T-Mobile G1: Apple shouldn't be scared... yet

I've had a few hours to absorb the T-Mobile/Google launch event, and I have to say, I think I was expecting more. And if the folks around me in the product evaluation area were a representative sampling, I don't think I'm alone.

I've had a few hours to absorb the T-Mobile/Google launch event, and I have to say, I think I was expecting more. And if the folks around me in the product evaluation area were a representative sampling, I don't think I'm alone.

Don't get me wrong - the G1 appears to be a perfectly good smartphone - especially if you're a heavy user of Google services. But the phone is missing so many features that would appear to be so basic - if for no other reason than that the iPhone has made us expect them - that it's hard for me to get super-excited. But it feels more like a Sidekick that grown-ups can use, than anything truly revolutionary (and perhaps not surprising given Google's phone guru is Andy Rubin, one of the creators of the Sidekick).

Of course, Google is counting on developers to fill in many of the gaps, but why couldn't they ship the phone with the ability to rotate the screen based on its orientation in your hand? The G1 has an accelerometer, so it's not a hardware issue. And why couldn't they have had Flash compatibility ready to go? Given how many dings Apple has taken for the iPhone's lack of Flash compatibility, you would think this would have been a nice win?

I was also surprised that they weren't ready with MS Exchange-compatibility out-of-the-gate, but given T-Mobile's emphasis that the G1 was first and foremost a consumer device, perhaps I shouldn't have been. Again, Google and T-Mobile are clearly counting on a third-party to fill that gap, but it seems like it should have been easy enough to have ready now.

The camera - still only, no video - is three megapixels, which is nice, but no zoom functionality, and, like the iPhone, you have to have a remarkably steady hand to take a shot in anything but an incredibly-well-lit room.

I was also surprised by how slow the browser seemed to be. Now granted, it was a far from scientific test, but my colleague Matthew Miller and I loaded the same page at the same time (the home page for Major League Baseball), on both a G1 and an iPhone 3G, using WiFi connections on both, and the iPhone finished loading the page about 10 seconds faster than the G1 (very roughly 15 seconds to 25 seconds). Keep in mind this was not a super-scientific test, but the lag was noticeable.

I also longed for the iPhone's ability to simply pinch and squeeze to shrink and enlarge what I was viewing - having to zoom in and out felt so very "Windows Mobile," though once again, I wouldn't be shocked to see a third-party developer come with an application to address this.

This isn't to say that I hated the G1 - and in fact, if the iPhone hadn't broken so much ground, at first glance, the G1 would be a truly exciting new product. Even though the keyboard's not great, I like the fact that it has one - I still haven't quite grown accustomed to typing on the iPhone screen. The Google mapping stuff is very sharp - I particularly liked the compass functionality. And the Amazon music store, which looks remarkably like the iTunes application for the iPhone, is a very nice touch (and a DRM-free one at that).

I look forward to receiving our test device soon so we can really put it through its paces, but so far, while I wouldn't say I'm truly underwhelmed, I'm far from overwhelmed.

I guess that leaves me at whelmed.

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