This December my wife presented me with a early Christmas gift that I was extremely excited about: the hotly anticipated T-Mobile G1. We were able to open a new line of service on our existing T-Mobile account, which allowed to us to take advantage of the full discount offered on the T-Mobile G1. We picked up the device for only $179! After about three weeks of using the T-Mobile G1 intensely, I’m ready to give you the real scoop on one of the most talked about devices of 2008.
The T-Mobile G1 has been heavily criticized for it’s unique look, and it’s true that the slightly angled bottom section gives the device an interesting appearance, but in my opinion it’s hardly the clunky, dated brick that some reviewers claim. When I first opened the the box, I was actually quite impressed with its sleek but approachable shape. The device feels solid in the hand, but light your pocket. The T-Mobile G1 also boasts a large and responsive touch screen, and a thoughtful set of buttons on the angled “chin” section add convenient functionality. A welcome addition is the handy trackball, which provides a great way to flip and scroll though menus, dialogs, and web pages. The trackball is particularly useful when navigating web pages full of small links that would be difficult to pinpoint accurately with a finger tap.
One glaring issue with the hardware is that there’s no standard headphone jack. T-Mobile does provide an adaptor with the the device that plugs into the G1’s usb port, but this is a less than ideal solution if you’re planning on using the T-Mobile G1 as your primary music player.
My favorite hardware feature is the keyboard housed underneath the sliding screen. Backlit and spacious, it’s by far the best thumb keyboard I’ve used. It stands head and shoulders above the Palm Centro, and seems easier to type on than even the excellent Nokia n810. The keys are slightly raised above the surface of the phone, and have a nice, solid click action.
The real selling point for the T-Mobile G1 is Google’s Android operating system. Linux-based and open source, it promises innovation and unprecedented freedom for users and developers. First impressions are great; everything is touch-based, simple, and intuitive. Most of the time, it’s pretty snappy, too. Every now and then I’ve experienced lags returning the home screen, which is an annoyance, to be sure, but nothing major. The Android Market already includes hundreds of applications that extend and enhance the default functionality of the G1, such as ShopSavvy, a fantastic app that turns the device’s camera into a barcode scanner for on-the-fly price comparisons and product lookup.
The seamless integration with your Google Account and services is nothing short of extraordinary. I love not having to even think about syncing my email, contacts, or calendar. It’s all done transparently in the background, and the mobile counterparts to Google’s webapps are really great. The Gmail client, in particular, allows for almost the complete functionality of the full-on web interface. The Maps application is equally cool, and allows for quick searches based on your GPS-determined location. Being able to tap a phone number in an email to add a contact, or getting directions simply by tapping an address in a webpage makes for one the most productive experiences on a mobile Internet device I’ve ever had.
Speaking of web pages, the included web browser is also just fantastic. A mobile version of Google’s Chrome Browser, it has many features of a regular desktop browser, like the ability to save your usernames and passwords and browse web pages in their full HTML glory. Navigation is a cinch with the intuitive zooming tools and a nifty “magnifying glass” feature that lets you preview spots on a webpage before zooming all the way in.
The one limitation on the browser is that’s there’s no in-line Adobe Flash support, which can pose a problem on a few sites. YouTube videos will be redirected to the built-in YouTube Video application (which works as expected), but other Flash content isn’t viewable. Hopefully T-Mobile and Google will push out an update to remedy this issue soon.
In general, the T-Mobile G1 handles multimedia only fairly well. The music player that’s included is decent, and plays a good variety of audio formats including Ogg Vorbis. The G1 also a has custom app to integrate with Amazon.com’s mp3 store, but there’s no video support out of the box other than YouTube. A free video player app is available in the Market, but it is limited in the formats that it supports. It’s important to keep in mind that the T-Mobile G1 only comes with a 1GB mini SD card for storage, so you’ll need to purchase a larger capacity card if you’re really going to make a go at using the G1 as your primary media player.
Although I’ve been pleased with the audio quality and the way the G1 works with multimedia, one thing that’s been keeping me from investing in my G1 as my main media device is the less than stellar battery life. If all WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS are on, the battery will barely make it through the day with normal use (a couple hours of web browsing, an hour on the phone, some calendaring). Once you add any kind of media playback to the mix over a couple hours, you’ll need a mid-day charge. This rules the G1 for long road trips or cross-country flights. I’ve heard a higher capacity battery will be introduced soon, but I’m expecting to have to shell out at least $40 for the upgrade.
If you’re a business user, you’ll also want to remember that the G1 doesn’t have any kind of Micrsoft Exchange support, so unless you’re content with using the Exchange web interface only, you’ll be out of luck when comes to the T-Mobile G1. The G1 does support standard POP and IMAP mail, though, so you’re not completely restricted to Gmail. If you’re invested in a calendaring platform apart from Google’s, though, you’ll probably have to convert over.
The T-Mobile G1 is obviously a first generation device, but despite some hardware and software quirks, it’s well worth the discounted price. As someone who is pretty invested in Google’s productivity suite, the G1 offers me a new level of convience and integration, along with virtually ubiquitious Internet access. The openness of the platform means I’m always discovering new, free applications that take advantage the G1’s fantastic capabilities. If you’re a general consumer or open source enthusiast in the market for a highly integrated, touch-screen phone with a massive emphasis on the Internet, you really can’t go wrong with the T-Mobile G1. Business users and those with damanding multimedia needs might want to wait for better battery life and full Microsft Exchange support.