Google Android T-Mobile G1 1.6 Phone Review

T-Mobile G1As a gadget enthousiast and as a mobile developer, here’s some thoughts on the Google Android HTC Dream / T-Mobile G1 phone at the time of Android 1.6 ‘Donut’

Physically, the phone can be said to be bordering normal phone size, creeping towards smartphone size. In the pocket, it takes less volume than your typical blackberry.

The trackball is a nice alternative input choice for those who prefer not using big hand gestures on the touchscreen. But its reliability can leave a bit to be desired. Scrolling fast is a bit of a trouble. The G1 tend to not be able to track as fast and sometimes the action of taking your thumb off or the action of clicking the trackball can cause undesired movements.

The design choice of not putting a 3.5mm headphone jack is simply ridiculous. Period.

The top screen moves on 2 hinges connected to the bottom part. When you swing the screen to reveal the keyboard, the screen can be a bit wabbly. Pressing on the screen can cause movements. Even pressing on the screen while the keyboard is under the screen can cause movements. Therefore, the G1 definitely loses points on the solid feel department. You can hear the non-solidness when it’s vibrating with the keyboard out.

The presence of a physical keyboard however is definitely godsend. After a year of typing with virtual keyboards, the G1 makes me feel like sending SMS to everyone. However, 1, the virtual keyboard can take a bit more work to make it come out. For instance, to search for a contact while the physical keyboard is away, I have to press 3 keys before the virtual keyboard comes in. Using the virtual keyboard is amazing though. I don’t even have to make an effort and try to get the right keys. I can just randomly tap in the general direction of the key I want to press and Android will figure it out for me!

Added to difficulty of getting the virtual keyboard started however is the fact that the physical keyboard is very hard to open and then use with one hand. It’s almost impossible to use while charging. It’s also very easy to press the volume up/down buttons while holding horizontally

On the software side, the Android is like a full blown mobile OS, but lacks some of the key accessibilities typically in a mobile OS of this scale. There is no task manager, there is no file manager, there is no terminal. Sure it makes the OS ‘transparent’ to the user and lets him get on with using programs and not the OS, but sometimes you just need to know. For instance, there’s no way to figure out what programs are consuming the CPU cycles. You don’t even know which programs are running in the background because you can’t switch between applications. ‘Opening’ the application again will take you back to the way you left it however. But if you have an application that’s gone rogue (maybe an application you’re writing), there’s no obvious ways of shutting it down.

The quality and UI of the apps definitely doesn’t compare at all with the iPhone at the time of 1.6. Most feel like VB6 apps from 1998, even the most solid games on the Android doesn’t compare to the slickness of iPhone apps.

Besides that, the Android is one sleek system. In other reviews, I’ve read about a general slugginess of the UI. Let me tell you, I have seen way worse. A bit of lag is sometimes detectable, especially around the contact list, when you wake the phone and start typing names to search right away. I’d say even that the worst bottleneck of the entire system is the dialling screens. There’s a decent 1 second lag between the time you press dial and the time when you’ll get a graphic feedback of some sort. If you called the wrong number and want to hang up and dial another one, you’ll be stuck looking at the screen for another 5 seconds. A solid work has been done with the integration with Google and of the applications with each other. Google map can benefit from the address you have sync’ed from Facebook and from your GPS data to show you the best way to a friend’s house for instance. Google might want to be a bit more firm on its UI standards however to better enforce consistancy in the interfaces of 3rd party apps.

As of the activation process. You don’t necessarily have to have the phone unlocked or have a data plan to start using it as a PDA. There are instructions everywhere for downgrading the G1 to RC29. Once flashed and the G1 activated over Wi-fi, it will stay this way after you upgrade to 1.6. You don’t have to be on T-Mobile to get the OTA either. I got mine on a locked G1 with no networks. As long as you have internet on Wi-fi, it should be fine.