How iView the G1: An iPhone owner's take on the Google phone
I've very intentionally kept myself in the dark about Google's entry into the smartphone market -- until today.
It was mostly out of fear that I might find my iPhone in some way deficient by comparison and, as a result, develop a raging case of tech envy.
But as a low-grade geek, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to lay hands on T-Mobile's G1, which was made by HTC and runs Google's Android operating system, and review it for the paper with David Colker.
First things first, though. Someone has to come up with a better nickname for this thing. True, a rose by any other name might smell as sweet. But G1 doesn't exactly roll off the tongue or inspire the gee-whiz cachet that iAnything seems to.
So, was I ready to hang up on iPhone and answer the call of the G1? Here are some things that occurred to this early iPhone adopter....
- Searching for identity: The G1 obviously integrates the best of Google very well -- and it should. Search is part of just about everything the device offers. It's on the home screen, it's in the music player, it's in the maps. It's quite impressive. Honestly, though, none of the mapping or other Google features bowled me over any more than the integrated Google offerings of the iPhone. (If the G1 offered voice directions, I might have said otherwise.)
- Apps: Compulsive purchasers will have to wait a bit. The Android market offerings are a tad anemic by comparison. But, obviously, developers have had more time to create for the iPhone than for the G1. And, for now, everything there appears to be free. Also, man, some of those babies download fast. I wasn't even riding on Wi-Fi at the time. (Downloading a video player took a little longer.) There is an app that folks are buzzing about that lets you take a pic of a bar code and have Google dig up details on the item. I can see a use for that, but it's not enough to completely geek me out.
- Getting your game on: The best thing I found in the store in the game realm was very retro -- Pac-Man. While I'm all about nostalgia, Pac-Man was made for a joystick, not a touch screen or accelerometer. Tilting away from angry ghosts really isn't that much fun. That said, maybe its Spore Origins is still to come. When the iPhone launched in 2007, folks had to wait about a year for any apps to download to their unaltered phones. So, kudos for having any to choose from at the G1's launch.
- Multimedia: C'mon, the iPhone is an iPod with other cool features that can make phone calls. The G1 is a search tool that plays music and makes phone calls.Transfer of multimedia feels a bit easier to this iTunes-trained user. The iPhone is plug and play; the G1 is drag and drop -- that is to say, you have to plug it into either a PC or a Mac, where it shows up as an external drive and you can drag over the music files or folders. I prefer less thinking and activity for my transfers.
- IM/MMS: I'll say it. I'm totally, completely and blindingly jealous about this. First, instant messaging services such as Yahoo Messenger and AIM can run in the background, as on the BlackBerry, without having to reconnect every time you leave the app to do something else like check e-mail or answer a call. And G1 lets users send multimedia messages via MMS. Any basic cellphone these days can do that, but not the iPhone. (This difference did elicit a mostly silent growl from me.)
- Ringtones: The ease of setting ringtones on the G1 is almost enough to make an iPhone owner throw up her hands and think about converting. Pick a song, any song on your phone, and make it your ringtone. Yeah, it should be that easy -- and it is on the G1. (Again, grrrrr! I had to buy a separate program to do this easily -- or convert the files in my iTunes library and sprinkle pixie dust over them. Too many steps for the maker of the iPod.)
- Keyboard: OK, this one's for the FWF -- friends with fingernails. There's a Sidekick-style keyboard that pops out, making typing a tad easier out of the box. But there's a price for this convenience. The only way you can enter info is by using that keyboard -- and it has to be in the landscape mode. And, frankly, my thumb is still crazy sore from playing around with the device. Why? The right thumb has to reach over a fixed set of navigational buttons that are well placed in portrait mode but get in the way in landscape.
- Of portraits and landscapes: Here was something that drove me a little nuts. I want to look at the screen the way I want to look at the screen -- not the way the device insists I do. The G1 won't let you flip back and forth unless you open and close the keyboard. Again, you can enter text only in landscape and only by opening the keyboard. I kept touching the screen, hoping to just be able to tap in anything. Tap, tap, tap -- alas, nothing.
- Cool little features -- sort of: Like the iPhone, the G1 lets you open up to eight browsing windows at the same time. But the way it displays all of them, Brady Bunch-style in the same window, is pretty handy. The trackball is a nice little addition for those trading up from the BlackBerry -- but not particularly necessary. You can let your fingers do the walking. Why would you need to scroll?
- Copy and paste: G1 has it; iPhone doesn't. (Audible earth-rattling growl!)
Pick your preference.
So far, I feel smart enough with what I have (don't worry, my precious). But I did get my geek fix from the G1.
-- Michelle Maltais
Maltais is editorial broadcast manager for the Los Angeles Times.
What do you think of the G1? Think you'd buy it, or would you wait for future Android phones?
Photo: T-Mobile's G1 Android-powered phone, the first cellphone with an operating system designed by Google. Credit: Mark Lennihan / Associated Press