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The first Android phone 10 years later: An annotated review

Android’s first phone was a delightful mess: We read our original review to see what we got right -- and wrong -- about the T-Mobile G1.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Android is a decade old and so is the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1. Also called the HTC Dream, the G1 entered a mobile world much more crowded than it is now. People still used flip phones, the iPhone was just beginning its ascent, and powerful companies like BlackBerry, Palm and Microsoft were jockeying to keep our attention. It was a different time.

The G1 was a fascinating, strange and wonderful phone -- rough around the edges, but full of promise. Just as I did with the original iPhone's tenth birthday, I'm using the Androidiversary to review CNET's original G1 review. Read on for the excerpts (in italics) from that original review, written by former CNETers Bonnie Cha and Nicole Lee. I follow with my thoughts on what we got right and what we got wrong.

Originally published: Oct. 16, 2008

The Dream has probably stirred up as much anticipation and hype as the Apple iPhone, not only because it would be the first smartphone to run Google's mobile platform but also because of its potential to overtake Apple's darling.

OK, I admit that we did hedge a bit here. The G1 arrived with iPhone-like hype -- a type of frenzy that we don't see for any phone today -- but it was difficult to really foresee in 2008 just how huge Android would become. The G1 arrived at only one carrier -- the smallest of the big four -- and as Roger Cheng writes in his look back at 10 years of Android, its birth was a little, well, messy. But overtake Apple's darling it did. Today, Android runs more than 85 percent of the world's phones. For many of us, it's an Apple-Android world.

remembering the first Google Android Phone: HTC T Mobile G1

The G1: the phone that gave us a chin.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design

We certainly wouldn't call it sexy. Instead, the words "interesting" and "weird" come to mind, mostly because the bottom section of the phone juts out at a slight angle. In a battle of pure looks, the iPhone would win hands down.

We (or I, at least) still wouldn't call the G1 sexy. At this point, I'd only call it "weird" and I'd still name the first iPhone as the prettiest. The "chin" got in the way when you were typing, and the G1 looked, and felt, like at a brick -- all at a time when phone design was actually interesting. Even CNET's David Katzmaier, who bought the G1 and loved it, called it ugly. That said, I'm still glad HTC didn't design the G1 like a BlackBerry. We all have to start somewhere, and far lovelier Android phones were to come

There's a good reason for G1's larger size: a full Qwerty keyboard. There are a number of users who are reluctant to switch to a full touchscreen smartphone because of the lack of a tactile keyboard.

Touchscreens were a thing in 2008, but with BlackBerry still a major player at the time, most "smartphones" (we hardly even use that term anymore) had real keyboards. What's more, most touchscreens that did exist were terrible, including BlackBerry's first touchscreen phone, the Storm.

If you were accustomed to using to a real keyboard, making the switch to a touchscreen-only life was difficult, and many people with well-honed BlackBerry thumbs held out until the bitter end. But the second Android phone, the Google Ion/T-Mobile MyTouch 3G, ditched physical keyboard and later Androids (with a few exceptions) fell in line.

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We liked that the G1 had a physical keyboard, but typing on it was a bit uncomfortable.

Angela Lang/CNET

The actual display measures 3.2 inches diagonally. It's vibrant and sharp, and like the iPhone and BlackBerry Storm, the touchscreen is capacitive, so it will only respond to the touch of your finger and not your fingernail or other objects like a stylus.

Though relatively large at the time, the 3.2-inch display is adorable now given that the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 has twice the diagonal measurement. I think there's room for small phones to return, but it's clear the most of the world has moved on. Big is in.

Here's another word we don't use anymore: capacitive. Why? All the phone displays we use today are capacitive, meaning the screen works by sensing small charge of electricity energy from your finger. Ten years ago, though, some phone displays were resistive. They required you to actually press down to register your touch, like Apple's 3D Touch today. Since capacitive displays were easier to use, they eventually won out.

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The G1's display was great for the time and the early Android interface performed well.

Angela Lang/CNET

The T-Mobile G1's interface is generally clean, fun and easy to use, and we like that you can customize the Home screen with your favorite apps easily. We would even say that the touchscreen's responsiveness is on a par with that on the iPhone's. But the phone's overall interface isn't as intuitive.

Android is much cleaner now than it was when it first debuted. Now, which OS is "best" depends only on your personal preference. But transport me back to 2008 and I'd still prefer iOS. Of course, one of the G1's big advantages was that you could customize the home screen from the very beginning and in a way that was far better easier to use than Windows Mobile. The iPhone only let you tweak the home screen with later iOS updates

Features

On the bottom of the unit is a mini USB port where you connect the power charger. Sadly, this is also your only option for connecting a headset, as there's no dedicated headphone jack, 3.5mm or otherwise. If you want the privilege of using your own headphones, you'll have to spend extra money to buy an adapter.

This is another area where the G1 Was ahead of its time, but not in a good way. Being forced to buy an headphones adapter was annoying and unusual in 2008. Now, it's only annoying.

The quad-band G1 offers speakerphone, voice dialing, conference calling and speed dial. There's no support for visual voicemail.

The iPhone had visual voicemail from the start, but Android gained it before too long. Every phone nowadays has multiple bands, a speakerphone, voice dialing and the other features we listed, but that wasn't the case 10 years ago. 

As with the iPhone 3G, there's no love for stereo Bluetooth or tethering, so you can't use it as a modem for your laptop. The latter is a lesser issue for us, but if we can't get a 3.5mm headphone jack, we'd at least like stereo Bluetooth support.

Stereo Bluetooth had existed since 2004, but most phones were slow to adopt it. The feature arrive with the Android 1.5 Cupcake update in 2009 and iPhone users had to wait until iOS 3 the same year. In retrospect, no Bluetooth tethering wasn't that outrageous (it's cute that we expected the iPhone to ever get it).

remembering the first Google Android Phone: HTC T Mobile G1

The G1's browser was far easier to use than that on many smartphones of the time.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You can pan across the screen with your finger, and though you can't zoom in by pinching as you can on the iPhone, you can bring up onscreen zoom controls at the bottom of the display. Similar to the iPhone, you can also double-tap on a Web page to zoom in on a particular section.

Sure, double-tapping is nice and all, but pinch-and-zoom was a serious omission on the G1. Android wouldn't get that ability until a few months later.

Of course, you're not limited to the touchscreen when navigating the browser. In fact, we preferred the trackball for scrolling around pages.

I love trackballs -- I grew up playing Centipede in arcades --- and I was fond of the tiny trackball on the G1. You didn't need it, and there's certainly no use for one on a phone now, but it was fun.

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There are a few hiccups with the G1 browser that keep it from being a totally seamless experience, however. Even though we like having the physical Qwerty keyboard, an onscreen keyboard would make entering text while holding the phone vertically much more convenient.

Because it was more comfortable to browse on the G1 with the screen closed, It was irritating to constantly to open it again each time you wanted to type. A virtual keyboard would arrive with an Android update the next year.

Since the Android Market is so new, it's hard to compare its available applications to those on the App Store, but it shows serious promise.

Whether the Android Market was better than the iTunes App Store, which had launched only three months before, was beside the point. What really mattered was that Android had an app ecosystem from birth. Even then it was clear that apps would come to define how we used our phones. Bravo, Android.

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The G1 was an early phone to kill the 3mm headset jack -- not good.

Angela Lang/CNET

Downloading applications was a breeze on both Wi-Fi and over T-Mobile's 3G network -- we didn't have a chance to download them over GPRS.

Like with all of the major carriers, T-Mobile's 3G network wasn't terribly robust or widespread at this point. Though the carrier had introduced its first 3G-capable phone, the Samsung SGH-T639, in October, 2007, it had only activated its 3G network earlier in 2008.

To our delight, you get copy-and-paste capabilities, and there's an attachment viewer to open Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF documents. But note, you can't edit said files (the iPhone is also view-only).

Android beat iOS to a few features, most notably copy-and-paste and multimedia messaging (iPhone users caught up on both with iOS 3). For editing Microsoft Office docs, there would be apps in the Android Market.

We especially like that you can instantly convert any song to a ringtone directly from the music player.

The song-as-ringtone feature was fantastic -- it's still far easier to do that on Android than on the iPhone.

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A 3.2-megapixel camera was considered high-end in 2008.

Angela Lang/CNET

The microSD card slot can support up to 8GB cards.

The microSD card was another advantage the G1 (and Android) had over the iPhone, and advantage that's still true today. As a fun fact, the Galaxy Note 9 can take 512GB memory cards.

The 3.2-megapixel camera beats the iPhone's 2-megapixel camera, but you can't record video. Worse, there are no camera settings, such as white balance, effects and shooting modes.

The G1 beat the 2-megapixel camera on both the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G. The missing video recording and editing features was disappointing, but Android would later get those features. To show you how far things have come, the Galaxy Note 9 has two(!) 12-megapixel cameras.

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The G1 wasn't perfect, but Android was here to stay.

Angela Lang/CNET

Conclusion

The G1 doesn't quite offer the mass appeal and ease of use of the iPhone, so it won't be a good fit for someone making the jump from a regular mobile to their first smartphone. Power business users also might want to hold off until more corporate support and productivity applications are added. We'd say the T-Mobile G1 is best-suited for early adopters and gadget hounds who love tinkering around and modding their devices.

I'd still say we were correct here. The G1 felt like an experiment, appealing to people that wanted to deeply change and perfect their phones or those that just didn't want an iPhone. Fortunately, it didn't take long for Android to win over more people, worker bees and smartphone newbies included.

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