Google's IPhone Killer
Now that we early reviewers are free to talk about our T-Mobile G1, you should expect to see G1 referred to as the "iPhone killer." G1 is a killer, all right, but imitating iPhone was the farthest thing from the minds of the Google and open source developers that pulled Android, G1's unique operating system and GUI, together. G1 was a consumer-oriented product from the word go.
Still, a shell prompt from a cell phone can reduce a geek to giggles, and T-Mobile G1, coupled with the Android SDK, signals early Christmas for all of nerd-dom, as evidenced by the fact that the first run of 1.5 million units sold out before the device hit the streets. It turns out that there is a very good reason that T-Mobile G1 is so well received. It is an exceptional, extensible phone with enough consumer and professional appeal to take it past entry-level BlackBerry, and at a starting, subsidized price that's nearly $120 less than iPhone, T-Mobile G1 will give iPhone 3G a serious run for its money. It cannot be said that T-Mobile G1 is all that iPhone is; G1 carves out its niche by being most of what iPhone isn't.
[ Howdoes G1 stack up against iPhone? See Tom Yager's review of iPhone 3G. See also " Why iPhone won't yet rule the roost in the enterprise" and " How to make the new iPhone work at work." ]
When the swivel-out QWERTY keyboard is tucked away, T-Mobile G1 feels great in your hand, like a proper phone rather than a PDA. A grippy plastic keeps the device from sliding around, and a sloping "shelf" near the bottom puts the mic where your mouth is.
The touch-sensitive display (but not stylus-sensitive, one of my gripes) is generous, sharp, and unlike iPhone, consistently put to use in portrait and landscape modes. Swinging out the concealed QWERTY tray reveals a spacious keyboard, and flips the display's orientation from portrait to landscape. The keys are widely-spaced and there's even a row of numeric keys. Swinging the keyboard back to its concealed position, which uses a nice stiff spring rather than a clumsy latch, flips the display from tall to wide, along with the currently visible application. With iPhone, the orientation switch relies on the position-sensing accelerometer, and the effect is primarily limited to the Safari browser. All of Google's standard apps flip to landscape when the keyboard comes out, lending a welcome consistency to the UI.
Like Windows Mobile devices made by handset manufacturer HTC, T-Mobile G1's build quality is strictly middle of the road. After a little less than a week of use, the display sinks on moderate finger pressure, giving out a barely perceptible creak that is also present when the device is squeezed, but squeezing or mashing on the phone is rarely necessary in normal use. It's the kind of thing a reviewer would do.
Users will notice T-Mobile G1's greatest hardware flaw, the hard to read keyboard. Gray keycap legends on silver keys force those of us without perfect vision to find the brightest spot in the room. The keyboard is backlit, but very dimly and only for a few seconds at a time. The display, on the other hand, is of uncommonly high quality for a phone: crisp and bright, with excellent contrast.
The dedicated navigation and action controls on the chin shelf (they're flush with the surface so you can't press them by accident) are few in number and well lit. A trackball, nearly identical in size and feel to the one Apple uses in Mighty Mouse, is the star of the show on the shelf. It is not a pointing device per se; there is no mouse cursor. It is akin to the five-way nav buttons (four directions plus click) on traditional phones. This, too, sets T-Mobile G1 apart from iPhone, which uses display touch for all navigation.
Finally, T-Mobile G1 features a removable battery, SIM card and microSD flash memory card. Oddly, it is missing a headphone/headset jack, a common and bizarre design trait common to HTC devices. The USB port, which is also used for charging, has extra pins for audio output. Included earbuds double as stereo earphones and a telephone headset with a lanyard microphone. The earbuds' quality is better than the throwaways typically shipped with phones. HTC sells an accessory pigtail that allows the use of regular phono plugs. This is included with HTC's lower-end Windows Mobile-based Touch Diamond and should be in T-Mobile G1's box as well.
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The G1 has great call quality and does a good job of melding hardware with the Android operating system.