Sexiness meets versatility in the T-Mobile Dash ($199 with two-year contract), a compact Windows Mobile smart phone that attempts to one-up both the BlackBerry Pearl, by featuring a full QWERTY keyboard, and the Moto Q, by packing in Wi-Fi. This diminutive device keeps you organized and entertained on the go, but its occasionally sluggish performance and T-Mobile's spotty network coverage prevent us from giving the Dash a top rating.
Designed by HTC, the Dash is one of the sleekest smart phones around. It's nearly as thin as the MOTO Q (0.51 inches versus 0.47 inches) and weighs only 0.1 ounces more (4.2 versus 4.1). More importantly, this device feels better in the hand, thanks to its soft-touch texture and larger four-way navigation button. The keys are packed very tightly together, but they offer excellent tactile feedback. We also like how you can type special characters by just pressing and holding a key, as opposed to using an Alt/key combination.
The Dash boasts a bright, 2.4-inch display with 320 x 240-pixel resolution. It provides more than enough room for looking up contacts, surfing the Web (when Windows Mobile 5.0 doesn't mess up the formatting), and checking e-mail. To the right of the screen are two touch-sensitive volume controls; these take some getting used to but worked fine once we changed the tap speed to Fast.
The left side of the device holds the power button, and on the back side, underneath the cover, is a slot for a microSD Card. At least you don't have to remove the battery to insert a card. The 1.3-megapixel camera lens is located above the battery cover, complete with a tiny self-portrait mirror.
To help you stay connected, this smart phone packs in three wireless radios: GSM/EDGE, Wi-Fi, and stereo Bluetooth. We especially like the Comm Manager utility, which makes it simple to toggle each connection on and off. From this same screen you can also access the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings, activate ActiveSync for syncing with Outlook, turn the ringer on and off, and beam info to other nearby devices. Unlimited data costs $29.99 per month, which inlcudes T-Mobile Hotspot access.
Like other Windows Mobile 5.0 phones, the Dash manages your contacts, calendar, and tasks, but T-Mobile's intuitive setup wizard makes it especially easy to get e-mail wirelessly. Unlike the Moto Q, the Dash lets you enjoy instant messaging out of the box using your choice of AIM, Yahoo, or ICQ. Unfortunately, our experience didn't exactly feel "instant," as it took an average of 25 seconds to sign onto Yahoo and anywhere from 4 to 40 seconds to send and receive messages.
Web browsing wasn't much faster over T-Mobile's EDGE network. It took us about 50 seconds to download the entire New York Times homepage. The BlackBerry Pearl, which rides on the same 2.5G network, is faster because it uses a more efficient Java-based browser. Switching over to Wi-Fi on the Dash helped, but it still took a rather pedestrian 27 seconds for the same page to load.
In fact, the Dash was a little bit sluggish overall. We experienced a number of delays when opening and closing applications, and when we tried to open an e-mail while the device was downloading new messages, the device crashed, forcing us to reset. Some of the blame goes to the relatively pokey 210-MHz TI OMAP processor (compared with the Moto Q's 312-MHz Intel XScale CPU), but the Windows Mobile 5 OS itself also continues to be flaky.
Note that this isn't the more robust Pocket PC version of Windows Mobile, either; it's the Smartphone edition, which means you don't get a bundled Notes application, and you can't edit e-mail attachments. Yes, you can view Office docs with the included ClearVue suite, but it was impossible to see a Word file without zooming in. And even then we couldn't see all of the text within the margins, requiring us to scroll from left to right.
The Dash fares better as an entertainment device. Its Windows Media Player 10 Mobile software allows you to listen to your own MP3s or tunes you've purchased from any online PlaysForSure service. And thanks to its stereo Bluetooth support, we could enjoy our tracks wirelessly using Motorola's HT820 headphones.
The 1.3-MP camera takes pretty sharp pictures for a smart phone, providing plenty of details in shots, even if they were a bit washed out. What makes the Dash stand out as a camera phone is how easy it is to share your shots and low-res video footage; clicking on the envelope icon after you're done recording takes you directly to an MMS or e-mail message prepopulated with your photo or video attachment.
As a phone, the Dash is just adequate. During our tests, it delivered decent volume but only mediocre audio quality. We noticed a slight gurgling on the line during most calls. T-Mobile's network continues to lag behind other carriers when it comes to coverage, but at least the Dash's signal strength wasn't any worse than the BlackBerry Pearl's.
On the plus side, the new MyFaves feature gives you unlimited calling to the five U.S. numbers you call most often, with plans starting at $39.99 per month. You can even customize the Today screen to display the pictures of those five people for easy, one-click dialing.
T-Mobile rates the Dash for five hours of talk time and nine days of standby time. In our tests, this smart phone lasted about a day and a half, but that was with the Dash set to automatically retrieve new e-mails every 15 minutes and with intermittent use of the Wi-Fi connection.
Overall, typing on the Dash is easier than on the BlackBerry Pearl, and the Dash offers faster Web surfing (when you're in a hotspot). However, these perks are nearly outweighed by the phone's less-than-snappy performance.
For our favorite T-Mobile picks, and cell phone buying advice, don't miss our cell phone buyer's guide.
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