm just sick of there being so many good examples and ideas out there, yet the vendors and manufactures keep churning out crippled and incomplete consumer options. I'm itching for a new phone AND possibly a new media player; but right now there's really no point in buying anything other than an iPhone because no one else seems to be able to get it together. If I make the transformation toe Apple's dark side, it'll be the fault of Verizon, T-mobile, HTC, RIM, and Samsung. It will be a sad sad day for me, too. I hate Apple and I hate AT&T. I don't want to do this; but I can't find ANY alternative worth buying.

Posted by: Cricketw | August 10, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Not a very competent review of the myTouch. Some reactions to what you wrote, Mr. Pegoraro:

1. "myTouch = Awful moniker." My goodness, aren't you dramatic? Moving right along.
2. "Cramped, error-prone typing" using the on-screen keyboard. Compared to the iPhone?
3. Where were you trying to get T-Mobile's broadband service? On a farm, or downtown DC? (Hint: There's a difference, and your readers have more sophistication than you as a techie may believe.)

Posted by: hpmoon | August 12, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

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