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T-Mobile G1 Review

The design of this device provides a good blend of form and function. They have forgone the approach of a single button touch screen and combined all the possibilities of use imaginable. It can be confusing at times which buttons to use, but it gives you the ability to use the Touchscreen, Full Qwerty Keyboard, Trackball (like the one used on Blackberry devices), and Five Hard Buttons (End/Power, Back, Home, Send, Menu), Camera, and Volume (Up/Down).

The display on the G1 is the same resolution as the iPhone at 320x480 but is smaller at 3.2 inches. It’s a very crisp, sharp, and vibrant display. It does a great job of handling multiple colors and rich graphics. The touch screen is pretty responsive and works well even with light touches. Unfortunately, it does not support multi-touch, so you will have to rely on long presses which you should be familiar with if you’re a Windows Mobile user or have used some of the other touch screen devices on the market.

This device includes a 3.2 megapixel camera on the back, which is quite a bit more than other phones currently on the market. The resolution is not perfect and many of the pictures turned out blurry. I wouldn’t choose this camera as a digital camera replacement, especially for low light pictures since there's no flash.

If you are planning to use the G1 as a music device, one thing to note is that it does not include a 3.5mm jack. Instead it has a external mini-USB plug that’s used for the headphones, 3.5 headphone adaptor, and charging. The device comes with stereo headphones that work ok, but if you’re an avid music listener then you will want to use the included 3.5mm adapter. The 3.5mm adapter can be a pain to keep track of so I would recommend that you just keep it connected to your personal headphones or stick with the included stereo headphones. It does not support charging and use of the headset at the same time unless you’re using stereo Bluetooth headphones, which by the way we’ll have a review of the latest Motorola units next week.

It’s nice that the G1 has a built-in GPS that you can use with Google maps. The problem I ran into is that once the GPS came online the service was a bit spotty and the device had a difficult time finding satellites both indoors and out. Many times the location it found was quite a bit off from my location. The GPS is pretty fun to use though especially if you’re a fan of Google Maps since it has a compass view that shows a street view in the direction you’re facing. Very cool.

The microSD slot on the G1 was almost impossible to find at first without reading the user manual, and is difficult to remove even with long nails.  If you slide the keyboard open you can find it on the lower left side. One very big plus is that it supports microSD HC cards up to 16GB, which makes your phone larger than the 16GB iPhone since it has internal memory as well. Thankfully, the G1 ships with a 1GB Sandisk microSD card. Funny how a 1GB card seems so small theses days.  By the way, we popped in a slotMusic card and it played just fine.

The overall call quality and signal strength of the G1 is about average compared to other T-Mobile phones. It doesn’t blow away other phones, but it’s not bad either. You can tell that T-Mobile’s 3G network needs some improvements when compared to using a phone for browsing on AT&T. The browsing and download speeds are decent for most tasks.

G1 battery life for normal use is pretty good as well compared to other devices and seems to be much better than the iPhone. However, turn on Wi-Fi and you can drain the battery quite a bit faster. Overall the software seems very stable and bug free which is very nice. At times it can be slow when running multiple tasks, but you find the same thing with other phones.

If you don’t have a Google account when you purchase this device you will soon. The first thing the G1 makes you do is create a Google account or sign in with your existing one so that it can sync with all the Google web based services such as email, calendar, contacts, etc. This is very helpful since it creates a one step setup process. Once you sign in you’re live with your calendar, email, contacts, and thankfully it all syncs over the air so no need to worry about PC synching. This will also make it very easy when transferring from one Google Android phone to another

There’s an additional email application that allows you to use AOL, Yahoo, IMAP/POP accounts. If you’re a business user who is looking to convert to this device you may want to stay away until they can get corporate email and exchange mail working. Right now there isn’t an application or email client that supports it on the device. This would make a perfect device for the business user, but unfortunately with the lack of support for Exchange or Blackberry you’ll have to just hang tight.

Unfortunately, there is no way currently to sync music files from your PC to the device so that it gets automatically populated. If you’re looking to transfer your huge playlists over to the G1 you’ll have a task on your hands. The microSD card shows up as a Mass Storage Device so you will need to drag and drop your files onto it which can be a pain. There was a firmware update adding support for Stereo Bluetooth which some folks will find attractive but will negatively impact battery life.

I really enjoyed using the Amazon MP3 store with the G1 which is a huge plus for this device. It’s very easy to browse and find music. The only issue is that it requires you to use Wi-Fi to download the songs. Overall, the music purchase process was very user friendly (once you setup an Amazon account) compared to other services.

The customizable home screen is very nice. It allows you to drag and drop any application you like onto the desktop and includes a big analog clock and Google Search box. It literally lets you drag icons around and customize the home screen the way you like it. To select items on the screen you can either use your fingers or the trackball. Again, the open source vibe is alive and well in all aspects of this device.

The trackball is very useful in the web browser, especially for links that are too small to click with your finger. The web browser provides a great single touch approach and is very responsive when scrolling and zooming in/out.

Out of the box the G1 does not include a video player but there is a free video player available for download from the App Market. The YouTube app works great and you can tell that Google put a lot of work into improving the experience on this device. I found that YouTube videos loaded and played smoothly.

Okay, so forget everything you just read. Really, the G1 is not about what it can do today. It’s about what’s coming in the months and years ahead. The Android App market is really where the possibilities of this device open up. One shortfall is that the device does not include a ton of embedded memory so you will have to be a bit selective with what you download if you are planning to download a ton of applications. A big plus is that all the applications are free at the moment and there are a ton of apps out there for every category. Most of the games are very casual, nothing with intense graphics.

With the G1 it's all about the apps.  There's got to be more than Shazam for the G1. We think it’s highly likely we’ll see a handful of apps in 2009 that showcase the promise of the open source approach and that’s what this phone is all about. We can’t wait to see what happens next.

-- Zach Hooper

Visit T-Mobile for more information.


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