Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A First Look at Google’s New Phone

As anticipated, Google and T-Mobile announced the first Android cellphone yesterday. David Pogue takes a look and shares his first impressions:

Above all, feature-listers will be in heaven. The G1 with Android is clearly intended to be an iPhone knockoff—with all the chronic complaints addressed. Here’s your black slab, touch screen, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, slide your finger to unlock, icons on Home screen, over-the-air downloadable App store and music store, Google Maps, full-screen Web browsing, accelerometer that rotates the screen when you turn the phone 90 degrees, etc.

Yet here are the elements some people miss on the iPhone: a physical keyboard (hidden underneath the screen; you flip it out when necessary). A memory expansion card slot. A removable battery. Voice dialing.

At the same time, the G1 is not an iPhone. More features means more complexity; the G1 has five physical buttons on the face, not one. It’s got a trackball, arrow keys and the touch screen, too. It’s not a multitouch screen, so you lose all those niceties like pinching to zoom in and out. That keyboard and removable battery make the G1 a lot thicker and homelier than the iPhone.

And, of course, it’s not an iPod. It plays music, but doesn’t play video at all, let alone capture it, and there’s no easy way to buy TV shows or movies.

Finally, the G1 comes from T-Mobile. You complain about AT&T’s 3G network? T-Mobile’s 3G network covers only 19 cities so far, compared with AT&T’s 280.

But here’s the thing: Android, and the G1, are open. Open, open, open, in ways that would make Steve Jobs cringe. You can unlock this phone after 90 days—that is, use any SIM card from any carrier in it. The operating system is free and open-source, meaning that any company can make changes without consulting or paying Google. The App store is completely open, too; T-Mobile and Google say they won’t censor programs that they don’t approve of, as Apple does with the iPhone store. Yes, even if someone writes a Skype-like program that lets people avoid using up T-Mobile cellular voice minutes.

Android is not as beautiful or engaging as the iPhone’s software, but it’s infinitely superior to Windows Mobile—and it’s open. The G1 is only the first phone to use it, the first of many; it’s going to be an exciting ride.

It is going to be an exciting ride indeed. The beauty of the Android operating system is its openess, allowing huge synergies of independent developers making both hardware and software for the phone. There will almost certainly be incredible applications developed that no one has dreamed of yet (and ones that Apple would likely not allow to be sold through their app store). I can imagine all kinds of applications for social networking which take advantage of integrated web-access and built-in GPS. (Imagine Facebook not only telling you which of your friends are online, but also which ones are within a mile of your location at any given time.) The possibilities are only limited by programmers imaginations.

Gizmodo has a hands-on review and then do a double-take and find it lacking in some areas.

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