T-Mobile Unveils First Google Android Phone
This morning, T-Mobile introduced the G1, the first cell phone to run Google's long-awaited Android operating system.
This device, made by Taiwan-based phone manufacturer HTC, will sell for $179 with a two-year contract, starting Oct. 22. T-Mobile will offer two different bundles of Internet and messaging services, on top of its usual voice calling plans: $25 for unlimited Internet and "some" messaging, or $35 for unlimited Internet and messaging. (T-Mobile should be posting these details soon at its press site, which for now only offers a replay of the phone's unveiling in New York.)
The G1 features a large touchscreen, which slides up to reveal a QWERTY-layout keyboard, and a 3-megapixel camera. It connects to T-Mobile's still-under-construction 3G network (which makes AT&T's 3G coverage look good) and, when available, WiFi wireless hotspots.
T-Mobile, Google and HTC representatives took turns talking up the G1's features and demonstrating its capabilities. The three most important aspects of the phone look to be its mapping software, its Web browser and its ability to run add-on applications.
The G1, of course, relies on Google Maps; its implementation, like other versions already available, provides both map, satellite-photo and Street View perspectives, but the G1 adds a location-aware "compass mode" that presents a Street View of your surroundings, which changes as you walk or turn around, provided you hold the phone in front of you.
The G1's browser is based on Apple's open-source WebKit framework -- the same software used in Google's Chrome desktop browser and, of course, Apple's own Safari browser for Mac OS X, Windows XP/Vista and the iPhone. Like the iPhone's version of Safari, it can display full-sized Web pages.
This phone includes e-mail software -- set up, naturally, to connect to Google's Gmail -- and instant-messaging software compatible with Google Talk as well as AOL and Microsoft's instant-messaging networks.
Android's potential depends -- to a much greater extent than the iPhone's -- on the third-party applications available for it. But today's event didn't offer much in the way of demonstrations (at least in the Webcast portion of it). Attendees were shown a clip of a version of Pac-Man playing on the Android, and three other developers were praised in person (the most interesting program among their output, ShopSavvy, will let you scan a product's bar code, then look up different retailers' prices for the same product).
From what I could see of the Android interface, it looks pleasant -- clean, simple and responsive. It does offer multi-tasking and copy and paste, unlike the iPhone. But everything looks great in a canned demo; ask me again how I feel about Android after I've had a few days to tap away at the screen.
This unveiling also brought some bad news for Android enthusiasts.
* Neither Google nor HTC nor T-Mobile will ship any sort of desktop-synchronization software with the phone, so your only way to get your address book and calendars onto the G1 will be to upload them to Gmail and Google Calendar. I can't believe that these companies are leaving a function this basic as a "third party opportunity."
* The G1, like the iPhone and T-Mobile's Sidekick, will have its SIM card slot locked to prevent the use of other carriers' subscriber-identity module cards. So if you don't like T-Mobile's network here or its roaming rates overseas, you'll either have to suck it up or hope somebody "jailbreaks" this phone in the same way that hackers have defeated the iPhone's SIM locking.
* The G1 will offer limited compatibility with some of the files you use most often. It will only be able to read Microsoft Office files, not edit them. And while its music player will be able to use MP3, Windows Media and AAC files, you'll need to wait for a third-party to provide some sort of add-on to sync your iTunes library to the phone. And iTunes Store downloads restricted with Apple's "digital rights management" locks won't play on the G1 (though the G1 is no different from other non-Apple devices in this respect; that's why you shouldn't buy Apple's DRM-ed downloads at all when you get the same music as an unlocked, open MP3 from Amazon's MP3 store).
* Its Bluetooth is as limited as the iPhone's. The G1 will initially support only hands-free kits, with "A2DP" stereo-sound output coming later on and, it seems, no plans for file transfer or other, more useful Bluetooth options.
Fortunately, Android -- unlike the iPhone -- isn't one carrier's exclusive property. Other firms will be offering their own Android-based devices later on, if not this year, than early next year, and we should soon have a decent choice of Google-powered phones.
Is an Android phone on your own gadget wish list? If so, to what extent does the G1 meet your requirements? What else do you want to see in an Android device?
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