Google's Android Arrives
I didn't think I'd be writing today's column so soon -- it hasn't even been a year since Google announced its Android mobile-phone software project.
Yes, I was optimistic about Android's prospects back then. But given the generally horrible history of past attempts to write brand-new operating systems for mobile devices -- Palm, Inc., everybody's pointing and laughing at you right now! -- I figured Google's "shipping in the second half of 2008" estimate would become a "finally arriving in the second quarter of 2009" reality.
And yet they pulled it off: Starting next Wednesday, you'll be able to buy the T-Mobile G1, the first Android phone.
It's tough giving a full account of a brand-new operating system in a measly 900 or so words, so here are some further observations from my notes about the G1 in particular and Android in general:
* Contrary to what I'd thought after the G1's unveiling, this phone's SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card slot won't be subject to any special restrictions. Once you're 90 days into a contract, T-Mobile will provide the unlock code that will let you pop any other GSM carrier's SIM card into the phone.
* I was ready to criticize Google and T-Mobile for, respectively, sticking the silent-mode option inside a series of menus and leaving off a silent-mode button, but it turns out that you can get to this option by holding down the red "end" button for a few seconds.
* T-Mobile's myFaves app felt tacked on -- when I added my wife from my contacts list, this applet wasn't smart enough to grab her picture from that entry.
* Although Android supports copy and paste, its Web browser doesn't show any sign of allowing this. Which seems like a non-trivial oversight.
* Android's browser can, however, save Web-site passwords for you.
* Much like the iPhone, Android includes a separate application for YouTube videos. But unlike the iPhone, Android presents a dialog when you tap a YouTube video in its browser, asking if you want to view the clip in the browser or the YouTube applet. The first option never worked.
* The G1 includes an applet just for browsing and buying from Amazon's MP3 store. But you can only download purchases over a WiFi connection, not T-Mobile's network.
* Android's music player can turn any song into a ringtone for free (this was my pick), an immense upgrade over Apple's extortionate approach of charging iPhone users extra for ringtones of songs they may already own.
* The G1's camera offers 3 megapixels of resolution but can't record video and doesn't include a flash.
* For all of Google's expertise with user interfaces, some parts of Android suggest an inattention to detail. Why, for instance, would you put the airplane-mode command two menus deep in the Settings application?
* In a similar vein, I noticed some inconsistencies in Android's onscreen menus (accessible, logically enough, by pressing the G1's "menu" button). On first pressing that button, I'd get a row or two of onscreen buttons labeled primarily with icons; when I selected the "more" button, additional options would appear as a column of text-only menu items.
* I had no problem typing on the G1's keyboard, but the labels on these keys were tough to read in dim lighting.
* I got one detail wrong in the review: You won't need to buy a microSD card to store any music on a G1, because T-Mobile will include a 1 GB card in the box.
Want to know more about Android and the G1? Log on to my Web chat, starting at 2 p.m. today.
Meanwhile, let's make some unrealistic demands: Since Android can run on other phones, sold by other carriers, what would your ideal Android phone setup feature?
October 16, 2008; 10:10 AM ET
Categories: Gadgets , Telecom
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