updated 11:50 am EST, Sun November 9, 2008
T-Mobile G1 First Look
When Apple released the iPhone, they set the standard for mobile phones with its innovative touch screen. While people have lined up to buy an iPhone, competitors have released various iPhone clones in hopes that lower prices and different features will appeal to consumers. Now Google has finally released their Android open source mobile phone platform and the first incarnation has appeared as the T-Mobile G1 phone. If you aren't quite sold on an iPhone, but want a better conventional mobile phone, you'll find the Android an intriguing option.
Physically, the Android is thicker, heavier, and chunkier than most other mobile phones. The most unique feature is its upraised end that tilts slightly to move the speaker closer to your mouth like a conventional phone. This slight tilted end of the phone also contains its five buttons and a trackball.
These buttons provide typical features to initiate calls, hang up calls (or turn the phone on and off), go back to the previous menu, or display a home menu of standard options. A much larger Menu button provides additional options depending on the program you're using at the time.
If you're used to other mobile phones, this multitude of buttons will seem familiar, but if you're comfortable with the iPhone, these multiple buttons will seem cluttered compared to the iPhone's single Home button in the same location.
As a cross between the iPhone and conventional mobile phones, T-Mobile's offering provides both a touchscreen and a trackball, which gives you a choice for picking options. Tapping the touchscreen may feel more intuitive, but scrolling with the trackball can be faster, especially when viewing web pages where links may be too small to touch accurately with your fingertip.
Perhaps the biggest flaw with this touchscreen/trackball dual interface is that the touch screen isn't as intuitive to use as the iPhone. Like the iPhone, this touch screen supports scrolling by sliding or flicking your finger up or down, but other gestures aren't supported. For example, where you can pinch the iPhone screen to zoom in or out, on this phone you must tap the screen to view an onscreen menu that displays a zoom in and zoom out button. Then you can tap each button to expand or shrink the screen. This is functional, but it's definitely slower and clumsier.
Visually, the touch screen is amazingly bright and legible, even in direct sunlight. Like the iPhone, you can rotate the screen to view programs in landscape or portrait mode.
When flipped on its side, you can slide the touchscreen up to reveal its keyboard. Typing with your thumbs is extremely comfortable and the keyboard's tactile feedback makes it far easier to type than using the iPhone's virtual keyboard.
If you enjoy listening to music, you'll be pleased by the audio quality that comes out of its speaker in the back. You can play a variety of audio file formats including MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WAV, MIDI, M4A, and WMA. Rather than just listen to music, you can also watch your favorite music videos on YouTube, or any other type of video as well. The video quality is acceptable and even audio from YouTube videos is decent enough to hear for extended periods of time.
As you might expect, this phone links easily to Google so you can access your e-mail or contacts. Web browsing is fast with Google Maps providing traffic directions and street views. If you already depend on Google on your computer, you'll find this a natural extension of Google in a mobile phone. Of course, you can always configure this phone to work with other e-mail accounts beyond Gmail.
Ultimately, the T-Mobile G1 phone is a very good device that's like the missing evolutionary link between conventional mobile phones and the iPhone. If you're currently using a Palm, Windows Mobile, or Blackberry, you'll find the G1 familiar enough to use right away, but advanced enough with its touch screen that you'll feel like you're using the latest technology. However, if you're currently an iPhone user, switching to the G1 will feel like a minor step backwards. Beyond the superiority of the G1's tactile keyboard, this phone still retains the traditional multitude of buttons and on-screen menus that make the simplest mobile phone tasks a byzantine maze to navigate.
With an approximate 5 hour battery life, 3G and WiFi capabilities, and a 3.2-megapixel camera, the G1 is comparable or superior to most other phones. Compared to the iPhone, the G1 is still very good, but not in the same design class. As more manufacturers support Google's Android platform, you can expect slicker variations, but for now, the T-Mobile G1 phone is a version 1.0 contender that will hopefully only get better.