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While the T-Mobile myTouch 3G seems to be the hottest of the carrier's offerings this summer, the T-Mobile Dash ($170 with a two-year contract; price as of 6/30/09) merits attention, too. This long-overdue update of the first-generation T-Mobile Dash is slim, and it packs essential features for heavy-duty messaging at a reasonable price. But anyone hunting for a smartphone that does more may want to look elsewhere: The Dash's multimedia features aren't exciting, and its Windows Mobile-based interface lacks pizzazz.
If the Dash looks familiar, there's a good reason why: You can find three other versions of it. An unlocked version (HTC Snap) is available, and so are two subsidized versions, from Sprint (also called the HTC Snap) and Verizon (HTC Ozone). Though all are similar in appearance, the four models have slight differences in design and features.
The T-Mobile Dash is compact, measuring 4.6 by 2.4 by 0.5 inches--a smidgen thicker than the Nokia E71, but not hefty by any means. And at a scant 4.2 ounces, it is lighter than the E71 and the BlackBerry Bold (though the BlackBerry Curve 8900 wins the featherweight championship, weighing in at a mere 3.9 ounces). The 2.4-inch QVGA display takes up a little less than half the phone's real estate. While 2.4 inches is fine for messaging and e-mail (the screen can display up to seven lines of text), I found it a bit cramped for watching videos.
Below the display is a BlackBerry-esque trackball, with a cluster of six large, easy-to-press navigational buttons on either side: Call, two softkeys, Home, Back, and End/Power. You'll want to switch the trackball's sensitivity setting to Fast, rather than Normal, which is how it is set out of the box; initially I found it incredibly sluggish, but changing the settings definitely improved navigation.
HTC knows how to make an excellent full-QWERTY keyboard, and the Dash's is definitely no exception. The keys are comfortably sized (even a colleague with large hands had no problems using it), and the lettering stands out against the keys' black background. The keys have the perfect amount of clickiness, much as BlackBerry keyboards do. Button placement felt spot-on, as well, with an adequately sized spacebar conveniently situated where I'd expect it to be (I've seen way too many phones with spacebars placed in the corner of the keyboard, for example). The Dash also has a few helpful shortcut keys, including a dedicated camera key (which doubles as a shutter button), a button to launch your e-mail inbox, and a button that you can customize. My only gripe regarding the keyboard was the noticeable delay between what I typed and what appeared on the screen.
I found the Dash's call quality good but marred by an audible background hiss--something we've encountered with other HTC-manufactured T-Mobile phones, such as the T-Mobile Shadow. Voices had ample volume and sounded clear enough. Parties on the other end reported that my voice was a little tinny but otherwise easy to hear.
The Dash runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard edition. On top of that, HTC and T-Mobile have added a simple-to-navigate sliding panel overlay (similar to what we saw on the HTC S743). The home screen delivers one-click access to your calendar, call history, text messages, e-mail, local weather, Internet Explorer, your music library, and your settings. Navigating this interface was straightforward, and I didn't have any trouble finding what I needed. Preloaded on the Dash was the standard complement of Windows Mobile apps, including Microsoft Office Mobile and Windows Media Player.
One key difference between the Dash and the unlocked HTC Snap, and one of the largest disappointments, is that the Dash lacks the Inner Circle feature--the biggest selling point of the Snap. I really liked the Snap's Inner Circle feature, which allows users to bring e-mail from a preselected group to the top of their inbox by pressing a dedicated key. In its place, the Dash features T-Mobile's myFaves service, which lets you make unlimited calls to five specified contacts.
Like all Windows Mobile phones, the Dash comes with Internet Explorer. It was suitable for my Web surfing needs, though it had no Flash support. Setting up Web-based e-mail is easy: You just click the e-mail panel on the home screen, pick which e-mail service you use, and then enter your account name and password. In one nice touch, the e-mail panel displays the subject and sender of the newest message in your inbox, so you have quick access to it.
Windows Media Player is your only option for music (no surprise there). Audio quality was adequate through the included headphones, but a bit flat and tinny played through the external speakers. You get no 3.5mm headphone jack--a regrettable omission we've come to expect with HTC phones. Instead, you must plug in the clunky included adapter to use standard headphones with the Dash. Video quality was quite good, but the 2.4-inch screen is too small to really enjoy anything longer than a few minutes.
At 2 megapixels, the camera is just about what you'd expect: average. The Dash lacks a flash, so snapshots in low-light environments appeared grainy. On the other hand, images taken outside in sunlight looked good, with vivid colors and clean details. I found the camera interface intuitive and easy to use, and I liked that you can easily e-mail or text images directly from the app. The camera has a few advanced features such as brightness control, white balance, and a self-timer.
The Dash works very well as a messaging and e-mail device, but it doesn't have the chops to compete with other messaging powerhouses, such as the BlackBerry Curve 8900 or the Sidekick LX, both on T-Mobile as well. The interface is in dire need of a face-lift, and the phone's included features need a boost. My biggest problem with the Dash, though, is its omission of the Inner Circle feature, as seen on its sibling, the HTC Snap. T-Mobile's myFaves coupled with the the Inner Circle would have given the Dash an edge over other messaging smartphones, but unfortunately T-Mobile missed the mark on this one.