T-Mobile Android G1 – First Thoughts

My G1 arrived just before Christmas (in fact just 1 day after my Birthday) after many, many months of pestering work to order me one. To say I was excited would be an understatement (Yes, I am a self confessed geek), the thought have having such an open device really was blowing me away.

T-Mobile Android G1
T-Mobile Android G1

For those that don’t know the T-Mobile Android G1 was the first released mobile device which runs the open Android operating system (developed by Google). The OS is open source which essentially means that all the code monkeys out there can dig right into the device and develop applications for it to their hearts content. The G1 hardware wise is actually a branded HTC device. HTC prior to this move are probably most famed for their Windows Mobile handsets such as the MDA/XDA ranges.

Anyhoo, back to my first thoughts…

Form Factor

Lots of folks think the G1 isn’t a pretty phone… perhaps they’re right, but to be honest I’m not one of them. And after much much use I actually think the phone is nice and well built. The sliding full qwerty keyboard is extremely usable and feels solid. The small angled portion of the phone helps it sit nicely in my pockets too. It doesn’t seem to big or fat even. One thing that does bug me however is the fact that one handed use is a tough. I don’t think I put this down to the fact that I have small hands but just that the “back” or “return” button is too far left to reach with your left thumb. This small niggle could be resolved by adding a “soft” button to the OS and applications… and given that this phone appears to be a developer’s dream it’s probably not long before this starts to appear.

The battery is poor… there’s no denying it. It would get me through a day of modest use with certain precautions taken like turning off bluetooth, WLAN and turning down the screen brightness but this seems absurd when I think that my old SE P910 would last for days even with extreme use levels. A fair point maybe the use of 3G which is known to be a real battery drainer and has plagued other handsets such as Nokia’s N95.

One thing that does really bother me about the G1 is the lack of a 3.5mm headphone socket. As someone who doesn’t want to have an MP3 (or OGG) player as well as my phone this is a real pain in the derrier. Adapters are available but that’s not really the point.

I suppose that I should make it clear that the hardware for me is certainly at the bottom of my thoughts when I talk about the G1… so lets move on and you’ll find out why.

The Goods

Because of the G1’s open-ness the “Market” (Android’s sister to the iPhone App Store) was full of applications very soon after the phone’s launch. Scores of developers had been using the Android SDK to make all sorts of pieces of software (many useful, many not so much) that could be downloaded directly to the phone. The open-ness also meant that many of the core phone features could be accessed by these developers… things such as the GPS, WLAN, contacts and SMS are all available to be used. Another key benefit that the Android OS offers is that internal architecture is extremely flexible and expandible. Basically if there’s something you don’t lke about any of the software (including the pre-installed apps from Google such as their Contacts applicaation) then these can be re-written and replaced.

The Bads

At the moment there’s only a couple of things I don’t like about the G1 when it comes to the OS and software, these being the lack of Outlook syncing, Bluetooth being limited to audio use (I.e. no PIM transfer) and no inbuilt support for using the phone as a modem. What we have to remember here is that these are (hopefully) only short-term issues thanks to the Android OS (in fact some clever folks have already come up with a tethering work around). Another point to remember is that support for “paid for” applications in the Market Place should be available in the first quarter of 2009 and that a whole host of offerings including an ActiveSync application should be available very soon after.

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The Bottom Line

It’s amazing… yes it is. The G1 itself has a few faults – which I quite happily forgive it for – but this I suppose isn’t what I think is amazing. It is in fact the Android OS that creates a whole world of possibilities. If you don’t like the look of the G1 then don’t worry, they’ll be scores of Android powered terminals coming out over the next year and I’m sure they’ll be one that you’ll feel happy about getting out in the pub.

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