Update: This preview was written based on limited experience with this device. A much more in-depth version, based on extensive use of this model, is now available: T-Mobile G1 Review
T-Mobile took the wraps off the first Android-powered smartphone yesterday, and I was at the press conference to get a first-hand look at this device.
In general, I am pleased with the T-Mobile G1. This device has decent hardware and the software is all I expected it to be.
I'm hardly the first to point out that this device is reminiscent of the T-Mobile Sidekick. This isn't really surprising, as both are aimed at the same target market: younger consumers who do a great deal of texting and want a physical keyboard.
The G1 starts out in a candy-bar shape, with its 3.2-inch display in portrait mode. However, the HVGA screen can slide to one side, exposing the QWERTY keyboard.
Those who like the Sidekick's keyboard should have no problem with the one on the G1. They are practically identical. It's important that this model have good keyboard, as it's the only input device. Despite the presence of this smartphone's touchscreen, there's no on-screen keyboard.
There's also no stylus, so every time you touch the screen you'll be using your fingers. The capacitive touchscreen should make this easy, and a trackball will also allow you to select items if you'd prefer.
This device will be offered by T-Mobile, but it was designed and manufactured by HTC, and like many HTC models it lacks a 3.5 mm headset jack. Instead, headphones will be plugged into a slightly modified mini-USB port on the bottom.
Speaking of the USB port, you'll be able to plug this device up to your PC and it will act as an external hard drive. This will allow you to transfer files onto the microSD storage card.
In general, the G1's hardware seems OK, but it's not amazing. It's not a device that makes your hands itch to touch as soon as you see it. It's practical but hardly cutting edge.
Android on Board
The real strength of the G1 will be its Android operating system. This main force behind this is Google, and so it's not surprising that this smartphone has numerous ties to Google's services.
Gmail is just the most obvious example of this. This smartphone will also have a GPS receiver and come with Google Maps.
You'll also be able to synchronize with Google Calendar and the contacts that are stored on Google. There's not a desktop synchronization tool unless some third-party writes one.
Probably the most important single application on the G1 is the web browser, as consumers have begun to expect to easily access the Web on their smartphones.
Android doesn't include Google's new Chrome, but Andy Rubin described it as "Chrome Lite". I was quite pleased with the browser in my initial testing. It rendered pages quickly and accurately, and moving around on large web pages was easy.
I predict that a hot selling item for Android will be widgets for the home screen. As it is, it emphasizes launching applications rather than giving users an overview of important information. Widgets for displaying upcoming calendar items or the subject lines from new emails would be welcome.
It isn't easy to judge the stability of an operating system with just a short test, but not only did the G1 not crash while I was using it, I didn't hear about any crashes from other people who tested it. And the fact that T-Mobile had dozens of demo units ready to show reporters is a good sign that this product is ready to go to market.
Video Overview of Android
While I was at the launch event yesterday, I recorded this video of the T-Mobile G1 in action:
In addition, a Google employee gave me a demonstration of some of the consumer-friendly features:
Pricing and Availability
This carrier is going to offer a $25 a month data unlimited data plan with 400 text messages for the G1, or for $35 customers can get unlimited data and unlimited messages.
In addition, this device will also be available in the United Kingdom beginning in November, and across Europe in the first quarter of 2009. This will include Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.
The best part of the T-Mobile G1 is its operating system. Android is shaping up to be what I and many others were hoping for: a new powerful but easy-to-use mobile OS. It has a few missing features, but Google's embrace of third-party developement should fill these in.
My opinion of the G1's hardware isn't as positive. To be a really hot item among its young and hip target audience, it needed to have a slick design. Instead it has a very safe, slightly boring form factor. I was hoping for something much thinner and sleeker looking.
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