Google's G-1: Android Befriends Man

The new T-Mobile ( DT) G-1 smartphone -- the first device that uses Google's ( GOOG) Android operating system -- is quite good.

However, Apple's ( AAPL)iPhone 3G is still king despite some very clever and innovative features in the G-1.

The G-1, a mid-sized phone made by HTC, is what I call a slider phone because the screen pivots out of the way so that you can use a QWERTY keyboard. Overall, it measures 4.6 by 2.2 by 0.6 inches and weighs 5.6 ounces. The screen measures 3.2 inches diagonally.

The phone is loaded with terrific features, including an autofocus 3 MP camera, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, full-screen Web browsing, Google mail, Google Calendar and Google Maps.

The phone also provides rapid access to the new Google Marketplace -- just like Apple's App Store -- except that it offers far fewer titles. I found one or two titles which come in versions for the G-1 and the iPhone - such as "Pro Football," which look and operate remarkably similar in both formats.

The G-1 runs on an operating system called Android, an "open-source" Linux-based system. Open source means that anyone including the manufacturer and end user can use the software and make changes to improve it. It's different from OS X, Microsoft ( MSFT) Windows in that any improvements that are made have to be shared with everyone else -- for free.

The G-1 has a touch screen. When the slide is hidden, the screen is read vertically. It flips to horizontal when the keyboard is revealed. All in all, it works very well but I wish the keys were a little more responsive to my touch. They seem a little stiff.

In addition, the mouthpiece of the phone sometimes slows my typing. I can type faster, one finger at a time, on the iPhone than on the G-1.

On the other hand, the G-1 is an absolute speed demon compared to the iPhone. I believe it uses its processor speed and memory more efficiently than the Apple product. Web pages and applications pop open instantly.

You can replace the G-1's rechargeable battery. That's a major plus. I'm not sure why Apple can't do the same.

Battery charge longevity is another story. Unless you turn off everything (that means Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS) except phone functions, the G-1's battery life is similar to the iPhone's. And that's horrible. I consider four to five hours of battery life unacceptable.

When you turn off all the power-robbing features, you can stretch the G-1's battery life to about 12 to 14 hours -- just like the iPhone. By contrast, new Palm ( PALM) and Research In Motion ( RIMM) BlackBerry phones measure their usable battery life in days.

I think the G-1's best feature is the built-in GPS system. It not only locates where you are and helps direct you to where you want to go but it also combines Google's location photo system to help you find what everything looks like on that street.

It also takes it a step further by changing the "street-view" photos as you change direction. In other words if you turn left, so does the street view on the phone. You can see what's around you as you walk or ride down a block. That is very, very cool.

The G-1's You Tube app looks great on the phone not only via its Wi-Fi connection but also via T-Mobile's new 3G network. Since that network is just being rolled out across the country, there aren't too many users using it and that translates to very fast download speeds at this time. The 3G icon (at the top of the screen) indicated I was on the new network in New York, Baltimore and Denver in the past week.

I'm not sure what they were thinking when they included just a 1GB mini-SD storage card with the G-1. If they want to compete with Apple, they should be packing at least 4GB or more likely 8GB cards in the box with the phone. For your information, 16GB miniSD cards are now available.

The G-1 will sell for $179 when it goes on sale on Oct. 22. You need to sign up for a two-year contract to get that price. (Check the T-Mobile Web site for plan pricing.)

There are two data plans: 400 messages and unlimited data access for $25 a month, with unlimited messaging for another $10 a month. T-Mobile should be commended for making G-1 data services more affordable than the iPhone's.

Overall, the G-1, with its first-generation software, is a very good product. If I had to give it a grade, it would be a B-minus. That compares to a B+ for the iPhone. If both companies could improve battery life, they would both go up to a B and an A-minus respectively. It'll be interesting to see how both products improve in the coming months.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.

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