T-Mobile, Google, and HTC unveiled the highly anticipated Android smartphone on Tuesday amid much fanfare.
The G1 smartphone is the first attempt by Google and the Open Handset Alliance to crack open the mobile industry. But the question remains: How does the G1 stack up to the competition?
The first Android-powered smartphone has a 3.2-inch touch display that flips out to reveal a QWERTY keyboard. There's also a trackball for navigation that's similar to the navigation method on many of the newer BlackBerry handsets from Research In Motion. The G1 also sports an accelerometer that automatically orients the content of the screen depending on how the user's holding it.
While the G1 undoubtedly looks sleeker than many thought it would, combining a touch screen with a QWERTY is nothing new. The LG Voyager sports both, although it's not a smartphone. For those wanting a little more horsepower, the HTC Touch Pro has many robust features and has a touch screen and a five-row slide-out keyboard.
The User Interface
Of course, all of the features and specs of a smartphone don't matter if the interface is hard to use. One of the main reasons for the success of the iPhone 3G is its user interface, which is widely regarded as intuitive and easy.
While it's impossible to know how well the G1's interface holds up over time, early reports suggest it's fast and responsive. InformationWeek writer Eric Zeman had some hands-on time with the handset and was impressed.
"The user interface was intuitive at first blush, and didn't leave you wondering 'Why did they do that?' The layout was easy to understand, and simply made sense," Zeman wrote.
Similar to other touch-screen smartphones, users can swipe the G1 to navigate pages and scroll. Additionally, holding down a specific spot brings up other options. Unlike the iPhone, there is no multitouch functionality. There's also a dedicated search button that can search through the Web and your contacts, depending on what you type in.
The UI is increasingly important on smartphones, and many companies are making it a priority. For example, Windows Mobile is widely seen as powerful but a bit cumbersome to use. Because of this, companies like HTC and Velocity Mobile are layering their own UIs on top of the OS to make navigation easier, particularly for touch-screen devices.
The Mobile Internet
The Android platform is betting on the mobile Web to help open up the mobile industry, and the G1 has multiple connectivity options. There's built-in Wi-Fi, EDGE service, and users can surf the Web or check e-mail over T-Mobile's growing 3G networks.
Like Google's Chrome, the G1's full-HTML browser is based on the open-source WebKit. Users can navigate pages via the touch screen or the trackball.
A full HTML browser is nearly standard for most smartphones today, and early reports indicate the browsing experience isn't better than using the iPhone's WebKit-based Safari, which is largely seen as the best mobile browser. The connectivity options can be found on most high-end smartphones, and road warriors may be shy about T-Mobile 3G coverage, which is expected to be in 27 markets by the end of the year.