As I promised, a full week of use of the T-Mobile Dash now affords some observations. If you do not want to read on, here's the short of it -
The T-Mobile Dash may very well be the first device I have used that does not have me longing to use another device.
Coming from someone who currently owns devices across a range of form factors, features and capabilities, this is a pretty big statement. If you read on, however, you may understand why I have become so attached to this device.
You may have noticed that the title of this post does not use the word "review". There have been any number of these around the Internet for a while. Instead, I decided to approach this post more from an observational perspective, especially due to the fact that my usage patterns for a Windows Mobile are not exactly the norm.
I am a heavy, HEAVY Windows Mobile business user. I rely on the messaging capabilities of my devices, the reliability of phone operations, and the ease of accomplishing business-related tasks in "less than optimal" conditions. For me, the ability to quickly digest and communicate information while on-the-go is a critical factor in device usability.
While Windows Mobile business productivity is essential to me, I do enjoy using my Windows Mobile device for "extracurricular activities" as well. In this category, I look for device and application performance and ease of use as criteria.
The Device Itself
The first thing I should talk about is the T-Mobile Dash in terms of dimensions, form fator and weight. In short, this is a wonderfully "pocketable" device for the functionality it brgins to the table. A very lightweight device that is also extremely thin, I find it very easy to forget that I have it in my shirt pocket! In addition, I can put the Dash into my shirt pocket and still have room for a business card holder and pen (something that was difficult with candybar-style Smartphones and impossible with my Phone Edition devices).
The rubberized molding on the Dash gives me a feeling of confidence when holding the device. No slipping or fumbling around here. It is easy to hold the device in one hand and access all of the keys on the front of the device, including the phone, softkey and thumboard buttons. This has been incredibly important to me when trying to accomplish tasks like reading and writing e-mail with only one free hand.
About the only complaint I have regarding the layout of the device is the location of the volume/JOGGR control and its associated defaault mappings. The control is on the upper-right side of the device. By default, it is mapped for "call reject" on incoming phone calls. Unfortunately, when pulling the device out of your pocket, there is a strong likelihood that this button will be accidentally hit. The mapping is configurable via a registry key, and there is a CAB file available at SurrealNetworks (along with some other useful Dash-related utilities) that makes the registry change simple.
Out of the box, the T-Mobile Dash is easy to use as a phone. Clearly-labeled buttons are easily accessible, and the clarity of both the speaker and the mic make for good cellular conversations. One of the first applications I added to the Dash (or any Phone Edition device, for that matter) is Microsoft Voice Command. The Dash comes with Bluetooth, and I am a serious Bluetooth user. Voice Command works well with the Dash, and not just for answering calls. I use it for making outgoing calls as well, speaking the contact's name and number to dial. Using my Jabra BT250v, voice recognition levels are regularly right on the money, even in noiser locations. With the Dash and Voice Command, I rarely have to take my phone out of my pocket when using the phone.
Microsoft Voice Command's capabilities have added a new dimension to my use of a Bluetooth headset. My company uses Microsoft Exchange for e-mail and calendaring, and my Dash is configured for Direct Push of information. Voice Command can be set to announce incoming e-mail (either important or all) as it arrives, and either always or just through the Bluetooth headset when it is paired. I tend to be away from my desk quite a bit, and the ability to have Voice Command read the sender's name and message subject has me now wearing my headset most of (if not all of) the business day.
At this point, I should talk a bit about the Dash's display. The screen is quite readible, especially when compared to traditional flip-style and candybar phones. It is large enough to make me forget at least a couple of times during the first few days that this was a Smartphone, and had no touchscreen capabilities. The display is very legible in both indoor and outdoor lighting, and images are crisply displayed.
From a messaging standpoint, it is easy to navigate and triage e-mails using the Dash. I can easily read the subjects of e-mail without having to bring the device too close to my eyes (something I can't do with even a QVGA Smartphone like my i-mate SP5m).
One initial area of concern was the Dash's thumboard. I tend to view individual's preferences to thumboards to be much like politics and religion. A discussion always results in passionate debate, and no two people seem to feel the same way That being said, I am one who enjoys using a thumboard, but also can be frustrated with implementations. While I have good dexterity, my fingers are not exactly "dainty", which can lead to difficulty in typing (especially in one-handed operations on small keyboards).
I am very happy to report that I have been please with the thumboard of the T-Mobile Dash. While the keys are small, they are distinctly indivudual in their positioning. By this I mean that there is a noticable space between keys. To me, this is extremely important in typing, as the tactile effect this provides helps me immensely to avoid hitting multiple keys simultaneously. The tactile response to clicking keys is also very good, giving me a greater level of confidence while typing.
The ability to use the thumboard with a single hand is a huge plus for me. My other devices with thumboards/keyboards (the i-mate JASJAR and the i-mate K-JAM) both were too heavy and awkwardly balanced to easily use with only one hand. With the Dash, I can easily type with my thumb and not be concerned that the device will fall out of my hand.
I have become quite comfortable and proficient in a short period of time in composing and responding to e-mails on the Dash. I actually enjoy the experience enough to do this even when a desktop computer is within a few seconds reach. In the past, I would often say to myself "I'll be back at my desk in a couple of minutes. It'll be easier then." I really do not have that feeling any more.
I also use a lot of Instant Messaging on my device, for both work and personal use. The T-Mobile Dash comes with Pocket MSN installed. As a participant in the Windows Live Messenger for Mobile Beta, I have loaded the latest client onto the Dash (note - once this beta goes final, I will provide a more in-depth review. I must say, however, that it is definitely a big improvement for mobile IM). As in the case with mail messaging, the Dash has made me much more comfortable in IM conversations. As a result, I find that I am using IM on my device much more than I had in the past.
Other "Mobile Activities"
"All work and no play..." is the old saying. While business comes first, I do use my Windows Mobile devices for other purposes. I use IE Mobile for surfing the web and RSS reading. IE Mobile performs well on my Dash using EDGE data connections on the T-Mobile network. One big plus regarding this; the Dash comes with 128 MB RAM. Even after the OS and other default applications, there is a ton of room left for application installations on the device. More importantly, there is a lot of room for IE Mobile's temporary Internet cache. Users of many Windows Mobile Smartphones have had to resort to frequent clearing of the cache or registry hacks to move the cache to a storage card, due solely to the fact that there was very little available space on the device itself. This is definitely not the case.
If you do wish to use external storage, the Dash takes a microSD card. At first this annoyed me a bit. It seems like we went from SD to miniSD to microSD in, oh, 2 days However, the fact that you can get a 1 GB microSD card (with SD adapter) for anywhere from $10 USD to $25 USD made the pain ease quickly. The microSD slot for the Dash is inside the same casing that houses access to the battery and the SIM card. While this means you will have to open that casing to change cards, I actually like the fact that it is now impossible to accidently lose a card while in a bag or pocket.
Some other activities I have used the Dash for include:
- Sling Player Mobile - Anyone who knows me knows I am as passionate about the Slingbox as I am about any technology. While have heard and read of some issues with the Sling Player Mobile client on the Dash (Sling Media is also aware of this), I have not had these issues myself. I have used the Sling Player Mobile client in both EDGE and WiFi environments and (as always) enjoyed the experience of catching up on news or watchig a sprting event when away from a TV.
- Audible Player - I do listen to audio books quite frequently, and Audible has provided me with all the content I could want for now for over 5 years. The Audible Player works well on the Dash.
- Windows Media Player Mobile - As a Janus DRM-enabled device, I am able to download my content from my Napster and URGE "all-you-can-eat" subscriptions and play them on the device without issues. I do admit, however, that I do not do this as much as others might, mainly do to the fact that I own a Toshiba Gigabeat S that serves more regularly as my "mobile media player".
Generally speaking, audio quality from the device is as good as my other Windows Mobile devices. One thing that can be an annoyance is the fact that the Dash has followed suit with other recent devices (the Samsung i320 and Blackjack) in using a proprietary headset adapter. This means that you have three options:
- Use the included headset. Not very good sound quality and a bit uncomfortable for my liking;
- Purchase a headset adapter. Several places (including MobilePlanet and DayDeal) sell adapters for the Dash, allowing you to plug in your own headset;
- Use a Bluetooth stereo headset. Yes, the T-Mobile Dash supports the A2DP Bluetooth profile! I have used my Motorola HT-820 headphones to enjoy music with Windows Media Player Mobile without issue.
WiFi - A Potential Differentiator
One of the unique selling points of the T-Mobile Dash versus competitors for form factor is the fact that the Dash does come with WiFi. How much a person relies on WiFi in their Windows Mobile device can make the difference between choosing a Dash or a Blackjack, for example. In my case, my WiFi use is rather limited. EDGE data access serves me well for e-mail, web browsing and (for the most part) streaming video from my SlingBox. When I have used WiFi, however, it has been both reliable and well-performing on the Dash. The most common use I have had has been to watch TV on SlingPlayer Mobile; the picture has been crisp and with little hesitation.
For most people, battery life is an important consideration. It is a high consideration for me as well, but with a twist. I fall into the category of people who always drop a device into a cradle or plug in a power adapter at the end of the day. While it might be a very long day (trust me on this one), I seldom go more than 24 hours without a charge.
I have found that my "regular use" (Bluetooth always on, 1 - 2 hours of phone calls, Internet access via EDGE) normally leaves me with somewhere between 40 - 50% charge left on the device at the end of the day. As always, the phrase "your mileage may vary" applies. For me, this is more than enough. Nonetheless, I picked up a second battery for the Dash (just in case).
Remember - I am but one person with one voice regarding one device here. I have always believed (and will continue to do so) that there are lots of preferences in the world with lots of choices that can match up. Based upon my preferences, needs and desires, however, I feel comfortable in recommending the T-Mobile Dash to those who are looking for a well-performing, lightweight messaging-oriented device. The combination of form-factor and capabilities make the Dash a real winner in my book.
I will continue to keep everyone up-to-date as I continue to use the device. One thing is for sure - it will be getting a lot of "wear and tear" from me