T-Mobile's Messaging Powerhouse
The Good: Roomy keyboard, multiple connection options, long battery life
The Bad: Occasional quirky responses to stylus
The Bottom Line: Great for Windows apps; doesn't match the e-mail speed of BlackBerry or Treo
Every good thing must end. Tomorrow I'll send back the T-Mobile MDA phone I've been testing for longer than a tester should. Even with some frustrations that I'll detail below, I've enjoyed this phone. On a recent ski trip to Vermont, where my Verizon Wireless cell phone searched vainly for signals, I used this gem to make calls, check my Yahoo! (YHOO) and Hotmail accounts, and look into snow conditions on Stowe (icy, if you must know).
Now I'm taking a closer look at it as part of a series of BW Online reviews of high-end handheld devices (see BW Online, 3/8/06, "Cingular 8125: Everything Except Phone Calls").
The MDA, which now sells for $399, is a Pocket PC and a powerhouse for messaging. (That's what the M stands for.) Made by Taiwan-based manufacturer HTC for Deutsche Telekom's (DTE) T-Mobile, it's bristling with connection options. They range from the fast data service known as EDGE to a Wi-Fi connection that will speed things up at home or the corner Starbucks. It operates on four bands of GSM, the most common global standard. That makes it good for globetrotters.
An account with generous messaging and talk time, along with Internet access, will set you back $80 a month. The keyboard, which slides out from below, is roomier than the Treo's. It's closer to the size of T-Mobile's Sidekick, which is easier for big-fingered folks like me.
The question with any PDA is whether it matches the twin titans of the industry: the BlackBerry from Research In Motion (RIMM) and the Treo by Palm (PALM). The answer, I'm sorry to say, is a big fat maybe. For core e-mail functions, both the Treo and the BlackBerry are a tad faster. But if you are hitched by the hip to a Microsoft (MSFT) system -- to Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Windows Media Player -- this may be just the machine for you.
This MDA is zippier than previous generations of Windows phones. At 5.6 ounces, it sits nicely in a pocket. The battery life is truly impressive. The company claims that you can talk for up to five hours, with standby at nine days. I didn't measure, but on that long weekend in Vermont I forgot the recharger -- and didn't need it.
The 1.3-megapixel camera takes great shots. (I never could figure out where the machine was storing my masterpieces, but I'm sure I could peck around with the extendable stylus and eventually unearth them.)
OUT OF TOUCH?
That stylus is at the root of my only troubles with the MDA phone. Often when Web surfing, I pressed a hot link on the touch screen. Instead of responding to my command, a menu popped up asking if I wanted to copy something. It was as if I were right-clicking on a Windows computer. Perhaps my stylus prods were too emphatic, or poorly targeted, but it gummed up my navigation.
That said, the device I tested is a beta model. If that glitch gets ironed out, Windows fans will find T-Mobile's MDA phone a credible alternative to BlackBerries and Treos.