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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?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 16, 2008; 10:10 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Telecom  
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Comments

AND THE PRICE DOESN'T SEEM TO BE VISIBLE ANYWHERE


# Even if you don’t live in an area with 3G, you can still enjoy many of the most popular functions of the G1 (see Don’t live in a 3G area? below).
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: BRUCEREALTOR@GMAIL.COM | October 16, 2008 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Rob is in DC. He writes for the WASHINGTON Post. I don't see Washington in that list...

Posted by: Doc in Dc | October 16, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

What about upgrades of Android? When a new version of Android is developed, will it be easy to install the new version on the G1 and other phones that run Android? Who is in charge of Android -- I mean, because it is open-source, anyone can change it, but will Google be the one to declare when there is an official new version for users to upgrade to?

Posted by: Doug | October 16, 2008 2:28 PM | Report abuse

wow very interesting http://www.jaiderbertoli.com

Posted by: jaider bertoli | October 17, 2008 9:23 AM | Report abuse

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