Rating: ★★★☆☆

The myTouch 4G Slide is a slick handset with a built-in slider keyboard running Android 2.3, an 8MP camera capable of 1080p video, a 3.7” display, and 4G available through T-Mobile. It’s a sleek yet thick handheld – thanks to the full slide-out QWERTY keyboard – and both T-Mobile and HTC pride themselves on the camera’s capabilities, it’s excellent 4G download speeds, and the 1.2GHz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. And that’s plenty to be proud of, if only it sounds as good as it really is.

The Keyboard

The keyboard is unusual, so I’ve devoted a whole section of this review to it. I think if you are going to buy a phone with a physical keyboard, typing performance is the most important aspect of the handheld. Otherwise, there’s no point of having it. Therefore, if the keyboard doesn’t meet expectations the whole phone suffers

That’s why the myTouch 4G Slide is a tragic mess.

All of the buttons are too hard to press. They are uncomfortable to press with fingertips, and more suited to press with the nail. It is not enjoyable typing long emails or full documents with this QWERTY. There is no autocorrect when using the physical keyboard, and because the buttons are too firm typing with the keyboard is actually slower than using the virtual keyboard, both in portrait or landscape modes, regardless of what virtual typing mode. The physical keyboard is also seated too far to the right, so the B, V and spacebar keys are too far to reach with the left thumb.

In fact, all of the physical buttons on the Slide are problematic. The face buttons are uncomfortable compared to touch-sensitive navigation keys. The power/standby button is on the top left instead of the top right, where most smartphones place the button. The dedicated double-press camera button is too hard to press. The volume rocker is too deep in the phone. The only physical button that works just right is the useless OK key, which also acts as a touch-sensitive D-pad. This complete failure of physical buttons is quickly converting me into one of those touch-only technofiles.

The only good thing about the keyboard is the slider itself. Nokia may have prided themselves for having amazing design on sliders and hinges, but HTC has produced the best sliding function on a phone, period. It has the perfect pull and strength, and remains comfortable after hundreds and thousands of slides.

Design

From left to right: Droid Incredible 2, myTouch 4G Slide, Thunderbolt. The Slide is thicker than the Thunderbolt, and is the only phone with a keyboard.

HTC is known to make phones that are very square-shaped, though more recent handsets – especially those which have earned the title “Google Phone” – are contoured and rounded. The Slide, thicker because of the keyboard, is surprisingly sleek. In the hand and pocket the Slide feels lighter and smaller than it really is. In fact, the physical design – besides the keyboard – is excellent.

As mentioned above, the menu navigation keys are physical buttons, and uncomfortable compared to touch-sensitive buttons on most Android handsets. The search button has also been replaced with the “Genius” button, which does essentially the same thing (search and voice commands). The Slide is made to be easily accessible with tutorials for all major phone functions.

The 3.7” display is sharp and clear, but not bright enough to view in indirect sunlight. General phone usage and media playback are fine on the display, but not bright enough outdoors. This is particularly bad for the Slide because it uses an LCD display. Still, images are crisp, and its a pleasure to view pictures and watch videos on the Slide.

Poor screen brightness is a huge damper on the Slide, especially when using the camera. After all, users must review their pictures.

Everyday Use

In everyday use, the myTouch 4G Slide is excellent, aside from the keyboard. The size and feel, the speed and function, are excellently put together for an Android handset. If it weren’t for the dim screen and terrible physical button design, the Slide could be crowned the next Google phone.

Android 2.3 on the Slide is quick and slick. HTC’s Sense 3.0 is fast, graphics animations in the UI are smooth and fluid, and moving between menus and apps is a breeze. Everyday apps like Twitter, Facebook, Angry Birds and everything built in run perfectly. It’s safe to assume that the 1.2GHz dual core CPU and 768MB of RAM make the Slide a deviously fast device.

A great feature is the ability to immediately start the camera by holding down the shutter release. It takes four seconds to get from standby to the first shot, which is consistent with high-end smartphones today. The difference with the Slide is that it’s a one-button action. On other phones users have to unlock the phone, possibly enter a password, find the camera application and wait for it to load. With the Slide, just hold the shutter release for a second and the phone does all that four seconds. The function could be even faster, but I believe Google needs to update Android to make that possible, to separate the camera from other Android functions for instant activation.

Call quality is excellent on the Slide. Calls come in clear, and they are clear on the receiving side as well. T-Mobile’s network performs well in densely populated areas, though I consistently dropped a signal in rural areas, notably in the Malibu hills, areas of Westlake Village and Los Angeles county, and even around LAX. Data transfer rates are high, ranging from 3-7mbps down, though 4G connectivity is sparse in some areas and tends to drop to Edge or lose it’s connection entirely.

Battery life is decent when using 4G, and with medium use the Slide could last all day per charge. Heavy data transfers and long phone calls will require a second daily charge. Turning off 4G will boost battery life 1.5x.

Benchmarks

The Slide is a fairly powerful device, running a 1.2GHz dual core Qualcomm processor and 768MB of RAM. The built-in task manager, however, shows an incorrect number for both available and used RAM, but don’t believe its lies. The OS is smooth as silk and very fluid, though when under heavy stress some of the functions suddenly stop working. Shortcuts on the home pages may stop working, or apps will open and crash suddenly, then reboot. Actually running applications hasn’t shown significant problems besides for crashing when the phone is overwhelmed. Thankfully, the recent update to HTC’s TouchSense makes it easy to get to the task manager to kill off RAM-hogging apps. You can see the benchmark data below.

Linpack tests CPU processing power, and it’s no surprise that the Slide comes out on top thanks to its 1.2GHz processor. Because the Slide is one of the first dual-core phones I’ve used to test with Linpack, I don’t have a chart for comparison with multi-threaded use. However, the Slide scored a high 63.6.

Rightware’s BrowserMark tests all of the phone’s functions through the browser and surprisingly, the Slide does not perform well against the competition. I’m not entirely sure why that is, except that based on the other benchmarks performed that the graphics processing is much weaker than expected on the Slide. The iPod Touch 4G running iOS 5 Beta 3 does have an improved browser, as does the iPad, but the Droid Incredible 2 was not a powerhouse by any means, nor did it run Android 2.3.

Sunspider is an even more strenuous browser benchmark which relies on javascript. The BrowserMark test was a clear indication that the Slide wouldn’t perform as well handling javascript, and it sits near the bottom with the Galaxy Tab 7″ and HTC’s Thunderbolt.

Quadrant Standard is an all-inclusive benchmark that runs as an app, not through the browser like the previous two tests. The Slide performed better here, running a dedicated application, but still failed to nudge the Thunderbolt out of the top spot because of its weaker graphics processing.

Overall the Slide is a fast handset but the browser clearly isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and it lacks in the GPU department. That 1.2GHz dual core CPU is the fastest mobile CPU I’ve tested yet, but if you don’t have the whole package, all that speed is for naught.

Camera

The pride and joy of the Slide is its 8MP camera. The specs on the camera are pretty neat: a 3.69mm f/2.2 lens, up to 1080p video recording with stereo sound, instant upload to Facebook, Picasa and Flickr, and a number of automatic shooting modes including HDR, burstshot with up to 6 shots, etc. And it really is quite good, as you can see in the sample shots below.

HDR photography is tricky business, but it doesn’t live up to the hype. HDR pictures stitch two shots together at high and low exposures to give a “fuller”, or use intense software algorithms to do the same. Here are some of the sample shots I’ve taken in HDR, side by side with regular shots. (click to see full image)

Standard Photos

HDR Photos

The biggest difficulty is keeping the phone steady. There’s no tripod mount, and as you can see in the images, there are slight wobbles and artifacts in the images. None of the HDR pictures look as good as the regular shots.

The level of detail that the Slide’s camera can capture is spectacular. At full resolution there is minimal pixelation, as you can see in the non-HDR images above. As expected, the digital zoom function works but blurs the images too much to make the function worth using. Macro shots are sharp and look great. See the samples below (click for full-size images).

Low-light images also have excellent clarity while maintaining proper color accuracy. Here are a few samples:

Overall the camera quality is great for a phone, and average-to-good for a dedicated point and shoot. The biggest problem with the camera is the shutter release. It’s too hard to press and shakes the shooting. Android of course has a touchscreen button to take pictures, which I recommend for crisp shots. The only actual benefit to the dedicated key is to quickly initialize the camera app.

Conclusion

The myTouch 4G Slide is a conflicted device. It has one of the best cameras for a smartphone ever. HTC has really accomplished something special with the camera, and I see a very bright future for the company’s future phones, just for the camera.

But throw that amazing camera into a body with a terrible slide-out keyboard and poorly built physical buttons…I’m left wondering how the design could be both excellent and awful at the same time. On the one hand, the Slide is sleek and fits surprisingly well in the pocket. Rounded, contoured edges make it feel like a smaller handset. On the other, every physical button – from the QWERTY keyboard to the menu buttons and even the camera’s shutter release – all feel like garbage.

Thankfully, the keyboard isn’t a requirement for Android handsets. Anyone can use the Slide without ever actually using the physical keyboard. But why bother have a phone with the extra weight for something you’ll never use? Combine that with the dim screen, mediocre benchmarks, and on-and-off  connectivity, and this smartphone doesn’t look so great anymore. If HTC called it a camera with a phone built in, I’d be infinitely more impressed.

I will say this much: the myTouch 4G Slide is a phone I want to like. It has great qualities: 4G connectivity, an amazing camera, Android 2.3, and a powerful CPU. My philosophy on phones, however, is to never compromise. The phone is what we take everywhere, use all the time, and rely on. If it’s uncomfortable, inconvenient or difficult to use, then it’s not the right for you. I’ll gladly replace my point and shoot with the Slide, but the other problems compromise the Slide on too many fronts.










James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.