09. 23. 2008
The fabled Google phone at last, the T-Mobile G1
Does this look like another iPhone clone, another sub-par piece of imitation like so many others (which will remain nameless)? It is a touchscreen phone very reminiscent of the iPhone, yes, but this is, at long last, officially, the first Google phone. Rumors of the Google phone have been around longer than Methuselah ever was, and so the unveiling seems to be, inevitably, a bit anti-climactic. The HTC-designed phone, rumored to be called "the Dream", is much less loftily called the T-Mobile G1.
While the G1 offers many of the same features as the iPhone (3G, touchscreen, customizable home screen, software store called Android Market, music player, maps, wifi), the most notable physical difference is the slide-out hardware qwerty keyboard. The iPhone famously eschews the hardware keyboard for an onscreen keyboard which some people love, and some people hate enough to even consider getting an iPhone.
As so many of the features are similar, without hands-on experience with the T-Mobile G1, it's difficult to judge on performance and usability. The phone has been heavily guarded and while it was on display at today's announcement, review models haven't been made available yet. Walt Mossberg did get close-up with the G1, and his review suggests that the phone is so tightly integrated with Google services like Gmail and Google Calendar, that the phone becomes much less practical for people who use other services. He also points out that the browser supports full-screen and zoom modes, but unlike the easy pinch or tap zoom function supported in the iPhone's Safari browser, the G1 requires moving around a virtual "lens" to the part of the page you want to see. Mossberg also found the keyboard a tad too flat for easy typing, and he points out that the G1 is noticeably heavier and thicker than the iPhone.
The G1 does support street view in Google Maps, something the iPhone doesn't have. In street view you can get a photographic view of the address you type in. It's unbelievably cool, even just on the desktop Google Maps. The camera on the G1 is also a bit better, at least in terms of megapixels, as it has a 3 MP auto-focus cam. One big drawback of the G1 is that it comes with just a 1 GB memory card, so there's far less room for photos and music, although you could buy a bigger memory card (up to 8 GB).
The features list doesn't specifically mention having GPS, although the focus on the maps app makes me think it certainly ought to be in there. With Google stressing the "openness" of their Android platform, applications will potentially be far more varied and more able to completely customize the interface. [Update: there is GPS]
The G1 will sell for $179, with a two-year contract from T-Mobile. The G1 will be available in the US on October 22nd. The phone can be pre-ordered now, from T-Mobile.