Katherine Boehret

Second Chances: T-Mobile Tries Again

As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But it never hurts to try. This week, I tested the T-Mobile myTouch 3G with Google (GOOG), which is the company’s second chance at introducing a “Google phone” to the masses.

Google’s first device, called the T-Mobile G1, came out in October and was less than a sensation. The phone had a touch screen and a handy slide-out physical keyboard, but it was bulky and unattractive. It came with just one gigabyte of memory and lacked important features like compatibility with Microsoft Exchange for use with work email. Its app store, called the Android Market, offered only about 50 applications. The G1 launched with surprisingly few accessories.

The $200 (with two-year contract) T-Mobile myTouch 3G (t-mobilemytouch.com) available Aug. 5, has fixed many of these problems. Its new design uses an on-screen keyboard, which gives it a thinner, more stylish build that feels great in the hand. It now comes with four gigabytes of memory, works with Microsoft Exchange and can record and play back video footage. The Android Market has increased its number of apps to about 6,300, and the myTouch will hit stores with accessories like designer shells and docking stations. Its combined voice and data plans are at least $25 less per month than what AT&T’s (T) plans cost for users of Apple’s competing iPhone.

But while using it, I couldn’t help thinking that the myTouch felt less like a new device and more like what the G1 should have been in the first place.

The myTouch, which is built by HTC of Taiwan, runs on an improved version of Google’s operating system, that performs tasks faster has a more streamlined look and supports stereo Bluetooth connections. But it carries on many traits of its predecessor. It still synchronizes over the air with Google account information including email, calendar and contacts. Swiping a finger to the left or right on the myTouch’s home screen will still open other screens, with space for icons representing apps. And its handy window-shade-like Notifications menu can still be pulled down onto the screen at any time to show a list of new messages.

The most dramatic difference on the myTouch is its on-screen keyboard, which may frustrate some people who liked the G1 for its because it had a physical keyboard and a touch screen. Like on Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone, the myTouch keyboard corrects words as you type, recognizing you’ll make more mistakes on it than you would on a physical keyboard. The keyboard suggests words in a horizontal bar that appears above the keyboard and below the text area. You need only type “Washi” and the word “Washington” appears in this bar for you to select. These shortcuts speed up the otherwise frustrating process of on-screen typing.

Unlike on the iPhone, the myTouch keyboard’s keys don’t get larger as your finger hovers over them so as to help you touch the right key. Nor does a word become magnified when you’re trying to place the cursor at a certain spot. The myTouch’s trackball can be used to pinpoint a specific letter but I usually forgot all about the trackball, opting to use the responsive touch screen for navigation.

T-Mobile offers much less expensive monthly plans for the myTouch than AT&T offers for the iPhone. The cheapest voice and data plan from T-Mobile costs $55 compared with AT&T’s $70. Unlimited data and messaging plus minimum voice plans total $65 for T-Mobile and $90 for AT&T. And AT&T’s messaging is currently limited to text, while T-Mobile messaging includes text, picture and video.

On the other hand, T-Mobile offers 3G coverage in far fewer cities than AT&T. The myTouch comes with only a fourth of the built-in memory of the same-priced the 3GS iPhone, and half the memory of the 3G iPhone model, which is costs half the price. And myTouch offers only about a tenth of the apps the iPhone offers, and has a smaller screen.

T-Mobile wants myTouch users to understand apps and download them, starting with the AppPack: a package of eight to 10 apps that T-Mobile will send to myTouch customers via an SMS with a link. Customers can peruse this list of apps and download just the ones they choose. While some people may not appreciate receiving apps suggestions, it could also introduce apps to people who didn’t know how they worked.

The Android Market, where all apps for Google’s phones can be found and purchased,still isn’t as well organized as it should be. It separates games from other applications and organizes them by popularity and date, but doesn’t separate those that are free and those that must be bought. I downloaded several free apps including WordGame, Facebook, Twitter, Sketch-a-Etch and Sherpa. But I was especially irked by the way some of the apps I downloaded kept trying to get me to download additional apps every time I opened them. The Twitter app, which was listed as one of the most popular, displayed prompts to download browsers and RSS readers—even six days after I first used the app. An on-screen message gave me the option to “Ignore Forever,” but this apparently didn’t include prompts to download other programs. Any user would be confused and irritated by these unsolicited messages. Google said that was what the developer chose to do—a major downside to the Android’s open model.

The myTouch’s 3.2-megapixel camera and video camera worked well and started up quickly. An icon labeled Gallery neatly holds still images and videos. And the myTouch has simple ways to upload photos to Picasa or videos to YouTube.

A built-in tool for Google Web searches using voice commands worked remarkably well, even when I tried to trip it up by saying four words at once. It didn’t recognize my last name, but I’ll let it off the hook since it’s spelled differently than it sounds.

The T-Mobile myTouch 3G costs $50 more than the G1, but its extra features are worthwhile. Be ready for a frustrating first-time experience with the on-screen keyboard and try to read user comments in the Android Market to figure out which apps prompt you to download additional programs.

The myTouch is what we expected from Google the first time around. Time will tell if people are ready to give it a second chance.

—Edited by Walter S. Mossberg.

Write to
Katherine Boehret at mossbergsolution@wsj.com

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