Sure, it looks like an iPhone in a Sidekick body. But slightly awkward design aside, the T-Mobile G1 Google Phone establishes Android as a slick new entrant in the smartphone space. It promises to be a fun, powerful Web-centric handheld when it launches on Oct. 22.
The G1 starts out looking like a somewhat chunky (4.6 x 2.1 x .62) PDA-phone, topped by a big 320x480 touch screen. The touch screen is wonderfully quick and responsive. Below the screen are five buttons and a small, slightly slippery track ball. Slide the screen to the right and turn the device 90 degrees, though, and it reveals a full QWERTY keyboard of slightly rubbery, nicely separated keys. Theres a miniUSB charging port on the bottom, and a MicroSD memory card slips into a difficult-to-open slot to the right of the keyboard. (The phone comes with a 1GB card.) On the back, theres a 3-megapixel still camera.
The real news here, of course, is Android, Googles all-singing, all-dancing, all-open-source new operating system. It ran quickly and efficiently on the G1s 400 Mhz Qualcomm processor. Unlike with the iPhone, there seem to be several ways to accomplish any task. You can scroll through Web pages with your finger or with the trackball. To search contacts, you can swipe with your finger or start typing on the keyboard. To dial the phone, you can tap the Dialer icon or the physical Phone button.
Theres something ideological about all these options. Apple makes it clear that theres one way to do things, Apples way, and its the best way. But Google says theyre about openness, open source and open choices. That makes for an interface thats a little bit more confusing than the iPhones (but still far, far easier than Windows Mobile) and more customizable for different tastes.
The G1 starts out with a desktop thats a lot like your PC desktop, with four standard application icons and a clock widget you can move around. You can flick left or right to find two more black desktops, or pop out the phones full application menu from a tab on the right. The application menu looks a lot like the iPhones home screen: big, clear icons for various apps. To dial the phone, you can either use the physical keyboard or a Dialer app with a virtual keyboard. We didnt feel any haptic force feedback on the touch screen, though that becomes a lot less important when you have a physical keyboard.
In our hands-on time, we couldnt test the G1s reception or phone calling ability. The G1 works on T-Mobiles 3G network, on foreign 3G networks, and on GSM EDGE networks all over the world, including in the US. The G1 also has Wi-Fi, though you cant use it for phone calls. We got 600-700 kbps on a speed test Web site using T-Mobiles 3G connection, which is a decent speed. You wont be able to use the G1 as a 3G modem for your PC, T-Mobile execs said at the G1s launch.
The G1 works with mono (but not stereo) Bluetooth headsets and has voice dialing on board. We couldnt find a dedicated wired headset jack presumably, itll use the USB port for wired headsets. T-Mobile says the phone has 130 hours standby time and up to 5 hours talk time, which is good for a 3G phone
The G1s contacts, calendar and e-mail apps all sync with Googles online services, T-Mobile reps said. The calendar is sleek and simple. The contact book includes presence information on Google Talk, and lets you dial, e-mail or IM with a tap. In general, the PIM applications use large fonts and a lot of white space - theyre easy to read, but they could stand to pack a little more information onto one screen.
But instead of loading pages in zoomed-out mode, it loads them zoomed in, which makes it tough to get an initial overview of the page. You have to tap twice to zoom out, then you can scroll around the page using a magnifying glass icon and zoom back in. Fonts and graphics look beautiful, but as with the iPhone, theres still no Flash.
There are separate Gmail and e-mail icons, though the e-mail program can also handle Gmail. It pushes Gmail and pulls IMAP accounts. The IM program handles AIM, Google Talk, Windows Live and Yahoo!. Once again, it prefers Google services - Google Talk online status is integrated into the contact book, but none of the other IM statuses are.
Instead of Apples App Store, Android has the Market, which divides downloadable applications into applications and games. At launch, the device had 23 applications and 8 games were sure that number will improve. Theres about 50MB of free memory on the phone to load apps into I wish there was more, but you can probably also load apps onto your MicroSD card.
The G1 doesnt seem to be equipped for business work. Theres no Exchange syncing yet, and no way to edit Microsoft Office documents. The E-mail program can read Word, Excel and PDF documents, reps said at the phones launch. But this doesnt seem to be threatening the Blackberry much yet.
The Google Maps app on the G1 is, as expected, the best of its kind. Not only does it load maps quickly and beautifully, it has a compass mode that shows Street View facing the direction youre facing at the moment. Cool. It also uses GPS, though not to any great extent yet. Presumably third party programs will come along with better GPS capabilities.
For music and video, theres a pretty standard-issue music player that seems to play all of the usual unprotected formats. The G1 wont come with any desktop syncing software, T-Mobile reps said at the launch. But it will come with a free app to download music directly from Amazons MP3 store, over Wi-Fi networks to the phone.
Since this is a Google phone, of course it has a YouTube application. The YouTube app seems to show a subset of videos, just like Apples YouTube app. When we loaded a video over 3G, it appeared in a window slightly smaller than the screen. It looked pixelated, and although it was smooth the frame rate felt low.
The G1 has a 3-megapixel still camera that we didnt get to test. It cant record video.
The T-Mobile G1 will sell for $179, with data plans costing $25 and $35/month on top of your voice plan. Thats at least $5 more than T-Mobile charges for data on the rest of their smartphones, which is frustrating, but its about what AT&T charges for iPhone data ($30). This looks like an exciting new device and we look forward to reviewing it in full before its retail launch on Oct. 22.
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