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A look back at Sooner, Google's first Android phone

HTC Sooner
HTC Sooner

Android as an operating system has changed dramatically since it was first acquired by Google in 2005, and along with it so has the phone hardware that it runs on. Every Android fan knows about the T-Mobile G1 (aka the HTC Dream) as the first Android-powered phone made available to consumers, but before that milestone was this, the "Sooner."

Sooner was Google and Andy Rubin's first vision of what an Android phone would be. It was built as an engineering prototype for testing the first builds of consumer-facing Android in conjunction with HTC starting in 2006, and come 2007 T-Mobile got on board as a testing partner.

As is plain to see, Sooner followed the then-modern ideas of what a smartphone should look like, with a blocky design, small non-touch screen, dedicated calling keys, menu/back/home navigational buttons, and a big focus on communication. The screen had a 320-by-240 resolution, it had a whopping 64MB of RAM and offered a GPRS data connection. And, yes, it had a camera (just 1.3MP), a removable battery, and even an SD card slot.

Even though the Sooner hardware was finalized, the software was regularly in flux.

Even when the Sooner hardware was finalized, the software remained regularly in flux. Google was trying new things with Android, trying to figure out what worked best for the full experience on Sooner. Though the OS is hardly recognizable even compared to the likes of Android Jelly Bean, lots of the tentpole features were there — a unified notification center, Google Talk, Google search, a full web browser, YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps and more all ran on Sooner.

In fact, I was able to pop a SIM in a Sooner and watch it still run today — receiving text messages, making searches on Google and checking out calendar entries from back in 2007.

Google saw the smartphone world start to turn in 2007 and 2008, and while Android development continued on Sooner it was never slated for a consumer launch. While Sooner was still in the pockets of Android engineers development was already well under way with the T-Mobile G1 / HTC Dream, which as we know was a dramatically more advanced device than Sooner. Android moved to a touch-first interface — though it kept the keyboard available — and internal components improved significantly for the time.

"Sooner was the 'tip of the Android iceberg.'"

T-Mobile's Des Smith remembers Sooner as a key milestone in Android's transition from an idea to a physical product:

"This was a time of great excitement for us," Smith said. "Sooner was the tip of the Android iceberg. It was the first thing I had "seen" Android running on. Up until the Sooner, Android was an idea, a concept, and this was the first physical example of Android out in the world — even though it was still a secret.

"The Sooner was never meant for public viewing, but when we saw it, I knew Android was for real and it would come to the rest of the world!"

Though it wasn't slated for public consumption, Sooner was an incredibly important device in the development of Android. Lessons learned with Sooner and then Dream helped kickstart Android into the global operating system used by more than a billion devices today.

NOW READ: Android History

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

43 Comments
  • My first Android phone was technically the Motorola Backflip but returned that in 5 days and bought the Nexus One. I STILL miss that phone. One of the greatest phones I've ever owned. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I still keep my Nexus One as a reminder of how far Android has gone. I keep tossing around the idea of throwing my SIM card into it and using it as my phone for a day. :-)
  • I was on Sprint, so mine was a Samsung Moment... *SOB* I still have the thing as a testament to how far we've come. I even booted it up a few months ago to remind myself how shitty the hardware was.
  • I had the moment as well. It had a pretty awesome camera for 3.1 megapixels or whatever it was. The only problem is that I kept having problems with it. After replacing it like 4 times Sprint finally gave me a HTC Hero, which was slow but otherwise really awesome.
  • This design was supposed to be a blackberry clone. But after Eric Schmidt was shown the iphone, as a board member at Apple, he asked the team to clone the iphone instead. And thus Android was born.
  • If Google would have stayed on Apple's board... Smart move Posted via the Android Central App
  • But the first commercial Android handset looks nothing like an iPhone clone Posted via the Android Central App
  • Looks like a blackberry
  • A gross over-simplification of the situation.
  • Are you dizzy from all that spinning?
  • 1. Do you think that Google should have retained the Blackberry design? Or was adopting a new, better design the right thing to do? 2. Copying Apple is wrong but copying Blackberry is fine? If so, why? 3. If what you say is true, why did Apple never sue Google, even when Steve Jobs was still alive? Apple went after Google's OEM partners to try to intimidate them from selling Android devices and to try to make it unprofitable (with either lawsuits or crushing license terms that they are unwilling to pay themselves ... see the lawsuits against Apple by the University of Wisconsin and Qualcomm for example) with Microsoft to join in on the act later (with negative results for poor HTC, who thanks to court costs and licensing fees to Apple and Microsoft because they could not afford to fight it out in court like Samsung, now cannot turn a profit) instead. Why is that? 4. Going back to #1 ... Apple adopts superior tech and designs for their products ALL THE TIME. Why is it OK for Apple to adopt designs from other companies but not other companies to adopt Apple's designs? Finally, Apple owes Android a lot more than you are willing to acknowledge. It is because of Android's market penetration that smartphones are now the main computing platform worldwide. Before, personal computers (whether desktop or laptop) were, and that market was ruled by Microsoft with an iron fist. Even now, after years of Windows PC sales dropping and Apple sales rising, Apple only has 15% market share. If Apple had the smartphone monopoly that its fans so desperately desire, smartphone usage would be less than half what it is in America and only a fraction worldwide (in many countries Android has like 80% marketshare). That would make Microsoft the dominant player on the dominant computing platform. As it is, Apple is the most profitable, powerful and influential player on what is - thanks to Android - the dominant computing platform. Also, had Android not blocked Microsoft, their cheaper iPhone alternatives would have caught on long ago, which means that Microsoft would have the biggest market share in personal computers AND mobile devices, and would have used their market leadership position to freeze Apple out, especially in the enterprise. Bottom line: even if Eric Schmidt did commit an ethical and legal misdeed as Apple fan(boys) claim, Apple turned out to be the biggest beneficiary of it. Especially since if it weren't for Android, iPhones would still have 3.5' screens and lack many vital operating systems and hardware features that actually make the devices practical and fun.
  • First Apple went after Samsung because it's first phone looked identical to the iPhone's shape design and home button. No other Android smartphone has a phone button except Samsung. Whatever Apple does Samsung copys! - orginal iPhone design and home button
    - finger print scanner from 5s
    - gold and silver colors from 5s
    - Samsung Pay from Apple Pay
    - Samsung comes out with 4.7 inch screen when they heard Apple was releasing the size
    - Apple comes out with 6 and 6 plus Samsung comes out with s6 and s6 edge plus
    - s6 body and design looks pretty identical to apples 6 phones.
    - Apple's 6s 4 colors will probably be copied on the Samsung's new s7 phones Secondly, Samsung introduced the bigger screen phones no the market not Android. I believe from the note 1 or 2. Apple didn't immediately copy that idea. Took years bef they decided because it was becoming the trend with all the other phone manufacturers. 10 Features Samsung Galaxy S6 Copied From Apple iPhone 6 http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nGkoNhQ41iI Apple is not innocent they also copy /borrow but they do it discreetly but improve on it. Unlike Samsung, just copies in such a obvious way with no shame!!! Posted via Android Central App
  • Google Wallet was the first tap'n'pay thing, not Apple Pay.
  • 1. We are talking about Google, not Samsung. 2. You are lying. Samsung Pay is different, superior tech from Apple Pay, which itself was a copy of Google Wallet released way back in 2011. 3. Motorola and several other smartphone companies had fingerprint scanners long before the 5s 4. The claim that Samsung came out with a 4.7' screen when they heard that Apple was coming out with the size is a lie. Apple claimed that big screens were gimmicks and too big FOR YEARS. It wasn't until the Galaxy S outsold the iPhone 4 that Apple even considered making larger screens. Which is why the iPhone 5 went from 3.5' to 4' and the iPhone 6 finally adopted the modern smartphone standard (set by Android) of 4.7'. 5. "Secondly, Samsung introduced the bigger screen phones no the market not Android." Excuse me, but Samsung is the biggest seller of Android devices and WAS a key Google OEM partner at the time (before Samsung ruined that relationship, causing Google to move on with LG, Asus and now Huawei). Second, the Galaxy S2 had a 4.3' screen, much bigger than the 3.5' screen of the iPhone 3, 4 and 4s, before the Note 1 even launched with a 5.3' screen. Another thing: HTC released FOUR PHONES with 4.3' screens in 2010, MONTHS before the Galaxy S2. LG and several Chinese manufacturers were also making bigger phones back then. "Apple is not innocent they also copy /borrow but they do it discreetly but improve on it." Because you say so. Many of the features that Apple borrows from Android are clearly inferior implementations, especially the OS features and the services (because Apple stinks at software, even when they resort to acqui-hiring to get better). And what was so "discreet" about releasing iPhones that were EXACTLY THE SAME SIZE as the Android phones that were taking away so much market share from the iPhone? Apple went with 4.7' and 5.5', the exact same size as the small/big phones from LG, HTC, Xiaomi, Samsung etc. Except Apple was unable to make those big phones without HUGE BEZELS and BENDING PROBLEMS. Sorry fanboy. If it wasn't for Google and Samsung, Windows Phone would have surpassed Apple in market share years ago. And that would be worse for everyone because Windows Phones are spartan devices, meaning that they wouldn't have all those nice hardware and software features for Apple to rip off to make your precious iPhones a lot better.
  • You don't really have a good grasp of history do you? Many of the older Android phones had physical buttons. The HTC Hero springs to mind. Even today, Meizu also has a physical button. Some people LIKE the button. (I do, for one, although I don't have a phone with it anymore) Secondly, HTC introduced the bigger screen phones with the EVO. That 4.3" screen changed everything. But if you want to talk about phablets, that was Samsung. Strange how you bash them for "copying Apple" on one hand, and then turn around and bash them for doing something unique on the other. Your hatred is strong.
  • I believe this photo just about sums up Apple's theory on innovation: https://i.imgur.com/FTBUEXF.png
  • Your wrong. the iPhone wasn't a runaway hit till the carriers subsidized the price. Starting with the 3gs. So I take it its just an oversight not mentioning Steve's jobs famous meeting with Eric smidt outside a cafe, where jobs rips a him a new asshole for stealing Apple's wireless phone plans and betraying his trust? (Remember the whole thermonuclear rant?...it wasn't about making fission with google) I was really hoping to read how AC would skew this tid bit. But I guess if its not flattering to Androids history it just gets deleted from Android history. Also I distinctly remember ios having copy and paste like 2 years before Android, but this "history" claims the g1 had it when no other phone did. Other than the whitewashing and minor history revisions this is an interesting story. OK job AC! Posted via the Android Central App
  • iPhone didn't get copy and paste until it's third version so you distinctly remember incorrectly.
  • So... the biggest asshole in tech thinks that someone else is "stealing his tech ideas" and you immediately buy his side of it? Screw Jobs. He was the Thomas Edison of our time. And no, that's not a compliment.
  • 1
    when was this posted??
    2
    because apple probably patented more things than BlackBerry
    or the BlackBerry design was cheaper buy rights to at the time
    there are several reasons why
    3
    because google probably bought some rights to copy the touch screen design
    4
    first part is wrong
    apple back then was the new hit thing
    but now apple rips off people right and left by making a new phone every year and changing 1 maby 2 things to the new design then charging over $100.00 more than last years iphone
    apple is just now coming out with live wallpaper, wireless charging, bigger screens and more crack resistance screens
  • First sentence is misleading, in 2005 Google acquired startup called Android inc . Android was the name on the startup.
    Android (mobile os) was just an idea in that time . Posted via the Android Central App
  • My first Android was the HTC Hero on sprint, I had the iphone 3G(jailbroken), made the switch because I was tired of apples constraints! never looked back.
  • That phone kicked ass. And so did that little trackball. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Man I wish I had done that. I wanted the keyboard, so I got the Moment instead... Ugh.
  • I still own my Nexus One. It currently sits rapped up back in the original box. I can't bring myself to toss it. This was my first ever Smartphone.
  • I got kitkat on mine. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • If I have some free time, I want to port KitKat into mine as well.
  • don't get rid of it, I regret ever selling my G1. Every time I watch a Google keynote, I always remember when at a family gathering, I sat with 2 of my brother in-laws, one with an iPhone the other with a blackberry storm, and they both laughed at my G1 naming it the "step child"..lol and look at how things work out
  • T-Mobile G1 baybee the original! One of my favorites tho was probably the HTC G2 from T-Mobile...I still miss that phone.
  • And now Blackberry is launching the Priv. It all comes full circle. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Oklahoma Sooners!!!!! Dam It Feels Good To Be A Google Gangster
  • Still sucks. \m/ Hook Em' Posted via the Android Central App
  • Boomer Sooner!!!! Dam It Feels Good To Be A Google Gangster
  • Actually makes it really hard to make Google searches for "Sooner" :P
  • Got hooked by a goofy Nokia (round dial 3650) that could take a SD card and play music. Then came the Pocket PC block with a stylus, then on to the blackberry 7250, pearl, Nokia E61, Curve, Galaxy, Photon, LG, ZTE, LG. My first cell was a Startac...Analog Startac...
  • I had an analog Startac! It was my second phone. First was an Ericsson AH210. My journey with Android started with the OG Droid. Couldn't get a G1 on Verizon, and Tmobile was a step below useless where I live.........I had a Blackberry Storm before the OG. What a pile of crap that phone was. Actually, I think I still have it.
  • You know why Android had unresponsive touch or touch lag? Because the code was developped for interaction for a trackpad. They adapted the code for an actual touch interface thus the lag was born.
    But Android started out as a very garbage bin OS and still has a feeling of that DNA in it. Funfact.
    It's much more different now.
  • I really don't know where you're going with this comment? I'm pretty sure any computer OS has been a buggy garbage bin at one time. Lag is nothing any OS has ever thus far been able to avoid, considering there are apps that consume more processing power than current process chips can handle. Posted via the Android Central App on the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
  • wth? i posted a comment earlier and now its gone? this phone reminds me of my moto q9m
  • I still have my G1 and the original Nexus one. Both manufactured by HTC. As with all of my devices they are both in excellent condition.!!! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Personally I think this original reference platform was simply a variation of an existing HTC model - the HTC/T-Mobile Dash. http://www.gsmarena.com/t_mobile_dash-2580.php Kermit Woodall
  • Hadn't realised how much the BlackBerry Q5 looks like the Sooner!
  • I love how this history completely glosses over the "oh shit we have to completely start over" moment that happened in January 2007. LOL!