Beyond the hype, what is the first Google OS handset like to use and is it actually any good?
Breaking it down into most simple terms the situation is this: The software is worth getting excited about, the hardware is not.
Ultimately were the G1 shipping with a Windows Mobile operating system it would garner little coverage. The 3.2in display has a decent HVGA (480 x 320) resolution but it isn’t the brightest and most vivid display I’ve seen and can’t hold a candle to either the iPhone or BlackBerry Bold.
Compounding this is a woefully lacking approach to multimedia where not only is Bluetooth lacking A2DP (required for wireless earphone listening) but a 3.5mm headphone jack has been skipped over entirely in favour of a shared audio/charging miniUSB. There is also no onboard memory to speak of, just a measly 256 MB ROM, 192 MB RAM, though at least you get a 2GB microSD card in the box.
The 3.2MP camera is no great shakes either, lacking both autofocus, flash and ”video recording” (!) while the whole device is very large at 117.7 x 55.7 x 17.1mm and bulky (158 grams) making it one of the heaviest smartphones around. Even in terms of build quality we’ve seen far better with the all plastic finish feeling rather cheap and the sliding mechanism – which moves upwards in an arc – unnecessarily complicating things.
Yet there are pluses – and big ones at that. 7.2Mbit HSDPA and 2Mbit uploads over HSUPA offer all the speed you’re likely to need, there’s WiFi, GPS, an underutilised accelerometer (more of later) and the Qwerty keyboard (while a little squashed) works well enough.
But the real star in all this is Android. In its current iteration it may not be the most beautiful mobile OS but for what is effectively version 1.0 it is fast and works well with native Google apps like Maps and Gmail/email are excellent. Bonuses like Amazon MP3 and YouTube on the other hand are hit and miss with the former an intuitive and welcome addition (even if it can only be used over WiFi) and the later something of a fiddly muddle.
It is also clear at this stage that Android – if it isn’t a long way from finished – will be little more than a barebones system for developers to get their teeth into. On the G1, for example, there is ”no” desktop sync facility (really!) and we were told a third party player would be required just to playback anything other than WMV video content. Meanwhile the handset’s accelerometer isn’t even employed to rotate photos or the web browser, just Maps in Street View mode which isn’t yet available in the UK. Programmers you have work to do.
That said, Android Market – Google’s App Store equivalent – is already quite well stocked with content ranging from the fundamental video player to apps as useless as anything we’ve seen come out of App Store (one is stroke a cat fur photo for the phone to purr and vibrate!).
Furthermore one of those welcome apps may soon be a mobile version of Google Chrome, since the browser shipping with Android – while competent – does struggle with the html layout of some sites (including the TR homepage) and – you guessed it – lacks Flash support. Both mobile Safari and Opera Mobile are better options (the latter likely to appear on it soon) though it is at least the equal of what you’ll find from Nokia on its N series handsets. Downloading and installation are also seamless – network coverage allowing.
In short then, with open source approach of Android we may well have seen the birth of the next generation of mobile operating systems, but sadly it has been brought to life on a distinctly last generation handset. So if you absolutely have to get your hands on this exciting OS do so with your eyes open. For the rest I’d advise you wait until there are a few more options to choose from.
Touch HD anyone…?