Life with a Google phone

When the much-herald Google phone was launched in the UK towards the end of October, and we started the Erewhon project at about the same time, I decided that fate had intended me to acquire my first smartphone. I therefore went out on day 1, signed up for the exorbitant initial contract offering from T-Mobile, took home a white G1 and have been using it ever since.

If you have not heard of it, the G1 phone is the first device to use Google’s Android operating system, intended to be freely available to any phone manufacturer, and enabling application developers to write high-quality tools which will run on a wide variety of phones. If it is successful, you can expect to see more
manufacturers picking up on Android. This first model is made by the respected HTC company from Taiwan.

In summary, what the G1 and Android give us today is

  • phone (as you might expect!)
  • always-on internet (seamless switch between 3G and wireless networks)
  • touch-screen interface, enhanced by slide-out keyboard
  • storage on micro SD card (I added an 8 gbyte one)
  • complete syncing integration with Google apps (mail, contacts, calendar, maps, search)
  • camera
  • GPS
  • web-browsing
  • media playing
  • .. and as many other applications as people care to write
G1 Google phone desktop

G1 Google phone desktop

Reviews of the G1 are widely available, and vary wildly in their assessment depending on the standpoint of the reviewer. To those who love the Apple iPhone, it is a cranky weak imitation; to long-time
phone-watchers, it’s a ho-hum bit of hardware with an interesting operating system; to “openness” advocates, it is the second coming, real-Linux-onna-phone.

I’ve had an iPod Touch (little sister of the iPhone) since the start of the year, and I like it a lot. Compared to that, the G1 comes as a shock, since it makes much use of 5 navigation buttons (Menu, Dial,
Home, Back, and Stop phone call), a tiny mouse button (move cursor and click) and the slide-out keyboard. Either this is a annoying and fiddly, or the practical shortcut which Apple should have provided.
Google phone with keyboard
How does it all function in real life?

As a phone, it’s fine, it does what I expect in a modern device. The SMS and phone link properly to my Google contacts, and SMS conversations are presented like email threads.

As a web/mail browser, it also does well. Most web pages work as expected, and I can do all my email work efficiently, with GMail or by connecting to my University account. For the latter (IMAP), I installed an improved version of the provided client, since the latter inexplicably does not do IMAP delete properly.

As a media engine, I can happily play the 7.5 gbytes of MP3 files I copied to my card, or use a LastFM client. What I can not do yet is read my ebooks; I am impatient for the excellent Stanza to be ported to the device. When that’s available,  I can pass on the iPod Touch to the rest of my family.

As a piece of hardware, the battery is a weakness (on a typical day, it is gasping for breath by 7pm after leaving its charger at 8am), and the keyboard is a little hard for my tired eyes.

So is the G1 a good device for a typical university user, leaving aside cutenesses like a barcode scanner which links to shopping comparison sites? Yes, because the daily business of phone, web, email and mapping works well and simply. The big downside today is the lack of support for the 802.1X wireless we use at Oxford for Eduroam, so the connection at work is always through 3G, which is not as fast or reliable. But this will surely come in later releases.

White elephant or new beginning? The open nature of the phone must be a good idea, but so much depends on fashion. For Erewhon, we will have to look again in a year and make another assessment.

4 Responses to Life with a Google phone

  1. Col says:

    Have to say that I agree with most points!

    Im stunned at being able to be permanently connected to the internet, although im not sure yet if this is a good or a bad thing. I am now completely contactable whereever I am either by phone, sms or email….

    hmmm, I see a new list of excuses for why i cant be contacted coming up, the one about it being in the other room is starting to get a little well worn!

    Email A+ (how do you zoom in on emails?), browser A+, (possibly a blackberry style jog wheel to make zooming in and out a little easier), SMS A+, phone A+ (now I have figured out how to get the numeric pad up)

    Same as you I got myself an 8gb card, which cost me just over a tenner. bargain.

    only 2 real gripes so far…

    1. Battery life……WOEFUL….2 charges a day, ridiculous. Have actually contacted T-Mobile who said its being investigated as so many people have complained

    2. No onscreen keypad. Why cant they make the dialer accessible, so that I dont need to open the keyboard just to type in one word for search etc

    But got to say im loving this G1 Google phone and cant put it down!!!

  2. rahtz says:

    The onscreen keypad is coming, I think. Seems like just a software thing. it would
    certainly be very nice to have a choice.

  3. jamesc says:

    It is the battery life that sounds like the main problem for me. But I hear that this is a problem with iphones as well. My current poxy 20 quid phone can last for a few days on a charge if I don’t play music all the time or something. Perhaps the always-on aspect of the device sucks battery? In any case, that has put me off getting one until the next generation of them come out at least.

    -J

  4. oxforderewhon says:

    Indeed, the iPhone too suffers from poor battery life, although the quality control on the iPhone production line seems to be so random that it could be down to luck whether you get longer or shorter battery life. I’m now on my third iPhone – the first had a battery that lasted 7hrs or so, the second had little or no reception. My latest, however appears to be fine on both fronts.

    My general findings for iPhone battery life are:

    Aprox 1 useful day with all radios on (i.e. on for 16hrs, perhaps used for about 1hr calls, 1hr internet, 1hr music).

    Aprox 2 useful days (similar usage to above) with Wifi turned off by default (turned back on when using internet), 3G and bluetooth also off.

    With the 2.1 software I’ve found that turning off 3G appears to save the most battery, and quite often results in (at least perceived) faster data transfers as the iPhone seems to have trouble holding onto good 3G signal, it appears far more stable on EDGE.

    My opinion is that as long as the device can last a full day’s use, it becomes practical. Unlike my previous Nokia N95 which lasted half a day at best.

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