The 9th Soul

Google’s First Phone: The iPhone With More Buttons

Posted in entertainment, internet news, technology by Fated Blue on September 24, 2008


If the HTC’s new G1 cellphone, featuring Google’s Android software, were introduced two years ago, jaws would drop. But Apple’s iPhone already won the wows that go to the first small phone that is truly good at Web browsing. So the G1 offers some interesting evolution, but not a revolution in the concept.

After playing with the G1 for 20 minutes, my initial take is that the G1 is the PC to the iPhone’s Macintosh.

The G1, which is initially being offered exclusively through T-Mobile in the United States and Europe, has many more buttons on the front and many more options on the screens inside. That means that it takes longer to do the things you want to do most frequently, but you also have many more options at hand. For example, when you take a photo, the software asks you whether you want to keep it or delete it. The iPhone just saves all your pictures and you have to go back and delete the ones you don’t want later. (There may be a way to change that setting on the G1, but I didn’t get around to looking at the configuration options. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of them. It’s that sort of device.)

Physically, it is a little narrower than the iPhone, but thicker. That means the screen is a little smaller. I also found that the plastic case feels a little cheap. The biggest differentiator is the G1’s slide-out keyboard, some might find easier to type on than the iPhone’s virtual keyboard.

Some of the software in I played with seemed nice, like the mapping software, which is built on Google Maps and very clearly displayed travel directions. But the phone doesn’t yet give turn-by-turn directions the way a car GPS device does, which is also a well-noted flaw of the iPhone. Neither does the phone record video, another feature some people miss on Apple’s smartphone.

One area where the G1 falls far short of the iPhone is streaming media. The software supports neither Adobe’s Flash — the standard for Web video — nor Apple’s QuickTime. Google did write a special interface so the phone can play videos from Google’s YouTube service. The issue with both Flash and QuickTime appears to be royalties. Neither Google, nor HTC, nor T-Mobile want to pay for this software. If Adobe or Apple wants to release a video player for the phone, they are welcome to, a T-Mobile spokesman said.

It is a bit hard to evaluate the true capabilities of the phone because so much of its potential is what it offers to third-party application developers. In six months, we may see if people can make the G1 do things that no other phone can.

For now, it seems like a very interesting phone for people who really want to type on a little keyboard. But until the value of Android’s slightly clunky flexibility proves out, I suspect many people will prefer the polished simplicity of the iPhone.

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