I’m one of the poor, deprived people who has not had a hands-on with the HTC-manufactured Google Android-powered T-Mobile G1 phone (a few weeks ago, I sat next to someone who was using one), but they should soon be in circulation, and the first reviews are now hitting the web.
Engadget has a two-part review, which points out the hardware is somewhat plain and — annoyingly — lacks a standard headphone jack. The software, meanwhile:
is thoroughly modern and attractive, but its high-contrast, almost cartoonish look might be a turn-off for some. In a sick, twisted way, that dovetails nicely with the fact that Google’s stonewalling the enterprise market for the moment by leaving out support for VPN, Microsoft Exchange, and BlackBerry Enterprise Server; it’s just a hip-looking, totally approachable UI that doesn’t reek one bit of corporate starch.
The phone also doesn’t support PDF, Microsoft Office, and OpenOffice documents, except by Google converting them on Google’s server, which I find a somewhat inadequate process. This is a bit of a killer for serious use.
Also, you are forced to sign up for Google, of course, and one drawback for me is the very poor quality of Google’s online contacts application. However:
Forgetting for a moment how good or bad each app is on its own, we can’t emphasize enough: the pervasive nature of your Google account throughout Android is an absolute boon, and these apps are the central reason why. Your data’s just there without any fuss, and so far, we’ve had a hell of a lot fewer hiccups with it than [Apple’s] MobileMe did in its infancy.
Gizmodo has a shorter and snappier review. It complains about the keyboard and battery life (“you’ll need to get used to a mid-day charge at work”), and concludes:
The G1 phone and the Android operating system are not finished products. There are only three working Google Apps here — Gmail, Maps and Calendar — while Google Docs, Google News, Google Reader, Google Shopping, Google Images, Google Video, Blogger and Picasa are nowhere to be found. What’s the deal?
(Ahem, Gizmodo, didn’t you notice years ago that Google’s scattergun approach to buying in or developing products resulted in an amazing lack of integration?)
In the New York Times, in A Look at Google’s First Phone, Apple fan David Pogue says, wrongly, “The G1 is quite obviously intended to be an iPhone killer.” This leads him to make observations such as “Where Android really falls down is in the iPod department” and “Nor is there an online store for music, TV and movies,” which are frankly silly from the point of view of the vast majority of potential buyers, who actually want phones that are good for making phone calls. However, he also highlights the battery issue:
There’s also a removable battery. Good thing, too — when all the G1’s guns are blazing (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and so on), the juice is gone in about 3.5 hours of continuous use.
The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg is also a Mac fan nowadays, and his review is headed Google Answers the iPhone. But he recognises that “the two devices have different strengths and weaknesses, and are likely to attract different types of users,” and he does a good job of highlighting the G1’s advantages and disadvantages.
The disadvantages include the quality of the keyboard (“only fair”), the very limited memory, and the battery life. Walt notes:
In my battery tests, the G1 lasted through the day, but I had to charge it every night. That’s better than the initial battery life on the current iPhone, though in fairness, Apple has improved the iPhone’s battery life through software updates, and I found them to be about the same for mixed use.
He also points out how much it ties you to Google:
Another downside for some users: The G1 is tightly tied to Google’s online services. While you can use non-Google email and IM services, the only way you can get contacts and calendar items into the phone is to synchronize with Google’s online calendar and contacts services. In fact, you can’t even use the G1 without a Google user ID and password.
Also, he notes that the G1 can’t synchronise with Microsoft Outlook, which I view as being a ridiculously stupid failing in a smart phone. As Walt says:
It also can’t synchronize any data at all directly with a PC or Mac. For instance, it can’t sync with Microsoft Outlook or Windows Media Player on a PC, with Apple’s iCal or Address Book programs on a Mac, or with iTunes on either Windows or the Mac. It has no PC-based synchronization software of its own, and it offers no way to automatically back up your settings, music, applications, videos or photos, either to a computer or to an online repository, though Google says it plans to add a backup feature.
All in all, the first Android phone appears to have at least as many drawbacks as the iPhone, without having the sort of interface and browsing smarts that make people willingly put up with its drawbacks. It would have been much more useful to evaluate it against, say, Windows Mobile and Nokia/Symbian.
Still, unlike the iPhone, the G1 isn’t a closed, locked-down, proprietary system. T-Mobile and other hardware and software suppliers can take the Linux-based code and do better. Let’s hope the G1 isn’t just the first ever Android phone, it’s also the worst ever.