Review: HTC G1
Oct 16, 2008, 7:40 AM by Eric M. Zeman
Here it is. The "GPhone". The Google Phone. The HTC G1 is the first phone running Google's Android platform. Does it pass muster?
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Are you a geek? An early adopter? You don't have to keep up with the Joneses, you are Mr. Jones. Such is the market for the HTC G1, the first handset running Google's Android platform. HTC is well known for its Windows Mobile smartphones. It brings its smartphone know-how and has crafted a surprisingly dull piece of hardware for what is otherwise an exciting debut.
HTC has recently been ramping up the sex appeal of its phones. The Touch Diamond, for example, has some great design elements that make it a neat-looking device. HTC decided to play a more conservative role with the design of the G1, which, if you ask me, is bland if not bordering on boring.
It is blocky and thick to accommodate the QWERTY keyboard. Towards the bottom, there is a slight angle in the otherwise bar-shaped device. The edges are all rounded and smooth, which makes it fit in your hand better. It is weighty and feels very solid. With its weight and size, you're going to notice it in your pants pocket. The G1 is not uncomfortable to hold.
The front is dominated by the large touch screen. Along the bottom are four buttons and a trackball. The send/end keys, a home key and a return key are what you get, along with a Menu key perched above the trackball. They are small, about the size of an eraser head. The have decent travel and feedback. The trackball is about the same size as that found on most BlackBerries and feels about the same. It can be used as an alternative way to interact with the device if you don't feel like touching the screen.
On the left side of the phone is the volume toggle. It is easily found and has good travel and feedback. Hidden on the left side of the G1 is the hatch covering the microSD port. Quite honestly, if we hadn't asked an HTC rep where it was, we may not have found it ourselves. It cannot be opened with the phone closed. You have to slide it open before you can dig your finger into the right spot to get it open. At least you don't have to take the back cover off. On the bottom is the hatch covering the miniUSB port. On the right is only a camera button. This button is easily found, and has a lot of travel and feedback.
The novel slider mechanism for the phone feels solid and works well. Because it doesn't use standard rails, it is perched at the very edge of the bottom half of the phone, providing as much space as possible for the full QWERTY keyboard. Speaking of which...
I received the brown version of the G1 to review. It has a different color scheme for the keyboard than the black or white versions. The keys themselves are gray, and the numbers are written in brown ink and the special characters are written in red. Even with the keyboard lit from behind, it is exceedingly difficult to see which keys you are pressing. The name of each key is difficult to discern even in good lighting, and the special characters are almost invisible. Typing in the dark is flat out impossible, even with the backlight on, as it is so weak.
On top of that, I disliked the feel of the keys themselves, which see oddly spaced. They do have a soft-touch feel to them, and travel and feedback was decent, but the domed shape of the keys just didn't gel with my thumbs. There's no plainer way to say it. At least HTC was thoughtful enough to put the @ symbol on its own key, that doesn't require you to press an "alt" key to reach it. The keys are at least easier to see on the black and white versions of the G1, but they feel the same.
What's missing from the G1 is a 3.5mm headset jack, though HTC does provide you with a pair of headphones in the box that will connect to the G1's miniUSB port. An adapter (so you can use your own headphones) will cost you extra.
If you're getting the sense that I am not overly keen on the G1's design and hardware, you'd be right.
The G1's screen is absolutely gorgeous. It's big, it's bright, it is super sharp and everything about it looks great. Web sites look phenomenal. It is highly visible in dark environments and even outdoors in full sunlight. Simply put, this is one of the finer screens I've ever seen on a mobile phone.
Here's where we run into some trouble. The G1 can access T-Mobile's 3G network. I happen to have 3G coverage where I live in NJ, and noticed that the signal was all over the place. It ranged wildly from no coverage to full coverage. This is probably more due to the scattered availability of T-Mobile's 3G network rather than the G1. Oddly, though, the G1 didn't give me any indications that it was providing EDGE coverage. When there was 0 bars of 3G, it never said that it switched over the EDGE. The worse news is that you can set the G1 to only use EDGE for data networks. When I did this, signal strength dropped. In side-by-side tests, the G1 performed less-than-average when compared to other phones on the T-Mobile network.
The ringers can be made sufficiently loud on the G1. The default ringer is absolutely hysterical. Very befitting of the name "Android". It is the kookiest theme I've heard, and makes me think of the Addams Family. It is loud enough to hear from several rooms away, and I didn't miss any calls due to not being able to hear the ringer. Earpiece volume was also good. I didn't have any problems hearing callers through the G1. As for the quality of the sound, it was average. I've heard worse phones, and I've heard better. It didn't blow me away, but there's not much to complain about either.
Battery life is not one of the G1's strengths. Consider this: I charged the phone on a Friday. Left it completely alone all weekend, and by Monday, the battery was completely drained. Keep in mind, this is with the 3G radio on, but absolutely NO usage whatsoever (and no Bluetooth and no Wi-Fi). I charged it half a day Monday, brought it with me into NYC on Monday afternoon for some meetings. The battery was half depleted by that evening. I did use the phone to surf the web, read my RSS feeds and check email, but I didn't use it for anything else that day. Since I've had the phone less than a week, I can't say if this is normal behavior or not. Either way, I'd caution you to bring your G1 charger with you whenever you can.
The G1 is, of course, a touch-based device. Similar to the Apple iPhone, it uses a touch capacitance display, not a touch resistance display. I found the screen to be very responsive to input. Swiping your finger across the screen to perform various actions rarely failed to register. Every now and then you had to press the screen twice to illicit a reaction, but it was infrequent. Mostly, it just worked as it was supposed to.
Okay, look. Android is new. We could spend all day here, because, in effect, the menu system is the operating system, and new operating systems deserve some serious text. But I am going to keep things as simple as possible and will try not to be verbose.
A few things to keep in mind. You have to have a Google account to use the G1. It is not negotiable, it is required. When you first boot the device, you have to sign into your account. It will then automatically configure your Gmail, your Gmail contacts and other Google services. There is no hard syncing directly to a PC. It must be done via T-Mobile's network. This can take a while, depending on how extensive your inbox and contacts lists are.
Once that process is complete, you're in!
Pressing the menu key (just above the trackball) twice unlocks the phone. You have a basic home screen that holds a large analog clock at the top, an icon for T-Mobile's MyFaves, and four main application icons for the Dialer, Contacts, Browser and Maps. There are two additional home pages that you can get to if you swipe the screen to the left or to the right. Any of these three screens can be populated with pretty much whatever applications, shortcuts, games, etc., that you want.
There is a little dock at the very bottom of the G1's screen. Swipe it up and the entire main menu will appear. This is where you'll find pretty much everything you need to use and control the G1. All the basics are here.
Tapping into the Settings menu, Android ditches icons in favor of a simple list of adjustments to make. Each has a pull-down arrow that opens up a folder with the choices for that menu selection. Most of these make sense and it is quick to figure everything out.
Android is not nearly as dense — at least on the surface — as Windows Mobile or Symbian S60 or BlackBerry OS. It feels more like a feature-phone operating system, but we know it is capable of a lot more than basic calling functions.
One thing I really like is that Google has built a Google searchbar (big surprise) right into the home screen of Android. I've really come to rely on having the power of Google search in my pocket over the last 15 months, and the G1 makes it as easy as possible to launch a search right from the phone's desktop.
Lastly, there is a notification bar that runs along the top. Any time you get a new email or other notification, it will sit up there. From any screen on the phone, you can swipe down from that notification bar and it will show you any missed calls, and what unread messages you have.
Tap the Dialer button on the G1's home screen and you're going to see something very similar to the phone program on the iPhone and Instinct. There are four tabs that run across the top for the dialer itself, the call log, your contacts, and your list of favorites. Each of these is exactly what you expect them to be.
The dialer buttons are nice and large and no problem at all to use for dialing numbers directly. The call log shows all your calls heaped into one long list, and different colors next to each call tells you if it is a made dialed, received, or missed call. Tapping any of the numbers does not open a menu at all, it simply calls the number. If you press and hold the call, then a menu pops up and gives you options for calling, SMSing, or adding the number to your contacts.
Once you are in a call, you can press the menu button to see a list of actions to take such as swapping or merging calls, hanging up, placeing the call on hold, and so on. You can also choose to send the call to a Bluetooth headset. Going through the calling program once is all it takes to figure it all out.
Any numbers stored in your phone that haven't been assigned text names are listed in the contacts app first. It then lists everything alphabetically as you scroll down. It is easy to swipe your finger up and down to cycle through your contacts. There is also a nifty slider tool on the right side of the screen. As you drag your thumb down, it pops up. Shift your thumb over to the slider and you can zoom through the alphabet, stopping wherever you choose.
Pressing a contact quickly will open the contact up. Pressing and holding the contact will give you a short list of options, such as calling or editing that contact's information. Each contact can store tons of information. You can also save them to your "Favorites", which effectively serves as a speed dial function on touch-based phones.
The G1 is an capable messaging device, but it's not as good as I was expecting or hoping it to be. Gmail is a very powerful email program, and I thought that would be well reflected by the G1's capabilities. Turns out I was wrong.
The basic email inbox is eerily similar to the iPhone's. You do, however, have the option of "starring" an email without reading it, which is a nice bonus. Tapping an email quickly opens it, pressing and holding it opens up an options menu. In this menu, you can choose to open it, archive it, mark it unread, add a star, delete it or set labels.
Opening emails lets you see the full header and everyone the message is addressed to, the message itself, followed by some action items at the very bottom of the email. I have to say, this bugs me. If you are looking at a long email, you have to scroll all the way to the bottom of it to take any sort of action. I wish the action item buttons were duplicated at the top of the email window so you could do things quicker without having to scroll down through the entire email first. Opening one email also allows you to see and open any of the other emails that make up that conversations, just as in the Google Web-mail client. That's something I definitely wish the iPhone email client allowed you to do.
In order to reply to emails, you have to open it and turn the phone sideways to access the full QWERTY keyboard.
Of course, you can set up multiple email accounts, including those from Yahoo and other service providers. You can set up how often email syncs, but I found the G1 to be amazingly fast with GMail. Emails showed up on the G1 at exactly the same time as the appeared in my inbox online.
As for SMS and MMS, the G1 gets the job done. The messaging application is where you'll see threaded SMS conversations, which is simply the best way to interact with SMS. (Really, it should be a requirement for all phones.) The composition screen for SMS or MMS is the same. For an MMS, you simply choose to add an attachment to it, which can be a picture or sound clip. You always have to rotate the phone sideways and use the keyboard to type messages.
The G1 also has AIM, GChat, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo IM pre-loaded to satiate your instant message cravings.
The G1 has an able music player that is disappointingly hindered by the lack of a 3.5mm headset jack. Loading music couldn't be easier. Attaching the G1 to your computer automatically puts it in mass storage mode and it shows up as a hard drive on your PC. You can drag and drop files directly into the G1's Music folder and you're golden.
The player itself offers pretty much the same features you get from any phone-based music player. You can sort through music via artist, album, song, playlist, etc. Album art is displayed if it is tagged correctly, and the interface for playing music is simple and easy to use.
With a song playing, there are three software buttons on the screen next to the album art. They let you shuffle, repeat or view the current playlist. The menu button at the bottom lets you do a few more things, such as generate a "party shuffle", add the song to playlists, assign the current track as a ringtone or delete the track.
There is no way to alter or adjust the music with an equalizer, whether user defined or preset. Music sounds OK through the external speaker, but not great. It may not be the most robust player on the market, but it offers enough to make it worthwhile. The lack of a 3.5mm headset jack is a dealbreaker for me, but may not be for many others.
The camera can be launched with a long press of the shutter button on the side of the phone. The phone is held sideways for picture taking. Press the shutter button halfway to focus the image, and then all the way to snap the shutter. Unfortunately, focusing takes forever, and so does snapping the picture. You are not going to be happy with how slow the entire operation to launch, focus and take a picture is. We're talking 10 seconds. Not good. You can also choose to bypass autofocus and simply mash down the shutter button all the way. This takes less time if you want to be sure to catch something a second or two quicker.
After you take a picture, you get four options: save, set, share, delete. As with the iPhone, this is pretty much all you get with the camera. The only settings you can change are where the pictures are stored, and whether or not location information is tagged to the photos. That's it. You can't make any adjustments to the camera's resolution, white balance or other settings. The G1 is yet another phone to go the "press here, dummy" (PhD) model of camera operation and I can't say I am happy with the trend. I want options. The G1 doesn't have any.
As for the gallery, you can jump there from the camera or the main menu. The gallery view consists of a grid of thumbnails. With a picture highlighted, you can use the menu button to get at a few options, but it's easier to press and hold, which opens up a larger menu for making changes to the picture.
What's really odd, if you ask me, is that there are all sorts of adjustments you can make to the way the gallery behaves. You can alter the orientation of the images, set the display resolution, configure how slideshows run and so on. Why there's so many options to control the gallery, but not the pictures themselves is beyond me.
Of course, you can easily add pictures to emails, create MMS messages, set images as wallpapers and so on.
The G1 doesn't record video.
Pictures taken with the G1 are okay. I wasn't wowed by them at all, but they didn't disappoint me either. Colors looked good both inside and out, and white balance was mostly accurate. In bright sunlight, however, light colored objects were often washed out. Inside, there was often a haze visible if the subject were close to a light source such as a window or lamp. Using the autofocus meant most images were sharp, and I saw very little grain, even with indoor shots. Images captured with the G1 are certainly worthy of adding to your MySpace or Facebook profile, though I wouldn't be tempted to blow them up to 16 x 20 size and frame them in my living room.
Android's default web browser is based on Webkit and can render full HTML web sites, although it is not a version of Google's separate Chrome browser project for desktop PCs. Too bad surfing speeds are such a let down.
Most web sites take close to a minute to load via T-Mobile's 3G network. That's ridiculous. I am not talking about Flash-heavy sites, I am talking about Google, about Phone Scoop, about CNN, about the NYTimes. I don't know if it is the browser, the device, or the network, but speeds were bad. It is so bad, that it was barely worth using for mobile Internet tasks. You're much better off using Wi-Fi.
The browser itself, though, is very capable and looks fantastic on the G1's screen. You can use your finger to navigate around screens, or use the trackball to zoom through them. You can zoom in and out, and perform basic browsing with the phone in the portrait orientation. If you need to type in URLs, you're going to have to rotate the phone and open it up.
(Note: I tested a Sony Ericsson TM506 from my house, and its Web browsing speeds were blazing fast over T-Mobile's 3G network.)
You can customize the G1 about as much as you can customize any feature phone. Wallpapers and ringtones are easily altered. You can rearrange all the menu items, clutter up the home screen with icons and more. What you can't do is change the basic theme of the G1, such as the color combinations of the menus and screens.
There are pretty robust ways to control the security of the device, how applications are managed, how the microSD slot is managed, how data is synchronized, how location information is reported and on and on. My favorite feature is the "require pattern" password. You can set a password to unlock the device that is not a password, but a pattern ou trace on your phone. For example, a capital letter "G" in one motion. Draw that, and the phone unlocks.
This application lets you access Amazon's MP3 download music service. It's easy to shop for music, though it is better suited to downloading singles rather than complete albums. Songs need to be downloaded via Wi-Fi, not 3G, and you have to have an account with Amazon.
One very cool aspect about Android is that it has access to the Android Market. Like the iPhone Apps Store, the Android Market is a place where you can browse and download applications. Many of them are available for free. For example, the G1 does not come with a native, pre-installed video playback client, but you can download one for free from the Android Market. Each application has a write-up that lets you know what you're going to download, and it also has user reviews with a star rating system (1 through 5 stars). Sorting through applications was easy enough. Downloading them was a bit painful. Once they were installed, they were simply added to the main menu.
Bluetooth worked well with the G1. I had no problems pairing it with anything, including regular and stereo headsets, Bluetooth speakers and several different computers. Sound quality through Bluetooth headsets was okay, not fantastic. There was a little bit of hissing.
When the phone is asleep, pushing any button shows you the time and date. It is large enough to be seen easily. With the phone open, the default view has a large analog clock placed at the top of the screen. You can toss the clock anywhere on the home screen that you like.
The G1 comes with Google Maps for Mobile preinstalled. It also has GPS. Put the two together, and you get a very solid navigation device. Google Maps for Mobile is very easy to use, though I find it to be slow to render maps. The GPS unit did a very good job of pinpointing our location to within about 25 feet when outdoors. Time to first fix was about one minute, which is on par with other mobile phones that have GPS.
The G1 has a built-in YouTube client. It is similar in basic function to the YouTube client seen on the iPhone, though its appearance is different. You can sort through the most popular, the most viewed, the top rated, the most recent, etc. Once again, however, the 3G radio fails to deliver. Loading videos took minutes on end, and often there were delays and interruptions to videos once they were playing.
The one thing to consider - and this is important - is that the Android platform is brand new. It is being developed as an open source project by Google with the Open Handset Alliance members. There will be upgrades to Android's capabilities. None have been spoken of yet, but I am sure they are coming. We have to assume that you'll be able to update and upgrade the features of the G1 and other Android handsets as they arrive in the market. Upgrades can easily fix many of the G1's problems I've discussed in this review.
Here is video of the G1 hardware:
And here is video of the Android operating system:
The G1 is an interesting animal. It is clearly the first version of the Android platform, and happens to be housed in a less-than-thrilling piece of hardware. There's no doubt it is a strong first effort. I expect to see Android become more refined, offer a fuller feature set, and become a stronger competitor in the marketplace.
In the mean time, the G1 is a nice alternative to Windows Mobile if you're in the market for a touch-based device that is available on the T-Mobile network. For my money, it has a few too many flaws and omissions.
The camera is slow, offers few options and doesn't record video. There's no 3.5mm headset jack. There's no native video playback client. The phone is heavy and bulky. The QWERTY keyboard is so-so, and battery life was not stellar.
The screen, however, is amazing, and Android shows a lot of promise.
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.
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G1 RATE PLANS
$24.99 > Unlimited data/web browsing and
$34.99 > unlimited data/web browsing and
access plus unlitimed messages
$24.99 > unlimited data/we browsing and access plus 400 messages
fun to play with, but taking it back
For one, the battery life is horrible esp. for a phone that is DESIGNED to be played with a lot. Another design flaw is for all its media features, it lacks stereo bluetooth capability!! That right there is a complete deal breaker for me, I always use my phone as an mp3 player with my S9- and with built in youtube as well you'd think that'd be included- that was really unexpected from HTC. Speaking of youtube - some basic searches yield the dumbest, most obscure results instead of the common one you're looking for ( that comes up 1st on a normal youtube search).
The interface is mostly intuitive, MOSTLY...
G1 issues / Questions
1) can the size on the text for emails be adjusted? on some messages the type is quite small. Also can the text on attachments be enlarged? ( YES I KNOW WEB PAGES & MAPS CAN BE ADJUSTED)
2) is there a way to transfer all contacts and addresses from my outlook / blackberry contacts to the G1. The tmobile store at first said no problem then once I bought it OOPS sorry>>>>>
i dont think you can change the text size yet.. i looked everywh...
G1 is the best HANDS DOWN
Browser: Super Fast
Menu Style: Easy
Qwerty Keypad: is a must have when using a touch screen. Although I must say its very flat and will take some time to get used to.
Applications: Are free and you do not hav...
No Video Recording.
No Camera ...
is the phone shipped unlocked?
I'm also finding that the phone is $399 to buy. But if I sign up and pay $179, cancel, and pay the $150, and than signup with AT&T with the $35 activation, It would still be less than $399.
for anyone who does have the G1, try the AT&T chip and see if you can make a call.
it looked horrible
Specs from HTC
Hopefully the 528 mhz processor isn't only on the unlocked HTC version they'll sell over seas. We all know that's been one of the let downs with TMO's previous HTC phones.
Rich: Slow web?
Dont think you can pull the track ball to clean it.
I love the full keyboard and trackball set up.
But as a BB user...i am scared to death of a trackball i cant pull out to clean.
i would want to see the survival rate of this phone in the real world with out an easily servicable trackball.