Monday, 16 February 2009

G1 - User Review

It seems a large number of people love the iPhone 3G. I can understand that. I think it's pretty amazing too, and the impact of the iTunes App Store has been quite incredible.

However, even though I'm a card carrying Mac user at work and home, last year the cost of having an iPhone really put me off. Then up stepped the G1.

First things first, the G1 it's simply not as pretty as the iPhone. Few devices in this market are or will be. However, since getting the T-Mobile G1 in early December, I've not regretted it one bit.

Other than the form factor, what's the main difference between the devices? iPhone has a proprietary operating system (a version of Apple's excellent OS X) and G1 has the OSS Android, which Google play a big part in.

However, I can't really compare the two devices, as I've not lived with an iPhone, so I'll focus on the G1 for now. There are loads of things I really like about the G1 and a few that I don't, so let me explore those.

Things I like:

The screen is big, bright as I need it to be (mine is set at 15% and that's plenty for use inside and out. I might need to push 20% when the sun is out more!!)

Input sources - touch screen, roller-ball & keyboard. The screen responds well, okay it's only single touch but apparently that's a software issue, not hardware. Having fully spec’d keyboard is great - it took me about than 5 minutes to get used to it. The main challenge was telling my brain to stop thinking I was using a phone keypad (ie multiple characters per key & auto-correction). The roller-ball is pretty handy for navigation of applications and browser windows.

Connectivity - browsing the Internet is pretty rapid, with the Chrome-based browser being great at displaying content as quick as you need it to. Almost all pages I’ve viewed have displayed properly (the browser is based on Webkit, just like Apple’s Safari is).  It's not as fast as a hi-spec computer with a hard-wired 10Mbps connection would be, but this is a wireless device, so it's not going to be! The Wi-Fi connection is great - speeding up download speeds and providing connectivity options where you might not get 3G coverage (ie inside building). On the subject of coverage, T-mobile have surprised me with how good they have it (ahem) covered for 2G & 3G. A few blank spots, but in the main, no worries at all.

Email sync worked, out the box (I already used Gmail) and I added my .mac account with no hassles. At all. So, I can send/receive email on the move, and get push notification that's easily configurable too. Sorted.

Messaging - SMS & MMS both work great, threaded conversations making it easy to track who said away. It's a bit of a pain to add a new contact from a message (basically, get the number to the dialer application, use the menu option there to add the number to your contacts. Not ideal, but workable).

Applications - A lot is made of app stores for the various mobile platforms (see Microsoft & Palm joining the party recently). I have enjoyed the Android Market. There's been the usual nonsense apps like "Mr T" voice sampler and "Fart Generator", however really valuable apps like, erm Notepad that I'm writing this on, the PDF viewer, Google RSS Reader and applications that run your favorite social media platform locally and tell you when you have updates etc etc etc.

I think the power of the Android community really showed for me when a new camera application was published within a few weeks of the phone coming out. Basically driven by the poor quality of the out-the-box app. SnapPhoto has gone through maybe four releases and is now a stable, really usable app that has significantly improved the images I can get from the G1. Oh and the app was free....

The case of the phone has stood up well. There a bit of creak from the hinge mechanism that's a bit disappointing, however the back is spotless despite me keeping it in pockets with keys/change and it rattling about in my bag when cycling. Very impressive. The thin plastic screen protector is a bit scratched, but I can handle replacing that sometime in the next few months.

So what's not working for me then?

Well, out the box, messaging was a bit wonky. Threading was busted, but a hard-reset took care of that. Sorted.

I think an early issue for me has been that some of the basics weren't there. Stopwatch, Notepad and no games (but the latter is not that is a huge loss for me).  However, I got a solution for all of these on my first visit to the Android Market.

Now, four big issues are; the Dialer app; storage of apps; Flash and the Battery.

Dialer is a bit slow (it takes at least 6 seconds from me selecting a number for the call to start ringing. Not ideal for a phone. However, I don't use the device to phone anywhere as much as I use it to browse the Internet, write content and send/read messages.

Applications can only stored on the device, not on the memory card. So I've limited the apps I have so that the performance of the device isn't slowed down.  This is going to be addresses in the next release of Android (apparently known as Cupcake). However, thanks to the quick speed of download, you can add/remove apps on the fly as and when they are needed.

However, there've already been three updates to the OS since launching in October, these have made improvements to performance and features. There are a number of active communities online that are very useful for finding out how-to, when/what's happening and generally people sharing what they're doing with their G1. I'm not hugely active in these, but when I had the issue with Messaging threads, I found the solution here.

On the topic of apps, you rely on the developers releasing good quality code/builds that are well tested. But with rapid feedback through services like twitter, you can keep the feedback loop going nicely.

Despite there’s being an integrated YouTube player, the G1 will not play flash on a website.  No BBC iPlayer, no flash-based content whatsoever.  There’s some apps in the market that do a bit of a job, but basically, it’s not there.  Boo.

I guess that these few niggles are the price you pay for being part of an OSS project and being an early-adopter. Maybe...

But the battery life is poor.  A day of using it and the juice will be done.  Gone.  That means it needs charged every day.  Okay, charging takes an hour or so, but it’s still a bit rough.


I really enjoy the G1. Infact, I know I have become more efficient as a result of using it. I have been able to share links/learn from others and generally be more connected as a result. I think the biggest challenge with such a connected device (including the rest of the smart phone set) is being able filter the *noise* that is coming at you and knowing when to turn it off (or to remember to charge it so that decision isn’t taken out of your hands!).

And yes, this post was written on the G1...


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