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Up close and personal with the T-Mobile-Google G1

My grade for the new T-Mobile G1 Google Android phone?Incomplete.
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Written by Josh Taylor, Senior Journalist on

My grade for the new T-Mobile G1 Google Android phone?

Incomplete.

T-Mobile G1
A few days of playing with the G1 mostly -- though not entirely -- confirmed my initial reactions from the launch event. Namely that the G1 is a perfectly nice little gadget, but is not going to (and in fairness, nor does it seem to be trying to) take the business world by storm anytime soon.

While I can't compete with my colleague Matt Miller's seven-screen, 260-image, five-video review (dude, when's the last time you've seen your family?!), here's my brief take.

The phone actually feels a lot better to me now than it did at the launch. Not sure if the hardware is any different, or it's simply the fact that it's not attached to a table. I found the screen to be nice and bright -- the home screen is very attractive -- and I found the software very intuitive.

And though I should be a primary target for this device -- I love the iPhone, but simply never truly embraced typing on a touch-screen -- I just can't heartily recommend the G1's keyboard either. While I may still get used to it, I found it pretty uncomfortable to position my right hand to type over the hump that's formed by the bottom of the device when the keyboard is flipped out. For those users accustomed to typing on a Blackberry or a Palm, it's not in the same league.

Then again, if you're accustomed to either of those devices, the fact that the G1 isn't currently compatible with Microsoft Exchange is probably a showstopper for you anyway. This isn't to say that at some point a third-party may not make an application that will address that hole, but for now, it's a big omission. While the G1 works with any POP or IMAP account, it's clearly geared toward G-mail users (Surprise!). And if you want to sync to your Outlook-based calendar, you'll need to go through the extra step of syncing it to Google Calendar on your PC first. The same holds true for contacts. On the positive side, there's basic copy and paste functionality - take that, Apple.

And while it may be unfair to compare the current collection of applications available for the G1 to what's out there for the iPhone, given Apple's head start, but even at launch, the iPhone seemed to have a far broader selection of titles available. I wouldn't be surprised to see this change soon -- especially once other carriers begin shipping Android-based devices -- but I was a bit disappointed to have such limited options (though I have thoroughly enjoyed Pacman).

I have found that making phone calls on the phone is actually easier than on the iPhone, and the sound quality was superb (though I got some complaints that I sounded a bit muffled at times).

And while surfing the web is significantly better on the G1 than on most other devices, it simply doesn't compare with the iPhone. Page load time is way slower -- both over Wi-Fi and 3G -- and once the page is loaded, you need to press buttons to zoom in and out, as opposed to the ridiculously-straightforward pinching gesture that works on the iPhone. Like the iPhone, the G1 currently lacks Flash compatibility.

Not surprisingly, the iPhone is the hands-down winner when it comes to music playback, although at least the tracks you can purchase from the included Amazon app are DRM-free.

And while a bit hard to compare battery life between the iPhone and the G1, since my iPhone was constantly syncing with a very-busy Exchange account, the G1 probably gets the slight nod here, though the bottom line is that at this point, both devices make it through the day (assuming you have the latest iPhone software).

So why the "incomplete" grade? The entire point of Google's Android OS that's powering the G1 is that it's open source. And while for now, not many developers appear to be on board, it's not hard to imagine that within weeks, or certainly months, many of the voids of the G1 will be addressed by third parties. And while I personally don't love the keyboard, it's still a vast improvement for those of us who simply have a hard time embracing typing on the iPhone's touchscreen.

So, if your business uses Exchange, give it a few months. By then, not only will you be able to see if anyone has written software to make it Android-compatible, but you may even have additional handset choices. If you're looking for a device for primarily personal use -- and better yet, you're a consumer of Google services -- I expect that you will be very pleased with the G1.

The nitty gritty: The G1 is available solely through T-Mobile, for $179. An unlimited data plan is $25/month, and includes 400 text messages; unlimited text messages bumps the plan to $35, and both plans include free use of T-Mobile Wi-Fi hotspots. (In comparison, the least expensive iPhone 3G is $199, data is $30/month, and doesn't include any text messages.)

Again, for a virtual G1 encyclopedia, take a click on over to Matt Miller's outstanding review on ZDNet's Smartphone and Cell Phone blog.

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