Google Phone Leaps Past Expectations, but Not Past the IPhone

T-Mobile G1 shows off polished software and the promise of more phones to come.

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A keyboard slides out from the otherwise stout G1.
A keyboard slides out from the otherwise stout G1.

Life with the first Google phone is exciting. Not that the T-Mobile G1 version itself is thrilling—it isn't. This phone is about the new software inside, which is so much better than I expected.

I already like it better than Windows Mobile and the BlackBerry, though I haven't tried the new BlackBerry Storm. Granted, the Google Android software isn't as sleek, pretty, or intuitive as that in the Apple iPhone. But it is attractive and functional. Android has come far since Google unveiled it some months ago. It's exciting to imagine how it will be used in other hardware and with other carriers and how far they might take its potential.

For now, we have the phone made for T-Mobile by a company called HTC. The hardware isn't unattractive, but it isn't particularly appealing, either. It feels twice as heavy as an iPhone, though it's only an ounce more. Maybe because it's simply more stout—shorter, narrower, and thicker than the iPhone.

The hardware keyboard will appeal to heavy messagers who don't like sliding around on the iPhone's touch screen. I like the G1 keyboard better than the keyboard on my BlackBerry; G1 has wider spacing that makes it easier to find keys. But I don't like it as well as the keyboards on Palm devices.

The camera is OK for a 3-megapixel phone model. The phone has lots of other hardware goodies, including GPS, WiFi and 3G capability. I couldn't test the latter, though. I'm not in one of the 20 or so metro areas where T-Mobile has launched its fast data service.

It is annoying that there is no jack for a headset or headphones (which are included). They instead get plugged in through a single USB port. You'd think the Google guys, with all their religious zeal for open standards, would have demanded a standard headphone jack.

That zeal is what opens the future for the Google software. The included Google apps, such as calendar and GMail, already work well on the phone and take good advantage of its touch-screen capability. The store for added applications from other developers is promising with the apps now available. A barcode-scanner program called ShopSavvy quickly finds competitive pricing and reviews. ISkoot connects to the Skype network for cheap overseas calls and is something you won't find on the iPhone's app store.

Other carriers and handset makers can improve and customize the Android software itself. In short, the Google phone exceeded my expectations for a version 1.0. It will be fun to see what comes with Android inside other phones.


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