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T-Mobile G1 Hands-On

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Sep 23, 2008, 9:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman & Rich Brome
updated Sep 24, 2008, 11:52 AM

Hands-on with the T-Mobile G1 from HTC, the first phone to run Google's Android smartphone platform. Plus hands-on with 3rd-party applications.

Software 

After waiting nearly a year, we finally had the chance to really take a look at the new mobile operating system from Google. Android is a clean operating system that needs some polish, but shows a lot of promise.

Android is easy to use. There's no doubt. It may not be as intuitive as you-know-what, but it nearly is. Using the touch capacitive screen to interact with the phone via swiping motions comes naturally and works well. The UI is responsive, and fast for the most part, though we did notice some lag every now and then.

 

Home

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The default home screen has a clock resting at the top, and four application icons sitting at the bottom. This screen is entirely user customizable. Pressing and holding the home screen will bring up the tool that's used to customize the home screen. It offers a bunch of choices. You can add, delete, or move icons, application shortcuts, bookmarks and widgets at will. This means you an make the G1 you own.

You can also swipe to the left and right to access "extra" home screens, which can be used to house other shortcuts, bookmarks and so on. Anything on the center screen can be moved to one of the other screens, or removed entirely.

 

Settings

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The drag-and-drop home screens are more like Samsung's TouchWiz than the iPhone, since it supports widgets and you can arrange things any way you want. However TouchWiz can get crowded quickly, so the three screens will be much appreciated by power users.

At the bottom of all home screens is a little dock bar. Swipe the bar up and the full main menu appears. This screen starts out filled with just over 20 icons/folders/applications. This let you tap into all of the phone's settings and is where you find pretty much everything. The menu appears and disappears quickly.

On all screens, you can press the "menu" button to bring up an options menu at the bottom, specific to whatever application you're in. There's also a "back" key (which you need to be careful not to confuse with the delete/backspace key on the keyboard) and a dedicated "home" key always takes you back to the home screen (not the main menu).

The main applications found on the phone of course are GMail, Google Maps, built-in Google search, contacts, calling, media player, camera, and a host of others.

Here is a look at the basic UI:



The messaging application is decent, and the G1 supports push GMail, plus regular IMAP.

 

Messaging

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

It also supports Google's version of presence, so you can see if your Android-using friends are online/available. The threaded SMS app was easy enough to use, and showed SMS conversations in a pleasant way.

 

Camera And Photos

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The camera user interface was a bit spare. You can make some adjustments to the camera settings, but I didn't think they were super easy to find.

 

Maps

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The Maps software was slow and buggy on most of the models we used, but the Compass feature is really cool. Combined with Maps and Street Views, you can see a picture of the destination you'd like to go to. As you move the phone around, the accelerometer interacts with the Street View software and will show you all around the area as if you're looking through a movable window. You can pan around and look all over the place. It is pretty neat, when it works.

 

App Store

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Buying applications and music is well-implemented and super-easy. The app store will give Apple's a run for its money (perhaps lieterally), and Amazon's music store is equally well-designed.

Download status is available through the robust notification feature. There's a small group of icons for this at the left end of the top status bar, which you can swipe down to expand for details. All applications can use this function to alert the user to something that has happened in the background. New alerts can briefly take over the whole status bar to display scrolling text.

Speaking of applications running in the background, Android supports them! Unlike the iPhone, Android is a true multi-tasking OS, so all kinds of 3rd-party true push applications are possible.

 

Music

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The music application supports basic things like playlists, but nothing too advanced. It does not support any kind of DRM whatsoever, which means music purchased from certain sources (like iTunes) will not play, although with the variety of incompatible DRM schemes on various other phones, this is almost a non-issue. Naturally you can play MP3s, and since there are no DRM restrictions, you are free to use music for ringtones, etc.

 

Browser

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The browser is based on WebKit, like Safari and Google Chrome, although it is not actually Google Chrome. It does not support Flash, for example. It's a good browser, with good rendering, easy enough page navigation. Zooming in and out is one area that's a tad cumbersome, although an icon in the bottom-right conjures up a zoomed-out view with a square "magnifying glass" area. Dragging that box to a new part of the page and simply releasing takes you right to that part of the page very quickly. It's a handy feature.

 

Google Suggest

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The best parts of the browser are perhaps the parts that lie outside the browser, on the home screen. The Google search box on the home screen includes Google Suggest, which is like an ultimate auto-complete that uses Google's entire index of the web to guess what you're searching for - in theory - before you even finish typing it. Unfortunately, it's slow to start - sometimes taking up to 15 seconds to get going on a 3G network - but on WiFi it should be fast enough to be useful. Once it gets started, though, it's quite fast, even if you clear the box and start over. If they can speed up that initial lag in future updates, it could be a killer feature. You can also save bookmarks from the browser directly to the home screen as dedicated icons, much like on an iPhone.

 

Voice Dial

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

There is voice control, although it seems limited to dialing names in the contacts list.

 

Basic Apps

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

We did manage to crash an app once, although - like the iPhone - the OS is robust enough to shut down and/or restart just the one problem application gracefully, without freezing up the whole phone. Click "force close" and you can keep on working with minimal inconvenience.

 

crash

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Overall, the user interface is very good. There are some rough edges here and there, but over time it will surely evolve and become more fine-tuned. The fact that the software will be completely open source means it can be upgraded over time, and plenty of new features and functions can be added.

We have a host of videos showing you several different features and functions of the user interface. Be sure to check them out.

Hardware 

 

Body

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The first device to run Google's Android has arrived. The T-Mobile G1 is built by HTC, whose extensive experience building high-end Windows Mobile smartphones is readily apparent in the G1.

First, the basics:

The display is stunning. It's massive, bright, clear, and displays a huge amount of detail, perfect for browsing web pages.

Naturally, the G1 works in both landscape and portrait modes. Impressively, both orientations are available in nearly every application and screen we could find; landscape mode isn't reserved just for photos, video, and web browsing like on some competing phones.

The touch screen is capacitive, like the iPhone, which makes all the difference in the world. Resistive touch screens on phones like the Diamond, Instinct, and Dare can be relatively frustrating to use. They often require a specific amount of pressure. Even once you adjust to that, drag-to-scroll and flick gestures can be tricky. None of this is an issue on the G1, thanks to the capacitive technology. In trying it hands-on, we're pleased to report that it's every bit as reliable and pleasurable to use as an iPhone.

The touch screen is complemented by a trackball, just like the one on a BlackBerry or Sidekick. In most situations, you can use either the touchscreen or the trackball. At first we were worried that seemed redundant or would lead to confusion. However, after spending some time with it, our fears were put to rest. Some people will prefer the touch screen, while others will prefer the trackball; having that option is great. We suspect that most people will start out using the more-intuitive touch screen, then migrate to the more-efficient trackball over time, switching back to the touch screen for just a few applications where it makes more sense.

WiFi is always a handy feature. In theory, the presence of 3G makes WiFi data less necessary, but T-Mobile has placed some weird restrictions on 3G, such as not allowing music downloads. You'll need the WiFi connection to download purchased music Amazon, for example.

For your basic data needs - such as push GMail and web browsing - the 3G data will come in quite handy, and it is indeed quite speedy, even on a crowded network like the one in New York City. In fact, our test was in a room with about 50 G1s being used simultaneously, so it was close to a worst-case network scenario, and yet T-Mobile's 3G network held up quite admirably, delivering good speeds even doing intensive tasks like Google Maps Street View.

The location system also worked well; it had no problem finding our approximate location quickly. Since we were located under a stone bridge ramp, (it was an unusual venue,) we were not able to test the more precise true GPS functionality.

The microSD memory card slot is very cleverly hidden (and I do mean hidden) into the design of the phone. Once you know where to look, you'll find an easy-to-open rubber cover on the side. The slot is recessed quite a bit, though, so you'll need a long fingernail or some kind of pointy object to push in the card enough to eject it. The early units we tried had trouble automatically mounting the cards; sometimes the phone would act as if no card were inserted even when one was. The OS also has unusual "unmount card" options, meaning the card is not fully "hot-swappable". Much like old versions of Windows and Mac OS, you're expected to manually tell the OS you're going to eject the card before you actually do so. A 1 GB card is included. There is about 50 MB of internal memory, although it seems to be reserved for applications; you can't put music or photos there.

The QWERTY keyboard is quite large, with excellent key spacing. The best part is the unusual swing-slide mechanism of the display when it opens. This clever innovation allows the screen to slide up much further than other messaging-slider phones, making room for a full five rows of keys. The space bar is on its own row accompanied only by shift, alt, and punctuation keys (not intruding into the bottom row of letters) and there is a fully dedicated number row at the top.

Unfortunately, the keyboard is not as good as it looks. The units we tried had relatively poor tactile feel and feedback. The keys were a bit too flat for our taste, with limited travel and "click". It was usable and probably won't be a deal-breaker for most people, but we would have preferred a keyboard that felt better and inspired more confidence that our missives would be complete and accurate. We recommend trying the G1 keyboard in person before purchasing.

The "chin" that angles out at the bottom looks funky, but doesn't get in the way as much as you might assume from photos. We didn't even notice it when typing on the keyboard, something people were worried about before today from seeing only spy shots. The chin has the advantage of making it easier to hold and use one-handed.

Another disappointment is the camera. It lacks video capture capability altogether, and its indoor performance with still shots leaves something to be desired. It's a 3 megapixel unit with true auto-focus, which should (we assume... we hope) provide excellent photos outdoors. But that's not a challenge for most phones. With indoor photos, our informal tests showed quality was excellent when we could hold the phone very still, but the G1's camera is very susceptible to motion blur, so even a little jiggle ruined an indoor shot, even in a room with decent lighting. There's also more delay than average. Even after waiting patiently for a few seconds for the lens to focus, we ruined more than one shot by moving the phone after we thought it was done taking the photo. The screen goes black, and then you still have to hold it still for another second, which is both unintuitive and tested our patience.

In general, the G1 is somewhat large, and somewhat heavy, but it's just small and light enough to avoid being labeled a "brick". For a device with such a large screen, large keyboard, that crazy slider mechanism and so many other features, it's actually impressively compact.

We had mixed feelings on the feel of it. Rich thought it felt good and solid overall, while Eric thought it felt somewhat cheap. Rich would agree that the keyboard certainly felt cheap. The slide mechanism is weird (it's best to watch our video to see how it works) but that part feels solid enough.

The design is also extremely plain and uninspiring. It does match the Google aesthetic, which works so well for the web.... Perhaps that aesthetic just doesn't translate well to hardware. We wouldn't call it "ugly", but "incredibly boring" seems to fit.

We do give the G1 major points for resisting the current trend toward glossy finishes. The matte finish resists fingerprint smudges well.

The G1 has no standard headset jack, only the proprietary "ExtUSB" connector that HTC so stubbornly puts on all of its phones. It is compatible with mini-USB, but to use any kind of standard round-jack headset or headphones, you'll need an adapter. Worse yet, the initial version does not support the A2DP profile for stereo Bluetooth, although that is promised for a future software update.

Here is a short video look at the hardware of the G1:

3rd Party Apps 

Google and T-Mobile demo'd a number of a third-party apps that have already been built for Android. They were impressively robust applications, especially considering that the first Andoid phone hasn't gone on sale yet.

Shop Savvy is a simple, yet very powerful application. In a nutshell, it attempts to put all product information on the Web at your fingertips wherever you go. It does a darn decent job of it.

 

Shop Savvy

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

It's incredibly easy. You start the app and simply aim the camera at a bar code on a product in front of you. As soon as it can read the bar code, it automatically looks it up on the Internet. In a moment, it comes back with an array of options, including pricing and reviews of that product. There's even a price-compare tool that shows new and used prices from all over the web, so you can see if the price at your physical location is competitive before you part with your hard-earned cash.

Here is a video walk-through of how Shop Savvy works:



For the eco-conscious, Ecorio is an application to help you actively and precisely manage your carbon footprint. Now, instead of going through a whole process to estimate your footprint using a web-based tool, you can have this application track your usage for you, using a few simple parameters and GPS.

 

Ecorio

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

What it will do is automatically track your trips in vehicles. Do this for a few days, then you can browse your trips, and Ecorio will show you alternate ways to make the same trip using mass transit. It will even show you the cost, estimated time, and give you step-by-step directions, complete with interactive map.

You can then track your carbon footprint over time. Ideally it goes down over time, but it's unlikely it will ever reach zero. If zero is your goal, though, you can actually buy carbon offsets directly from the application. It will tell you how much you need to buy, and it even uses Google Checkout, so the process is completely streamlined.

Live Coverage

Event Liveblog 

10:14 AM: Google founders showed up. They are talking now. Sergey Brin just called himself a geek. He wrote a silly application for it He likes that the phoen can be modified.

They are enjoying the G1 device so far. Giving a lot of feedback to the Android team. The possibilities that you have to use the Internet are endless. He called the G1 a very good computer. It represents a tremendous opportunity.

The speed difference is still large between regular Internet and the mobile Internet. They think being able to perform searches quickly is very important.

They think we'll see amazing things happen, especially with location-based services.

10:09 AM: It is dual-band 1700MHz and 2100 MHz UMTS and quad-band GSM/EDGE.

10:09 AM: T-Mobile believes the device will have mass appeal. They think youth segments and consumers rather than business users will want to use the phone.

It has a robust Gmail experience. ALlows you to search your email. They've optimized it for Android. This will be the first implementation of online presence with the Google Talk phone book.

It supports AAC, MP3, WMA, but it doesn't sync with iTunes and won't support DRM-locked files from the iTunes Music Store.

10:06 AM: T-Mobile believes that $179 is a really attractive price point, and they've locked it to the T-Mobile network.

What about marketing? Google and T-Mobile have an integrated marketing campaign to be sure people know about it.

The device syncs with Google services. It supports hands-free Bluetooth, but not stereo Bluetooth right now.

The browswer is based on Webkit, which is also the foundation for Chrome, but the G1 will have its own browser to start.

10:03 AM: Will it function as a tethered modem? What are the voice and data plans? T-Mo says no tethering, data plans require a voice plan with T-Mobile.

Any support for MSFT files, viewing, editing? It can read Word and PDF and Excel support. No Exchange support right now. The open market place is what T-Mobile thinks will bring new features to the phone.

The Phone will be SIM-locked to T-Mobile.

Will it be push email, or IMAP? Gmail will be push, and IMAP services will be pulled email.

Will there be an accompanying desktop app? No, everything will sync with the cloud.

T-Mobile believes that the best experiences will be in 3G covered areas, but the device of course supports 2G networks.

9:59 AM: Will also be launching the device in Europe as well. Starting in the UK in early November, and across Europe in 2009.

Andy Rubin says that Google is going to open source the entire platform. Beyond that it is pretty focused roadmap by rolling out more features and services.

9:57 AM: Looks like it is Q&A time. They are going to run some questions from the press and analysts here.

Q on pricing, it will cost $179. Existing T-Mobile customers can order them through the Internet and have it shipped when it becomes available. Commercial launch date is October 22.

Will also have two data messaging plan options. $25 with limited Web and messaging, and $35 will have unlimited Web messaging.

9:56 AM: They are showing off some of the application developers. Right now they are talking about Eco-Reo, an application that lets you keep track of your carbon footprint.

Next up is an application called Shop Savvy that turns the phone into a barcode scanner. You can get comparative pricing by scanning any barcode and checking it against other prices on the Internet. Very neat.

9:54 AM: The Google Street Views application ha a built in compass mode. Ad you move, so does the Street View automatically rotate with you. You can see live images of where you are, or where you are going.

9:53 AM: Any developer can create applications for Android. Ultimately, it is a completely open platform, so there is no third party who' going to say "you can't do that."

9:52 AM: T-Mobile, HTC and partners hope to bring a lot of new applications and services to the mobile phone. They think open source is a big part of that.

9:52 AM: The G1 demo they showed up on the video showed off a very fast UI.Using your finger, you can swipe from screen to screen, application to application, quickly. It looks very sharp.

Liveblog starting in just a few minutes...

Executives from HTC, Google and Deutsche Telekom have spoken so far. Now the CTO of T-Mobile USA is speaking about the future of mobile services.

They want to embrace third parties to complete new and compelling applications for the mobile internet. Want to provide an array of new devices, applications and service so that people embrace the mobile Internet all over the world.

We are finally here to introduce the T-Mobile G-1 with Google.

Event Photos 

Below are photos taken at the G1 launch event, displayed here right as we take them. Be sure to swing by again later in the day for our full hands-on report with impressions and detailed info.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

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Subject Author Date
I would like to personal welcome t-mobile to 3g DiamondPro Sep 29, 2008, 7:33 PM
Finally the G1 Guamzson Sep 24, 2008, 1:22 AM
Install applications *not* through t-mobile app store? jarandom Sep 25, 2008, 9:12 AM
how does the g1 compare to the wing? bartiah Sep 29, 2008, 10:36 PM
Just wana clear things up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1 tasha1986 Oct 8, 2008, 3:45 PM
specs posted / new forum active Rich Brome Oct 20, 2008, 3:03 PM
HAHAHA MEMORY! TWO.S_BABYGIRL Sep 26, 2008, 4:43 PM
g1 music thaboy2007 Sep 29, 2008, 12:44 PM
g1 phone blue thaboy2007 Sep 30, 2008, 11:06 AM
Bluetooth Profiles cdschr1 Oct 16, 2008, 1:22 AM
Data service required?? Jomo0333 Oct 2, 2008, 2:13 PM
Thank You PhoneScoop RockHead Sep 24, 2008, 5:34 PM
Too bad it's made by HTC - so what's the point? bluecoyote Sep 24, 2008, 12:43 PM
I'm sick of hearing this crap about the Instinct tuolumne Sep 26, 2008, 4:26 PM
Will it have a multi tap touch screen? juttsin2 Oct 2, 2008, 5:32 PM
Youtube capability? jonrok Oct 1, 2008, 6:04 PM
i thik flex pay can pre-order???? truetravis9287 Sep 28, 2008, 2:29 AM
what day will it actually ship? truetravis9287 Sep 26, 2008, 3:33 AM
G-1 goodness renejreyes1 Sep 23, 2008, 12:52 PM
Garbage!!!!!!!! ma8007 Sep 23, 2008, 6:22 PM
 
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