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The devil is in the details
on January 12, 2011
I purchased this phone with a 2 year contract, so I really wanted to love it. Unfortunately, I have some issues with it. I rated this item based on the attributes of the phone itself, not T-Mobile's service, and not the Android operating system. But as you need both of these to use the phone I'll include them in my review. I use the phone in a variety of ways throughout the day. I depend on it as I travel around for work (checking my email, making calls, using the data connection), and I also use it in my free time for browsing the web, using interesting programs, finding stuff and getting directions, listening to music, and reading books. It can do all of these things, some better than others, and it's capabilities are miles ahead of my old smartphone, as long as I have reception and a charged battery, which unfortunately is not as often as I would like.
The phone itself: It has a beautifully large and clear touchscreen (and appears to be scratch-resistant), a nice camera that takes big but usually blurry pictures and HD videos, it is thin and light (compared to my old smartphone) but still seems pretty tough. You can look at the advertised features, it does in fact have and do all that stuff. There are two major problems for me, and that is why I rate it 3 stars instead of 5. Battery and Buttons.
Battery: It lasts me a little over half a day. I use the phone a lot, but not a crazy amount. If you use it for any length of time doing anything, the battery is at 25%. Worse, if the phone can't get reception it seems that it burns through the battery just as quickly searching for reception as if you were running a program or talking on the phone. If you sit in a building with the phone on and no reception for four hours, the battery is pretty much dead. And not getting reception can happen pretty frequently. My old smartphone could go for a couple of days without charging it unless I was really using it very heavily. I have not made it through an entire day yet without the battery dying or being very low.
Buttons: Besides the annoying placement of the buttons (it is difficult to hold the phone without pressing a button), I have a real problem with the power button. The power button at the top of the phone is not recessed, it sticks out a little. It is also very sensitive, if you gently run your finger along the top of the phone you will depress the button. When I put the phone into my pocket the impact of the phone with the inside of my pocket depresses the button about half the time. This should be a minor annoyance, just waking up the phone for a little while. However, EVEN IF THE PHONE IS TURNED OFF gently depressing the button will turn the phone back on. So when I am in an area with no reception and I want to turn the phone off to conserve the poor battery life, if I put the phone back into my pocket, or anything presses against the top of the phone, it turns itself back on and when I pull out my phone a few hours later, surprise! My battery is dead! This button should be slightly recessed, and you should have to hold it down for a few seconds to turn the phone on when it is powered off. To me, this is inexcusably bad design on something that should be a no-brainer.
Software: This is my first Android phone, and I am not an expert, but you are probably also an Android novice, and might have the same trouble as me. If you are an Android pro just skip this part. Android has got to be the best feature of the phone, but it is still a source of frustration for me. It is very customizable and has a crazy array of programs that take advantage of every possible functionality of the phone, many of the most useful programs come preinstalled while all the others are available from the Android market. You can search, download, and install programs from the phone itself without hooking it up to a computer, so it is entirely self-sufficient. I love this, and could go on about how useful this is. Unfortunately it comes preinstalled with a suite of T-Mobile software that is baked into the phone. You can't delete it, you can hardly modify it, and I pretty much hate all of it. T-Mobile has apparently decided that I am a pre-teen girl, and has dumbed down everything for me and integrated social networking with all aspects of my phone. I personally would have preferred a blank phone with a link to the Android market and a functional phone, address book app and clock. Fortunately, the ability to get any app from the Android market has overcome these drawbacks for me. I had a serious problem with just making phone calls using the preinstalled phone app (ironic, on a CELL PHONE). I have a lot of contacts, so when I want to call "Andrew" I get a whole list of "Andrew..." and there is no room for the last name because they decided to use the space for a picture that I have to set up or provide from Facebook. I have to click on the entry to see if it is the Andrew I want, and doing that initiates a phone call to that person. I have to contact a lot of different people all the time and this was driving me nuts. So I just installed a new (free) phone app from the Android market, and problem solved.
The problem I have with Android itself is that it seems that third party applications have much more control over my phone than I do. I don't have access to the files on the phone, which is crazy. I downloaded a file that one of my programs needed to function, and I realized that there was no way for me to find the file on the phone. You have to download a third-party app and give it permission to have full access to your phone for the privilege of seeing your own files. You can't close programs, you can just open something else or go back to the home screen, which sort of minimizes the program. How do I not have an option to close a program? Guess what, you have to download an app for that! A third party app that again gets access to your whole phone, is always on, and potentially destabilizes your device. Finally, many of the apps seem to be cloud-based, they need an internet connection to function. Privacy concerns aside, this is fine unless you don't have reception, which is a little too frequent for me.
T-Mobile: I live in the northeast and I travel around, and T-Mobiles coverage area is not that great. If you are not in a populated area you probably won't get good coverage up here, and there are huge areas with no coverage at all. The reception doesn't penetrate buildings very well, in my experience. The HSPA+ connection that makes this phone "4G" is pretty fast, but it seems to me that it usually takes a few seconds (sometimes more than a few) before the data begins to transfer, which negates the extra speed unless you are downloading a large file, which is where it really shines. To be honest, I use the phone a lot but I'm not downloading movies or anything, so it works pretty well as long as I have any kind of reception, even if it is not HSPA+. But it won't be replacing my home internet anytime soon.
UPDATE 9/28/2011 After 10 months of use there are a couple of things I'd like to update. First, T-Mobile has improved their reception, at least in my part of the country. Second, I have come to peace with the battery. I think the Android software has been updated to be more battery efficient, and I am careful about how I use the phone so I can get a full day out of it now rather consistently. I do several simple things:
1) I keep bluetooth, GPS, and wifi radios off unless I am using them. I have put shortcuts to these functions on my home screen, I just tap them to turn them on or off. GPS is a real battery drain.
2) I don't install or run unnecessary programs. This might not work for you, I don't really use my phone for games and weird widgets.
3) I restart the phone every few days. It seems to help it run smoother and drain less battery, probably because once you open a program you can never really close it and be sure that it is off, and the little background processes start to pile up. It seems like when you turn the phone off it doesn't really turn off, it just goes into a sort of hibernation and it reboots really quickly, so I like to choose the "restart" option which forces it to do a full reboot.
4) I finally found a flippin' huge extended battery, mine is from Hyperion. It comes with a new (flimsy plastic) back cover and it more than doubles the battery life. The phone is a bit bulkier, but battery problem solved, for around $25.
Other comments: The power button is still stupid to me, and I'm still bitter about it. Whatever. Also, the GPS just won't work sometimes. I don't get it. If it doesn't get a signal in the first 10 seconds, it never will. One time I left it on for hours out of spite, and it just couldn't find a signal (but it did burn through my battery). I have to reboot the GPS, or reboot the phone itself to get it to work. One thing that helps is make sure it acquires a signal before you start moving, if you are already driving in a car it has trouble acquiring that first signal.
Overall I am generally satisfied with this phone. I have gotten used to its quirks, it has become a reasonably efficient part of my life. Plus I can stream Netflix on it now due to a recent update! Woot!