The G1 is the first phone to run Google’s Android operating system, making it a hotly-awaited smartphone by geeks around the world. It offers a touchscreen plus a slide-out keyboard, but the real selling point is its capabilities as a mobile internet device, tying in with Google’s search, Gmail, Maps and Calendar services. Plus it has Android Market to download a variety of applications.
What we like
If the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard didn’t float your boat, you’ll appreciate the way the G1 offers the best of both worlds. Its touchscreen works smoothly for navigating around the phone, but the slide-out keyboard is excellent for when you actually want to type more than a few words at once. As mobile keyboards go, the G1’s is pretty good, too — the keys are comfortably large and well spaced apart, with room for punctuation keys so you don’t have to break your train of typing. The G1 feels reassuringly solid and robust.
Customisation is a big part of the G1’s Android software — for example, it lets you set your favourite applications as shortcuts. The way the phone works with those Google services is excellent too, importing your Gmail contacts and synchronising your calendar with the minimum of fuss. Of course, if you don’t already use those services, this feature isn’t useful at all. Android Market might not be as well populated as iPhone’s App Store, but there is an increasing number of games and apps available to download, many of them free. They include some innovative location-based apps, which is emerging as a strong area for Android.
As smartphones go, the G1 also has all the necessary features. There’s Wi-Fi for when you’re in range of a hotspot or network, and GPS for location-based features, which come into their own when using the Google Maps application.
What we don’t like
It’s a bit chunky and looks and feels geekier than the average phone, which isn’t necessarily a problem – there are plenty of techy types who’re delighted with its form factor. But we imagine there are sexier Android handsets in the pipeline.
We mentioned Android Market’s positive aspects, but there are other areas where it needs work. Finding your way around and discovering apps and games you might like isn’t as intuitive as it should be, and the experience certainly pales next to Apple’s App Store. You have to use Google’s own Checkout system (its version of PayPal) to buy apps, too — not a problem if you already have an account, but an extra thing to register for if you don’t. Paying for apps on your phone bill would be better.
The lack of a standard 3.5mm headphone port is a big omission, forcing you to use an adapter if you want to plug in your own set of headphones. There’s no stereo Bluetooth option either, which would be a good alternative. Meanwhile, the G1’s camera is better than the iPhone’s, but certainly isn’t in the league of the latest models from the likes of Nokia and Sony Ericsson. It’s functional, but no more.
The G1 is a powerful handset that certainly shows off the potential of Google’s Android software, but it feels very much like a first-generation phone. The keyboard and touchscreen combination is flexible, though, and the way it works with Google’s various web services is very slick.