Sizing Up the G1
T-Mobile this week unveiled the first phone to use the open-source Android operating system developed by Google and its partners. The G1, based on HTC's Dream handset, will be available in the United States starting October 22.
The T-Mobile G1 design is similar to that of the iPhone, but some differences distinguish the two. The G1 is bulkier than the iPhone, nearly 30 percent thicker, and almost 20 percent heavier. Nevertheless, it's a bit narrower than the iPhone and comes with a 320-by-480 touch screen. Below the screen, the bottom juts out slightly, with five buttons and a small BlackBerry-like trackball to aid screen navigation.
G1 Does Contacts Right
The T-Mobile G1 has a visual contact list that grabs contacts associated with your Gmail and Google Talk accounts and Google Calendar. As on the iPhone, you can flick through your contacts by moving the list up or down. The G1 also uses an "online presence" feature to let you know which contacts are available for a Google Chat or Talk session.
G1 Camera Bests Most Others
On the back of the G1 is a 3.2-megapixel still camera (no video support); it's a touch higher in quality than the iPhone's 2-megapixel camera. The improved resolution will translate into slightly better pictures that will be larger in file size. That could be bad news if you aren't on T-Mobile's unlimited data plan and you like to send pics from your phone.
Hardwired for Google
Google has its fingerprints all over the G1. Besides coming preloaded with Google Gmail, the handset offers a one-touch search button on the pull-out keyboard that takes you straight to a Google search box. The phone also has a Google search box embedded into its desktop by default.
All About the G1 Web Browser
The G1's Web browser is based on the same open-source technology (WebKit) as the iPhone's browser. The big difference when using the G1's browser is that you can't employ finger gestures (such as pinching and double-tap for zooming) for page navigation. To zoom in to a portion of a page with the G1, you drag your finger across the screen. Once you do that, a virtual lens allows you to focus on parts of the Web page. You can also choose to view the entire page by zooming completely out.
A Look at the Desktop
The G1's desktop may appear similar to the iPhone's, but the G1 desktop is completely customizable. It comes with four standard application icons and a clock widget. You can move the app icons around by holding one down with your finger and dragging it. By flicking to the left or right, you open up other desktops that you can customize just as easily with shortcuts to your favorite applications.
A Keyboard, and a Black-and-White Choice
The G1 has a physical keyboard that reveals itself after you slide open the screen. The keys are flat, requiring you to reach your right thumb around the bottom portion of the G1's body to press keys. People who don't care for the iPhone's virtual keyboard should appreciate this physical QWERTY keyboard.
T-Mobile is following Apple's lead and keeping color choice for consumers simple. You'll be able to choose a black or white G1 when the models go on sale October 22 for $179 with a two-year contract. You'll have to rely on cell phone skins to liven up your device.
T-Mobile's G1 allows for much more customization of the desktop than competitors do. On the G1 you can put application shortcut icons on the desktop along with shortcuts to a clock, a music playlist, a Web page, or a folder full of documents.
Google's tentacles extend beyond the G1's access to fast Google searches. Just as the iPhone is optimized for iTunes, the G1 is optimized for Google. Google has customized its services for the G1, going so far as embedding shortcuts for the Google home page, Gmail, Calendar, Reader, and other Google properties directly onto the phone's desktop.
The Way to a Mobile User's Heart Is Apps
The ability to add third-party applications to the G1 from the Android Marketplace is one of the most appealing aspects of the phone. The application pictured in this slide is a special version of Google Street View for Android. With it you can view a snapshot of an entire street scene from any of several U.S. cities on your G1. When you move your phone, the Street View scene moves with you. Other Android apps, such as one called Locale, use GPS technology to switch your G1's ringer to vibrate in a movie theater. Another app, BioWallet, turns the G1's camera into an iris scanner to help you lock down any sensitive information you might put on the phone.
Accelerometer Not Fully Implemented
Just like the iPhone, the G1 has an accelerometer that detects the phone's movement and changes the display accordingly when you're using apps such as Street View. Curiously, the G1 does not rotate the display from portrait to landscape when you're viewing Web pages or the desktop. You have to flip out the keyboard to get the screen to switch into landscape mode.
Short on Built-In Video Support
The G1 does not natively support video playback; you'll have to download a third-party video player from the Android Marketplace. And as mentioned before, the G1 will not capture video with its camera.
Access to Apps
Besides the applications that you can launch directly from your desktop, the bulk of your apps reside in a "virtual drawer" that you slide open via a swipe of your finger. Either flick it open with your finger or tap the bottom tab, and it expands to reveal your programs.
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