To evaluate T-Mobile's new G1 wonderphone is inevitably a review of two halves: the handset hardware and its operating system software. FULL UK REVIEW, UPDATED 18 NOVEMBER 2008.
Both were unknowns as the final anticipated product was unveiled, a phone billed somewhat predictably as yet another iPhone killer. As it turns out, the T-Mobile G1 may be the closest yet to fit that tall order but there remains the unavoidable issue of mismatch between hardware/software from disparate companies, an area where Apple capitalises with both its world-beating smartphone and its PCs.
While T-Mobile is the network provider who will sell you the phone (‘give' you, after signing up for its £720 18-month contract) in the UK, the T-Mobile G1 handset is from HTC in Taiwan and the touchy-feely interface is courtesy of US search-engine behemoth Google.
Turning first to the T-Mobile G1 handset, we have a rather clunky looking slab with upbent talking end, at 17mm-thick rather stouter than is de rigeur these days. If the extra girth had gone into fitting a battery that enables standby for more than two days, we wouldn't mind so much, but we did find its longevity – before taking on long calls or browsing the web – was around 48 hours. At least it meets the iPhone head-on in this respect.
The T-Mobile G1's build quality, while not bad, is far from luxurious. Agricultural may be a better word. Holding it closed as a normal phone, you still feel the screen wobble slightly on its scissor hinge, and when it is fully open, that screen does not sit true to the rest of the phone, but at a slight angle that cheapens the overall efect.
For some functions within the T-Mobile G1 you can get by with the touchscreen interface, which oftens mimics the iPhone's, for example in the way you can finger ‘glide' around full-size web pages through a limited screen window; but where the iPhone experience is like gliding on oil over ice, the T-Mobile G1 was often closer to pumice over sandpaper.
There was a sense of both virtual stickiness, where the screen graphics were slow to respond to finger gestures; and sensual friction embued by the plastic screen, where Apple has chosen real polished glass.
To get on with the business of browsing, you must flip the T-Mobile G1's entire screen out by sliding it sideways, revealing a real-button qwerty keyboard beneath. This is manadatory for web work, as there's no virtual keyboard interface available through the screen.
As it slides out, the T-Mobile G1's display gets flipped into landscape mode. We found surfing over a 3G connection about as quick as an iPhone, with pages loading in impressively quick order.
Once you get to a site, though, navigation within the page is somewhat clumsier with the T-Mobile G1. Gone is the killer multitouch zoom gesture familiar to iPhone converts, replaced with a combination of scrolling around using the mini-trackball, à la Blackberry, gliding by (sticky) finger swipes, and using the magnifying plus and minus icons transparently overlayed at the bottom of the screen.
You kind-of get used to it all, but the T-Mobile G1 still made us crave the elegeant simplicity of the iPhone OS.
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