T-Mobile G1 Review
There’s nothing really groundbreaking with the Android UI, and that’s in part what makes it so good. We feel confident most users can pick it up and go, comfortable navigating between screens and apps. The best way to describe it is a mix between the iPhone and BlackBerry OS, yet you’d never think it is a rip-off of either. The homescreen displays a large analog clock, as well as a few icons such as contacts and My Faves. Icons can be moved around, added and removed from the homescreen, and the screen can actually be slid to the left or right to reveal more space. Left is empty and we’d imagine most users will use it as a launcher area. Right has a Google search bar, as well as more real estate for program shortcuts.
Of course, all of this is customizable. The clock and search bar are widgets that can also be moved, added and removed. A picture frame is also available now, and we’d expect more widgets to soon appear. Individual contacts, bookmarks, playlists, Gmail labels and folders can also be added to the home screen, though we couldn’t easily figure out how to rename the folders (open it, then hold your finger on the title bar for a second or two.)
From the bottom of any page the user can drag open the full menu, in which each program has its own icon. We like the interface, and feel that it addresses the clutter issue the iPhone has while still allowing quick and intuitive access for any user. For the neat freaks you can have zero icons and widgets, and for those who want everything up front you can fill three screens with whatever you want.
Similar to RIM’s BlackBerry key, the Menu button brings up context menus that vary depending on location. Menus are much less convoluted than RIM devices, consistent with Android’s ease of use mantra.
Similar to the Samsung Instinct, notifications are displayed with an icon in the status bar and the user can drag the area down for more detail. Where the Instinct simply has a star to notify the user of missed notifications, Android has different icons to specify what kind of event was missed (email, text, etc.)
One major gripe we have is lack of an onscreen keyboard at the moment. There are times when we want to keep the phone in portrait mode and just tap out a quick message without having to open it, but we expect this will come soon enough. If Google never closes this hole (which we’re sure they will) no doubt the developers will step in and do the job.
The touchscreen is integrated well into the OS, though it is important to note that Android will run on non-touch devices as well. Just for fun we navigated using only the trackball and buttons and think Google really has a great OS on their hands not just for feature devices, but for mid-range and low-end phones alike, and we fully expect to see it emerge on even non-cellular devices. While it has some maturing to do, the structure is solid and very well thought out.
Hopefully you trust Google; if so things are great. If not, well then there’s not much sense in using Android. When setting up our device we signed into our Google account (required) and within a few minutes all of our contacts were synchronized to our phone. There is no desktop sync program, but as long as it works we prefer the cloud managing our information. Honestly, we get lazy and don’t plug our phones in as often as we should so auto-sync just makes life easier. Importing contacts to Gmail is easy from both Outlook and Address Book, so there is no real reason to have a desktop client. That said, we’re sure someone will develop one in the future.
The phonebook layout is great, and again very similar to Samsung’s Instinct. There are four tabs at the top; you are taken to Contacts (everyone) by default but Favorites (speed dials), Call log and Dialer are just a press away. Unlike Windows Mobile, Android lists contacts alphabetically by first name. When on either the homescreen or contacts list the user can begin typing and the phone will match to the contact list by both first and last name. Entries can be filtered by groups (which are set up in Gmail) and you can even choose to only sync certain groups instead of your entire list.
There is a plethora of information that can be stored with each contact. There are several phone number, email and postal address labels, and if there isn’t one to fit your needs you can create a custom one. Not only can you save an IM name, but you can associate it with the appropriate service (options are AIM, Windows Live, Yahoo, Skype, QQ, Google Talk, ICQ and Jabber) which allows you to send an IM directly from the contact, assuming Android supports the service.contact. You can add company information (including position) and if none of this is enough you can make a note for them. What you cannot do, however, is add birthday and anniversary information. We hope to see this in the future.
Have a crazy ex, creepy guy you met at a bar who won’t leave you alone or just someone you don’t want to talk to? Android gives you the option to send a contact’s calls straight to voicemail. It’s a curious and somewhat cynical feature for sure, but at the same time pretty cool and just another sign that Google has its finger on the pulse of the modern user.
The in-call management is fantastic as well. The user can either put a call on mute or on hold, and can activate the speakerphone or a Bluetooth headset. Swap Call easily manages three-way calling, and there is a Merge Call option for simple conference call management. When on a conference call you can even put certain callers on hold while still talking to other ones.
Voice dialing is handled by Nuance, which bought VoiceSignal last year. The software is excellent as always.
Again, you’re going to be trusting Google here. Upon signing in our Google Calendar was synchronized, and additions via the phone upload back to the web. The process is as painless as it is seamless.
The calendar itself is full featured but pretty standard for a smartphone. The user can view in Agenda, Day, Week or Month view and adding appointments is as you’d expect. There are options for all day appointments as well as recurring events. Presence and privacy options are available, and descriptions can be added for more detail. It would appear that you have the option to sync with multiple calendars (presumably Google Calendars) but after telling it we wanted to add a calendar the phone did nothing. Android has been criticized for only allowing sync with one Google account, but if you could add multiple calendars it would certainly help the situation.
There is a basic calculator with some advanced functionality, but there are no notes, tasks or voice recorder. We’ve said this a lot already, and will be saying it again, but these functions will no doubt be added down the road either by Google or third party developers.