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T-Mobile G1: Where the heck is the Google Reader app and more hands-on impressions & photos

As a long time T-Mobile customer and gadget geek I was so excited about the Google Android device that I flew out to NY from Seattle for the launch event for just 1 day. I wrote up some coverage during the event and then spent almost 2 hours playing with the T-Mobile G1 device. I have to say that the press event was a bit underwhelming and a bit disappointing when you compare it to Nokia and Apple press events I have been, primarily due to the short statements and limited content. However, they did an excellent job in providing a LOT of devices for us to play with and no one had to leave without getting as much hands-on time as they wanted.

T-Mobile G1: Where the heck is the Google Reader app and more hands-on impressions & photos
As a long time T-Mobile customer and gadget geek I was so excited about the Google Android device that I flew out to NY from Seattle for the launch event for just 1 day. I wrote up some coverage during the event and then spent almost 2 hours playing with the T-Mobile G1 device. I have to say that the press event was a bit underwhelming and a bit disappointing when you compare it to Nokia and Apple press events I have been, primarily due to the short statements and limited content. However, they did an excellent job in providing a LOT of devices for us to play with and no one had to leave without getting as much hands-on time as they wanted. Unfortunately, my N95 didn't take good video so I have none and will capture some as soon as a review unit arrives. I did take several photos that you can check out in my image gallery.

I do think there may be a place for the device and it is great to see an actual Android device launch just as HTC promised us last year. However, Google and T-Mobile are relying a great deal on developers to complete the device and when I asked about feature after feature seen on other devices the common reply was, "Developers are welcome to create it and the developers may provide it." Not really what I wanted to hear today guys.


 Image Gallery:Check out product photos and screenshots of the T-Mobile G1 Google Android device. 
Image Gallery: G1 Home screen
 
Image Gallery: G1 keyboard
 

I think the T-Mobile G1 may be the perfect device for those Sidekick users looking for something a bit more powerful with some promise for more in the future. It is not an enterprise device, it is not an iPhone competitor, and won't be affecting Nokia Nseries and Eseries sales and I will explain each of my beliefs below. It has its strengths and weaknesses and is not bad for a first generation device, but it isn't the ground breaking, blow-me-away type of device I was looking for from Google and HTC.

Enterprise (Windows Mobile, Nokia Eseries, and BlackBerry): There is no support for Exchange or BlackBerry syncing services and no way to sync even to Outlook via a cable. There is no ability to tether the device to your laptop and I am not sure that developers will be able to provide this. You can view Office attachments sent in an email and they do look quite good, but there are no editing, zooming, or saving capabilities. I asked about a notes or task list application and was told for the 1000th time that developers may provide this. I think enterprise wants more control than this for security and standardization and it just isn't an enterprise device. Nothing syncs or connects to a PC and there is no central Google webpage to manage all your data or apps so you can quickly go to an "Android data management page", like there is fore the Sidekick. Apps can only be purchased on the phone with no desktop option and the ability to back them up concerns me a bit.

iPhone competitor: The iPhone is a fantastic multimedia consumption machine and the G1 provides you just the basic found on just about any feature phone. You cannot watch movies on the G1, unless those are YouTube videos. You can download songs via the Amazon MP3 store, but just via WiFi and only directly to the device. You only have that lame proprietary HTC connector for connecting the included headset or adapter. The games (I only saw 1980s PacMan) are nowhere near what we are seeing on the iPhone.

Nokia Nseries and S60 devices: These devices are targeted to the person who wants to capture high quality still and video images or want a fairly open device known for good RF reception and great phone performance.. The higher end Nokia S60 devices support functions like VoIP, media playback, and much more and I think the audience is different than the Android market.

What is the G1 good at then? The hardware does feel good in my hand and the colors look good as well. The device is a bit longer than other new devices on the market, but it is narrower too and has a good phone feel to it. When I saw someone approaching me with one in his hand I at first thought it was an original Zune 30, until I looked a bit closer at it. I like the trackball (something that brought me back to the Curve). The keyboard has good spacing and layout, but the backlight seemed quite dim and it will take me a bit of practice to get used to it, as always. The keys are also quite flush and have little feedback and I don't understand how HTC took steps back on the G1 from their excellent current lineup of keyboards found in Windows Mobile. There are settings to assign keyboard shortcuts to applications, which I something I have been asking for on Windows Mobile and S60 so it is great to see that on the G1.

The touch screen is like the iPhone in that you don't use a stylus or fingernail, but fingertip to manipulate it. It doesn't support multi-touch, but it does have slick scrolling and fluid movements. It did take some practice to navigate around the display in the browser, but that is another one of those things to practice. The slider/hinge is interesting and I hope it holds out over extended us because you will be opening it to enter all of your text since there are no other text entry options.

If you use Gmail, Google calendar and Google contacts as your primary PIM and email clients and are on T-Mobile then you will probably like the G1. Linux fans may like it too, but it remains to be seen if developers will come to the party. I was expecting some announcement about numbers of developers or something and at least more than 2 applications demoed at the launch event. Since T-Mobile and Google seem to be relying on developers to provide much of the functionality missing at launch they should have spent 30 minutes of the press conference just highlighting developers and their applications. Since we only saw two limited applications I am a bit worried about whether or not Android development is going to take off when developers seem to be making good money from the iPhone App store. I do hope that the great community of developers from such places such as the Sharp Zaurus embedded Linux community come on board the Android platform.

Google Maps Street view is very slick with the integrated compass, but unlike the press release states Nokia had a compass first on their recent Nokia 6210 device. The Streets view rotates as you physically rotate and that is something new.

The device does feel snappy and like Windows Mobile running applications are managed dynamically by the OS. There is no option to close an application and it works much like the Palm OS and iPhone. Cut, copy, and paste are supported and works well. It is also nice to finally see T-Mobile 3G on a device. It does play YouTube videos quite well out of the box. POP and IMAP email is supported for your other accounts.

The Google contacts presence capability seemed slick, but I need to test it out more. It is nice to see threaded SMS out of the box. The audio player looks great with the Google and YouTube integration to find more related content to the artist. I like the Amazon MP3 store and am glad they went with them for DRM-free music. I also like the voice dialing application, tons of settings options to give me control of the device, and IM client support.

What don't I like about the G1? I don't like that it doesn't have any other way to sync or a nice Android homepage on Google to manage everything from a single display. I pretty much live on the Exchange cloud with my devices, but I am not a Google exclusive user and would have to work hard to make it work for me.

Where is the Google Reader application that syncs my feeds? This seems like a no-brainer and I can't figure out why this isn't a highlighted application.

I don't like the HTC headset connector, limited Bluetooth profiles (major issue for me and the iPhone too), lack of video playback support, lack of tethering capability (I don't use it much, but it is critical when I do), lack of notes application to record my thoughts, no smart dial feature, no UMA support, and lack of rotation in closed mode even though it has an accelerometer.

Engadget also posted the fine print from the T-Mobile terms that shows a soft cap of 1GB per month with the option for T-Mobile to throttle you back to only 50kbps. I am a heavy data user and generally consume 1GB to 3GB on my mobile devices so this directly impacts me, while I think the majority of people won't feel the pinch. You can't download MP3 files from the Amazon store unless you are on WiFi so you have to do a lot of surfing to reach this limit. Then again, if a video streaming application appears in the store you may reach this limit quickly. I think the 5GB cap that others enforce may be a more reasonable limit for T-Mobile to consider.

Apps/utilities I want to see: The first thing I think Google needs to roll out when the device launches in about 3 weeks is Google Reader. I think we will see social network apps for Twitter, Facebook, and more soon. I want to see an Office suite from someone like DataViz or QuickOffice, real Bluetooth profile support (A2DP and keyboard), VoIP, video player, ebook reader, weather application, and podcatcher (how about including this in the Google Reader application?).

Pricing and availability: I pre-ordered my G1 in black for a total cost of just about US$350 since I updated to a device within the last 22 months. The US$179 price is only for those customers who are eligible, just like the iPhone 3G and most all other subsidized prices in the US so there were no surprises there. My breakdown was US$299.99 for the device (full retailis US$399.99), plus US$18 upgrade fee (same thing I paid for thr iPhone 3G), plus US$28 in sales tax. I started off with the US$25 monthly data plan that gives you 400 text messages with unlimited data, but need to speak with T-Mobile to see how they work this into family plans that have unlimited texting between all phones. There are a few T-Mobile service questions I need answered as mentioned below.

Overall first impressions: I am impressed with the hardware quality and design in most respects, but there is definitely room for hardware improvements (real camera and settings, real Bluetooth profiles, standard headset jack, video playback support, better keyboard) with a 2nd generation Android device.

The software seems a bit limited for launch and hopefully the development community takes off since there is lots of potential for the device. Windows Mobile is much more powerful and functional and I can see why HTC can rest at ease creating Windows Mobile devices and Android devices.

I am buying one because I want a T-Mobile 3G device and I want to test it out and write about my personal experiences here. I also have hope for the "open" nature of the device, but remain cautiously wary. I need to evaluate its stability and hands-on functionality before I decide if I recommend it or not to family and friends. I am a bit concerned about losing the ability to use my BlackBerry Curve since I find that to be a great device on T-Mobile.

I have several images of the device and different screens on the G1 in my image gallery and you can also check out the ToyBox image gallery for more pics too. For more hands-on images and video, I recommend you check out PhoneScoop's coverage.

Questions I would like answered: I have several questions that I intend to answer when I get a review unit and a few of them are:

  • Can I have multiple Gmail accounts using the Gmail application? (Power users like me have multiple accounts and I understand we can use the IMAP/POP feature for these other accounts too.)
  • How does the G1 work with Family Plans (rates, text messaging)?
  • How long is the device exclusive to T-Mobile?
  • What is the plan for firmware upgrades? (Through T-Mobile or the Android Market)
  • Can things like UMA, better Bluetooth profiles, and video playing be developed by 3rd parties?
  • If I put documents on the storage card, can I view them outside of Gmail?

What questions do you have about the device?: I should have a review unit in a week or two so please post your questions here and I will include them in my full review.