While the iPhone holds its own as an iconic and stylish device, the G1 is actually a little awkward looking. It is a brute of a device, both in terms of build and weight.
The touch-screen is a winner. It is impressively tactile and responsive with a swipe of a finger aiding you to glide through your pages, menu icons, photos and albums.
The fact that the Android platform is completely open means that anyone with the technical know-how can create an application to do whatever they wish.
With a 3.2-megapixel snapper, the G1 surpasses the iPhone’s disappointing two megapixels.
With a talk time of 320 minutes and a standby time of 406 hours, the battery life is pretty good.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,2/2/2012 3:03:43 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
The Google Android platform unearths an abundance of possibilities in terms of applications, from the ridiculous to the sublime.
While we can just about forgive the lack of a 3.5mm headset port, to not include Stereo Bluetooth is infuriating.
The T-Mobile G1, better known as the Google Android Phone, is the first device to operate on the Android open source mobile software platform. Talk among early adopters has been rife about whether this is the dawn of a new era in the world of mobile phones. The idea that anyone can create an application for the Android platform suggests that the possibilities are endless. While there is no escaping the fact that the Android platform is an integral part of this device, it must not be forgotten that the
T-Mobile G1 is foremost a phone. We get to grips with the G1, assessing its Android credentials and all the bits in between.
Regrettably, the G1 was always going to be compared to the iPhone. Both feature an applications store of sorts and a large touch-screen. That said, while the iPhone holds its own as an iconic and stylish device, the G1 is actually a little awkward looking. It is a brute of a device, both in terms of build and weight. Available in chalk white or jet black, we far preferred the latter. Designed by HTC – though the manufacturer appears to have let T-Mobile take the driving seat – the G1 is adorned with a 3.2-inch touch-screen, five hard keys and a BlackBerry-style trackball.
The aforementioned keys include the standard call and call end buttons, as well as a home key and a back key. Hovering just above the trackball is a menu key. All the keys rest on the slightly tilted end of the phone. We have to admit to not being much of a fan of this angled design. Perhaps its purpose is to achieve a better shape for speaking into the receiver and improving call quality, or perhaps it is to aid the hinge movement needed for the slide-out QWERTY keypad. Either way it gives a somewhat broken look to the device.
The actual sliding mechanism, however, is a work of craftsmanship. In pushing it out you are met with some resistance, followed by a satisfying snap as it slides out fully. Unlike other devices that boast a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, which tend to slide upwards, the G1’s screen slides out to the left before snapping into an upright position. It is a slick movement that gives the device some real credence in terms of build.
While the QWERTY keys feel good under the thumb, we think the fatter thumbed may suffer the odd accidental key press due to the fiddly nature of the keys. But we are big fans of QWERTY keypads, as they rapidly increase the time it takes to write texts, emails and web addresses. As for the touch-screen? We are pleased to say it is a winner. It is impressively tactile and responsive with a swipe of a finger aiding you to glide through your pages, menu icons, photos and albums. In fact, we would go as far to say that it narrowly sits behind the iPhone, losing out as there is no ‘pinch’ and ‘flick’ function as found in Apple creation, and the fact that there is no virtual keypad means all text needs to be entered via the QWERTY keyboard. The trackball is another useful addition, particularly when jumping between hyperlinks, though we found no way of altering the sensitivity which may annoy some users.
The T-Mobile G1 is unique, as it has three homepages, which you can customise with menu icons of your choice. Simply place your finger on the grey tab found on the bottom or right of the screen, depending on which way you are holding it and slide your finger to the other end of the screen, thus opening up your menu icons. To then drag one onto a homepage, simply press your finger on it until you feel a short vibration and then drag it onto the screen. The beauty of having three homepages is that you can keep various functions separate from each other. For example, you could have a business homepage, personal homepage and a games and entertainment page. To remove an icon from the screen simply drag it back to the grey tab which will turn into a rubbish bin. All icons will remain in the main menu bar, so there is little chance of deleting an application permanently.
Being a Google device, it is not surprising that the internet giant’s own-brand products feature heavily, Google Mail being one. If you are already signed up to Gmail, synching it to your device is as simple as typing in your username and password. If you aren’t, it is almost as easy – you will be required to fill out a few additional security questions. The benefit is that you will receive your emails via push, which alerts you to their arrival as soon as they enter your inbox. While we were able to sync our Hotmail account so that our device held all our contacts, to retrieve email from any other server other than Gmail, emails need to be pulled from their site, and you have to go into your account to retrieve them.
When you receive an email, text or notification, there is a bar at the top of the screen that needs to be dragged down much in the same
way as the menu tab. However, it is far thinner and therefore fiddlier to do. One ingenious touch is that when you send a text, it is stored along with all texts sent and received between you and your contact. The result is a conversation feed. It is a great tool that helps you quickly familiarise yourself with an email conversation without having to trawl through your inbox.
Embedded on one of the homepages is a Google search bar. Simply type in your keywords and before you can say ‘Why is it called the Android?’ Google will have displayed a host of results. This brings us to the G1’s internet capabilities. With both HSDPA and Wi-Fi on board, expect a rapid web experience. What’s more, the G1 lets you open up multiple windows at any one time, without slowing the whole process down. To close a window simply hold down the menu key and press ‘W’.
We were most taken with the zoom and pan feature on the G1. Touch the screen and three virtual keys appear; a zoom-in key, zoom-out key and a scroll key. Press the scroll key and a boxed area of the webpage will be magnified. Slide the box around the screen with your finger until you find the part of the page you wish to view and then simply release your finger. The screen then automatically zooms into that area.
While the overall internet experience was breathtaking, the built-in YouTube application was hugely disappointing. Despite boasting a screen resolution of 320x480 pixels, the video quality was poor. It streamed fine, but the images were grainy, even when we played a video created by YouTube as opposed to something shot with a mobile phone. Talking of which, do not expect to capture any video with the G1. As with the iPhone, T-Mobile and HTC have taken the bizarre decision to omit video recording from the handset. With the aforementioned YouTube application on board it seems a strange omission.
With a 3.2-megapixel snapper, the G1 surpasses the iPhone’s disappointing two megapixels. The large screen and solid build gives the G1 an authentic camera feel. Unfortunately that is where the similarity ends. There are no settings, not even a zoom, and our pictures were often out of focus. It is a common misconception that a decent camera depends on the number of megapixels. While this is true to an extent, for a camera phone to achieve any kind of admiration, it should at least have a zoom and flash.
So just how revolutionary is this Android platform? In a word, very. At launch there were 50 applications available to download – from the ridiculous to the sublime – but expect this figure to grow dramatically. The fact that the Android platform is completely open means that anyone with the technical know-how can create an application to do whatever they wish. What’s more, the majority of applications are free to download, though once again expect this to change in the coming months.
To access the Google Android Market, you need to click on the icon found on the menu list. Then you can search for various applications via specific categories or through the entire list. Each application is given a brief description of what it does, and users are invited to leave comments and ratings. We opted for the cracking ShopSavvy application, a torchlight and Pac Man. ShopSavvy uses the phone’s camera to scan the barcodes of products before searching the web for the cheapest available price. With more products being added on a daily basis, we were already impressed by how many of the products we scanned were recognised. One slight frustration was that the app is also supposed to use the built-in GPS to single out a retailer near to your position that sells the item, though from all the products we tried we were only given web results. It is a great tool however, if you want to find out whether you can buy the product for a cheaper price from somewhere else. Downloading ShopSavvy from the Android Market took less than five seconds.
The G1 comes bundled with its own headphones channelling a decent music experience. This is a relief, since there is no 3.5mm headset port and no Stereo Bluetooth, so you are restricted to using the provided cans. The lack of a 3.5mm headset port is frustratingly commonplace, but to then not include Stereo Bluetooth is near unforgivable.
Google Maps is on board and continues to impress. We can’t help but waste away the minutes zooming in on a satellite view to our (or even our neighbour’s) back garden, and planning and viewing your route is a joy. We found the built-in GPS to be a bit hit and miss. However, the worse results only placed us one street from our actual location, which is not too bad.
There is a lot to like about the T-Mobile G1. It is easy to get to grips with, which is not something you can say about many touch-screen devices. We also loved the three-tier homepage approach and the messaging capabilities are top notch, especially the text/conversation feed. While there has been some caution expressed with regards to the Google Android platforms vulnerability to bugs and dud applications, it is sure to change the mobile application world for good.
We are just not convinced that the T-Mobile G1 is the finished article. It is a bulky device, the camera seems to have been included just for the sake of having one, and the lack of a 3.5mm headset port and Stereo Bluetooth left us fuming. Perhaps we were expecting too much, but with a function as revolutionary and exciting as the Android platform, we imagined a device to equal it. Expect the second Google Android to be a much slicker affair.