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T-Mobile G1 review: CNET reviews the first-ever Android phone

What impressed us most about Google's first Android phone? The G1's web browser, which came closest to the iPhone's than any we'd seen, and the combination of features that made this phone a highly competent messaging device.

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Bonnie Cha Nicole Lee
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Bonnie Cha

Former Editor

Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.

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Nicole Lee

Former Editor

Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.

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13 min read

Editor's note, Sept. 21, 2018

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7.5

T-Mobile G1

The Good

Android interface; responsive touchscreen; HSDPA (3.5G); Wi-Fi; QWERTY keypad.

The Bad

Could look better; lack of 3.5mm headphone jack; lack of video recording; lack of stereo Bluetooth.

The Bottom Line

While we're not in love with the design and would have liked some additional features, the real beauty of the T-Mobile G1 is the Google Android platform, as it has the potential to make smartphones more personal and powerful. That said, it's not quite there yet, so for now, the G1 is best suited for early adopters and gadget hounds, rather than consumers and business users.

I remember the meeting well. Over a dozen of us crammed into a conference room. Someone feverishly scratched a dry-erase marker on a corporate-size whiteboard as we puzzled over what Google's new "phone" would be and how the hell we were going to cover it. Would it be called the Google Phone, or the G Phone? Turns out, the HTC Dream, better known in the US as the T-Mobile G1, was neither. (The HTC Dream debuted Sept. 23, 2008, followed in the US by the T-Mobile G1 on Oct. 20, 2008.)

Google's vision for a smartphone was so significant, and so shocking, because its phone wasn't a phone at all. Not like a BlackBerry, Palm Treo or even the original iPhone. It was a platform. Android on the G1 rivaled Apple's iPhone software, but Google didn't give a lick about owning the hardware. It worked with partners -- starting with HTC here -- to create phones in a range of sizes and prices. The important part was for Google to back the G1's hardware with its gold-standard search tool, maps with turn-by-turn directions and an Android Market where you could shop for apps.

T-Mobile G1: The first Android phone never looked so good

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Looking back, the HTC Dream/T-Mobile G1 was a clunky, clumsy, ungainly little thing with a jutted-out chin, a terribly inconvenient trough of a keyboard and woefully shaky apps. This handset didn't conquer the world all at once, not like Apple's tremendous disruption of a staid and exclusive industry. But its legacy as Google's first step into Android domination gives it life and meaning today.

Keep reading for Bonnie Cha and Nicole Lee's original T-Mobile G1 review and photos from Oct. 16, 2008, complemented with fresh photos from 2018. -Jessica Dolcourt, Section Editor, Phones


It's been a little more than a year since Google Android was announced and rumours of a little device called the HTC Dream started to leak onto the Web. 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.

The T-Mobile G1, formerly known as the HTC Dream, will be available through T-Mobile on Oct. 30 in black or white and will be offered on two tariffs. The Combi tariff offers you a free T-Mobile G1 with 800 minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited mobile Internet browsing for a total of £40 a month. On the Flext tariff you get a free T-Mobile G1 with web'n'walk for just £40 per month including unlimited mobile Internet browsing and up to 1,250 minutes or up to 2,500 texts or any mix of the two.

Design

The T-Mobile G1 is manufactured by HTC and has a similar look and feel to the company's other Pocket PC smartphones, such as the HTC TyTN II and the HTC Touch Pro

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The G1 hides a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

Angela Lang/CNET

Measuring 117 mm tall by 53 mm wide by 15 mm deep and weighing 159 grams, the G1 is definitely not the sleekest device, and 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.

That said, the G1 has a solid construction and features a soft-touch finish on the back with a rubberlike texture, making it easy to grip and comfortable to hold. Also, 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, so the G1 is certainly an attractive option for such customers.

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The T-Mobile G1 isn't the thinnest phone out there.

CNET

To access it, just push the screen to the right. The sliding mechanism is fairly interesting in that the screen actually swings out slightly to the left before snapping into place. The sliding motion is smooth, but after a few days of use, we started to notice a creaking sound whenever we nudged the screen -- not good.

The keyboard itself is reminiscent of the T-Mobile Sidekick, as many observers pointed out during our review period. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since we like the Sidekick's keyboard. The buttons are small, but overall the keyboard feels roomy enough and shouldn't give too many users problems. If anything, we wish the buttons were raised more -- as is, they're set flush with the phone's surface. The bigger issue is that the bottom section of the G1 makes it awkward to hold the phone when typing messages.

When you slide open the phone, the screen orientation automatically switches from portrait to landscape mode. That's good, but the screen doesn't change when you physically rotate the phone in its closed state even though it has a motion sensor.

The actual display measures 3.2 inches diagonally and has a 320x480-pixel resolution. It's vibrant and sharp, and like the iPhone and RIM 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. The G1 provides haptic feedback, but only for certain actions and not with every touch. First, you'll feel a slight vibration when performing a long press on an icon. Overall, we thought this was fine, but there were times when the G1 didn't register our actions, so some kind of confirmation would have been nice.

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Screen resolution has come a long way. And you had to press the tab at the bottom to view your app drawer.

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 very 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. For example, as with most every other phone, dipping into the menu layout every time we wanted to access something can get clunky. Yes, it's possible to drag out your favorite applications as shortcuts, but that means you need to spend quite a bit of time setting it up.

Features

Below the display are tactile navigation controls, including Talk and End/Power buttons, a Home shortcut, a back button, a trackball navigator and a Menu key. As with the touchscreen, the Menu button is contextual to the application you're in at the time. For example, if you're in the Web browser and press Menu, you'll see options to open a new window, go to a URL, bookmark a page and so on.

remembering the first Google Android Phone: HTC T Mobile G1

Android in 2008, left, and 2018.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The left spine holds a volume rocker and a microSD expansion slot. To access the latter, you have to push the screen open in order to remove the protective cover. On the right side, you'll find a camera activation/capture button, though you can also press the trackball to take pictures. We actually preferred this method, since the dedicated camera key is small. Plus, when holding the phone horizontally, it's easy to nudge the screen upwards while trying to take a picture.

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. 

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Disappointingly the G1 doesn't have a standard headphone jack.

CNET

Yes, there's a headset included in the box, but you don't get the same comfort and quality as you would with a nice pair of headphones. If you want the privilege of using your own 'phones, you'll have to spend extra money to buy an adaptor. Last but not least, the camera lens -- sans flash self-portrait mirror -- is located on the back.

The first smartphone to run the Google Android operating system, the T-Mobile G1 delivers a number of basic core functions and tight integration with Google's products, including Gmail, Google Maps and Google Calendar. Wireless options and multimedia capabilities are also well represented on the G1, but there are some glaring omissions and restrictions that we'll get to later.

The quad-band G1 offers speakerphone, voice dialing, conference calling and speed dial. There's no support for visual voicemail, but one great convenience is that if you have Gmail, all your contacts will automatically be synchronised to the phone book. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo to a contact as well as a group ID and one of 33 polyphonic ringtones. There's even a setting to send a contact's phone call directly to voicemail every time.

Bluetooth is onboard but the supported profiles are limited to wireless headsets and hands-free kits. 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.

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The T-Mobile G1 has a very responsive touchscreen and finger-friendly interface.

CNET

As an alternative to 3G, the G1 has integrated Wi-Fi and it can seamlessly transfer between 3G and accessible Wi-Fi networks. 

In fact, the smartphone's YouTube application will only present videos in high resolution when you're using Wi-Fi and play the low-res version when using the mobile phone network, in order to optimize the load times. There's an application in the Android Market called iSkoot for Skype, which allows you to make Skype calls via the phone's radio rather than Wi-Fi, but we imagine there will be VoIP clients added to the database.

There's also a wireless manager under the Settings menu where you can turn on and off all the radios and setup connections. To save battery life, you can turn off 3G and revert to GPRS network -- a good idea if you don't need to surf the Web or download apps or music.

The T-Mobile G1 uses Webkit as the basis for its browser, which is also the core of the Safari browser on the iPhone. It uses full HTML browsing and has Java support, plus you can surf almost every Web site -- except ones that use Flash. 

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The G1's Web browser is very similar to the iPhone's an allows you to view full Web pages and zoom in and out of them.

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.

Of course, you're not limited to the touchscreen when navigating the browser. In fact, we preferred the trackball for scrolling around pages. You can also tab between multiple browser windows, and we like that the browser settings are easily accessible. As with the iPhone, you can view the browser in both portrait and landscape modes.

There are a few hiccups with the G1 browser that keep it from being a totally seamless experience, however. For example, we didn't like having to go in and out of the browser menu to do basic navigations such as Back and Forward. Yes, there are keyboard shortcuts for these functions, but we don't want to have to remember them all the time. And even though we like having the physical Qwerty keyboard, an onscreen one would make entering text while holding the phone vertically much more convenient. Also, the G1's smaller display makes browsing more troublesome than on the iPhone.

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For all your app needs Google has set up an app store called Android Market.

CNET

While the interface for the browser leaves a bit to be desired, we do like that it has so many customizable settings. You can tweak text size, block pop-up windows, turn off image loading, autofit pages to the screen, enable or disable JavaScript, reject cookies, and of course, clear out the cache, history, cookies and passwords. 

The most intriguing browser option is enabling "gears", which are potential future applications that can extend the browser functionality. What this means is that Google might develop a way for you to take some of your Web stuff offline -- imagine being able to edit your Google Docs without a signal, for example -- and then sync it back online when you do have a signal. This isn't available yet, but we think it has potential.

In a move to compete against the built-in App Store on the iPhone, Google has come up with a mobile application store of its own, called Android Market. 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. It already has applications like ShopSavvy, which lets you scan bar codes for comparison shopping, and BreadCrumz, which allows you to create routes for your friends using photos as visual aids. 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.

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Physical keyboards were all the rage in 2008.

Angela Lang/CNET

The G1 offers support for several email account types. Gmail gets top billing, of course, as a Google product, but you can also configure the smartphone to access POP3 and IMAP4. There's full HTML support, so you'll be able to view photos and graphics along with the text. You'll have access to all of your folders and any action that you perform on the phone, such as deleting an email, will be reflected in your real account.

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). We successfully set up our review unit with both our Gmail and Yahoo accounts simply by entering our log-in ID and password. Gmail contacts seamlessly transferred to the G1 and mobile email delivery was sometimes faster than on our PC, but attachments took a while to download.

Bad news for business users, though. Sadly, there will be no Microsoft Exchange Server support at launch, so no synchronisation with your Outlook email, calendar, contacts and so forth. You can check Outlook email via OWA (Outlook Web Access), but we would have liked full support from the get-go. We think this is a pretty glaring omission.

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The slide-out Qwerty keypad is very easy to use.

CNET

The G1 comes preloaded with four instant-messaging clients, including Google Talk, AIM, Windows Live and Yahoo Messenger. You can keep IM chats in the background while working in other applications, which you can't do on the iPhone. The G1 also offers threaded text messaging and yes, multimedia messaging.

The advantage of the T-Mobile G1 is that contacts, calendar and Gmail are updated over the air, so you don't have to synch up with your computer every day. Aside from the email attachment viewer, Google Docs is supported for view only, but we couldn't access a shared Google spreadsheet. Again, the T-Mobile G1 might not be the best choice for corporate users given that you can't really edit Office documents. We're sure as the Android Market expands more productivity applications will become available.

GPS is also available, and unsurprisingly, Google Maps is preloaded on the device with standard map, satellite and traffic views.

While Apple had the unenviable task of incorporating a full-blown iPod-like music player into the iPhone, the T-Mobile G1 has been made as more of a mobile phone than a music player. That said, the music player on the G1 is robust for what it is, and will satisfy most casual listeners. Songs are organised by Artists, Albums, Songs, and Playlists, as you'd expect. You get the typical music player functions like shuffle, repeat and the ability to create playlists on the fly. And even though there's no CoverFlow, you can still view album art in a list format. We especially like that you can instantly convert any song to a ringtone directly from the music player.

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The T-Mobile G1's 3.2-megapixel camera beat the first iPhone's.

CNET

You can also upload any of your own music files -- it supports MP3, M4A, AMR, WMA, MIDI, WAV, Ogg Vorgis formats and has 192MB RAM and 256MB ROM. The 1GB microSD card comes preloaded with 11 songs, and the expansion slot can support up to 8GB cards. But the most disappointing thing about the music player is hardware related: the G1 doesn't have stereo Bluetooth, and the lack of a 3.5mm jack says to us that the G1 isn't meant to be a music player replacement.

YouTube clips took quite a while to load via 3G, and quality wasn't the greatest. Though images and audio were synchronised, it was blurry -- but then again we were watching low-res versions since we were on T-Mobile's network instead of on Wi-Fi.

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. And taking pictures was a challenge. You have to have a steady hand to get a clear shot, as the slightest movement will result in a blurry image. We took about ten or 12 pictures before we could get a satisfactory shot, and by the end, we were frustrated. Picture quality was mediocre -- objects on the outside had sharp definition but they got soft in the middle. The images also had a yellowish hue.

Performance

Call quality was good and we enjoyed good sound with minimal background noise, though audio was blown out when we set volume to the highest level. Unfortunately, the speakerphone wasn't as pristine. On our end, the voices sounded tinny and garbled at times; meanwhile, our callers said that we sounded far away.

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The G1 is slightly larger than the iPhone 3G and not as attractive, in our opinion.

CNET

We were impressed by the snappy responsiveness during our testing period, and were happy not to experience any system freezes or crashes. The T-Mobile G1 has a rated talk time of 5 hours and up to five days of standby time. On an average day of using the phone, Web, GPS and multimedia applications, we noticed that the battery life dropped anywhere from 40 to 50 percent.

Conclusion

Despite our complaints, we did come away impressed with the Google Android operating system. There's huge potential for the G1 (and any Android devices that follow) to become powerful minicomputers as developers create more applications for the open platform.

But still, the G1 doesn't quite offer the mass appeal and ease of use as 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.

Edited by Kent German
Additional editing by Marian Smith

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