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

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MSRP: $329.99
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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.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.5 Overall

Review Sections

Editor's note, Sept. 21, 2018

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.

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
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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.

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