- The T-Mobile G1 Is The Most Customizable Device We've Ever Seen; Rivals The iPhone's Fun Factor

Tricia Duryee
Thursday, October 16, 2008; 1:00 AM

To get the excitement rolling for the upcoming availability of the first Google ( NSDQ: GOOG) phone, T-Mobile USA has planted a number of devices in the hands of a select group of reporters, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on one. Over the past few days, I did my best to determine the best and worst of the T-Mobile G1. I asked is it an iPhone killer?; does it feel clunky in my hands?; is it easy to use?; is it appropriate as a work device?; is it fun?; and, most importantly, is it stable? I answered most of these questions below with the thought in mind that Apple's iPhone is the one to beat. My final conclusion is that the G1 rivals the iPhone in fun, and offers an unparalleled experience when it comes to customizing the device, but suffers a bit because learning all of its features takes time. Finally, when it comes to using it for work, the G1 is not perfect. Keep in mind that this is the first Android device being manufactured by one handset maker and being sold by one operator?if Google has its way, there will be many more to come.

-- The device: Built by HTC, it has the handset-makers signature slide-out keyboard and has a boxy form. However, the device looks a lot better in person than it does in pictures on the Internet, and has a tilt at the very bottom of the device, which makes it look like a traditional landline phone has the mouthpiece curve with your head. The shape also prevents the screen from being scratched when face down on a surface. For security purposes, users don't have to enter a password, but instead can login by drawing a pattern on a designated three-by-three grid of dots. This is especially nice because it requires less accuracy than typing and doesn't require pulling out the keyboard, but is equally difficult to guess.

-- Personalization: Hands down, the G1 desktop is the most customizable phone that I've ever seen?everything is up for grabs. The desktop encompasses three screens, and anything can be stored or kept on any of the screens. Widgets can be saved to the desktop, such as a big analog clock, or a snapshot of your pet or child. Shortcuts can also be saved to the desktop that link to any application or even for contacts you call the most. To delete an app, just tap, hold and drag it into the trash bucket. Like no other phone I have ever seen, the things you care about can be are front and center on the device. That means, although your phone may look like someone els's on the outside, the desktop is guaranteed to look nothing the same ? similar to how people can customize their MySpace page.

-- Touchscreen: The touchscreen is basic, but differs from the iPhone in that you cannot do multi-touch, where you can pinch a screen smaller, or stretch it larger. You can swipe, tap, or conduct what is being called a "long press." If you tap and hold your finger on many of the icons, a menu will pop up. Think of it as a right-click on a mouse. For instance, "long press" on a phone number, and you'll have the option of calling or sending an SMS. You'll find yourself using this feature a lot.

More after the jump on apps and the Android Market, the camera, the "window shade," Google's influence on the device, and the downsides...

-- Apps: All of the applications reside in the app tray. From the homescreen, you can slide the app tray out from tapping a tab and dragging it out. This is where all of your apps reside, however, you can place shortcuts on your homescreen, and you can even create folders. For instance, you can create a folder of games, or pictures, or the folder can have no theme at all.

-- Android Market: The additional functionality that is brought to the device from third-party developers is one of the reasons Google says you might buy the phone?it never gets outdated, it evolves with you....Of course, the phone hasn't even launched yet, but as of yesterday, I counted about 40 free applications available for download. Some of the apps include: a Skype service that allows you to talk on the phone without using your bucket of minutes (something the iPhone doesn't allow); a furry dog that vibrates when you pet it, a cab-finder, weather applications; ringtone makers and a couple versions of Wikipedia. In addition to what's available in the app store, Google has its fair share of embedded apps, such as Maps, Gmail, YouTube and IM. There's also an MP3 store, by Amazon, which allows you to download full-track songs over a Wi-Fi connection.

-- The camera: By far, the camera is the most disappointing part of this device. The shutter speed seems to take an entirety to click. On multiple occasions, I thought I'd taken a photo, only to have already put the phone in my pocket and hear it click. Having said this, it is a 3 megapixel camera, and takes high-resolution quality shots. There's not a flash, there's no zooming and no video, although we hear video may come in later versions. One nice feature is that if you upload the pictures to Flickr or Picassa, or a similar photo-sharing site, and it will send along the GPS coordinates of where you took the shot.

-- Window shade: The window shade, as it is being called, is the fastest way to get to your new emails, text messages, or missed calls. The window shade is simply pulled down for the top of the screen with a drag of a finger. When done, roll it back up with a flick. It works well for getting to items quickly that need immediate attention.

-- Google's influence: This is one item that I wanted to take special note of. Was Google's brand obnoxiously splashed across the device, or were users forced to use Gmail, Google Talk, Maps, YouTube or Google Search? The across-the-board answer is no. The Google applications are there, but in all cases, they can be deleted or moved. The biggest complaint people may have is that they must own and login into a Gmail account in order to get the device up and running. But after that, users can enter a ton of other email accounts, such as Yahoo, Hotmail, Comcast and others. Even the Google search bar that comes standard on the desktop can be dragged into the trash. To be sure, people will end up using the Google applications because they are easy to use. For instance, Google Maps integrates with GPS to find your location and then will provide directions to an address in your contact list. Why bother using another provider?

-- Downsides: There are several factors that will absolutely drive people away from this device. For one, it's not small, and putting it in a pocket may be uncomfortable. It is also difficult to operate the device with one hand. A roller-ball?much like the ball on the Blackberry Pearl and Curve?makes it easy to scroll around a page without touching the screen, but I would not recommend pulling up a phone number, or checking an address while driving. However, if you plan ahead, you can create a shortcut on the homescreen to a person's phone number, or enter the address into Google Maps to avoid entering any information while on the road. The battery life is also a concern, although likely no more than it is on the iPhone. In one instance, the phone was completely dead by 11 p.m. after a four-hour road trip, in which I occasionally I used it for navigation, made one phone call, downloaded one app, accessed the Web a couple of times and took a dozen photos. With heavy use, it will not last all day. Another factor is that it's difficult to use for work. Today, the device offers no Microsoft exchange support, meaning that it will not get your work email, contacts or calendar appointments. I found a way around this by forwarding all my email to Gmail, copying all my contacts to Gmail, and downloading an app to my PC that syncs my Outlook calendar to Gmail. After taking those steps, I was able to replicate Outlook on the device, but it's not the most ideal situation.

-- The basics: Not to be forgotten is that the price of the phone and the monthly costs are reasonable. The phone is $179 with a two-year contract, and costs $25 a month for unlimited Internet and 400 text and picture messages. For $35 a month, a person gets unlimited text and picture messaging. For people currently in contract, it costs roughly $350.


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