| Quick G1 review, after 36 hours
||[Nov. 2nd, 2008|01:38 am]
I have a shiny new T-Mobile G1, at long last, and people keep asking me whether it's any good. So, in the interest of
reducing duplication of information laziness, here is a brief review.
Having drooled over all the details well in advance, there were few surprises here. The inaccuracy inherent in using a finger (as world+dog seems to want us to do) takes some getting used to if you're coming from Palm or elsewhere in stylus-land. They shipped a screen protector, but left me to apply it myself, so predictably, I trapped a few particles under it that will now stay there forever. The trackball comes in very handy for fine tuning of e.g. cursor position within a text box, but I wish I could increase its sensitivity. The screen slider action to reveal the keyboard follows an arc (I've no idea why) but this actually seems more solid than I expected. Many reviewers have complained that, because of the slider and more generally, the phone feels plastic and fragile. It's certainly more so than the iPhone, but I'm not hugely worried: I reckon anyone who's at least vaguely careful with their device should be fine. I'm still very much in favour of hardware keyboards, which pretty much dictates a slider of some sort if you want a big screen. Oh, and if you've missed this fact elsewhere, there is no 3.5mm headphone socket, only ExtUSB (mini-USB fits, as do HTC headphones from Windows devices, and HTC adapters for various combinations of audio/power/data).
Lest we forget, it makes phone calls. The earpiece and speaker both seem fine for audio quality; I've had one caller complain that they couldn't hear me very well for a moment but I think T-Mobile's signal is more likely to have been at fault than the device. Coverage is worth checking with T-Mobile, as it's not as good as e.g. Vodafone. The UI during a call seems sensible; everything works as expected. Messaging uses the threaded UI that, again, world+dog seem to be adopting; no complaints there. I have delivery reports, which is a feature I've very much missed on O2 (Messages/Menu/Settings to enable). These show up next to sent messages (long press for details).
Google applications synchronisation
For those who haven't been keeping up, the Contacts, Calendar and (obviously) Google Mail apps sync "almost instantly" with their respective websites (Contacts is part of GMail, but might be accessible separately for some people). This works as advertised: I've been using Google Calendar for years and I imported all my contacts into Google a few days ago; a few minutes after logging in, this was all fully present and correct on the phone. The Calendar UI could use some work (e.g. it'd be nice to compress day/week views vertically to see the whole day); contacts less so. Google Talk is also present in some form in the IM app; I've not tested it.
Other built-in apps
The browser, as you'd expect, is on a par with the iPhone, except for the lack of multi-touch (no hardware support). The Maps app is responsive and easy to use, but lacks real-time directions. There are no apps of that kind at the moment and the license for Google's map data API forbids such use. Perhaps Google doesn't have the right kind of license themselves? The Email app (as distinct from the GMail app) is somewhat limited; thankfully this is being addressed.
This is what I've spent many of these 36 hours (and many previously) doing, and this is where the platform really shines. I can write apps in Java (well, Java syntax) on my Linux desktop, either in Eclipse or using command-line tools, run an emulator, and, impressively, debug the device just as easily as the emulator, over USB. The docs are good, as are the libraries and there are very few restrictions on what apps can do. I've wanted a device both this capable and this hackable for a very long time. The only currently available devices more hackable are from OpenMoko, and I don't think there are as many apps, as many developers, or as good a device on that platform. As for what I've been working on: Simon Tatham's Puzzles on Android, update coming soon.
There's some good stuff on the Market, but plenty to be found elsewhere as well. My favourites so far: ConnectBot, CompareEverywhere, Locale, K9 (an Email fork). I'm eagerly awaiting any kind of last.fm app (I'm a subscriber there, and there's currently only an app for something called imeem which is more restrictive with its tracks and more limited in its catalogue).
Current UK limitations
There seem to be some differences between the UK and US firmware (I currently have build "kila_uk-user 1.0 TC5-RC7 112931 ota-rel-keys,release-keys"). Voice dial, which I was looking forward to, is missing in action with no explanation (although some relevant-looking data files are present in /system/usr/srec/config/en.us). Street View data is obviously missing from the UK for now, as it is online, but you can try out the feature by looking at e.g. a US city. Annoyingly, the IM app shows only Google Talk; seemingly no way to use MSN/AIM/Jabber etc. Again, no explanation. Hopefully these will be fixed at some point.
This is everything I've wanted in a PDA/phone for several years now and I'm very happy with it. It's far from perfect, but fits my requirements very well. PC sync? Who needs it? I want my device to use the cloud, which is very much Google's model. Price is zero initially, with a £40/month contract for 18 months. Compared to my £22.50 simplicity contract with O2, this means I personally am paying £315 during that time to have this phone. I think that's reasonable. Availability: now, at T-Mobile's site. They delivered mine next day as promised (but I got my order in as soon as the site opened).