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T-Mobile MyTouch 3G is a solid Google phone -- no, not an iPhone killer [Updated]

August 14, 2009 |  6:00 am

T-Mobile released the MyTouch 3G last week, its second cellphone based on Google's Android operating system. I've been testing the phone, which goes by the name HTC Magic in other countries, and can see why it has already sold a million units. It's a powerful gadget with a lot of great features. But please, don't call it an "iPhone killer."

It's tough reviewing a smart phone without drawing parallels to the apple of the tech world's eye. I carry an iPhone in my pocket every day and have completely adapted to its quirks -- both good and bad.

A lot of the subtle additions by manufacturer HTC and developer Google, including removal of the physical keyboard of the first Google phone and greater customization for media and apps, clearly follow in Apple's footsteps. Not a bad thing. But it makes it that much easier to compare the two.

On its own merits, the MyTouch is a very good phone. It looks nice; the touch screen is responsive; the virtual keyboard works well most of the time; and it has apps. Who doesn't love downloading apps?

When putting those features side-by-side with the iPhone's, however, the MyTouch looks less shiny.

As for the hardware, the MyTouch is sturdy and attractive. But it's noticeably thicker than the iPhone and its screen is smaller -- both downgrades.

It has way too many tiny buttons for a phone that's supposed to be relying on software navigation. But it does have that scroll-ball nipple thing I love about the Blackberry. Makes scrolling through lots of e-mails or tweets a breeze.

The software is laid out well and certainly works with a mostly-touch interface. A lack of multi-touch gestures, like the iPhone's pinching for zooming in and out, slows down common actions. And with all of those ...

... buttons below the screen, I have to think for a moment about which one I need to press for a given command. Does the "menu" button go back to the home menu? Nope, it brings up a contextual menu. Does the red call-hangup button go back? No, it doesn't.


T-Mobile MyTouch 3G. Credit: Associated Press

Users of the G1 will be hugely disappointed with how little has changed between Android iterations. Seriously, they've added almost nothing. On the flip side, the physical, slide-out keyboard of the G1 got the boot. The MyTouch relies exclusively on a virtual keyboard. It works fairly well, but it doesn't learn from repeated mistakes the way certain other software does (you know which one I mean).

Google Android does have an app marketplace. Unlike downloads from the iPhone App Store, most Android apps are free. For example, most of the good Twitter apps on the iPhone cost between $2 and $5. The free Twidroid keeps pace with them, for the most part. There aren't a ton of apps available for Android -- something that may not change majorly any time soon.

Someone new to Google's operating system will really appreciate some of its standard features. It ties in directly with your Google account to sync e-mail, calendars and contacts.

The deal maker could be its integration with Google Voice. Apple notoriously shot down the attempts by Google and third parties to list iPhone apps that connect with Voice. The new Google service provides users with one phone number that rings all of their phones, as well as free calls and text messages.

Android's integration with Voice is seamless. The app takes over the phone's default voice mail, call logs and text messaging software, complete with voice mail transcription and free everything -- as long as you have a cellular Internet connection or Wi-Fi.

But for G1 users, the MyTouch is a snoozer. The HTC Hero -- whenever that comes out -- will offer much more (including, undoubtedly, an absurd name like the "MyPhone 3GS"). For iPhone users, the MyTouch doesn't make the grade.

But cost-conscious iPhone users looking to save some dough with this $200 smart phone, its cheaper calling plan and free texts via Google Voice won't be disappointed. At the very least, it should sway some of the many hacked iPhone users on T-Mobile to get an officially supported phone already.

Corrected, 1:46 p.m.: A previous version of this story said HTC had sold a million MyTouch 3G phones in its first week. In fact, the company has sold a million units worldwide since launching in other countries earlier this year.

-- Mark Milian

Follow my commentary on technology and social media on Twitter @markmilian.