December 22, 2008

HTC Dream aka Google G1 First Impression

Through a very special connection I have, I managed to obtain a special edition of the Google G1 smartphone to use (for as long as I want, if I choose so...). This phone may be the first, official unlocked version which allows me to use any GSM Sim card over any network. This phone has been approved and unlocked by Google developers so it wasn't a hack or anything. Lets get right to it. Remember, this is just a first impression. I played with this phone for about 30 minutes since I opened it up so I could form a different opinion in a few days time.

Physical Appearance: if compared to an iPhone or BlackBerry Bold, the G1 is, sadly, not all that attractive. Its matte finish black is minimalist at best. There are minimal amount of buttons which is good and the main functions like phone, power/hangup, back, home and menu is sufficient for its purposes. There is a BlackBerry like trackball which surprisingly is very handy to use on its Android software. I find myself using very little of the touchscreen as I have been trained to rely in via an iPhone. Speaking of G1's touchscreen, it does require more effort to press on screen to execute a command. Even though this phone does have a slide up keyboard, its relatively thin for having such luxury. The battery cover is kind of a pain in the ass to open, it clips onto the back over a few plastic tabs, I fear that if I swap out my SIM card in n' out a few times, it could break the darn thing; easily one of the poorest battery cover design in the history of all cell phones. The LCD is sharp with good color and contrast, but it fails to impress me as I find the iPhone and BlackBerry Bold's display much crisper than the G1.

Android OS: this firmware is what I called "love it and hate it" relationship. I can find it quite robust at times and love the fact that all the menu's and layout is overly simple to figure out. But at times it can be very un-intuitive. Simple functions like Zoom in and out (which is very important) is not executed well here. The internet browser is capable of full webpage browsing but is not as polished as the mobile Safari but better than the Nokia browser. There is one area this browser out performs others; the ability to load previously visited pages quickly, something the iPhone is not very good at. Having a full QWERTY keyboard can enhance the mobile experience, it comes in real handy when typing in WEP passwords to wifi access points. The email program is basically Gmail (only?); which requires you to have a Gmail account if not already. It works great with one drawback, it doesn't zoom in or out of a graphical HTML email like the iPhone mail app. The camera works but results is mediocre, again, losing out to iPhone camera which I always thought was one of the best on a phone. I haven't had time to checkout the market place for additional applications; I will report back in the near future. I plugged in my AT&T sim card for this test and phone calls are loud and clear; however, I can't seem to figure out why it won't let me surf the web via my unlimited data Media Max 200 plan. I will ask my "connection" to ask Google engineers tomorrow and go from there. [UPDATE: after some research, I seemed to have figured out how to get EDGE data connection via my AT&T SIM. The connection is pretty quick over EDGE despite that G1 is setup for T-Mobile's 1700MHz 3G network]

Major complaint: Google Account required (not a very open but understandable strategic move). Basically the entire sync is based on having a Google account. The notion itself is understandable and even respectable, my big gripe is how much I hate Gmail's contact or address book and it forces me to use it. I have a problem with Gmail's contact in that it is trying to be too smart, hence adding random names and not giving me a whole lot of control in the way I like my contacts groupped or listed. On top of that, when ever I decide to upload a clean contact list and delete the old ones to avoid duplication, it wipes my Gtalk contacts out. I wish the phone would allow me to just sync to any desktop contact book instead while giving me the option to sync over Google Accounts wirelessly as an option.

Overall: I am trying to spend more time with this device before jumping into conclusion. With iPhone currently reign supreme, I am having an open mind to accept the G1 as is. From a physical attracation standpoint, this phone is not going to win any beauty contest. In terms of raw functionality, I see a lot of potential. I haven't played with the new BlackBerry phones (Bold, Storm) a whole lot but from what I am seeing thus far, the Anroid-powered G1 is definitely up there in terms of smartphone functionality. Stay tuned for more of my mobile experience using Android in the near future.

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