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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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