The T-Mobile G1, often called the "G-phone" or "Google phone", is  T-Mobile and Google's answer to the iPhone. It has also been released under the names HTC Dream and Era G1 in various countries. It is a cute, compact gadget available in black, bronze, or white.

It has all the gadgets you'd expect of a touch screen smart phone, including a GPS, web browser, chat capability, and the like. It runs Android, a Google-owned open source developer platform meant for mobile devices. Its single most distinguishing feature is that it has both a touch screen AND a physical QWERTY keyboard and trackball (the screen slides "up", and switches orientation from vertical to horizontal when the keyboard is exposed.)

Android was a Palo-Alto based startup that Google acquired in 2005, and immediately put to work on Google's smart phone project. Android was unveiled in 2007 by the Open Handset Alliance, a group of companies which included Google. It was launched in October of 2008, immediately available as an open source platform, with the release of the G1, in selected G3 network enabled cities.  The range of cities where the G1 is offered expands each month.  Version 1.5, of Android, called "Cupcake", is being rolled out in May of 2009.

In the U.S., the phone is sold only through T-Mobile, for $199 with a contract and $399 without a contract.  A data plan is required to use most of the phone's best features.

I was given a G1 as an early Christmas gift last year, and I love it.

One of the G1's high points for me is its default integration with Google applications. I use gmail, Google calendar, their contact book, and Google maps to keep organized and in touch.  Since it is developed by Google, all of these programs are integrated into Android and the phone itself.  If I update an entry in my calendar, it instantly syncs with my phone via the network. If I change an address in my phone's stored contacts, it is automatically synced with my web-based contacts. The phone does not have to be physically linked with a computer to transfer data.

The GPS and map capabilities are superb.  The phone actually contains a physical accelerometer and a digital compass (which the iPhone lacks) and runs an actual version of Google Maps.  Since I have had it, my phone has kept me from getting lost, or being able to correct navigation mistakes, to the tune of hours and hours.  Its "recalculate directions from my current location" function works extremely well, in particular. 

Its biggest "built in" downside is that, while it comes with four chat clients loaded--gtalk, AIM, Yahoo, and MSN--only gtalk is free to use.  AIM, Y! and MSN all count as SMS messages when sent through the built in chat application, and use up the allotted messages a month, or incur fees. Plenty of  user-developed apps, including Meebo, "Hello Yahoo" and "Hello AIM",  are available and allow the user to chat without communication being treated as SMS'es, but it seems to me to be an instance of poor design to begin with.

The other downside is, like most smartphones, the battery life SUCKS. It's even worse than the iPhone in this regard. A few simple adjustments like switching off the wireless locator when you're not using map mode, and using any of dozens of power managing clients, help a lot. But on a busy day when I'm messaging, reading email, and using the GPS a decent chunk of the day, I'll easily drain 2/3 of my battery in 12 hours.  It charges with a mini-USB, so it's easy to plug into a computer when not in use. 

The G1 is a fantastic little phone. I have used both iPhones and Blackberries, and strongly prefer my G1 to either option.  I nearly bought an iPhone several times, but couldn't get past the touch-screen only keyboard. I kept saying "if only this had a real keyboard, I would love it."  The G1 meets that need wonderfully.  I couldn't be happier with it, and I recommend it strongly to those in the market for a smart phone.



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