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The myTouch 3G Slide is a very important phone for T-Mobile. When it ships in June - backed by a massive marketing campaign - myTouch Slide will be the only phone in the world to combine Android, HTC Sense and a hard QWERTY keyboard. Additionally, T-Mobile has put a ton of effort into customizing the device to maximize functionality and ease of use, creating what they hope consumers will recognize as a device that's incredibly functional and usable. I got a chance to check the phone out over lunch with some T-Mo reps last week, and in a word I came away very, very impressed and excited for myTouch Slide to launch.

I wasn't allowed to shoot video at the meeting, so you'll have to settle for written impressions - and specs - until I can get my hands on a review loaner in (hopefully) a few weeks. T-Mobile says myTouch 3G Slide "is anticipated to be available" in June, and no pricing information has yet been announced. The phone will come in three colors: black, white and red. I got to see all three in person and they're all nice. Last year I was still all about the black when it came to mobile phones, but I think I'm changing my tune for Summer '10, which is a roundabout way of saying I kind of dug the white mT Slide.

First things first. mT3G Slide is slightly larger and thicker than the original myTouch, but still very pocketable and usable with one hand. The horizontal-sliding hard QWERTY board might just be awesome. The layout and key action reminds me of the excellent QWERTY on HTC's Touch Pro2, but it's just a bit sleeker without sacrificing much in the way of button feel - or at least it felt that way in a few minutes' worth of use at lunch. Performance seemed pretty good - the device was responsive, and browsing Web pages and photos was pretty smooth. While this phone only packs a 600MHz processor, and not the 1GHz Snapdragon setup found in the Nexus One and Droid Incredible, the HVGA display doesn't necessarily need the extra horsepower of those other devices and their larger WVGA screens. As such, the slightly slower chip should do a fine job powering the device - thanks also to plentiful RAM and (hopefully) clever software optimizations.

mT3G Slide is thicker than touch-only smartphones like Verizon's Droid Incredible and the T-Mobile compatible Nexus One, but TMo and HTC did a nice job of keeping the device as thin and light as possible while also designing the hardware to feel good during both one- and two-handed use. Slide's curved lines make it feel a tiny bit smaller than it really is, and the phone's rounded edges give it a sleek, modern look that's soft in a good way - it's not at all "feminine" (whatever that means), but it's also not all hard and robotic like the Moto Droid.

I could stop right there and be happy, as I've yet to find an Android phone with a hard QWERTY board that I really want to use (I know, I know, lots of you love your Droids). But there's a lot more to the story here: T-Mo worked long and hard with HTC to customize the user experience on the myTouch 3G to the point that it's really unlike anything else on the market right now.

Sure, mT3G Slide has a spec sheet that reads like several other recently released Android smartphones: 

- 3.4" HVGA capacitive touch display with pinch-to-zoom support

- Android 2.1 with HTC Sense 2.1

- Voice-to-text, Swype and QWERTY text input

- GSM/EDGE/3G and WiFi connectivity

- Google Maps with turn-by-turn Navigation

- 5MP Camera with video capture, GPS geotagging and photo sharing via Email/MMS, YouTube and online photo galleries

- microSD card slot with 8GB card pre-installed

- 3.5 mm headphone jack and Stereo Bluetooth support

But mT3G Slide has a lot to it that's unique, too. First off, Sense has been customized with something of a unique look and feel. The UI isn't a dramatic departure from Android/Sense on other HTC devices, but it does yield a subtle but distinct "T-Mobile myTouch" flavor. There's also a host of personalization options that go beyond the already quite customizable Sense experience.

Faves Gallery is a new favorite apps that picks up where T-Mo's "MyFaves" left off, letting you choose up to 20 favorite contacts for quick access through a dedicated app and widget as well as special notifications in the Android status bar. Calls, SMS messages and other contact from Faves also trigger the phone's LED status light to blink green. The system reminds me of HTC's Inner Circle feature (launched on Snap last year), but taken to the next level. T-Mobile talked up the feature in a way that really makes sense to me: Many of us have hundreds of contacts on our phones but really only care about a small portion of them on a regular basis. Faves Gallery is meant to help you cut through the noise and remain on top of communications with the folks that matter most to you. In theory it sounds great, and in the demo it looked pretty nice, combining Sense's social network integration with a new look user interface unique to T-Mobile and the myTouch line - in practice it'll be interesting to see how people actually use the feature.

myModes is also new, and it's pretty neat. Essentially homescreen customization on steroids, myModes lets you create up to 10 themes comprised of wallpapers, widgets and home screen apps - kind of like the Home/Work Modes on recent Nokia E-Series phones. The trick here is that you can program mT3G Slide to switch between modes based on time of day (alarm) or GPS location. Say you set up Home, Work, Weekend, and Travel modes. Work mode would trigger when the phone's GPS senses that you're at the office. Work would trigger at 5:30 PM on the dot, hiding your work Email and calendar in favor of a music player, photos of your loving family (dogs and all) and calendar alerts for your kids' soccer games and such. Weekend mode would kick in on Friday night, perhaps switching up your wallpaper and bringing weather and lifestyle widgets to the fore so you could keep tabs on weekend plans and ski/surf conditions. And Travel mode would switch things up entirely when you're away from home, maybe providing a mix of a Time Zone widget, WiFi finder and something like Yelp! to help you find good eats on the road.

I know, I know, that last paragraph read like an ad for T-Mobile. But I think the myModes thing is pretty cool - especially given the ability to mix time and location-triggered mode shifts. You'll likely be seeing similar setups on lots of smartphones in the coming months, as automated customization moves from animated wallpapers that reflect the weather to full-on personalization that filters information and apps/features based on what's going on in your life at any given moment. I know I personally would love a calendar that not only tells me when I need to be somewhere, but also locks me out of obsessively checking my work Email after-hours.

Finally there's Genius Button. One of the four front-panel hardware buttons on mT3G Slide is emblazoned with a script G that, at first, I thought was a new-look Google logo. Instead, the G stands for Genius. Genius Button triggers the device's voice command functionality, including Android's text-to-speech functionality. While the concept of voice control on an Android 2.x device is nothing new, I think it was really smart of T-Mo to tie the functionality into a dedicated hardware button right there on the front of the phone. Why? Mainstream users. 

Voice command is really nifty, and in partnering with Nuance, T-Mo went all out in trying to make voice command on mT3G Slide as state-of-the-art as possible. Triggering the whole system via a button that's always in view just below the display should make it dead simple for T-Mobile to market Genius Button as a life-changing smartphone experience to new customers. And while I only got to try the system out a few times, it seems to work quite well, allowing for everything from Web searches to turn-by-turn navigation to voice dictation of SMS and Email messages. The system will also read incoming text messages aloud to you if you like.

Like I said, I would have been happy with "just" a multitouch-aware Android device featuring a hard QWERTY and HTC's Sense system. Instead, T-Mobile has something much bigger up it's sleeve in the myTouch 3G Slide. T-Mo has always been about custom brands and services like Sidekick, myFaves and now myTouch, and mT3G Slide continues that tradition with new features that should make their way to more devices as time goes on. While I'm not crazy about a few of the UI elements I saw, and I do wonder how many would-be mT3G Slide buyers will really take advantage of all of the services and customization options packed into the device, overall I'm very excited about this phone. 

I mean, c'mon: Finally an Android device with a hard QWERTY I think I can get behind, and it's got all of these other tricks up its sleeve, too? How could I not be excited? This doesn't mean you should rush out and pre-order a myTouch 3G Slide just yet. But it does mean you should at least be excited about checking back in a few weeks after I've had the chance to get a review unit in my hands for more than an hour. The folks from T-Mobile clearly think this phone will be a big winner this Summer, and I think they just might be right.


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