- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Almost as impregnable as Fort Knox, Apple Inc.’s iPhone gains a new challenger Wednesday. It’s the $200 myTouch 3G from T-Mobile and Taiwanese phone maker HTC. This is the second T-Mobile phone to sport Google’s Android operating system, and it’s a worthy competitor to the Apple product, far more so than the much-hyped Palm Pre.

There is, for now, only one iPhone, however: Something on the order of 21 million units have been sold, and a stunning 1.5 billion applications for iPhones have been downloaded in the first year they have been available from the firm’s iTunes store. Apple says more than 65,000 iPhone applications are available right now, and there are 100,000 registered iPhone applications developers.

So T-Mobile and Android developer Google have a steep hill to climb, but they’re further along than Palm, and that’s a good thing. The myTouch 3G Web site claims “thousands” of applications are available for this device, and though I haven’t counted them, I can attest that exponentially more are available for this phone at launch than there were for the Palm Pre. About two months after the Pre was launched, I counted all of 12 applications on Palm’s official Web site.

But applications alone won’t sell a phone or make it popular. The device has to have good service coverage for voice and data, it has to be user friendly, and it should be intuitive to use. Millions of users seem to have voted for AT&T’s wireless network by selecting the iPhone. T-Mobile’s network seems to be good in the Washington area, but I’ve read complaints about that firm, just as I have about AT&T and Sprint. In my testing, the myTouch 3G performed well in terms of accessing the T-Mobile network.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been using touch-screen smartphones for a couple of years, but I found the myTouch to be highly intuitive. The main screen features several key icons, and you can add others. Because the phone has Google’s software and services at its core, I was able to populate the phone with my Gmail in box and Google-based contacts very quickly, wirelessly.

The T-Mobile applications store, under a menu button called Marketplace, is where I found scores of applications, from the usual dining guides, tip calculators and Facebook connectors to the more esoteric, such as four programs with which one can read the Bible. That kind of breadth speaks well of both Google’s software — it’s a platform for which it apparently is easy to develop - and for the creativity of developers.

The phone’s 3.2-megapixel camera also keeps pace with the iPhone’s camera; like the iPhone, the myTouch 3G also will record short video clips. The myTouch uses removable microSD memory cards, of which 16 gigabytes appears to be the largest available size. That’s a sort-of advantage over the iPhone 3GS, Apple’s latest, which tops out at 32 gigabytes of memory but can’t be augmented with external cards.

The microSD card storage lets the myTouch add a host of music and video files, and that’s good. However, this isn’t an iPhone, which has the iPod at its heart. The myTouch will let you load up a bunch of songs or other audio for a transcontinental flight, but true multimedia devotees likely will prefer the iPhone’s many features.

I found no difficulty in using the on-screen keyboard of myTouch 3G, which is similar to that of the iPhone and other devices. Some users will want a physical keyboard, but those often come with a sacrifice of screen size; the myTouch 3G’s 3.2-inch (diagonal) display screen is very nice, and if pressed, I’d rather sacrifice some buttons for the larger viewing area.

Battery life seems more than decent, and though I had no issues handling the phone, another user of my acquaintance disdained the myTouch 3G as being “like a toy” compared with the iPhone 3GS. Those are the kinds of personal reactions users will have; for me, I found the myTouch 3G much preferred to the BlackBerry Pearl or other microsized smartphones.

While there seems little doubt the iPhone will continue to dominate this market segment, there will be those for whom the Apple product just will not do it. For them, and perhaps for you, the myTouch 3G is well worth considering.

E-mail mkellner@ washingtontimes.com

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