Preview: T-Mobile Dash
Oct 11, 2006, 7:50 AM by Eric Lin
A look at the new T-Mobile Dash messaging smartphone from HTC.
When the Motorola Q launched, it set a standard - maybe not for performance, but certainly for features and size. Never before had their been such a small device with a large screen, full QWERTY keyboard and fast data. Ever since, every smartphone with a keyboard is touted as a Q killer. Even though it does not have 3G data, the Dash is the first Windows Mobile Smartphone (and quite possibly smartphone in general) that finally could dethrone the Q as the device by which all others in the category are judged.
The Dash is only slightly smaller than the Q, but it has a more human feel that makes it feel much smaller than it is. The edges are rounded so that it fits nicely in the hand. This smooth, round edge is only interrupted by one side button and a small, well covered port on the bottom. Even those with small hands can get a good grip around the Dash; not just a solid grip, but a comfortable one.
All of the plastic surfaces have a soft-touch finish that adds to the Dash's comfort. Like the soft touch finish on the PEBL and KRZR, the finish on the Dash is addictive to the touch. With such a large expanse of plastic, you find yourself stroking the back side of the Dash with a somewhat disconcerting regularity.
When held in one hand, the well-laid-out navigation keys are right under the thumb. When held in two, it is surprisingly easy to type on the Dash, despite what looks like a small, tightly spaced keyboard. It's actually much nicer than it looks and excellent for accuracy. The keys have a nice solid click to them when pressed, so it is easy to tell that you have hit a key, and it is also likely that you have hit the right one. Though they are not terribly large, the keys are organized in distinct rows with a large gap between each row. This seems like it would make typing difficult, but it does just the opposite. It allows a tiny keyboard to feel much larger than it actually is.
Better than improving on the Q's keyboard, the Dash bests the Q in battery life by a long shot. Average battery life was 3 days, even with long bouts of Bluetooth use and a few quick hops onto Wi-Fi networks. However, extended Wi-Fi use - or even just leaving the Wi-Fi radio on all the time - quickly shortens battery life to about 1 day. Considering its size and the battery performance of competitors, this is still quite impressive.
The Dash does a pretty good job of holding on to a signal. In our vault test, the Dash could send messages and make calls from all but the furthest corner. However as soon as the Dash lost the signal in that corner, that was the end of the story. It was unable to recover a signal in a better location, and even took about 30 seconds or more to recover once outside with full coverage. It's not as slow to recover as the Sidekick, but it's among the slowest devices we've tested.
We also experienced a new frustration with the Dash which others have been reporting is common to many new T-Mobile smartphones - a lack of data signal. There were times when we could not hop on the Internet even though there was plenty of signal strength to send a text or even make a call. We were typically able to recover from these outages fairly quickly, and the excellent Wi-Fi implementation helped to overcome a lack of data signal as well.
Microsoft has released an updated version of Windows Mobile 5, called AKU 3, with a few new features and many improvements. The Dash is the first device to launch with this updated OS. Since it is just a small update like a feature pack and not a whole new release, we will only cover the changes as we have previously reviewed a number of Windows Mobile 5 devices.
First - as mentioned above - the Wi-Fi has been vastly improved. When you turn it on, it scans all available access points. If you've connected to one before, it automatically tries to connect again. If not it displays a list of available hotspots and lets you know which are open. Once connected to a Wi-Fi network all data is transferred over Wi-Fi instead over the cell network. That's how Windows Mobile is supposed to work, but the Dash is the first device we've used that works as advertised.
T-Mobile also did a neat trick with the Dash so that you no longer have to sign in to T-Mobile hotspots. The Dash automatically connects and logs you in securely as long as you subscribe to the smartphone data plan that includes Wi-Fi.
Unfortunately the Bluetooth experience is not nearly as pleasant. Getting the Bluetooth to pair with anything (even a headset) was a challenge. First, you have to have the "secure OBEX" option checked in order to even pair the Dash with anything. Once a headset was paired it worked properly, but that was the only thing that worked well in our experience. The Dash could send vcards, events, pictures, movies or almost any file to our computer, however it could not receive anything except for single contact vcards. Anything else had to be moved to the Dash by Activesync or the MicroSD card.
This is not a problem with all Windows Mobile devices - just a problem common to Windows Mobile devices made by HTC. Unfortunately, HTC makes the bulk of Windows Mobile devices.
The Dash is among the first generation of phones to include the My Faves app. Using the application you can choose up to five phone numbers which you can call for free if you subscribe to a My Faves calling plan. The application allows you to choose from your contact list or enter a fave by hand. If the contact has more than one phone number in the entry, you are prompted to choose just one. The application also asks if you want to use the contact picture as the icon if there is one. or you can select a picture separately.
Once contacts are registered, you are sent a confirmation message, and then you can use the home screen plugin or the My Faves application to choose a fave and contact him or her. If you press the call button with a fave selected, that person is dialed. If instead you press select, you are given a choice to call, text or send an MMS to that person. Only calls are free, the application warns you a few times that you will be charged for messages to your "faves".
The rest of the changes to the Windows Mobile software are small but kind. For instance the option to add a new messaging account has been moved from deep in the menus to the account list shown whenever the application is launched, making it easy to find. Also, the contacts application now sorts SIM contacts alphabetically with the rest of your contacts instead of hiding them at the bottom. Finally, the Dash has a new camera application with a full screen viewfinder and an excellent status overlay.
If you need more information on Windows Mobile 5 for Smartphone, you can get up to speed by checking out our review of the Motorola Q for Verizon.
To see the Dash in action, click on to check out our video.
You can see the Dash and all the new features of Windows Mobile 5 AKU 3 live in this video:
Or you can watch it directly on You Tube for more options.
Dash for Cingular?
I need it for mapquest and google email.
It would be great to use Google talk. Is this possible?
Can gmail send alerts when new emails show up?
Is it possible to use GPS on this phone?
Does TMO "require" data plan with Dash
I understand how you'd need a data plan to access TMO hotspots or to use an EDGE data connection but if you just wanted to use the WIFI capabilities of home or corporate network you shouldn't have to buy the data plan. To prove the point, we swapped out his SIM for mine (my phone is an ancient Samsung e105, translation: no data features). His phone was able to pick up our company's wireless network without a hitch.
The problem: his TMO rep wouldn't sell him the phone unless he also bought the data plan.
Has anyone had any similiar ...
differences in sidekick 3!
New photo added