Do you need a solid Android smartphone but don't want to spend a lot of cash up front? If so, then the T-Mobile MyTouch Q could be the device that you're seeking. Owners of aging BlackBerrys in need of a change also should take a closer look at this $79.99 handset that boasts a sliding QWERTY keyboard plus swift 4G data.
If you're familiar with the MyTouch Q's predecessor, the MyTouch 4G Slide, you won't find many surprises here. Also a QWERTY slider, the MyTouch Q's look and feel are very similar and it's practically the same size. Measuring 4.7 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide and 0.5 inch thick, the MyTouch Q is not small or trim by modern definitions. And tipping the scales at 5.6 ounces, the phone isn't light either. Compared with much thinner smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S II for T-Mobile, the MyTouch Q is plump and portly. Still, I found its softly curved edges comfortable to hold, and the gray soft-touch back coating provides a sure grip and repels grease and prints.
Eschewing the large 4.3-inch or even 4.5-inch panels gracing many of today's modern Android handsets, the MyTouch Q relies on a smaller 3.5-inch LCD screen. Immediately, I noticed how fuzzily the low-resolution screen (480x320 pixels) rendered details in app icons, photos, and especially text. Contrast wasn't great either, with the black background of the Android app tray, for instance, appearing grayer than it should. Viewing angles also were disappointing and tilting the device in any direction off axis quickly killed image quality.
Below the screen are illuminated capacitive buttons for typical Android controls including Menu, Home, and Back. Instead of the Search key, though, there is the Genius button, represented by a circular "G" logo. Long-pressing this key, a staple of T-Mobile MyTouch devices, fires up the phone's voice command capabilities. You can tell the MyTouch Q to do simple tasks like "Send text message to John Smith, running late," or "Find the nearest espresso."
The MyTouch even can be commanded by voice to launch specific applications or play favorite music, which is handy if the phone is buried deep in a pocket or bag. In my experience, the feature worked as advertised. That said, don't be fooled into thinking this is as powerful or intelligent as the Siri assistant on the iPhone 4S. While I could dictate a pretty lengthy text message, if I paused midstream the device assumed I was done and wouldn't check whether I had more to add, which is something Siri does.
But why waste time with voice commands for messaging when you could use the MyTouch Q's standout feature, its full QWERTY keyboard? Though there are only four rows of keys instead of the complete five rows boasted by other devices such as the eagerly anticipated Motorola Droid 4, the Q's main input method is usable. I was able to bang out messages relatively accurately and quickly despite the cramped layout and minimal spacing.
On the whole it's a good effort, though I have to complain that the spacebar is small, the keys are hard, and the keyboard itself flexes alarmingly. Fortunately, the keys are backlit and there is a wealth of dedicated buttons for common punctuation marks, as well as buttons for @, .com, and "Text," and a smiley-face button for emoticons. Alternatively, if you just want to use the virtual keyboard, the MyTouch Q features Swype switched on by default while the stock Android entry method can be selected.
Phone controls and ports are kept to a minimum, with the only physical buttons being two tiny volume keys on the left side and a power key on the top edge. Also on top sit the MyTouch Q's 3.5mm headphone jack and Micro-USB port. The back houses a 5-megapixel camera, LED flash, and large speaker. Under the flimsy battery cover is a microSD card slot populated by a 2GB card, which can be reached without removing the battery. The same, though, can't be said for the standard-size SIM card slot.
Running the Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread OS, the MyTouch doesn't offer Google's latest version, Ice Cream Sandwich (version 4.0), but honestly neither do most current handsets, let alone most basic Android handsets. All the essential and powerful Android capabilities are here, such as Gmail, Google Maps, and access to the over 500,000 apps, not to mention movies and books, available for download from the Android Market. The phone can handle personal and corporate e-mail accounts and the usual text-messaging tasks. You tackle multimedia primarily through the simple onboard music and video software.
The design of the shortcut bar at the bottom of the screen has been tweaked. In addition to the usual icons for phone, text messaging, and browser, there's also one for e-mail. Frankly, it makes for a cluttered feel and I don't much care for the icons' cartoon look either.
It's also distracting how all the phone's seven home screens are clogged with either T-Mobile bloatware or massive widgets. I suppose that's both the appeal and the weakness of Android, since you can remove and customize icons at will. Speaking of apps, there are a fair number of useful titles preloaded, including Google Books, Slacker Radio for streaming Internet radio, Google navigation for free turn-by-turn GPS guidance, and a basic version of TeleNav (the premium version costs $2.99 per month).
SmartShare enables the MyTouch Q to link to DLNA-enabled computers and stream video or music files across Wi-Fi networks. The phone also can make calls over Wi-Fi, if you have better luck accessing a wireless router than a T-Mobile signal. Be advised, though, that the feature still counts against your voice plan minutes. Another service, T-Mobile TV, streams a collection of live channels such as Disney and Fox News, to name a few, but costs an extra $9.99 per month.