The world's first Android-powered handset has finally hit the market under the guise of the T-Mobile G1 with Google, and it certainly doesn't disappoint in its 'Google-y-ness'.
First impressions are of a fairly functional business phone, with trackball and a slide-out QWERTY keypad a nice BlackBerry-esque touch.
It should be remembered that HTC is a firm with a fast growing reputation in the smartphone market; the Touch series is already proving popular and the coup of picking up the first Android phone is a real feather in the Taiwanese manufacturer's cap.
Lest we forget, the reason we're here is to look at the OS, not the handset itself. The touchscreen and key interaction might be limited by the handset, but what about the actual Android that everyone has been bleating on about for so long?
Well, it's nicely laid out for starters. The icons that you like most can be placed wherever you want on the home screen, and you can wipe that left or right to access more icons.
The pull out menu and the fact you can pull down different open applications is very nice too... it works well and feel very intuitive.
The access to Google's applications, such as Mail or Maps, is very easy, and you can tell they've been formatted for this OS, as the simplicity of use, such as having your mail laid out in a long list, is easy to see and feel.
We're impressed... and you can tell there's going to be a lot of new and innovative things that come out of this open source project from the Open Handset Alliance.
|The T-Mobile G1|
The slide out keyboard has a nice feel to it; the keys aren't too far apart and the whole thing sits nicely in the hand in both landscape and portrait mode, though operating the trackball with one hand and using the touchscreen was a little bit tricky.
However, the action had a slight Side-kick feel... we'd rather have a bit more slider-phone slickness to it if we're honest.
It's tricky to chat
Messaging, be it MMS, SMS or e-mail, is only available via the QWERTY keyboard, and the little kickblock at the bottom of the handset, where the buttons are housed, get right in the way when you're typing.
"I haven't heard of it [the accelerometer]. It's not in the kit when the phone comes out of the box," said a spokesperson for T-Mobile.
However, we found a 'Compass' application that seemed to work in the same way as an in-built accelerometer might work... so whether the hardware is there and developers haven't got hold of it yet in this first generation... we're very confused.
Perhaps you'll be able to download it in the future or something.
The phone also doesn't come with video playback out the box either... you have to download an application to be able to do so.
While it's a real negative point for the handset, it does show the power of Android. If there's a problem, give it to the development community. They'll sort it!
The other problems, like no Flash compatibility and lack of Exchange support are less of an issue - the developer community will get their hands on these problems and hopefully fix them soon.
The interface is quick and light, just like in the emulation videos. The swiping is the same as many other touchscreens out there, and while it isn't as good as the iPhone is still very accurate and does what you need.
However, the icons sometimes weren't pressed straight away when we tried... we hope that's down to early versions of the phone.
The barcode scanner function is a lot of fun, though hardly the thing people have been crying out for on their mobile phone. It works easily and you can use the online price comparison website... Android is looking for UK centric applications at the moment as apparently there's a lot of focus on the US side of things.
GPS is quick and very accurate... the Google Maps application with Streetview and all the rest works really nicely, though we couldn't find any Streetview options in London. Great.
The internet was fine and dandy, and loaded pretty quickly, but didn't really jump out on the screen in the way other mobile browsers do... but to be honest it is the full internet from the word go, and that can't be sniffed at when some of the browsers of old failed to even show text at times.
The fact of the matter is Android ISN'T the T-Mobile G1, it's just the interface on the otherwise quite boring handset. But the media has got into such a frenzy about it that people are believing that the G1 could seriously be THE iPhone contender of the year.
However, the phone is great when you get it out the box, in the same manner as the iPhone. You can see the icons straight away, see what you want to see and add what you want to add, then just drag and drop them around when you don't want them. Apple did it first, and Google is building on that.
We just got an early hands on with T-Mobile's G1 Android and yes, it does look as nice as it does in the photos. The screen is fantastic, and it's actually not as chunky as it looks, but it's definitely not iPhone-skinny. You can see the Sizemodo here, and we'll have even more details and a more in-depth hands-on in a bit. UPDATE: Updating hands-on impressions live, right now. UPDATE 2: Now with full video walkthrough and even more impressions.
In your hand the G1 feels good. Solid and all-plastic, but not nearly as clunky as the blurrycam photos showed. Getting used to the controls takes a little bit—babies can't pick up and instantly know their way around, like on the iPhone. Control wise, it suffers from a bit of schizophrenia—with a trackball, touchscreen, candybar mode and flip-out QWERTY, there's a lot going on at once. What's nice is that it seems to not lock you in to anyone type of control interface—scrolling with trackball and touching work at the same time in many apps.
You use the menu button a lot, more than we'd like. For instance, in the browser, our instinct—kind of biased one, admittedly—is to touch the top of the screen to pop up the URL. Here, you've gotta press menu. Same with any other app, to do pretty much anything. It also pulls the Palm move of having the home button be separate from the power/lock button, so if you push the red button instinctively to kill an app, you're just going to lock your phone.
Browsing: It may just be that we're not comfortable with it yet, but the browsing is kind of cludgy. Again, control is an issue - lots of UI to fight through. Scrolling and zooming around a rendered page is a bit jerky as well, but on par with Opera Mini and similar mobile browsers. The touch zoom buttons don't work as intuitively or respond as tightly as they should. Even though they're both based on Webkit, it's not as smooth as multitouch Safari, yet. Scrolling around web pages with the trackball is definitely smoother and more intuitive, immediately, than using the touch screen.
Google Apps: We didn't have a Gmail account loaded, so we couldn't see incoming messages, but the app looks minimalistic and was snappy. Text input is with the QWERTY keyboard, as it is with every app right now. It's kinda subdued, missing the colorful bubbly design of the Gmail Mobile app for other phones. Interestingly, there is a Google Talk service active within the IM app, even though we had heard from the Android Devs that GTalk was not making it into the first version of the software.
Maps is top-notch—we found our location within a few seconds indoors on Manhattan's far east side with combines GPS and cell-tower. It's incredibly optimized, perhaps the smoothest app experience we've had yet. And Compass View, which uses accelerometers to predict where you're pointing the phone to scroll around Street View accordingly, is rad—augmented reality, here we come.
There is no native Docs app in the first release.
Android Market: Android Market appears to be fully functional—we grabbed Pac Man and installed it over the air with 3G. Overall it seems like a very, very similar experience to the App Store—downloads once under way get kicked to your notification tray for progress, and they appear in your main app pull-out drawer when finished. Pac-Man started up immediately.
Here we grab Pac-Man:
Apps in the Background: Background apps are handled with a system-wide pull-down notifications drawer in the upper left corner. When we received an IM while in another app, the sender's name blinked and we could pull it down to view. Downloading apps also appear in the notifications tray.
Multitasking is handled in an interesting way - apps never truly "quit." According to Dan Morrill, one of Google's Android software guys, it seems In most cases, the actual GUI app that you interact with on the phone (say to view your IMs) runs independently of code at a deeper, service level. That way, you don't have to be running the GUI for an app to still have it function. A task manager shows you the six most recent apps, but beyond that, the system handles which apps quit and which ones stay open entirely by itself, based on memory usage needs.
Headphone Jack: Yeah, there isn't one. You'll have to use a USB adapter. Which isn't included. Sigh.
Music App: Not the prettiest. Integrates cover art nicely if it's there and gets the job done with sorting by album, artist, playlist—the usual. Speaker is nice and loud for when you don't have your USB adapter. All music and media has to be side-loaded and read off an SD card, and it'll have a 1GB one included.
Amazon MP3 Store: The interface is extremely well designed, and incredibly easy to use, just as good as iTunes Wi-Fi store on our first impression. It's tied to your Amazon account, so you can buy with 1-click. You have to be connected to Wi-Fi to download it on the spot, but you can buy anytime. We actually tried to grab a song with our account, but ran into the SD card problem (as you can see in the gallery). And in some over-3G-downloading, and it'd be golden.
Dev Tools: Befitting an Linux device, the shipping G1 will feature a debug mode that, when tied to a PC via USB, allows for plenty of tinkering with apps. Security layers prevent you from futzing with the core code and application and service data, but if you have privileges, you can develop directly on the phone.
Anotther interesting feature is ability to install applications from a non-Android Market source. That means that it will be possible to download full applications directly from developers and install them independently from the Market. Core security again blocks apps that violate terms of services (VoIP or Amazon MP3 downloads over 3G are both confirmed no-nos), but awesome to see that the software is so accessible without any prior approval.