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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?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 23, 2008; 12:21 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Telecom  
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Comments

I'm contemplating pre-ordering mine now. Unfortunately Washington DC will not have 3G coverage in Oct but I think they said "80%" of users would be in 3G coverage by the end of the year (fingers crossed)

This is from T-Mobile's website and appears when you try to pre-order the G1 as an existing customer:
Metropolitan areas with T-Mobile’s 3G coverage by October 22,2008:
Atlanta
Austin
Baltimore
Chicago
Dallas
Houston
Las Vegas
Long Island, NY
Los Angeles
Miami
Minneapolis
New England
New York City
Northern New Jersey
Orlando
Philadelphia
Phoenix
Portland
Sacramento
San Antonio
San Diego
San Francisco
Seattle

Posted by: BR | September 23, 2008 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Open-source Linux, will help Google Android play OGG/THEORA mobile content, -from sites like OGGTV and OGGMOBILE, just like YouTube mobile/YouTube android app.

Posted by: William Lacy | September 23, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

I can wait a few more months for an LG Android phone from AT&T. I would gladly do this than be a part of Apple's ridiculous, expensive lock-in device. I truly believe that open systems (both hardware and software) is where the future is at - Google's move is going to give Apple a bigger headache than Microsoft ever did - mark my words!

Posted by: Lee | September 23, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

do you really know what how does a sore loser looks like. First i thought it looked like clintons..now i have realised it looks like steve balmer.Well this comment is not in context with the above blog but yes it is to some extent. Reason chckout msn.com you will not find a single link about android not even in there tech gadget news section shame on you microsoft. being such a huge software house , still cannot even take things sportingly..

Posted by: Sam | September 23, 2008 1:44 PM | Report abuse

From the fine print on the TMO website: "If your total data usage in any billing cycle is more than 1GB, your data throughput for the remainder of that cycle may be reduced to 50 kbps or less." For a device you're plugging as being wonderful to use on your 3G network, that is known as EPIC FAIL!

Posted by: Brian | September 23, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Someone needs to come out with a VOIP phone application that you can use over a WIFI hotspot :)

Posted by: JR | September 23, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

I JUST bought an iPhone, and now google wants me to buy something else entirely that seems like it'll outperform the iPhone in every possible way. God damnit!

Posted by: buyers remorse | September 23, 2008 3:22 PM | Report abuse

As I understand it this release will not support tethering. I hope T-mobile will build this in, or allow a third party application to support tethering in the near future!

Posted by: Rich | September 23, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Oh, wow. That post by Brian is a tragedy. WTG, T-Mobile: I remain underwhelmed.

I think the VOIP application for iPhone and Android would be an excellent idea, JR--likely one of the reasons for bandwidth caps from T-Mobile... Still, it would be brilliant to be able to use Skype on my iPhone.

Posted by: Nick D. | September 23, 2008 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Brian,

Excellent catch! The offending legalese is at the bottom of this page. That's the kind of thing that could just infuriate customers, especially if--I mean, when--there's no easy way to meter your bandwidth consumption over time.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | September 23, 2008 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Brian, did you or anyone else flip the phone over and see if the user can change the battery? This whole thing about preventing users from changing the battery has mystified me and my clients for years now. Anyone planning a chart so I can compare specific features between Blackberry, iPhone, 'Droid, and other similar devices?

Posted by: thw2001 | September 23, 2008 5:12 PM | Report abuse

With SIM lock, Bluetooth handicap and desktop disconnectivity, your still call this thing open?

Apple and competition, who's pulling away whom?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 23, 2008 7:31 PM | Report abuse

> Bluetooth handicap and desktop disconnectivity, your still call this thing open?

Man, do you really understand what being an "open" means? Did anyone said that it's forbidden to add those feature? Android's software is open and waiting freely for all developers as opposed to Apple's Iphone.

Posted by: Milos M. | September 23, 2008 11:14 PM | Report abuse

T-Mobile helps any customer unlock any of their phones after 90 days if their account is in good standing - I have unlocked various phones this way and they have said they will do the same for the G1, so yes, you will be able to use it with non T-Mobile sim cards.

Posted by: Ron S. | September 24, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

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