T-Mobile threw a huge bash on Manhattan's Upper East Side, complete with hundreds of technology journalists and worldwide satellite TV coverage to proudly introduce the
-- the first smartphone to run on Google's Android operating system. (
Let's take that one step at a time. Google has been working on and touting Android as an open-source alternative to the products from Apple (iPhone),
(Symbian) and others. Open-source means that it's based on a free Unix/Linux system that anyone can use and modify as long as they also share those changes/improvements. For the record, Nokia recently purchased Symbian and announced that it too would now be an open-source OS.
First Look: TMobile's G1 Google Phone
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The G-1, made by
for T-Mobile, is the first of what could be many portable devices to run on the Android OS. As you might expect, the G-1 sports a number of Google favorite features including gmail as the standard email system offering, and Google Maps, along with built-in GPS, to help get you where you're going.
Actually, the Google Maps/GPS system is pretty amazing. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early G-1 test handset a while back and was amazed to see that not only was it able to find where I was standing on a map, but when I pressed the Street View button it actually showed me where I was standing and what I was standing in front of and facing. The view actually moved when I did. I was able to see -- in real time -- what my surroundings look like as I head in the proper direction. How cool is that?
The G-1 has a slide-open QWERTY keyboard beneath the screen. I liked the way it felt in my brief testing. The handset itself is slightly cantilevered, with the mouthpiece angled close to your mouth. That angle also protects the touch screen from damage if you drop it screen down.
The Android 3 part sliding home screen allows you to move icons or applets to different positions and pages of your choosing. Tapping an icon opens the program. Pressing and keeping your finger on the screen gives you a set of choices of other G-1 features to open. Think of it as a right-click mouse button for those familiar with the concept.
When I first tried the phone, I was impressed with its speed. Hell, I was
by its speed. This device zooms! Compared to anything and everything else on the market, this device loads pages and apps
. It was difficult to tell 3G speed from Wi-Fi speed. I'm guessing that it has a lot to do with the
processor and the way the phone uses memory. Aside from bragging rights, that means the G-1 can do things that other cell-phone manufacturers can only dream of -- like real-time location finding/personal mapping (see above). I found the G-1 super-speedy on both Wi-Fi and T-Mobile's brand new 3G network.
It should also be noted that the G-1 will launch with a new music download store -- in concert with
. It will undercut iTunes by selling songs for 89 cents each , as well as making those songs DRM-free (meaning you're not limited to playing the songs on a small number of devices). Song format will be MP3. I hope that at some point soon WAV and Lossless formats will be supported, too.
There's also a feature called Android Market (think Apple App Store) where apps and applets will be available for downloading and purchasing.
T-Mobile is pricing the G-1 at $179.99 with a two-year contract. There are two new G-1 monthly data plans; one for $25 (unlimited Web and a little messaging) and an all-you-can-eat, $35 package with total unlimited data access. That's in addition to a monthly voice plan (starting at $29.99). That means it costs you $20 less at the outset, and monthly plans could wind up saving you as much as $200 per year. For the record, G-1s will be sold SIM-locked to T-Mobile.
The G-1 is slightly bigger and heavier than an iPhone. Then again, it has a real keyboard inside. And, it also sports removable microSD memory cards (a 1GB card comes standard). Unlike iPhones, you can add and swap memory. Same for the battery: The G-1's battery pack is user-replaceable. On the other hand, there is no way to get your Microsoft Exchange mail on the G-1. Hopefully, someone will come up with an applet quickly. That would open new vistas for the device.
As for the future, I understand that HTC has big plans for the G-1. First of all, my sources believe that within 12 months, HTC will have cost-reduced the device by more than 30%. Hopefully, that could bring down the price. Also, it is working with Chinese companies to put CDMA into the device with the 3G. That would mean dual radios working concurrently with user (or incoming call) selection and control. That could help with U.S. CDMA carriers as well. HTC is also looking at how many slots can be added onto the device to increase its functionality. A Google non-laptop laptop?
If first impressions are important, then you should know that I have been very impressed with the G-1. I can't wait to get my hands on a final production unit so I can tell you what actually living with one is like.
Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.