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10/28/2008
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Review: HTC G1 Android Phone

T-Mobile is expected to sell nearly half a million Google phones by year end. Does the first Android smartphone live up to the hype?

It's finally here. The Gphone, the Google Phone -- otherwise known as the T-Mobile G1 with Google. It is the first device running the new mobile operating system from Google, called Android. This InformationWeek report takes in-depth look at both the hardware and the software.

The build-up lasted nearly a year. Google first announced its intent to launch a new mobile operating platform in November 2007. Since then, the mobile industry and geeks the world over have been hungrily awaiting its arrival. Google, along with wireless network operator T-Mobile USA and handset manufacturer High Tech Computer (HTC), has offered up the first piece of hardware with Android as the backbone. Was it worth the wait? Can Android challenge the incumbents? Let's break it down bit by bit.

First Impressions

If you're looking to be wowed by the G1, better prepare for disappointment. The G1, manufactured by Taiwan-based HTC, is a rather blunt, blocky device that fails to inspire. It's heavy and doesn't have the attractive qualities that HTC has imbued some of its other recent smartphones. Compared to other devices that are of similar size, it is weightier and bulkier. Not egregiously so, but enough that you notice.

The review unit I had was brown. Brown is not the most flattering color for any electronics device. The G1 also comes in white and black (like another device you may have heard about, called the iPhone).

Most of the G1's controls are easy enough to use. There are five buttons at the bottom of the phone for interacting with the menus and other functions. All these buttons are fine. The trackball -- similar in feel to the BlackBerry Pearl or Curve -- works well for zooming around the screen quickly if you're too lazy to stretch your thumb up to touch the display. There are several hatches covering the microSD and miniUSB ports. While the miniUSB port on the bottom is easy enough to peel back, the microSD port is hidden craftily in the G1's side.

Touchscreen And Keboard

The two biggest parts of the G1 that you'll be interacting with are the touch screen and the full QWERTY keyboard. The touch screen is made from touch capacitance technology, similar to the Apple iPhone. Touch capacitive screens are very responsive. The G1 was no different in this regard. It responds well to user input and doesn't require multiple touches to get it to work. The screen itself is fantastic. It is very bright, sharp, and colorful. Images, Web pages, icons, and graphics look incredible.

If you read other reviews about the G1, you'll see both praise and criticism of the physical keyboard. I didn't like it. The brown version of the G1 uses poor color choices for the keys that make them very hard to tell apart. Even when the keyboard's backlighting is on, it is difficult to see which keys you're pressing. This makes it somewhat difficult to type.

Also, the G1 has a large chin at the bottom (where the menu keys and trackball are). You have to reach your right hand around this chin to reach the keyboard. I found it to be awkward and it caused some strain in my hand after using it for a while. Others have reported that the keyboard feels great. The keys themselves feel OK, but any keyboard takes some time to adjust to.

One thing to keep in mind: Since there is no software keyboard at all, you're going to be opening and closing the G1 a lot to type messages or any sort of text.

In all, the G1 is not a bad piece of hardware, but it is not the best I've used, either.

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