Editor's note, July 2009: Read our review of the Dash 3G which replaces the Dash.
Reviewed November 17, 2006 by Lisa Gade, Editor
It's been a very good year for PDA and smartphones, and it's still not over yet! This Fall we've seen the introduction of two of my favorite phones, the Cingular 8525 and the T-Mobile Dash. Though each share a QWERTY keyboard and base Windows Mobile 5 software, the 8525 and its HTC-branded sibling the TyTN run Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC Phone Edition and are quite large in comparison, albeit more powerful. The Dash and HTC S620 run Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone Edition which means they lack touch screens, the Notes component of Outlook and Microsoft's own MS Office Mobile applications which allow both viewing and editing of Word and Excel documents.The Dash and it's unlocked near-twin, the HTC S620 are sleek, slim and eminently powerful, yet pack WiFi, MS Office viewers, an excellent keyboard and a quad band GSM radio with EDGE into a 4.2 ounce package. Unusually unphotogenic, the phone is actually beautiful in person and feels fantastic in hand thanks to pleasing curves and rubberized coating.
The T-Mobile Dash
The smartphone, whose code name is Excalibur, is made by HTC in Taiwan. They've made and continue to make some of the most lauded Pocket PC Phone Edition and Microsoft Smartphones on the US and overseas markets. The T-Mobile Dash, HTC S620 and XDA Cosmo are all the same Excalibur with minor customizations setting them apart. We brought in a Dash and HTC S620 for this review and will use the names interchangeably unless one brand differs from the other on a particular feature. The T-Mobile Dash is sold (surprise) by T-Mobile in the US and is locked to T-Mobile for service. The HTC S620 is sold unlocked for use with any GSM carrier and hence is a bit more expensive.
As with the Cingular 8525 and HTC TyTN, the differences between the T-Mobile Dash and HTC S620 are modest. The Dash has T-Mobile's MyFaves support, adds OZ' instant messaging client that supports AIM, ICQ and Y! Messenger (the app uses text messages), T-Mobile's My E-mail application, a WAP browser and it has a different JOGGR strip (more on that later). As expected, the Dash plays T-Mobile's rather loud startup tune at boot while displaying the T-Mobile logo. The HTC S620 boots up silently while showing the HTC logo. The T-Mobile version has a big T in the dialer screen while the s620 has the HTC logo.
The HTC S620
Features at a Glance
The T-Mobile Dash is a Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone Edition device with AKU 3.0.1 and support for MS Direct Push email. It has Bluetooth 2.0, WiFi 802.11b/g, a 1.3MP camera, MicroSD expansion slot, a 320 x 240 landscape display, a 200MHz processor and EDGE for data. In the box you'll find a world charger, USB sync cable, stereo headset with in-line mic, software CD with ActiveSync 4.2 and Outlook 2002, a thick printed manual (HTC S620 only), slim getting started guide (Dash only), and a horizontal black leather case with belt clip (Dash only).
Design and Ergonomics
The Dash has a matte black finish and a rubberized coating that feels good (folks seem to want to stroke it-- don't blame us) and helps keep the phone firmly in hand. We found we could use the Dash one-handed fairly easily, though the somewhat narrower and scroll-wheel enabled Samsung BlackJack beat it. The keys are 4mm wide with no space between. What does this mean? The keys are fairly large for a device this small (though it can't compete with the T-Mobile MDA PPC phone and and its huge keyboard) and large is a plus. But that lack of key separation means you need to look at the phone and take more care when typing. In contrast, the Samsung BlackJack's keys are only 3mm wide but have a good deal of separation making typing one handed typing, easier. But for two-handed typing we prefer the Dash, whose keyboard is very usable for even extended bouts of typing, despite its small size. If you're migrating from a Treo you'll probably adjust easily. Those coming from the MDA or one of its relatives will take longer to adjust. The keys are backlit in blue and keypad backlight timing is in sync with display backlight timeout (which is adjustable). They keys are fairly easy to see in dim and dark locations, and the front buttons also light up (in white for app buttons and soft keys, red for call end and green for call send).
The S620's directional pad is large and lovely. It's easy to operate, not sloppy and it's raised edges and high center button help you stay on target without staring at your thumb. The call send and end buttons are well separated from other keys (prevents accidental dialing and hang ups), and the two Windows Mobile soft keys, Home key and back key are large and easy to press (but not overly soft either). As you can see from the photos, the d-pad an navigation keys are well separated from the keyboard. The keyboard itself has shortcut buttons for IE (or T-Mobile's WAP browser on the Dash), Messaging and the camera application. You'll use the Fn key to enter symbols (masked in blue) and numbers. On the Dash only, you can press and hold a key to enter its alternate key (we LOVE this and wish the S620 had it as well),
The Dash and HTC S620 have a few keyboard shortcuts that make life much easier, and we'll tell you a few:
- Press and hold the Home key to start voice dialing
- Dash only: Press and hold a letter to input its Fn alternative character (e.g.: press and hold the D key to input 5).
- In the programs window, the application icons follow a grid that corresponds to the
keys. For example, press "q" to launch the leftmost application on the top row in the programs window.
- There are two ways to lock the keyboard: 1) Press and hold the Z key to lock the keyboard. 2) Press and hold the call end button.
The phone has LEDs to indicate phone status (blinking green when the phone is on and in coverage), blue for Bluetooth, green flashing for WiFi and amber when charging. These little buggers are bright, and those of you who hate flashing LEDs on phones will likely rip out some black tape to cover the LEDs. But wait-- don't do that because the LEDs are located in the earpiece opening and calls might sound a bit muffled.
The mini USB sync port is at the phone's bottom and you'll use this to sync and charge the phone. The included stereo earbud headset with inline mic also plug into this port. Like most recent HTC smartphones and PDAs, the Dash lacks a standard 2.5mm headphone jack.
The battery door, speakerphone grill, camera lens and self-portrait mirror are on the back. The battery door slides off easily yet doesn't come off by accident. There is a little gap where the top edge of the door meets the phone. Only the power button lives on the left side, and you must press this hard and long to turn the phone on and off. On the right side, beside the display is the "either you love it or hate it" JOGGR. When I first played with the phone, I loved it, but that quickly turned to hate. The JOGGR is a touch sensitive strip (sounds very cool, no?) and it comes in two versions. The HTC S620 has the full-blown JOGGR experience: tap the up and down arrow areas to scroll or change volume when in the phone dialer or media player. Tap the top section to go back, tap the email envelope to start Messaging, MS Smartphone's email counterpart to Outlook on the desktop. You can play with the JOGGR's settings in Control Panels, and turn it on/off, set scroll speed, double-tap speed and more. T-Mobile's decision makers were probably as irritated by the JOGGR as was I, and so the Dash has a watered down version that controls volume only. Why do I dis' the JOGGR? Because you touch the phone on the edges all the gosh darned time! Pull it out of your pocket and you've accidentally launched Messaging. Hold the phone in your left hand during a call and try real hard to not grasp the phone on its right side thereby changing call volume accidentally, backing yourself out of the phone app or once again launch that pesky Messaging. But some folks do like it, and some Dash owners were so bummed that they didn't get the full JOGGR experience that they've found registry settings to enable a more S620-like JOGGR experience.
HTC S620 JOGGR strip
The Dash JOGGR strip
Horsepower and Performance
The Dash runs on a 200MHz Texas Instruments OMAP850 processor. 200 MHz TI CPUs are also used on the T-Mobile SDA, T-Mobile MDA and the Cingular 8125. The Dash and S620 feel peppy, and a bit faster than the MDA (Pocket PCs really need more horsepower than MS Smartphones, so the 200MHz processor is a better match for MS Smartphones which are less resource intensive). The phone did better than any other 200MHz MS Smartphone we've tested in video playback in Windows Media Player Mobile 10 and TCPMP, a free open source audio and video player. It's actually pleasant to watch a 350k encoded video while things get a little choppy on other 200MHz Smartphones. We did notice that the Dash is a tad less responsive than the HTC S620, and we imagine some of T-Mobile's customizations might be using resources.
The Dash has 64 megs of RAM (used like RAM in your computer) and 128 megs of flash ROM where the OS and associated programs are permanently installed. That leaves approximately 73 megs free for you to store programs and data. The smartphone has a MiniSD expansion slot located under the battery door, should you need for space to store data. Thankfully, you need not power down the phone to insert or remove a memory card. The Dash typically has 24 megs of RAM free just after booting.
The T-Mobile Dash and HTC S620 are quad band GSM phones that will work anywhere in the world GSM service is available. They have EDGE and GPRS for data. The T-Mobile Dash is locked to T-Mobile (though it's not hard to get it unlocked) and the the HTC S620 is sold unlocked by online retailers and importers for use with any GSM carrier. The Dash suports T-Mobile's myFaves plans and features. The phone has excellent reception on the 1900MHz band used by T-Mobile in the US (MDA users will notice an improvement) and 850MHz reception is very good. Call volume for incoming and outgoing calls is a bit better than average but not stunningly loud and the rear-firing speakerphone is loud but distorts at high volume settings. Call clarity and fullness are decent, though not as good as the Cingular 3125 Windows Mobile flip phone and the BlackJack. We tested the unlocked HTC S620 with both Cingular and T-Mobile SIMs, and call quality was the same with both (T-Mobile's coverage can be spotty in some areas but we have excellent T-Mo coverage in the Dallas area).
As with most HTC-manufactured phones, the Dash has voice dialing, but there's no hardware key assigned to this function, so don't forget our shortcut (press and hold the Home key). It uses voice tags rather than true voice recognition, but it's very accurate and works with Bluetooth headsets and car kits (yay!). Like all Windows Mobile 5 smartphones it has speed dial, call history, photo caller ID, and supports call waiting, conference calling and flight mode. For data speeds, the Dash got an average of 75k on T-Mobile and the HTC S620 got the same. The S620 got 140k on average when we used a Cingular SIM (their EDGE network is faster than T-Mobile's). This is where the Dash might take a beating against the BlackJack on Cingular. If you're in a Cingular 3G coverage area and use the Internet quite a bit on your phone, the BlackJack's HSDPA data connection and average 800k download speeds (about 10 times faster than T-Mobile's EDGE) really are tempting. Who needs WiFi if you've got that fast a data connection? Of course if you're not in a 3G coverage area or one that will be blanketed soon, the Dash is very attractive and WiFi will definitely come in handy.
You can use the phone as a modem if you wish over USB or Bluetooth (if your carrier allows tethering). To use EDGE and GPRS on the Dash on T-Mobile's network you'll need to get their Total Internet package which includes both unlimited EDGE/GPRS and T-Mobile WiFi Hotspot unlimited use for $29.99/month. The $19.99 BlackBerry plan which provides unlimited EDGE and GPRS but no Hotspots works fine as well.
Display and Music
Like the Motorola Q and Samsung BlackJack MS smartphones, the Dash has a landscape QVGA 320 x 240 pixel TFT color main display. It measures 2.4" diagonally (the same size as the Moto Q and .2" bigger than the BlackJack's display) and supports 65,000 colors. The display is the best we've seen on an MS Smartphone to date: most everyone who sees it compliments it immediately. It has great color saturation, strong sharpness and that "something special" that sets it apart. First thing, change that boring T-Mobile wallpaper to a photographic image and you'll see what we mean. Since the Motorola Q was the only landscape MS Smartphone until this month, you'll find that some apps, mostly games, don't support it. But that should change quickly now that we have 3 hot landscape models on the market.
The Dash makes a good portable music player using the standard Windows Media Player 10 Mobile or your favorite 3rd party application. Sound quality is good through the included Merry Electronics brand stereo headphones with inline mic. The bad news is that the Dash, like most recent HTC phones, uses a proprietary audio connector rather than a standard 2.5mm jack. But at least you get the stereo headset in the box: Cingular left that out of the Samsung BlackJack box. The Merry headset (included with most recent HTC devices), sounds pretty good with decent bass and no shrillness on the top end.
Windows Media Player Mobile 10 supports MP3, WMV, AAC, WMA and PlaysForSure DRM-d files. We were pleased with the Dash's audio quality when using the included headphones. The phone supports Bluetooth stereo headsets and headphones, so we tested it with Plantronics Pulsar 590 stereo Bluetooth headset profile and it worked well.
The Dash and HTC S620 come with the usual Windows Mobile 5 software including mobile versions of Outlook (Messaging for email, contacts, Calendar and Tasks but no Notes since Smartphone Edition doesn't have Notes). You also get a mobile version of Internet Explorer (landscape orientation is nice for browsing), Windows Media Player Mobile, Pocket MSN, a voice recorder, calculator, solitaire, Bubble Breaker, SIM manager, Clear Storage (to wipe out the device's contents), a file manager and task manager. Both devices come with HTC's Comm Manager which you'll use to turn the device's three wireless radios on and off and Westtek's Clearvue Office suite which is a collection of viewers for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF files. T-Mobile adds their MyEmail application, a T-Mobile Hotspot locator and WinWap (a WAP browser for visiting T-Mobile's TZones web site).
Bluetooth and WiFi
The Dash has Bluetooth 2.0 with support for all common profiles and a few uncommon ones such as A2DP. It has headset/hands-free, DUN, serial port, FTP and OBEX profiles. WiFi is a rare treat on MS Smartphones, but you can be sure T-Mobile US will offer it since their hotspot service is big business in the US. The Dash and HTC S620 have WiFi 802.11b/g and support open networks, WEP encryption, certificates, LEAP, ad-hoc and infrastructure mode. You can turn off that annoying new network found" notification if you wish, and set the WiFi radio to automatically turn off if not connected for a specified period of time. HTC's Com Manager shows access points in range and indicates whether they use encryption and their signal strength. Data speeds using WiFi are excellent and we got an average of 1250 kbit/s using DSL Reports' mobile speed test. Range is good for a device this small and we managed 45 feet from our 802.11g access point through walls. As with all Windows Mobile products, you may find that you'll have to create a separate connection profile for WiFi (under GPRS settings even though WiFi obviously isn't GPRS). And you may have to tell IE not to automatically detect network settings if it doesn't manage to connect when switching to or from WiFi.
We generally haven't been fans of HTC's cameras which lagged behind the feature phone competition. The Cingular 8525's 2MP camera is an exception and it takes quite good photos. The Dash takes photos that are better than last year's (and the year before that) HTC camera phones such as the SDA and MDA, but the photos still aren't as good as those taken by the better 1.3MP camera phones on the market by LG and Samsung. But they're not horrid either, so don't panic. Colors are decent, with an occasional purple bias (see the black Chevy SSR which acquired Zune-like secondary color highlights with the help of the Dash). Bright sunlight leads to whiting out (see the pool photo below) but under medium indoor or outdoor light, the camera does pretty well. It handles low light better than many Nokia camera phones, even the high end ones.
The 1.3MP camera can take photos up to 1280 x 1024 resolution in JPEG format as well as lesser resolutions for MMS and caller ID. It has four quality settings, a time stamp option, four color effects and 5 white balance settings including auto. You can take video in up to 176 x 144 and MMS videos.
We've been quite pleased with the Dash and HTC S620's battery life, which lasts about 2 to 3 days of use (without Direct Push email which eats up any Windows Mobile device's battery). The 960 mAh Lithium Ion is supposed to be good for up to 5 hours talk time and we got about 4.25 hours with additional use of the PDA functions. Lets face it, if you only talk on the phone and don't use the PDA features, you probably didn't need a smartphone anyway. We used the phone surfing the web on EDGE for 45 minutes per day, talked on the phone 20 minutes per day, did several PIM lookups each day, reviewed a Word and an Excel document, watched a 6 minute short video stored on a MicroSD card, surfed with WiFi 20 minutes per day, checked email once every 30 minutes (9am -6pm) and listened to MP3s for an hour per day. The Dash lasted us 3 days. If you use Direct Push and set the phone to notify you of each new email, expect 2 days on a charge. By PDA and smartphone standards, that's good. If you use the phone less (perhaps you don't check email frequently and surf the web for 30 minutes or less per day) then you might manage 4 days on a charge. That's better than the Samsung BlackJack, though the BlackJack does even things about a bit by providing a second battery and spare battery charger. It's most definitely better than the Motorola Q. To be fair, the Samsung has an HSDPA 3G radio and the Q has EVDO, both of which consume more power but get you must faster data speeds.
It's sexy, it's slim and light. Yet the Dash is a very powerful smartphone thanks to Windows Mobile 5 , a good application bundle and very usable QWERTY keyboard. The display is phenomenal, multimedia is good by MS Smartphone standards (that means video playback is bearable and as usual audio is quite good) and the phone offers a good mix of business practicality with entertainment value (unlike most BlackBerry phones). We really like the Dash's rubberized coating and novel good looks, not to mention the keyboard which had us typing quickly and accurately in no time. The Dash is available at a bargain price of $199 with new 2 year contact ($249 with a 1 year contract) and the HTC S620 sells for approximately $459 with no commitment. Which is better? That depends on whether you are or would like to be a T-Mobile customer. T-Mobile's US coverage is weaker than Cingular and Verizon's and they don't yet offer 3G.
Pro: Great design: slim, light and sexy. The rubber coating feels good and helps keep the phone safe. Fantastic display and very good keyboard for a device this small. Good battery life. Extremely reasonable with a T-Mobile contract. An amazingly small yet powerful business and entertainment device.
Con: No separation between keys will bother one-handed uses who don't always look at the phone while typing. No 3G means slower data and no simultaneous voice and data (which HSDPA offers).
Price: T-Mobile Dash is $199 $49.99 with a 2 year contract, HTC S620 is ~ $459
Display:65K color transflective
TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 2.4 ". Resolution:
320 x 240 landscape mode.
Battery:960 mAh Lithium
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. Claimed talk time: up to 5 hours.
Performance:Texas Instruments OMAP850 200MHz CPU. 64 megs RAM and 128 megs flash ROM with approximately 73 megs available for storage.
x 2.5 x .5 inches. Weight: 4.2 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band 850/900/1800/1900MHz with GPRS and EDGE for data. T-Mobile Dash is sold locked to T-Mobile, HTC S620 is unlocked for use with any carrier.
Camera:1.3MP, 1280 x 1024 maximum resolution for still photos. 176 x 144 for video.
in speaker, mic and proprietary stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Media Player Mobile 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0.
Mobile 5.0 Smartphone Edition operating system with AKU 3.01.
ActiveSync 4.2 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included. Tao Group's Java MIDlet Manager, Outlook mobile suite (messaging, contacts, calendar and tasks but not notes). Pictures and Videos application, Windows Media Player Mobile, File Manager, Internet Explorer Mobile, Task Manager, File Explorer, Calculator, Call History, Speed Dial, Voice Notes, camera and video recorder applications, Pocket MSN, voice dialing, ClearVue suite for viewing MS Office documents and PDF files, Solitaire and Bubble Breaker. T-Mobile Dash adds their MyEmail application, a T-Mobile Hotspot locator and WinWap (a WAP browser).