[nextpage title=”Introduction”]Google, which has become a powerhouse in the search category, has developed a new cell phone operating system called Android, and T-Mobile’s G1 cell phone is the first piece of hardware that uses this new operating system. With both touch screen and built-in keyboard, the G1 is set to take on the Blackberry as well as the iPhone.
Geeks everywhere love the G1 because the Android operating system is based on open-source code rather than proprietary operating systems like Microsoft’s Windows Mobile or Apple’s iPhone. That means that anybody can make changes to the operating system without consulting or paying Google. Also, for the most part, anyone can write applications that run on the G-1. So we set out to find out if this is just a cell phone for techies to love, or if it a serious competitor in the smart phone segment of the market.
As shown in Figure 1, the G1 comes in a box labeled “T-Mobile’s G1 with Google.” The back of the phone, shown in Figure 2, is also labeled “with Google.” The side of the phone, shown later in Figure 7, carries the HTC logo. Although some call this the “Google” phone, these labels clarify that the phone is actually the T-Mobile G1 phone that runs the Google operating system. The hardware was designed and created by HTC, a company known for its quality cell phones. (Figure 2 also shows the microphone holes and the camera).
The G1 comes with a miniUSB charger AC charger, a USB to miniUSB cable for charging from a USB port, a getting started guide, a small Tips & tricks booklet, a small black case, and a stereo headset with a miniUSB end, as shown in Figure 3. The phone also comes with a 1GB microSD card which is not pictured. The headset has a miniUSB end because the G1 has no headset jack. The ear buds on the included headset are the round hard-type commonly included with iPods. They are, however, covered with a thin fabric to add a little comfort. We, however, still found them uncomfortable. Unfortunately, to use your own ear buds, you will need to purchase a special adapter.
[nextpage title=”The Hardware”]Designed by hardware manufacturer HTC, the G1 is sturdy and well-designed, but it looks more utilitarian than the slim and somewhat sexy iPhone. The G1 has some features not found in the iPhone, the most notable of which are the slide-out keyboard and the replaceable battery. These two items make the phone thicker and not as sleek-looking as the iPhone.
The G1 is a rectangular black phone (also available in white and bronze) that is 4.6 by 2.1 by 0.6 inches (117 x 53 x 15 mm). It has rounded corners. As shown in Figure 4, instead of being completely flat, the G1 has a slight bend at the bottom. While this makes it feel a little more telephone like when talking, it takes away from the sleekness of the phone.
Figure 4: Note the slight bend at the bottom of the phone.
As shown in Figure 5, the front of the G1 has a 3.2 inch, 320-by-480-pixel color touch screen display. Under the screen are five buttons plus a trackball. In the middle under the screen is the Menu button. Then left to right are the buttons are for accessing the phone system and/or accepting a call (when held down, this button will also bring up the voice calling), a Home screen button, a small scroll button, a button for going back to a previous screen, and a button for hanging up or turning the phone on and off. The Menu button is used to unlock the screen and to get additional choices for whatever is on the screen when it is pressed. For example if you press the home button when in the browser, you will get options to search, bookmark, refresh, and other web-related functions.
Figure 5: The front of the G1.
To make a choice of something on the screen you can either touch the screen or use the scroll button. Although very small, the scroll button is accurate and easy to use. We found ourselves using it often. Sometimes it is easier to use the touch screen; sometimes it is easier to use the scroll. We felt that having both options greatly enhanced the usability of the phone.The other thing that adds to the usability of the phone is the slide-out keyboard shown in Figure 6. When the keyboard is opened the screen automatically changes from the vertical to the horizontal position. The autorotation happens quickly and seamlessly. When in the horizontal position, the controls are still easily accessible. As you can also see in Figure 6, with the keyboard open, the buttons are positioned on the right. This may be better for a right-handed person, but most lefties will be able to adapt without much trouble.
Figure 6: The slide-out keyboard.
The keys are small but well spaced and comfortable for thumb typing. Unfortunately, the small key markings and the lack of contrast between the gray key color and the transparent letters, make them very difficult to read. Although the keys have some back-lighting, it is not enough to improve the clarity. In fact, the key lighting is very poor. You can see some lighting on the center horizontal row, but the top and bottom rows seem to have little or no lighting. If you can thumb type with looking you will be okay, but if you need to actually see the labels on the keys, you will want to find another phone. When compared to the nicely labeled and lighted keys on many Blackberries, this keyboard is really lacking.On the left side of the device you will find a volume control on the left, as shown in Figure 7. This isn’t just a master volume control, but it can change the sound level for the function you are using. Use it when in the music player and you can increase or decrease the volume of the music. When on a main screen, you can use the volume control to change the volume of the ringer. When on a call, use it to control the volume of the call. Each is changed independently, a very nice feature.Figure 7 also shows the opening for the microSD card on the right. When the card is inserted and the door closed, it is barely visible. In fact, when we first received the unit, it took us some serious inspection to find the place to insert the card. Neither the camera or the music player will wor
k without a card installed. The G1 will handle microSD cards up to 8GB.
Figure 7: The left side of the G1.
The bottom of the G1 has a small hole for the microphone is and the miniUSB port for charging the unit or attaching headphones. The port is covered by a plastic cover that remains attached to the phone so you don’t lose it.
[nextpage title=”Using the G1″]When you start using the G1, you realize how tied to Google the software is because the first thing you are asked to do is to enter your Google account name and password. If you use Gmail, the Google calendar, Google Talk, Google Maps, You Tube and other Google services, you will be thrilled to find that simply entering your username and password sets everything up for you. All the Google services work seamlessly and are easy to use on the phone. We were impressed to find that we could even see and control all our multiple Google calendars. The G1 phone only synchronized with the Google calendar, but if you use Outlook, you can easily install a free Google program on your computer that will automatically keep your Outlook calendar in synch with your Google calendar so you can continue to use Outlook at your PC and the Google calendar on your G1 phone.If you don’t use the Google services, you can still access POP3 and IMAP mail accounts. There is, however, no support for Exchange email support making this more a phone for the consumer than for enterprise. The G1 phone is completely Web centric. There is nothing to synch with your PC, everything comes down over the Web. The G1 uses the T-Mobile G3 network, which is not yet as widespread as the AT&T G3 network, but using the slower T-Mobile network was still workable. The phone also has built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Since you can use the T-Mobile hot spots for Wi-Fi access, there is usually a hot spot nearby that you can jump onto.The G1’s functions quite well as a phone. The call clarity is excellent both sending and receiving. Not only can you use the touch screen or keyboard for making calls, but there is also a Voice Dialer that allows you to say the name of the party to initiate the call. This is something lacking in the iPhone. Bluetooth pairing and use works well as does the speakerphone which is loud and clear.
There are 3 home screens to work with. The main on in the middle has a clock, and icons for a Dialer, Contacts, Browser, and Maps by default. From this main home page, you can swipe your finger in either direction to get to the two secondary home pages. You can add icons for applications to any of the three pages and move them around on the page. Unfortunately, each desktop page is separate; you cannot drag icons from page to page as you would on an iPhone.The main home page is shown in Figure 8. You will see a small tab at the bottom of the page. Dragging that tab up with your finger will reveal all of your application choices, as shown in Figure 9. Pressing and holding your finger on any of these icons will copy them to the page of the desktop you are on when you make this choice. You can move any desktop icon by holding your finger on it for a few seconds and dragging it to wherever you want on that page. Holding your finger on any icon for a few seconds will also bring up the trash can which you can press if you want to delete the icon.
Figure 9: The application choices.
The applications screen shows only 16 icons at a time, but you can scroll up and down with the scroll button or your finger. The applications are listed in alphabetical order and we didn’t find any way to reorganize them any differently.
Another cool feature of the G1 is the notification bar. This can be accessed by pressing the information bar at the top of the screen and dragging your finger in a downward movement. When you pull down the notification bar you can see everything that is current on your phone including your appointments, how many email you have unread, the download status of applications, and much more.Web surfing on the G1 is a pleasant experience. You cannot pinch and/or spread your fingers to decrease or increase the size of the webpage as you can on the iPhone. Instead you have to use the + and – icons that appear at the bottom of the screen. The keyboard makes surfing a little easier than using an onscreen keyboard. The G1 also has a keyboard button to the left of the space bar that brings up Google. If you are a dedicated Google user, you will find this very useful. The Search key can also be used in conjunction with other keys as shortcuts to other applications. For instance pressing the Search key and the b key will take you directly to the browser.
The 3.2-megapixel camera is surprisingly good. It is also quite useful thanks to a dedicated camera control button on the right side of the device, shown in Figure 10. The phone has MMS so that you can send pictures to other phones without using email. MMS is a feature lacking in the iPhone, but the iPhone can record video while the G1 does not. Also the G1 has no video playing capabilities, a function that we enjoy on some other phones.
Figure 10: The right side of the G1.
The place to go for Google applications is called the Android Market. You just click on the Market icon and download applications directly to your phone. Like the iPhone App Store, there are hundreds of applications. Many of these add to the phone functionality. Many increase productivity, and many are just for fun. The Marketplace is even more fun than the Apple App Store because everything is free.Playing music on the G1 is easy. You can download music directly from Amazon’s MP3 store or you can move the music to your SD card and insert it into the phone. Unfortunately, the G1 does not offer native podcast subscription and download support. You can add books or podcasts to your SD card and play them on the phone, but the G1 will not save your place in a podcast or audio book. We would like to see this functionality added.Email works well on the G1. Everything is readable and the cut and paste function is very useful. You can view Microsoft Word and Excel documents, but you can’t edit them. Instant Messaging on the G1 with Google Talk is wonderful. It runs in the background so you can get an IM at anytime and be notified with a little sound or a vibration. The IM also supports AIM, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger.As we used the G1, we found more and more truly useful functionality. The Google mapping on the G1 uses the built-in GPS. Perhaps one of the built-in functions that we found the most fun was the ability to set any song in your phone as a ringtone with one menu choice.Although we loved some of the G1’s features, in two weeks of testing we didn’t have a day when the battery made it through the entire day. Even when getting only light use, the battery drains quickly. You can adjust the br
ightness and turn off the Wi-Fi and some other functionality to try to make the battery last longer, but we found it a futile effort. Even when we didn’t use the phone for calls, just an hour or two hours of accessing the Marketplace and using the applications, brought the G1’s battery down dramatically. If you truly want to make use of all the phone’s functionality you will find yourself tied to a charging cable.
T-Mobile G1 Smartphone main specifications are:
- Service provider: T-Mobile
- Touch screen: 3.2 inches, 320×480, 65k-color capacitive TFT LCD
- Camera: 3.2 MP
- Music player
- Operating system: Google Android
- Network: GSM, UMTS
- Bands: 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 1700
- High-Speed Data: GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA
- More Information: https://www.t-mobileg1.com
- Suggested Retail Price in the US: USD 179.00
[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]Like many other smart phones, the G1 is truly a PC in your pocket. As the first of what will probably be many other phones using Google’s Android operating system, it is both interesting and useful. Overall, it is easy to use. Much easier than smart phones we’ve seen that use the Windows Mobile operating system. The phone has great integration with Google services which will be a boon to anyone who is comfortable using the Google calendar, G-mail, and other Google applications. Much of the functionality like phone calling, web browsing, IM, and picture taking are very good.
Since there is no support for Microsoft Exchange, the G1 will not be useful to many enterprise users, so it won’t have much impact on Blackberry users.
The phone is not as sleek as the iPhone, but it is just as useful except for two large flaws. The keyboard is poorly marked and the battery life is terrible. Both of these shortcomings will be deal-breakers for many.
- Sturdy build
- Good telephone call quality
- Three ways to input choices and information: touch screen, keyboard, and scroll button
- Excellent Instant Messaging with Google Talk, Windows Live, AOL and Yahoo Messenger
- Excellent free marketplace for additional applications
- Very responsive to the touch as well as to auto rotation
- Replaceable battery
- One Volume control for different items
- MMS support
- Cut and paste support
- Voice calling
- Good picture quality
- Poor battery life
- Poorly marked keyboard
- No Microsoft Exchange e-mail connectivity
- Nonstandard headphone jack
- No video player
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