T-Mobile's G2

The T-Mobile G2 is the latest Android smartphone to hit the nation's fourth-largest carrier, and is billed as the successor to the venerable G1.  It goes beyond that though, as this one is a quantum leap, both in the hardware department and software side, from anything we've seen from T-Mobile before.  Hit the break for our complete review.

Reviewing the G2 was a breeze, partially because I haven't put it down since I got it, but also  because the things it gets right are really right, and what it doesn't get right is in your face without looking hard for it.

YouTube link for mobile viewing

So what's readily apparent here?  First off, this thing is fast.  It zips around between homescreens, the app drawer flies like a slot machine, and applications load up darn near instantly.  And it should be.  Imagine the uproar if the next high-end Android phone to roll out was slow and kludgy compared to the current crop of devices.  And it does this all running the base stock software as shipped from T-Mobile.  If and when the hackmasters get this one figured out, using one will probably be an experience we haven't seen yet on any Android phone.  I know that many of you don't care as much about real-world results as you do about benchmark numbers, so I went through and ran the standard gamut of benchmarks that are available to anyone with access to the Market

YouTube link for mobile viewing

There's nothing not to like here, and hopefully other carriers follow suit and a model of the Vision will join the ranks of the G2, Desire Z, and Merge on their shelves as well.

The Hardware

The G2 feels great in your hand.  It's made from a Teflon-coated plastic, with brushed aluminum accents, bezel, and battery door.  The controls are all solid, with no wiggly buttons, and on my unit the Z-hinge is good and tight.  That being said, there are some things I wish were different.  I'm really concerned with the placement of the USB port.  It's wide open, and in a spot where dirt and grime will likely get pushed into it.  I don't abuse my electronics, but I don't like to baby them either.  I'm hoping that HTC or a third party comes up with a case that covers the port under a flap.

I'm also not very pleased with the speaker.  Sounds are tinny and high-pitched, and forget using the speakerphone anywhere that's not dead quiet, because the playback is just not loud enough.  It's not a matter of the grill cutout in the battery door; it's the same with it on or off.  Having said that, the call quality while using the earpiece or a Bluetooth headset is just fine.  It's not excellent like the original Droid or Nexus One, but it's more than passable, and callers didn't have any issue hearing or understanding me.  That is, when it works.  More on that in a bit.

G2 overview  G2 opened

G2 top view  G2 bottom view

camera button  USB port

The trackpad  camera and flash

Inside, the G2 is a beauty as well.  It doesn't run hot (even while tethered to a computer), it has the processor to keep things snappy, and is by far the easiest Android device on battery life I've used.  The full monty:

  • 800 MHz Qualcomm MSM 7230
  • Android 2.2
  • 4GB ROM, 512 MB RAM (1.9 GB available for application storage)
  • Radio: 850, 900, 1800 and 1900MHz. Plus UMTS
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS/aGPS
  • 3.7-inch WVGA 480x 800 resolution, capacitive touchscreen
  • 5-megapixel color camera with autofocus and flash
  • 1300 mAh battery

But there are some things that aren't so good, and they all center around the radio.  Now I'm nowhere close to HSPA+, but I'm just a hop, skip, and a jump from rock solid T-Mobile 3G data -- unless I'm using the G2.  What I first assumed were provisioning errors (i.e. not having T-Mobile's "Android data" package on my account) didn't get any better once I had that checked into.

It seems like all signal will randomly drop to the big X zone.  I could almost understand when it was happening in my basement dungeon, but not in the park beside two other T-Mobile phones getting steady and solid signal.  Even in my favorite chair by the window, where I can get a steady 3G data signal with the Nexus One, the G2 bounces between EDGE, edge, and nothing.  Once I go outside, and get my 3G, it seems steady -- until I get the signal drop and have to toggle Airplane mode to fix it.

And I'm not alone in this.

Hopefully this will be addressed soon, as it really ruins the experience.  On the plus side I can always use the hotspot on my Evo to fix things when and if T-Mobile ever unleashes that WiFi calling we've been hearing about. 

The Software

Look out Verizon and Sprint, T-Mobile has a new strategy to take the crown in the software bloat category, and I'm calling it "GoogleBloat."  Beside the few pieces of T-Mobileware you'd expect (My Account, My Device, Web2go) it seems like every piece of software Google has ever written for Android comes pre-installed on the darn thing.  See the list for yourself:

Google bloat

I'll be the first to admit that all of these are good, useful applications.  Heck, I'd likely install most of them anyway -- most of them.  What I take issue with is that they're baked into the OS, and you're stuck with them.  Maybe if they were stubs and didn't take up 100MB or so of my precious app storage I could overlook it, but they aren't, and I can't.  Just because it's Google Sky Map and Google Shopper and not V-Cast or Nascar doesn't make it any better in my opinion.  Another issue this causes is when it's time to update these apps.  If you can update them, that is.  Everyone with a G2 has an update for Google Goggles sitting, ready to be installed, but can't update it because the Market version is signed with a different development key than the version on the G2.  I've had other issues that required a manual checkin or reboot to upgrade some other Google applications, too.  Is this a minor thing? Yes, because the installed apps still work just fine, but I want more from a company as big as Google.  A special mention goes to the Photobucket mobile app.  It seems to spring up in your face, asking you to sign in or sign up with no provocation, and getting it uninstalled would be my number one priority should the G2 ever get a proper root.

The rest of the software is great.  It's basically stock bone-vanilla Froyo, with two extra homescreens, utilities for the physical keyboard, and tethering stripped out.  It's fast, it's relatively bug free, and what we've all been asking for during the current onslaught of blurs and wizzes.  It's Android in it's pure form, and I love it.

The Camera

Here's more proof that megapixels do not equal better quality.  The 5MP shooter in the G2 looks, feels and acts just like the one in the Nexus One, and in semi capable hands turns out pictures that you're not ashamed of.  The video camera shoots in six different resolutions from HD (720p) down to low quality 3gp files for MMS'ing to your friends. Here's an example at "standard" resolution, which is what most of us will use, as the G2 is no replacement for even the cheapest HD camcorder. 

YouTube link for mobile viewing

Like I said, it's acceptable.  For sending videos of the kids to Grandma, or dropping a quick video on YouTube it's just fine, but you'll never want to use it to film a masterpiece.  For the record, here's the setting for the above:

Camcorder settings

If you really feel the need to have footage that's just as grainy, only bigger and at a larger file size, by all means use the HD resolution.  You'll switch back.

Stills, on the other hand, turn out fairly nice as long as you have adequate light.  Like all other cellphone cameras, the flash just doesn't cut it as the sole light source, and often causes more harm than good.

Staged shot with G2 camera  Outdoors in the shade

Indoors with flash  Rust never sleeps

BOO  stained glass light

The root dilemma

No discussion of the G2 would be complete without talking about the elephant in the room.  Whether it's accidental (as some well known Android wizards seem to think), malicious (like policy think-tanks with agendas might think), or in the best interests of the end user (like T-Mobile wants us to think), the fact remains that this one might never get fully cracked open.  I'm sure that all the right people are hard at work at it, and I wish them the best, but for now we all have to go with the assumption that it ain't gonna happen.  That kills a tiny bit of my insides, as it ruins the phone for me.  Sure, there's no need to root it so it gets faster, and T-Mobile might be offering up tethering and WiFi calling, but locked is locked, whether it be hardware bootloaders or software NAND controllers.  I wouldn't blame anyone who decided against the G2 because of this issue, and I'll be up front -- mine's going back, and only because of this. 

On the other hand, if you have no desire to monkey around with the operating system and are happy with it as it stands, I can't knock you for that either.  It's a hell of a phone even locked down, much like the Droid X is.  It's just not the phone for a natural-born tinkerer like myself.  Cheer me for it, or sneer at me for it, it is what it is.  If it turns out to not have been locked up on purpose, and does get cracked open, I know where the T-Mobile store is to get another one, and I certainly will!

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