The slim, HTC-built T-Mobile Dash 3G packs essential features for heavy-duty messaging at a reasonable price.
But anyone hunting for a smartphone that does more may want to look elsewhere: the T-Mobile Dash 3G's multimedia features aren't exciting, and its Windows Mobile-based interface lacks pizzazz.
If the T-Mobile Dash 3G looks familiar, there's a good reason why: it is, in essence, the unlocked HTC Snap, and there are several other versions available via US carriers such as Sprint and Verizon. There are, of course, slight differences in design and features.
The T-Mobile Dash 3G is compact, measuring 117x61x13mm - a smidgen thicker than the Nokia E71, but not hefty by any means. And at a scant 119g, it is lighter than the E71 and the BlackBerry Bold (though the T-Mobile BlackBerry Curve 8900 wins the featherweight championship).
The 2.4in QVGA display takes up a little less than half the T-Mobile Dash 3G's real estate. While 2.4 inches is fine for messaging and email (the screen can display up to seven lines of text), we found it a bit cramped for watching videos.
Below the display is a BlackBerry-esque trackball, with a cluster of six large, easy-to-press navigational buttons on either side: Call, two softkeys, Home, Back, and End/Power. You'll want to switch the trackball's sensitivity setting to Fast, rather than Normal, which is how it is set out of the box; initially we found it incredibly sluggish, but changing the settings definitely improved navigation.
HTC knows how to make an excellent full-qwerty keyboard, and the T-Mobile Dash 3G's is definitely no exception. The keys are comfortably sized (even a colleague with large hands had no problems using it), and the lettering stands out against the keys' black background. The keys have the perfect amount of clickiness, much as BlackBerry keyboards do.
Button placement felt spot-on, as well, with an adequately sized spacebar conveniently situated where we'd expect it to be (we've seen way too many phones with spacebars placed in the corner of the keyboard, for example).
The T-Mobile Dash 3G also has a few helpful shortcut keys, including a dedicated camera key (which doubles as a shutter button), a button to launch your email inbox, and a button that you can customise. Our only gripe regarding the keyboard was the noticeable delay between what we typed and what appeared on the screen.
Testing on the US T-Mobile network, we found the T-Mobile Dash 3G's call quality good but marred by an audible background hiss - something we've encountered with other HTC-manufactured T-Mobile phones, such as the T-Mobile Shadow. Voices had ample volume and sounded clear enough. Parties on the other end reported that we sounded a little tinny but otherwise easy to hear.
The T-Mobile Dash 3G runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard edition. On top of that, HTC and T-Mobile have added a simple-to-navigate sliding panel overlay (similar to what we saw on the HTC S743). The home screen delivers one-click access to your calendar, call history, text messages, email, local weather, Internet Explorer, your music library, and your settings.
Navigating this interface is straightforward, and we didn't have any trouble finding what we needed. Preloaded on the T-Mobile Dash 3G is Office Mobile and Windows Media Player.
One key difference between the T-Mobile Dash 3G and the unlocked HTC Snap, and one of the largest disappointments, is that the Dash lacks the Inner Circle feature - the biggest selling point of the Snap. We really liked the Snap's Inner Circle feature, which allows users to bring email from a preselected group to the top of their inbox by pressing a dedicated key. In its place, the Dash features T-Mobile's myFaves service, which lets you make unlimited calls to five specified contacts.
Like all Windows Mobile phones, the T-Mobile Dash 3G comes with Internet Explorer. It is suitable for web surfing, though it has no Flash support. Setting up web-based email is easy: you just click the email panel on the home screen, pick which email service you use, and then enter your account name and password. In one nice touch, the email panel displays the subject and sender of the newest message in your inbox, so you have quick access to it.
Windows Media Player is your only option for music (no surprise there). Audio quality is adequate through the included headphones, but a bit flat and tinny played through the external speakers. You get no 3.5mm headphone jack - a regrettable omission we've come to expect with HTC phones. Instead, you must plug in the clunky included adaptor to use standard headphones with the T-Mobile Dash 3G. Video quality is quite good, but the 2.4in screen is too small to really enjoy anything longer than a few minutes.
At 2Mp, the camera is just about what you'd expect: average. The T-Mobile Dash 3G lacks a flash, so snapshots in low-light environments appear grainy. On the other hand, images taken outside in sunlight look good, with vivid colours and clean details. We found the camera interface intuitive and easy to use, and we liked that you can easily email or text images directly from the app. The camera has a few advanced features such as brightness control, white balance, and a self-timer.
The T-Mobile Dash 3G works very well as a messaging and e-mail device, but it doesn't have the chops to compete with other messaging powerhouses, such as the BlackBerry Curve 8900 or the Sidekick LX, both on T-Mobile as well. The interface is in dire need of a face-lift, and the phone's included features need a boost. Our biggest problem with the Dash, though, is its omission of the Inner Circle feature, as seen on its sibling, the HTC Snap. T-Mobile's myFaves coupled with the Inner Circle would have given the Dash an edge over other messaging smartphones, but unfortunately T-Mobile missed the mark on this one.