Of course what most of you want to know is whether Android is any good, or whether two years of hype and speculation haven’t really amounted to anything. Well, probably unsurprisingly, Google has created a pretty impressive mobile phone operating system with bucket loads of potential. And it’s that last point that’s the important one, because Android doesn’t quite feel like the finished article yet, but I have no doubt that over the coming months it will evolve into a force to be reckoned with.
The basic Android user interface is right on the money, and in many ways shades even the iPhone’s interface. When the phone powers on you’re presented with a home screen, complete with large analogue clock at its centre. You can slide the screen left or right, to display two more pages, each of which can be populated by any application icons you wish. There’s a tab at the bottom edge of the screen – pressing this will reveal the full list of applications at your disposal. You can then drag any number of your applications to the Home pages. Just like with a PC or Mac, you can decide how empty or full your desktop area is. The iPhone by comparison has to list every installed application on your Home screens, since there is nowhere else for them to live.
Another nice touch is that Android sees all three of the Home screen pages as a single, wide desktop. This means that you can set a wallpaper that spans the entire width, and different parts of the image will be displayed depending on what page you’re viewing – a small point I know, but a cool one nonetheless. Moving icons around from one location to another on the Home pages or the application menu is a simple matter of touching and holding said icon – it then undocks and can be dragged anywhere you wish, in much the same way as with an iPhone.
It’s hardly a surprise that Android comes with Google Maps embedded, and it’s equally unsurprising that the implementation is excellent. OK, so you it’s not quite as quick to zoom in and out as it is on an iPhone, but it’s not particularly slow either. And then there’s Street View, which is, quite simply brilliant. I defy anyone not to be impressed by Street View, and it’s not just a cool “wow factor” feature either, it’s genuinely useful. Whereas Google Maps usually offers you either a map, satellite view or a hybrid of the two, Street View gives you a true 3D view. This means that you can follow directions to a location, with your phone showing you exactly what should be in front of you as you walk.
Unfortunately Street View isn’t much use to us UK residents yet, although London is being mapped as I write. If you happen to be nipping over to Paris you can make good use of it, since the French capital is already up and running. I should also point out that although the G1 is currently the only handset offering Street View, the next firmware update for the iPhone will add Street View functionality. So, great as this feature is, it won’t be a G1/iPhone differentiator for very long.