It has been a long while since speculation first began for a Google Phone. After all, it seemed like a natural order of events for a web-centric, ad based revenue company like Google to move on to the world of smartphones. But Google threw a curveball with Android, it wasn’t going to make a Google phone per se, it was going to make the operating system on which phones are based. Google is after all a software company.
Insert HTC and T-Mobile. HTC has much experience making smartphones and populates much of the smartphone market. Previously, they have been an unknown company that builds the phones while other companies re-brand and market them. This was the case for the T-Mobile G1. Originally determined to be the HTC Dream, T-Mobile decided to make it clear that the G1 was going to be the first Android device. Google One, anyone?
When the anticipation for the G1 and Android began to turn into a frenzy, T-Mobile launched an event that will soon become an important date in Android History. It showed off the first Android phone. What was shocking was that the G1 wasn’t a jaw-dropper; it didn’t blow anyone away. The design was understated, a throwback of sorts, but people still began to question if this was the right device to launch Android with.
Well, after our own initial doubts and the industry’s ribbing, after using the T-Mobile G1 for a week, we can say that the folks at Google, T-Mobile, and HTC got it right. This is a great phone to launch Android with. Is it perfect? Not yet. Is it any good? Definitely. Check out the rest of the review to see where it succeeds and where it can improve!
Read on for the rest of the review!
Look and Feel
We’ll be the first to admit that in product shots and pictures the T-Mobile G1 looks decidedly basic. In a world now filled with Bolds, iPhones, Storms, Touch Diamonds, and X1’s, the G1 simply cannot compete for design awards. It’s not flashy with chrome lining or unique backing—the T-Mobile G1 just isn’t as photogenic as you’d like.
In person, it’s a completely different story. The flat black color option is actually a breath of fresh air over the glossy, glossy, and more glossy choices these days. And the soft matte finish offers a certain amount of grippiness which makes the phone feel great in hand. It’s also a lot more compact than I thought with the whole phone being a tighter package than I had originally assumed. Plain as it is, it absolutely does not feel cheap—the build quality is solid and there is a certain amount of weight to it that heightens the overall feel.
Touchscreen, Trackball, “Chin” and Keyboard
The touchscreen of the T-Mobile G1 is great, it uses a capacitive screen (like the iPhone) so there is no need for a stylus. The 3.2 inch 320 x 480 screen is certainly big enough, bright enough, and responsive enough. Though it may trail the iPhone in terms of sensitivity—that’s being a bit nit picky—it’s most definitely in the top tier of touchscreen devices available. It is a bit of a let down in that it isn’t capable of multi-touch but we’re hearing that’s because Apple has a lock on multi-touch on cell phone devices rather than a hardware issue in the G1. The touchscreen isn’t made of glass, which isn’t that big of a deal considering the high-grade plastic works and responds just fine.
The ‘chin’ as it is affectionately being called has been under much scrutiny but trust us, it’s not as big or as pronounced as it looks in pictures. There are 4 dedicated buttons: dial, home, back, and end call/lock. There is also a trackball, which actually proves to be more useful than anticipated, and a Menu button that brings up the menu of whichever app you’re currently in. Like most phones, the end call button doubles as the power button, however in the G1 it also serves as a screen lock switch. This may prove confusing to those who are used to hitting the end call button to exit a program. The dedicated buttons are essentially flush with the chin panel but it didn’t detract from our user experience. In fact we preferred the design of making it seamless with the phone’s body.
The keyboard is accessed by way of sliding the screen, think Sidekick. The slide function of the phone is noticeably, well, harsh. It really snaps into place and though it may scare a few users at first, the slide mechanism is really solid. No worries on that front. The screen orientation changes instantly upon sliding the screen, rarely have I encountered a hiccup, if at all.
The full QWERTY keyboard is obviously going to be a huge pull for any potential user. Those who are still weary of soft, virtual keyboards should definitely consider the G1 because the keyboard really works. The five-line keyboard is well thought out, with most of the buttons maintaing a similar key layout to those of a regular computer keyboard. The keys are flush with the phone’s body so those expecting Blackberry-like buttons will be in for a surprise. But even without the added dimension of depth, the keys are generously spaced and offer enough room to type the next great American novel, or e-mail. There is also an option to program keyboard shortcuts, a great bonus that can be used for a quick launch of any application.
The keyboard does have its faults, but that is more due to the phone’s limitations than the keyboard’s buttons themselves. When the keyboard is exposed, the chin is awkwardly placed; your right hand has to reach over the chin to hit the right side of the keyboard. Granted, after time the ‘chin’ issue subsides but it does prove for some awkward hand positions until you find something more comfortable.
A second limitation is mostly an Android problem (for now), any text input needed on the phone is done via the keyboard, so you have to flip your phone horizontal, slide open the screen, and then type for even the most inane typing tasks. Friend cracks a joke on SMS? To type LOL back to him is at least a three-step process. Considering the highly responsive touchscreen, it is dumbfounding how Google didn’t include a soft, touchscreen keyboard option on the G1.
3G, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Luckily, T-Mobile’s sparse 3G Network is available in my area and well what do you know, it works as 3G should. My impression of the G1 was formed almost entirely under 3G and the T-Mobile Network actually delivered. Putting it in a quick eyeball, side-by-side test with other 3G devices such as the iPhone 3G and Blackberry Curve (on Verizon’s Ev-Do Network) it definitely held its own. Though the iPhone does win out more often than not, the difference isn’t vast. And with a better rollout of the T-Mobile 3G Network we’ll expect better performance and faster service in the near future.
GPS on the G1 was supposed to be another killer app, considering the inclusion of Street View and the much-hyped Compass Mode, and on some levels it succeeds. We can tell you that Google Maps works as well as it does on any other phone and that under our own testing, GPS was accurate and was quick to find your location. However, we should give a disclaimer that there was no large buildings or crowded cities where our GPS testing was done. Street View and Compass mode is a fairly new and unique feature to smartphones and we can say that when it’s under Wi-Fi it is flippin’ sweet and certainly a key “show off” feature for your friends. 3G performance is also noteworthy and though EDGE performance is admirable, the Street View feature under EDGE is almost unusable.
The Wi-Fi on the G1 is easy to use and seems to have good reception. I connected easily to multiple Wi-Fi access points. As an added bonus, if you download the HotSpot Connect App from the Android Market you’ll gain access to thousands of T-Mobile HotSpots across the nation. For free. Bluetooth is also easy to pair but be aware that there is no A2DP support and you can’t currently send files via Bluetooth.
I was actually very impressed with the call quality of the phone. Perhaps, it was due to T-Mobile’s 3G network but I found callers to be clear and pronounced with no digitizing whatsoever. Callers also preferred my voice on the G1 over that of the iPhone 3G. The G1 really succeeds at being a phone first and foremost, with the other features being an added bonus rather than the main draw.
I do have gripes with the screen turning dark after 10 seconds mid-call. To bring up the screen again you have to hit either the menu or dial key. This problem doesn’t seem like it can be solved since it lacks a proximity sensor and shutting off the screen does improve battery life.
Other than that, the phone works great. I definitely prefer making phone calls on the G1 over the iPhone and I think many people would find that to be the case too. Though T-Mobile is notorious in my area to have dead zones, when being able to place a call it works just fine.
Camera, Headphone Port, Indicator Light
The camera is passable at best. Though it is 3 megapixels and has auto focus, I didn’t really find it to be any way impressive. Those looking at the specs and wishing it could be a digital camera replacement should be aware of the camera’s deficiencies. You’ll be able to take decent shots under the most pristine lighting conditions but other than that, it’s just another cell phone camera that doesn’t quite push the feature any further.
The ExtUSB headphone port is a serious error in judgement on HTC’s part. Though it has proven to be the case with most HTC phones, the inclusion of such proprietary hardware in a consumer device can’t be ignored. I have a great set of earphones that can’t be used without an adapter, and who the heck wants to use an adapter anyways?
What I do love about the G1 is the subtle indicator light that notifies you of missed calls, e-mails, text messages, and IM. It flashes green when something is afoot and remains dark when there is nothing to be notified about. Blackberry users will find this a useful feature, though it may not be as piercing as the Blackberry indicator light, it works just the same.
I don’t know, maybe I put the G1 under too much stress—I left 3G on all the time and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth was on occasionally—but the battery life isn’t as great as I expected. In my testing, it even fails to equal testing with the iPhone 3G, a notorious battery hog. Luckily, the battery is removable so power users can still use the G1 as their daily driver.
Maybe it’s because of Gmail Push and the heavy usage I put on the G1 but if you’re going to use this device a lot, be sure to have either an extra charger, car charger, or extra battery around. To be sure, the battery life isn’t horrible—but don’t expect to go on a weekend trip without charging the G1.
In all, I still believe that the T-Mobile G1 is the perfect device to launch Android with because of its plethora of input options. If you don’t like using a touchscreen, navigating via trackball and keyboard works just fine. If you find using a trackball silly in this day and age, the touchscreen is highly responsive and works just as well. Soon you’ll even have the choice of a soft keyboard. The choices the G1 offers certainly matches the future of Android.
Though it surely won’t win any design awards, I still like the overall feel of the G1. It’s combination of just the right amount of weight and soft matte finish makes this a quality unit. It won’t be mistaken as a luxury item, but it gets the job done.
Finally, the T-Mobile G1 isn’t the next iPhone or the next Blackberry, but it is the first T-Mobile G1 and we really think that HTC, Google, and T-Mobile succeeded on that aspect. It comes off as highly approachable and fairly user friendly. To be honest, the main draw of the G1 won’t be the hardware. It’s the software, folks. It can stake claim as being the only Android device on the market, and if you believe in openness and have faith in Android’s roadmap, well, this is a great start.
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