Hands On with the T-Mobile G1 by HTC: Is it the next iPhone?
When it comes to smartphones, HTC is no slouch. They're responsible for the HTC Touch and Sprint's just-released HTC Touch Pro. That's why we were somewhat disappointed when we got our hands on the G1. It's thicker, heavier, and downright clunkier than most smartphones we've seen. We particularly disliked that the bottom of the phone juts out (like a chin) adding extra bulk to your pocket. The chin is also responsible for housing the G1's navigational controls, which include Menu, Call, Home, Back, and End Call buttons. In between the buttons you'll see the G1's clickable trackball, which looks and operates like the ball found inside Apple's Mighty Mouse.
The G1 has a 3.17" touch screen display, which is roughly 0.4" smaller than the iPhone 3G's screen, but carries the same 480x320 resolution. Rotate the phone, slide the touch screen up, and you'll find a full QWERTY keyboard lying underneath. This lets you use the G1 much like a Sidekick. The keypad is backlit and the buttons are evenly spaced, but the G1's chin makes typing with the G1 frustrating. It gets in the way of your right hand and forces your right hand/thumb to reach over it in order to access the keypad. For us this was a massive design flaw, although people with smaller hands will be able to type with no problem.
Underneath the phone's chin lies a mini USB connector, which lets you charge the phone and connect it to your computer or USB headphones (the G1 has no 3.5mm jack, so you must use the bundled USB headphones). Along the left spine you'll find a volume rocker and microSD memory card slot. The back panel reveals the phone's camera lens along with a mono speaker, whereas the right spine houses the camera's shutter button.
Design-wise, the G1 doesn't come close to matching Apple's iPhone or even some of the better looking Blackberries. In addition, after a few days of use, we noticed our screen began squeaking every time we'd slide it up to use the keypad — yet another sign HTC should've taken more time designing this phone. However, even with its design flaws, it's simple to overlook the G1's deficiencies — the software is what really makes this phone stand out.
- The Software
- Final Verdict
The G1, is of course, all about Google and that's apparent the second you power it on — it requires that you sign in with your Gmail account or create a new one. Once you're signed in, the G1 automatically syncs your Gmail, contacts, and Google calendar with your computer. It's that easy, no software or drivers are involved.
The Android software itself is easy and fun to use. It features an extended home screen that takes up three frames (like a panoramic photo) and you can flick between frames with the swipe of a finger (much like you would if you were using an iPhone with multiple pages of apps). All three pages are customizable, but by default the center page is your main page with an over-sized analog clock and shortcuts to the phone's browser, virtual number pad, and contacts. The right page is dedicated to Google Search and the left page is intentionally left blank. Adding shortcuts to either screen is as simple as pressing the Menu button and selecting the app you want to add. To remove them, just hold the app's icon down for a few seconds, and then drag it to the trash.
Most of the G1's apps reside in a small "drawer" that pops up with the touch of a finger. Here you'll find Amazon MP3 Mobile, Android Market, Google Maps, Gmail, and various other apps. Amazon MP3 Mobile is just as easy to use as iTunes is on the iPhone. You can browse through songs, listen to previews, and buy them over the air directly on your phone. However, in order to buy tracks, you must be connected via Wi-Fi and your Amazon account can only have one credit card tied to it. Once you meet those requirements, downloads take about 40 seconds per song and you can play the MP3s with the G1's music player, which displays album art and track information. To transfer your DRM-free tunes to your Mac or PC, simply connect the G1 to your computer and it'll be recognized as an external hard drive.
Fans of Google Chrome will be happy to hear that the G1's browser is very similar to Chrome in that it is very simple and clean. The G1's trackball is great for navigating through long Web pages and to enter Web addresses, simply flip up the G1's screen and type them with the keypad (there's no virtual keyboard.) While browsing the Internet, you can't make pinching gestures to enlarge or minimize Web pages (like you would on the iPhone), but instead the G1's browser has a virtual magnifying glass at the bottom of the screen that lets you zoom in or out of any Web page.
Like the iPhone, the G1 is equipped with GPS. However, Google Maps isn't as smooth on the G1 as it is on the iPhone. There are no animations or exaggerated zooms as there are on the iPhone. Instead, the G1 simply pinpoints your location with a highlighted circle. One feature we did like was the G1's compass-aided Street View function. Turn this feature on and the G1's Street View perspective will change depending on the direction you're holding the phone. So if you're physically facing the 59th street entrance to Central Park, the G1's screen will display the 59th street entrance to Central Park. Tilt the G1 north, west, east, or south, and it's Street View perspective will change along with it.
Call quality on the G1 is solid. Unfortunately, T-Mobile's network isn't terribly strong, so there were a few spots in New York and New Jersey where we had no signal (particularly inside office buildings), but outside on the street our calls came in loud and clear. 3G coverage was equally spotty — we got great reception throughout New York City, Brooklyn, and Jersey City, but indoors reception took a small hit. Speed-wise, you can expect Web pages like CNN and the NYTimes.com to load in about 30 seconds.
To get new apps for your phone, click on the Android Market (Google's version of the Apple App Store) and you'll find a good selection of apps for your G1. The iPhone's apps easily outnumber Android Market, but the G1 is relatively new, so we expect Android Market to grow. However, a few notable apps we downloaded and liked include ShopSavvy (a comparison shopping engine which uses GPS to find local and online stores), The Weather Channel Interactive, and Namco's Pac-Man, all of which were free.
One would think all of these features would wreak havoc on the G1's battery, but surprisingly, our G1 went for a solid 13 hours before requiring a recharge. Those 13 hours included moderate to heavy Internet browsing, some brief phone calls, various app downloads, about 20 minutes of Pac-Man, and light GPS use. (Wi-Fi was enabled for no more than 5 minutes.)
T-Mobile customers in search of a new phone should seriously consider the G1. At $179.99 (direct from T-Mobile), it's one of the best smartphone bargains we've seen for a new model. If possible, we recommend buying the phone through Walmart, which plans to sell the phone for $30 less at $148.88 when purchased in-store.
Despite the G1's hardware limitations, Google's OS shines through. If you're currently on another cellular network, you may want to wait before jumping ship. Motorola and Asus have already shown interest in manufacturing an Android phone, so it's only a matter of time before we see more Google phones permeate the market.
So is it an iPhone killer? Not yet. Like all first generation devices, the G1 has some blemishes. The OS, while great and fun to use, isn't as smooth and polished as the iPhone's and as we stated before, the hardware leaves much to be desired. But for an initial debut, Google has shown the world that Apple isn't the only company that can make a clean, likable OS.
Louis Ramirez is the dealnews Features Editor.
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