The two heavyweight contenders are headed for the ring. Online search-engine giant Google ( GOOG) has created a cellular-phone operating system called Android that is currently available in T-Mobile's ( DT) G-1 phone. They believe it is the rival of all the other leading smartphones currently on the market -- including Apple's ( AAPL) iPhone 2, Sprint ( S)/ Samsung's Instinct, Palm's ( PALM) Pro or Centro or any of the BlackBerry ( RIMM) devices. In this weekly series, I review the head-to-head battle of products while my colleague Scott Moritz handles the equity. Back to the tale of the tape: Google's Android mobile operating system has appeared on just one handset so far. Don't get me wrong, I like T-Mobile's G-1 (also known as the HTC Dream in other countries). But despite all the rumors circulating in the industry, the only other Android-based device actually announced (by the U.K.'s Vodafone ( VOD)) is another HTC phone just like the G-1, except there's no slide-out keyboard. Could this be the rumored G-2 coming soon from T-Mobile? The only other Android device I saw last month at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, was a non-working mock-up of a device from China's Huawei. It was in a display behind thick glass. They weren't crazy about me taking video of it or answering questions about it. The G-1 is a terrific smartphone. Not perfect, but terrific in its own right. The touchscreen works, the 3G is fast (it runs on T-Mobile's new network) and the Android App Store is catching up to Apple's in terms of numbers and quality of downloadable software.
I don't like the G-1's keyboard. Normally, I'd automatically prefer a hardware QWERTY keyboard to an on-screen software keyboard (such the iPhone or BlackBerry Bold.) But the G-1's keyboard is too flat, and the keys are too small and close together. A keyboardless G-2 might be better.
A big plus is that the G-1's price has been falling. Despite costing $179 at T-Mobile, I've also seen much lower prices recently at discount retailers like Amazon.com ( AMZN) and Costco ( COST). That usually signals a new model is coming very soon. Google has big plans for the Android OS. Think in terms of a slew of mobile devices -- in all sorts of forms like tablet and mini-notebook computers. Why not? Apple is rumored to be working on similar devices that may run on the iPhone's OS. Google has chosen to follow the Microsoft ( MSFT) route, make the software and get it to other companies that create the hardware. Apple chose the other route. It manages both the hardware and software and doesn't have to "tweak" features to please anyone else. Plus, Windows Mobile software has been around for years, and version 6.5 is about to be released. In the past, there have been cell phones, smartphones and all sorts of small tablets and mini-notebooks that have run Windows Mobile. Microsoft has learned what sells (smartphones) and what doesn't (all the rest). Google will have to figure that out for itself. Who wins? Actually, the consumer does. Smartphones are getting smarter as well as cheaper. And there are more and more devices to choose from. I like the G-1, the only Android phone currently on the market. But the others aren't sitting around waiting to see what happens. Microsoft is busy working on Windows Mobile 7, and Apple is already boasting about what its iPhone 3 will be able to do. Right now, I'd call it a split decision.