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Living in the Online Cloud: The T-Mobile G1 /
     Google Android Smartphone  (12/2008)

    by Douglas Dixon

The Cloud
The Device
The Interface
Go Go Google

Find related Google articles in my Manifest Tech Blog


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The T-Mobile G1 smartphone ( is the first commercial realization of the Google Android design (, which was developed by the Open Handset Alliance (

The G1 is an impressive first product, with solid hardware and interface -- 
But it's not for everybody. This is not intended as a full phone / PDA / Internet / multimedia device. 

Instead, it's clearly focused on people who already depend on Google's suite of online services.


T-Mobile G1 closed, with Google Talk

The Cloud

The T-Mobile G1 is designed for people who live on the go, and on the Internet, accessing Gmail and the other Google tools from whatever system is available. They can organize with Google Calendar, create documents with Google Docs, communicate with Google Talk for IM and calls, blog and track feeds with Blogger and Google Reader, and share photos with Picasa. In this lifestyle, you don't need to lug around a laptop, or worry about syncing with some fixed desktop machine -- all your data is stored online in the cloud, and always accessible.

Still, it's helpful to have a small device, like a smartphone, that has local copies of your data, and the power to reach out and access these services when you're on the go, along with other information like Google Maps, a Web Browser for access to the full Google site, and YouTube videos.

As a result, the G1 is not intended as an iPhone competitor. It has nothing like the iTunes ecosystem to sync with purchased music and movies -- Out of the box it syncs with Google's online services (not desktop data like Outlook), online music access is through an Amazon MP3 store, and the camera shoots photos, but not videos.

Open Handset Alliance

Of course, Google is depending on the Android Market to satisfy these kinds of omissions, with its open approach to development tools and open access for publishing applications (  -- Users will review and rate the results to identify quality offerings and encourage a wide range of software.

The Device

The G1 device is quite usable. There are four dedicated buttons along the bottom: Phone, Home, Back, and Power, plus a dedicated Menu button (or use a long press for a pop-up context menu). There's also a really small trackball in the middle for one-handed navigation (roll to move, press to click) -- although it's so tiny that it's tricky to use without careful attention.

        T-Mobile G1 with keyboard, displaying Google search results

To enter text, slide the screen open to reveal the keypad, with dedicated QWERTY keys and a number row above (plus a dedicated "@" key for Email crammed in the bottom row by the shrunken space bar). The sliding action actually moves in an arc, and snaps convincingly open and closed.

The screen switches to landscape mode while the keyboard is open. The base of the device (with the dedicated buttons) then is on the right side, which may be a bit of a reach for smaller thumbs to access the keyboard comfortably.

The Interface

The G1 interface is clean and responsive; only the long power-up boot time seems slow. It's designed with subtle touches to help you understand the current context, with clear titles, buttons, highlighting and other subtle clues like having the background go dim and out of focus behind a pop-up dialog (instead of obscuring the previous context). You can drag down the top bar at any time to see a summary of messages.

        T-Mobile G1, displaying Home screen

On the Home screen, you can flick the screen scroll left and right to expose two more screen-widths for favorite applications. Or click open a tab to access the full array of application icons. To install a favorite, just press and hold in the tab (the phone vibrates to confirm), and then drag and drop to the Home screen.

The interface tends to make sure the controls for common actions are visible: When scrolling in a large photo of browser window, overlay zoom controls appear when you touch the screen, and then fade out of the way. In the browser, you also can use an overlay box to choose a region to zoom. In the photo viewer, overlay arrows appear to access the next or previous photos.

The G1 also has convenience features like global shortcuts associated with the ALT key, and auto-correction for text entry. But there's no built-in Help, although the product includes a nice little Tips and Tricks booklet.

Go Go Google

The Google focus of the G1 is shown when you first power up, as it asks you to enter your Google account information (or offers to create an account for you). This then is the profile for your phone, used by the built-in Gmail application. But you only can have one such profile, which would be an issue for people with multiple online identities. The G1 does acknowledge other Email providers, for which you use a separate Email application.

You then can set whether Gmail, Calendar and Contacts are automatically synced, or only manually.

And the online access is improved by the built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking, which connected quickly and easily at sites like the Princeton Public Library and on the Princeton University campus. Wi-Fi made YouTube playback a delight, otherwise access over the T-Mobile network required long waits for buffering.

        T-Mobile G1, Photo Sharing

The T-Mobile G1 is a really solid first implementation of the Google Android platform. Yes, it has glaring omissions as a PDA (Google's still working on a To Do list application, the Contacts app is not built for search large lists, and sync to Outlook). And it has huge gaps in its multimedia features (video!, desktop sync to clips).

But if you live in the Google cloud online, then this already is close to an ideal device for you. The rest of us will have to wait for new Android devices, and see how Google and the developer community add new applications in the Android Market to shake out this device for more conventional use with desktop systems.


T-Mobile G1

Android Platform

Android Market

Open Handset Alliance