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When It Comes to Android, Software Makes The Difference — T-Mobile Agrees

In the growing sea of Android (s goog) smartphones, how does a carrier differentiate a new handset from all the rest? Upgraded hardware features are one method, but with the exception of radically new handset designs, most upgrades are minor bumps from prior generations. Besides, most phones are designed by handset makers and then rebadged for various markets and carriers. That leaves software as the most potent way to stand out from the crowd — and the one T-Mobile employs with the new myTouch 3G Slide handset.

myTouch 3G Slide hardware upgrades
  • Larger, 3.4-inch display
  • 5 megapixel camera with LED flash
  • 4-row, slide-out QWERTY keyboard
  • optical trackpad
  • higher capacity battery

To be sure, there are the expected hardware upgrades from the prior myTouch 3G model, which is built by HTC. But it’s the software that truly makes this handset different from other Android smartphones. I noticed the tweaks immediately after powering up the device, which I’ve been using for a few weeks.

The user interface immediately brought to mind that of the HTC Sense, which pretties up the stock Android environment. My gut was right — in a phone interview with T-Mobile’s development team, Mike Hendrick, director of mobile software development, explained that the heavily modified myTouch 3G Slide interface utilizes 45 different modified widgets, functions and elements of HTC Sense, from a themed notification bar to home screen shortcuts.

Aside from the customized interface, three main software features bring me a better user experience on the myTouch 3G Slide:

  • Faves Gallery — aggregates social status updates, email and instant messaging conversations for favorite contacts.
  • MyModes — changes the device theme/home screens based on time or location, something I wish every phone could do.
  • Genius button – activates speech-recognition features for message composition, web searches and voice calling.

T-Mobile tells me that its software investment in the myTouch 3G Slide — four times that of the development effort for the prior model — can be leveraged and reused in future devices. Working with HTC on the Sense customizations was one part of that investment, but the carrier’s development team also enlisted a new partner in the form of Nuance Mobile for the Genius button voice features.

I was most curious as to how the voice recognition works — after all, Android 2.1 natively supports voice functionality through Google’s own services. Mike Thompson, SVP and GM of Nuance (s nuan), said it offers a “hybrid architecture for voice recognition” that can work both locally and in the cloud – in other words, when a connection can’t be found with the 7.2 Mbps radio. Google’s solution, by contrast, requires a wireless connection to send a voice file and then quickly return the server-side text interpretation. Indeed, my testing of the Genius button and voice commands yielded results that were often better than those on my Google Nexus One. I particularly like the new Driving Mode, which can be turned on or off by voice and will offer to read aloud incoming messages as I drive around town.

Of course, one has to wonder if customized solutions like that used on the myTouch Slide 3G will help or hurt Google’s Android fragmentation issue (which it refuses to admit it has). Those familiar with Android won’t struggle to use T-Mobile’s new phone because the underlying operating system isn’t hidden away. And because the device runs on the recent Android 2.1 — 2.2 is a potential option once Google releases it to handset makers — it should work with most, if not all, third-party applications in the Android Market. I expect that other handsets using current versions of Android with effective but light user interface tweaking will differentiate without causing further fragmentation.

Currently available direct from T-Mobile for $179.99 with a contract, the myTouch 3G Slide represents the best of both Android and innovative software from T-Mobile. It may not have the speedy Snapdragon (s qcom) processor or high-resolution display I enjoy with my Nexus One, but after carrying the myTouch 3G Slide for a few weeks, I didn’t miss my faster handset as much as I’d expected to. As a long-time power user of smartphones, that’s a testament to T-Mobile’s development efforts on its newest phone — and portends that future handsets will leverage software to differentiate hardware.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d):

Google’s Mobile Strategy: Understanding the Nexus One

19 Responses to “When It Comes to Android, Software Makes The Difference — T-Mobile Agrees”

  1. michael ann

    I have a mytouch phone and it stop working so i got another mytouch phone just like the one i had. I found all the application that i had on the other phone on the new one, except for one and it was my favorite game. I have search and search for it. it was a game like tetris but i think it was called hotbox.. i know it started with hot. help

  2. Missus S

    I love my MTS!!!

    I’ve had the G1, wanted to upgrade and got the Behold II. 2 thumbs down. It was really pretty, but slow as heck and the lock button on the side drove me nuts. The deal breaker for me was the lack of status light. I returned it within the 15 day period and got the mytouch slide. It is a lot like the G1, which I liked waaaaaay more than the behold but so much better. My only gripe with the G1 was the camera. My only gripe with the MTS is the physical keyboard is too spacey for me. This could have been touch only with the swype keyboard. Love it, love it, love it!!!

  3. Definitely love my myTouch Slide so far. Battery life is not great. From 100%, it takes about 8 hours of less than average use to bring it to 40%. I always bring my USB cord now so I can charge it whenever I can.

    MyFaves is definitely great, especially for keeping up with different friends and family members who you call/text a lot.

  4. coolfx35

    I have been holding out on an android phone because I want it all.
    Currently have a samsung behold, was looking at the g1 but the size and lack of a flash stopped me.
    With a 5mp Camera w/flash, std earphone jack, real keyboard, etc., this phone seems to have just about everything on my wish list except the snapdragon processor.

    Would love some feedback from all of you who have myTouch Slide already, incl. battery life, processor speed (good enough?),glitches, speaker volume, signal strength, likes dislikes. Can you watch shows on it via hulu or other websites? GPS with voice nav (how is it?), my question was also posted on

    Any comments are greatly appreciated.

  5. kelmerp

    You say it’s not running snapdragon, but other sites say that it is running snapdragon. I’ve read it’s actualy the same processor as the Nexus One but running at 600MHz instead of 1 GHz in the N1.
    see link:

    Apparently part of the reason it runs so well is because it has 60% of the processor of the N1, but is running a screen with less than half of the pixels.

  6. I am loving my mytouch slide. I came to it from a rooted g1 running cyanongen 5.07 or superbad, and this thing flys. The screen is a huge upgrade, despite having the same resolution. The battery life seems better, except pandora seems to really drain it right now. Swype is king. The keyboard is great, but swype seems even faster.

    • The back of my Nexus One isn’t all that pretty either, but it’s not glossy. The biggest factor between the two IMO: do you value a physical keyboard or faster performance? That’s a personal choice.

  7. I am having a horrible time with the battery. 5 hours into it i had 30%after a full charge. Contemplating returning it and living with my G1 and it’s double battery.