Phones

T-Mobile G1 vs iPhone 3G: Can Google bite Apple?

If you weren't sold on the iPhone or iPhone 3G, there's a good chance you'll be interested in the T-Mobile G1 -- it's powered by Google Android and it's set to bring the fight to Apple

We've managed to get our hands on a T-Mobile G1 here in the UK, to see if it's worthy of all the hype and answer the question everyone's asking -- is it better than the iPhone 3G? From the packaging to the headphone socket, we've given it a thorough going over on the next few pages.

If you'd like to read some more in-depth information about the first Google phone to hit the UK, make sure you read our full T-Mobile G1 review here.

Packaging

While Apple made every effort to package the iPhone 3G in a compact box that oozes style and eco-friendliness, the G1 comes in a standard T-Mobile box that hardly inspires. In it you get a G1 with a 2GB microSD card pre-installed, a USB-compatible headset, a charger, a USB cable and a protective pouch.

With a weird lip that sticks out at the bottom, you may think the G1 is ugly (left), but when we took it out of the box many Cravers remarked how good it looked in real life. While we'd say the iPhone 3G is a much more attractive device, the G1 can hold its own, and certainly looks better than many smart phones out there.

When it comes to raw materials the G1 keeps things simple with a matte plastic casing that doesn't attract fingerprints and is pretty light. A polished iPhone will attract flocks of magpies, but the G1 is a much more practical device if you're not a clean-freak who must wipe their phone every 5 minutes.

It's not as slick as the iPhone's, but the G1's interface does many of the same things and the screen is very responsive. Everything is laid out in a relatively easy-to-understand format, although the variety of input methods -- touchscreen, keypad and scroll ball -- might confuse you at first.

The G1 comes with a slide-out Qwerty keypad. It's better than using a touchscreen, in our opinion, but it could do with better-defined keys, as we found them a little too flat. There's no on-screen keypad yet, but rumour has it one is going to be made available through Android Market, Google's app store.

As mobile Web browsers go, the G1's offers a fast experience over 3G and Wi-Fi, with the ability to zoom in and out of pages and open tabs. We found zooming a little more fiddly than on the iPhone's browser. We preferred the tab-browsing option of the G1, however, which usefully caches pages you're not looking at. Initial testing showed 3G to be slightly faster on the G1 than on the iPhone, but we'll need to do further testing to see if that's the case all the time.

A must-have for any smart phone is the ability to download applications, so you can improve and customise your experience.  Android Market delivers a very similar experience to the iPhone's app store and both work really well. But we appreciate that Android Market isn't overly controlled by Google or T-Mobile, which is why we prefer it to the carefully vetted Apple version.

When we turned Google Maps on, the G1's GPS was quick to respond and performed faster than the iPhone 3G, but that may have been due to network issues at that moment in time. The mapping experience was competent and where the G1 couldn't pick up a satellite it defaulted to network location, similar to the iPhone.

Soon to be released on the iPhone too, Street View allows you to see panoramic views of pretty much anywhere Google can send a car. At the moment the service is only available in America, but it will come out here in the near future. For the time being you can use it here to see American streets and it really is worth it, especially if you're trying to show off your new G1 to your mates.

Although it has a higher resolution 3-megapixel camera (left), we found the iPhone's 2-megapixel camera produced prettier photographs. It seems that the shutter lag on the G1 makes photos come out blurrier than on the iPhone. That said, the G1 does offer you the opportunity to send pictures to friends via MMS, something the iPhone can't do.

The G1's music player isn't as easy to use as the iPhone's and doesn't come with any fancy graphics. We're also bitterly disappointed there's no built-in 3.5mm headphone jack (right). The G1 doesn't lock you into iTunes, however, and you can simply drag and drop music files into it, which is something we wish the iPhone supported.

From the out-of-the-box perspective, we can say the G1 is the closest anything has ever come to the iPhone. Combining a customisable home-screen, an app store, a fantastic browser and a smooth finger-to-screen experience -- this is a real iPhone competitor if ever we saw one.

Is this an iPhone killer? No, not yet: the G1's hardware lacks the finesse of the iPhone and many people make or break their buying decisions on how something looks. Fortunately, new chassis are coming soon from a variety of manufacturers, including HTC, and then we'll have a real battle on our hands.