T-Mobile G1 review
We review the T-Mobile G1, the first Android-based smartphone from Google
Verdict: With its on-board app store and open source operating system, Google’s Android on the G1 heralds greater things to come
Pros: Finger friendly, on-board app store, superb screen
Cons: miniUSB headset slot, average battery life, awkward keyboard
Google’s first Android-based mobile phone, the G1, is exclusively available from T-Mobile. Google aims to offer a new approach to smartphone operating systems, adding itself into a mix that includes Windows Mobile, S60 on (almost exclusively) handsets from Nokia, the burgeoning list of phones from the likes of LG and Samsung, and, of course, Apple’s iPhone.
The G1 is a 3G handset with HSDPA, GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi. There is a 3.2 megapixel camera, though there is no front camera for two-way video calls.
Made by HTC, the G1 is not the stunning piece of hardware it could have been. Its weight, at a massive 158g makes it something of a beast for the pocket and it's a bit of a chunky device for the hand. At 118mm x 56mm x 17mm there are other smartphones which rival it for size, though. The key reason for the bloated casing is that under the screen there is a keyboard.
To get to the keyboard you turn the G1 on its side and push the keyboard so that it swings out and upwards. The keyboard is a full QWERTY with a separate number row. It is not the best designed we’ve ever used, but not the worst, either. The keys are individually separated which helps with accuracy. But because only the screen moves away to reveal the keyboard you are left with part of the front fascia in situ and have to reach over this with your right thumb to hit keys. It feels a bit awkward and off-centre at first and if you have short fingers it could prove a long-term irritation.
A characteristic of the design of the G1 is a slightly curved section below the screen. Does this bring the microphone closer to your ear? Does it stop the screen scratching when you put the phone face down on a table? Well, yes on both counts, but we aren’t sure these factors alone are justification. Either way, the curve is distinctive and doesn’t detract from usability. This area houses five buttons and a miniature trackball. That trackball seems a bit like overkill considering there is a touchscreen, but we did actually find it useful at times and it is nice to have the option.
The buttons cater for Call, End and on/off, Home and back. These are standard fare for a smartphone. An additional button, labelled Menu, is more interesting. This brings up a different menu depending on what application you are using at the time.
No headset jack
One very big disappointment is the absence of a 3.5mm headset jack. Instead the earphones share the miniUSB connector that is also used by mains power. It seems bizarre that such a consumer-focused, multimedia rich handset should not have a 3.5mm connector. But there you go. And even more annoyingly, the supplied headset is one piece so you can’t plug your favourite 3.5mm headset into it.
The screen is superb. It measures 3.2 inches across diagonal corners and its capacitive design makes it very responsive indeed to finger tapping. It has a 320 x 480 resolution which is quite high for a smartphone. Importantly, the user interface has been designed with touch in mind, just as the interface on the iPhone has, so there is no need to resort to a stylus for getting to small icons (as you do with Windows Mobile, for example).
Android operating system
Android is very well thought through as an operating system. There are three home screens, between which you move by sweeping a finger. It is easy to put applications onto any of these three screens by dragging out a tab on which they appear as icons and then dragging them onto the screen.
Android is an open source operating system but it is very tied in to Google’s software family. So, for example, Google Maps is present and very well integrated, while Google Talk is the IM application of choice and YouTube support is integrated (Google owns YouTube).
Mobile email is, of course, predicated towards Google Mail. In fact when you switch the G1 on for the first time it asks you to log in, and then it downloads your contacts over the air and the phone is ready to go. You can add other email accounts manually, however, the G1 does not support Microsoft Exchange. That will matter to those who want to synchronise work emails on their smartphones as the chances are it won’t be possible. Personal email is fine, though.
The open source nature of Android means that there is plenty of scope for software developers. And emulating Apple, the G1 includes an app store on the device so you can peruse the library of available programmes and download them directly to the handset.
The G1 isn’t perfect. There are some iffy aspects to the hardware and Android needs some polishing in places. Battery life is also a bit short. But as a first attempt it is passable, and we expect great things from Google in the future.