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T-Mobile G1 - Google / Android Phone

Ta da! The T-Mobile G1 -- the first Google / Android phone was launched today at an event in New York (see video of the launch, especially the demo clips).

The G1 will be available in the U.S. on October 22 for only $179. It will requires a voice and data plan, with unlimited data and 400 messages for $25 a month, or with unlimited messages for $35.


This is Google's vision of the Android open smartphone platform (the Open Handset Alliance), realized in a handset designed by HTC, and coming to market first in the U.S., and then in the U.K. and Europe.

The G1 works with the 3.2" touch screen in the portrait orientation (there's also a trackball for one-handed operation). Then slide the screen up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard so you can use it in landscape orientation for texting and e-mail.

It runs on T-Mobile's 3G wireless broadband network, rolling out over the rest of the year and into 2009. And it can seamlessly transition to open Wi-Fi networks for broadband access. In addition, it has a built-in GPS receiver for mapping, plus a digital compass and motion sensor.

In my limited hands-on time, the phone was comfortable and light (it's (5.57 oz. in plastic, not metal). The software worked cleanly and clearly, and the slide-out keyboard mode worked comfortably. The touch screen responded as expected for taps, dragging, swiping to scroll, and "long touch" for context menus. The trackball seemed usable for one-handed operation. However, some of the scroll bars were small to target, and some of the text (OK buttons) was smaller than needed.

The built-in software is obviously targeted to synching with and downloading from Google's online services -- there's no built-in synching to desktop data as with the Palm or Windows Mobile.

But the open platform holds the promise that these kinds of features will be forthcoming from third-party developers, and made available through the Android Market. Since this is intended as an open market, Google is relying on the community to distinguish the better applications through user ratings and comments. A T-Mobile staffer did say that applications will be required to disclose their capabilities (e.g., network, GPS) so that users know what they might do on the device, and this will be checked (automatically, by code inspection?).

See the T-Mobile press conference online, especially the Demo video at 19:00. As a bonus, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin dropped by at 43:00. Brin, as a computer geek, talked about the pleasure of being able to work on the phone -- his first application uses the motion sensor -- so that when you throw the phone in the air it can count the time it is airborne.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more details and specs on the G1 and Android, and comparisons to other smartphone devices.

More details ...



Communications

The G1 connects to the T-Mobile 3G and EDGE network, and supports Wi-Fi access. (The phone is locked to the T-Mobile network to support the below-cost pricing, at least until it is hacked.) There's also basic Bluetooth headset support.

T-Mobile’s high-speed data network is currently available in 13 major U.S.metro markets, and will expand to 27 major markets by the end of 2008 (to reach more than two-thirds of T-Mobile’s current data customers).

Hardware

The phones includes a 3.2 MP camera (for photos, not video yet), microSD slot for expansion storage, and a removable battery. T-Mobile says it runs for a day with typical usage, but will need recharging (or a second battery) for heavy usage. It does not have a standard audio jack; instead it uses the HTC ExtUSB combo mini-USB 2.0 / audio jack.

Applications

The Android software includes the phone firmware, operating system, and base built-in applications linked to the Google services. There's a full HTML browser, Google and other IM clients, and apps including Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk , and YouTube. Google Maps includes satellite, traffic, and street views, and a compass mode that scrolls as you physically rotate the phone.

The phone is designed to sync to the Google online services for Gmail e-mail, calendar, and contacts -- there's no built-in desktop sync. It reads Microsoft Word (and Excel?) and PDF documents.

For media playback, there's a music player, plus a built-in application to access the Amazon MP3 digital music download store. The only video playback is the YouTube video player.

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