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This May Not Be the Droid You're Looking For

So, through a series of unlikely events, I have a T-Mobile G1 "Google phone" on my desk right now. It arrived yesterday; beyond the jump are my 24-hours-later observations.

New G1

(More pictures can be found here.)

Short version: it's not even close to perfect, but it's a viable alternative to the iPhone. The combination of camera, GPS, good screen and open source make it a likely first platform for early participatory panopticon development.

Tech geekitude ahoy -- follow the link at your peril.

The first thing that most people notice: It has a great personality. Thick, heavy, and (as a friend put it) vaguely "Soviet" in style, nobody is going to pick a G1 over an iPhone for aesthetic reasons. That's okay -- not all of us want high fashion in our communication devices.

I found its (for me) very usable slide-out QWERTY thumbboard a more convincing argument, and I suspect that the folks who haven’t found iTyping to be all that friendly would agree. (I don’t have an iPhone myself, but I do have an iPod Touch, which gives me a decent comparison point.) Getting to symbols is easier on the G1, and the keys are sufficiently clicky for me to be able to tell whether or not they’ve hit without having to watch the screen.

  • General Features: 3G (T-Mobile style, which means it’s ready for a 3G network nobody else in the world uses); WiFi; GPS; Bluetooth (limited to headset only, no tethering or file transfer); decent browser and a variety of apps; crap camera.

  • Things I Like: Good screen; solid keyboard; good utility overall; feels well-built (so far); decent web experience; it’s open source, and the “market” isn’t restricted in the way the iPhone App store is.

  • Things that Suck: The camera; the Bluetooth; the storage (comes with a 1G microSD card, needs much more); the overall heft (see width comparison between G1/iPT/Nokia N82/Nokia N810 here).

  • Thing that Sucks Most of All: It violates the rule I have for phones I buy for myself – it uses the same port for headphones and for power. If you have it plugged in to power, you can’t use the headset, and vice versa. And the port itself is a variation on the micro-USB standard. Some micro-USB cables will fit, but others won’t work – and the cables that the G1 comes with won’t work with any other micro-USB device.

The iPhone is the obvious comparison, and it’s a decent alternative for people who (a) won’t use AT&T (hi, NSA office in AT&T office!), but want GSM for international use, (b) don’t like Apple’s iPhone software policies, (c) need a physical keyboard, or (d) don’t like looking like a hipster. If the iPhone was unlocked for all carriers (without a hack that Apple could break with the next update), I’d probably go with that over the G1; since it’s not, I’ll probably hang on to this as a web device.

My Nokia N82 is much more of a regular phone with nifty features, but has two major (and very important to me) advantages over the G1: a fully-usable bluetooth (including tethering & file transfer) and a kickass camera. It also has a front-facing secondary camera for video calls.

My Nokia N810 is a good alternative as a web tablet, and is effectively a phone-less G1 (down to the crap camera) – but the keyboard feels flimsier, and it’s not as pocketable. It does have better storage, though, and terrific battery life (easily 8-12 hours of use). It also has more web features, including Flash on the browser, and a video-capable version of Skype.

Worth the money? If you need a new GSM phone with heavy web features, and don’t want the iPhone, then it’s arguably the best current alternative. If the web is less important than other features, but you still want GPS/WiFi/etc, then you’re probably better off with a Nokia N82/95/96 – especially if you want a decent camera.

On a hexadecimal scale, I rate it a “D” for web features and “9” as a phone.


What about Android's kill switch? A software developer having the power to decide which apps I can or can't run on my device is a deal-breaker for me.

"On a hexidecimal scale!"

You're hilarious.

Thanks for the review. I had Apple Product Meltdown Week last week. Nothing like broken-ness to make one look for alternatives.


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