New T-Mobile G1 phone fast, gives iPhone a fight

  • Monday, November 24, 2008 2:47pm

One great thing about writing a technology column is that it gives us an excuse to play with some really cool new toys (too bad our editor doesn’t pay for them). This month, the senior Byte Slave is going to review T-Mobile’s new HRC-G1 3G phone. The G1 is T-Mobile’s answer to the Apple iPhone, which is currently offered exclusively by AT&T. Like the iPhone, it is designed to work with the faster 3G network, although we found that the phone connected to the slower Edge network almost as often as the preferred 3G network. Both phones will connect to any available wireless network.

Like the iPhone, the G1 has a touch-screen interface. The user scrolls through screens and navigates through Web pages by dragging a finger across the screen. There are a couple of differences between the touch screens of G1 and the iPhone, though. First of all, the G1 doesn’t support the “pinch” feature that allows iPhone users to zoom in and out on Web pages. Instead, the pinch gesture brings up a little pop-up menu that allows you to zoom in and out on the page. This can be annoying since it can block content on the page.

The other – and most significant – difference between the iPhone and the G1 is the fact the G1 doesn’t offer a touch-screen keyboard. Instead, the G1 offers a QWERTY keyboard under the screen. The user simply slides open the screen and it changes from portrait to landscape mode and exposes the keyboard. The keyboard is large enough to accommodate the senior Byte Slave’s larger fingers. Best of all, this keyboard doesn’t require the odd key combinations that some phones require for frequently used characters.

The G1 is powered by Google’s Android operating system. This is robust and reliable. Unlike Windows Mobile, it doesn’t require frequent rebooting and updating. Unlike the Windows Mobile and Palm operating systems, the G1 does not currently synchronize with PC applications directly. Instead, it requires the user to use a Google gmail account. Oddly, there is no current support for Google Apps Premiere service, which Byte Slaves uses for all appointment scheduling.

Thankfully, there are applications that you can add to your G1 phone that will allow you to synchronize your calendar and contact information with your phone. Unfortunately, these applications aren’t all intuitive. On the plus side, the phone doesn’t have to be connected to a computer in order to sync.

This is a great segue to the subject of downloadable applications for the phones. The G1 allows you to access the Marketplace – an online store that offers hundreds of free applications users can download to their phones. The number of applications is impressive, from games to productivity tools, to just about anything you can imagine. The majority of these apps are free. Our favorite is called Shazam. You launch it when you hear a song (radio, TV, movie, whatever) it will give you the title, artist, etc. and give you the option to buy the song or album from Amazon. Way cool. Unfortunately, we have yet to find an app that will let us access Microsoft Office attachments.

This phone also sports a GPS interface. Users can determine their current location, track the location of their phone (great if lost or stolen). This feature may cause concern, but before downloading applications, the user is given a warning about any privacy issue the app may present.

The only real drawback we have found with this phone is the meager battery life. When surfing the Web, using GPS applications and checking e-mail and text messages, we found the battery ran down rather quickly. We recommend adding a car charger and upgraded carrying case to your shopping cart should you decide to purchase this phone.

Bottom line: the G1 is a great phone. While it doesn’t offer some of the features small business people may need, there are work-arounds. Pricing is competitive with similar phones. More importantly, new apps are being created every day. If you’re looking at a great phone that can connect you to high-speed Internet, we suggest you give this phone a test drive.

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