There’s a group of people who don’t want or can’t have an iPhone. They have numerous reasons. Maybe they’re locked into T-Mobile, and they can’t switch to AT&T. Maybe they’ve convinced themselves that they can’t live without a hardware keyboard. Maybe they’re open source patriots who feel like Apple exercises too much control over what you can and can’t do on the iPhone. Heck, most iPhone owners (myself included) probably have those feelings in some measure. But for the die hards, these reasons have been enough to prevent them from just giving in and getting an iPhone. In the 14 months that the iPhone has been available in the U.S., Apple has whittled the resolve of this group down as much as it probably can. The ones that are left, iPhoneless, are probably NEVER going to be convinced.
For those people, today is an important day. Today, the T-Mobile G1 (aka the HTC Dream, aka the gPhone), which runs Google’s open source Android operating system, was officially announced. And choruses of heavenly angels were heard.
I’m an avowed Apple fan and iPhone lover, but Android-based phones are fascinating to me. I’ve been perusing the breathless online accounts of “hands on” experiences, shakycam video, and armchair analysis (e.g., this post) that the G1 has generated since it’s launch event in New York this morning. Here’s what I think so far.
The G1 is a GREAT device. It can do amazing things. It’s got wifi, GPS, and works on a (supposedly-fast-but-so-new-that-no-one-really-knows-yet) 3G network. It’s only $179 with two year contract ($20 less than the iPhone – take THAT, Apple!). You can get Google Maps with Street View. You can browse and buy from 6 million DRM-free MP3s at Amazon, right on the phone. There’s an apps “marketplace” where you can download programs to make your phone into a flashlight, or a Tamagotchi, or whatever. It’s got a nice 3 megapixel camera. It integrates with Gmail and Google Calendar. It’s got a real, honest-to-Sergey physical keyboard that hides under the slide-out screen. Check out these two hands on videos from Engadget for all the dirty details.
It has some quirks. For example, HTC, the company that makes the hardware for most of the smartphones in the world (like the Palm Treos, and most Windows Mobile devices), has, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the G1 shouldn’t have a standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Instead, it gets a single mini USB jack, for syncing, charging, power, and audio, and uses HTC’s proprietary “ExtUSB” dongle. The G1 ships with some (probably cheap, almost certainly uncomfortable and tinny sounding) earbuds that can use this proprietary connection. But if you want to use your own earbuds or headphones, you’ll have to get an ExtUSB dongle, sold separately, and rumored not to be available until some time after the October 22 on-sale date of the phone. To quote Engadget, “Why, HTC!? Why?!” So much for replacing your iPod with the G1. And what’s up with the vast bezel of blank plastic that surrounds the screen? And the bananaphone curvature that the bottom part has, when viewed from the side? I have my doubts about how usable the off center keyboard will be, when flipped open in landscape mode. Oh, and if you’re a corporate Exchange email/calendar user? You’re out of luck, at least until someone writes a decent Exchange ActiveSync app.
No word on how expensive T-Mobile’s 3G data plans will be (though they’d be insane to make them more than the $30/month that AT&T extracts from iPhone users – especially since their Terms of Service set a soft limit of 1GB data transfer per month – something you could EASILY blow through on a device like this). And while T-Mobile will happily sell you an unsubsidized (no contract) G1 for $399, you don’t get to SIM unlock it and take it to another network until you’ve been a T-Mobile customer in good standing for 90 days. And forget about tethering to use it as a 3G modem for your laptop.
But, quirks aside, I’m certain that the G1 will be a popular phone. For the holdouts who somehow don’t have an iPhone, this is the phone to get. It absolutely kills any Windows Mobile phone I’ve seen or used. And unless you’re locked in to BlackBerry via your company or something, I’d say that the gPhone is better than a BlackBerry, too.
So, if you want to or can be an iPhone person? You probably already are. For everyone else, your new phone has arrived.