Thumbs up for Android and the G1

Gibbs has had a close look at the T-Mobile G1, the first phone based on the Android platform, and he's more than impressed -- in fact, he likes it more than the iPhone and might even stick with T-Mobile. Now there's a surprise.

I have seen the future and it is Android-shaped.

As much as I have lusted after an iPhone (my current plan would have been too expensive to dump) and longed to leave the clutches of T-Mobile (see my previous columns), having had the Android-based T-Mobile G1 in my sweaty hands for a couple of weeks has changed my mind about both staying with T-Mobile and wanting an iPhone.

Android, as you know, is an open source software platform for such devices as cell phones, and is the product of the Open Handset Alliance, along with huge initial input from Google.

To say that the project is ambitious is an understatement. As the announcement of the Android source code (October 21, 2008) proclaimed: "Interested in working on a speech-recognition library? Looking to do some research on virtual machines? Need an out-of-the-box embedded Linux solution? All of these pieces are available, right now, as part of the Android Open Source Project, along with graphics libraries, media codecs, and . . . development tools." On the day following that announcement, the G1 became available.

There's no doubt that the G1 is well specified. It boasts quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, along with GPS, assisted GPS (cell tower triangulation), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, accelerometer and compass.

The G1 is as intuitive as the iPhone, but not quite as physically pleasing; in my opinion, however, it's a better product for four main reasons.

First, while the G1's core feature set is very similar to that of the iPhone -- the G1 has a terrific touch-sensitive HVGA LCD color display, good sound quality, and a terrific, well-organized and responsive user interface with sophisticated graphics -- it also has a swivel-away screen that reveals a keyboard (the display automatically changes from portrait to landscape mode) that makes responding to e-mail, texting, instant messaging and Web-browsing far more practical than on the iPhone.

Second -- and this is a biggie -- the G1 is open in a way that the iPhone definitely isn't. There is no "backdoor" allowing the remote removal of applications, as there is on the iPhone; and there's a whole slew of applications available for the G1 (most of them currently free) that don't have to be preapproved by T-Mobile.

Third, and this really matters to me, the G1's integration with Google search, Gmail, Google Maps and Google Calendar is beyond excellent.

The G1 has decent battery life for a device that can do so much. Switch off GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and you easily can get 12 hours of moderate use; and recharging is fast.

Now the downsides. I have a few complaints about the G1, and a big one is the built-in 3.2-megapixel color camera: The lens is awful, there's no zoom or flash, and it doesn't shoot video.

Next, the browser. It works very well, but its lack of support for flash and its reliance on Google Docs to translate attachments into HTML (which doesn't work for Word documents) are disappointing.

The G1's hands-free sound quality is also surprisingly poor; and finally -- and it may be because my test unit has been around the block a few times, the swivel-out display makes slight, mechanical creaking sounds during calls if you press your ear too heavily on it.

All of that not withstanding, I really, really like this phone. Android makes it work amazingly well, there are loads of great applications available, and the open platform allows for all sorts of interesting developments. To become a corporate platform, the G1 needs such enterprise features as VPN, Microsoft Exchange and BlackBerry Enterprise Server support; but I'm expecting the market to create these in double-quick time.

So, will I stick with T-Mobile so I can have a G1? The chances look surprisingly good. I give the G1 5 out of 5.

In Ventura, Calif., Gibbs thinks that the "G" in G1 might just stand for Gearhead. Tell gearhead@gibbs.com if the G1 hits the spot.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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