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Using the phone reveals a number of inadequacies and issues that have not been well thought out.

These surprising and disappointing weaknesses will doubtless quickly be addressed.  But until they are, you're probably better advised to leave well alone, rather than to buy a unit now complete with a two year contract commitment.

 
 
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T-Mobile Google G1 Phone review Part 2

Adequate basic functionality, but very limited advanced capabilities
 

A full four row keyboard, same as on a computer, is much better than the three row keyboards on the iPhone and Blackberry phones.

But this is the only advantage the G1 scores over its rivals, and in many respects, it has important failings.

Part two of a three part series on the Google/T-mobile G1 - please also visit

1.  About the G1 in General
2.  Using the G1
3.  Sample images, the future, and should you buy one

 

 

As a phone, the G1 works well, but so too do just about all other cell phones these days.

It has a good web browser if you want to browse the internet, but a very limited and disappointing email client that massively detracts from the phone's appeal to users seeking a convenient way to remotely manage their email.

A very short battery life is another weakness of this phone.


Using the Phone as a Phone

The phone is relatively easy to use as a phone, with good sensitivity to the signal, and clear quality audio.

It is easy to answer and place calls, and it has a nifty feature that enables you to conference in five people into a call simultaneously - well, yes, this is a nifty feature, but you'll probably go from one year to the next without ever needing to use it.

It has a speaker phone option that gives a clear sound too as a speaker phone.

One disappointment was the terrible and limited range of ringtones offered for you to choose from on the phone.  Apart from a couple of generic tones that were plain and ordinary, the other ones were ugly and offensive, and it almost seemed that one was being forced into buying a decent ringtone.

Other phones (eg Blackberry and iPhone) have a much better range of pre-loaded ringtones to choose from.

You can create a phone book of almost unlimited size with as many names and phone numbers as you might wish, and you can do most of the things with each person's entry as you can with other sophisticated phones - you can have personal ring tones, and you can have pictures pop up on the screen when they call.

Unfortunately, you can't synchronize or import your contacts from other programs.  You can only get contacts from the Gmail account you link your phone to - this is okay if you use Gmail as your mail email service and have contact and other information set up in Gmail already, but if you use another program, like Outlook, you're completely out of luck.

The phone has a voice dialer function that uses speech recognition to understand you when you say something like 'Call David Rowell at home'.  But it completely did not work with my testing (even when I only had one contact - me - in the phone directory).  A completely useless feature.

So - as a simple phone, the G1 is good, but if you try and integrate it into existing software and data on your pc, you're probably going to be disappointed.

Battery Life

Some sources suggest the G1 has a battery life, on stand-by, of 'up to' 406 hours, which would be an incredible 17 days between battery charges.  This of course assumes perfect signal and no actual phone usage.  T-mobile itself is now claiming 'up to five days' of standby battery life.

T-mobile also claims up to 5 hours of talk time.

The reality of battery life is completely different and very disappointing.

Although some people have reported getting about 5 hours of continuous talking from the phone, which is closely in line with T-mobile's claim, the actual battery life for typical operation - ie - using the phone for email, browsing, a few phone calls, a bit of GPS usage, and whatever else - is such that you'll struggle to get a single day of life from the battery.

I reduced the screen brightness, and set it to switch off automatically after 30 seconds rather than a minute (the screen is a major power user) but even with these settings, I just couldn't get any useful amount of battery life out of the phone.  For the first time in many years, I found myself having to interrupt phone calls with the old fashioned excuse 'I'm sorry, I need to end the call, my battery is about to die' and rush off in search of a recharge.

Just having the phone on standby with extra services switched on such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and receiving a few emails during the standby period, suggested that its standby life is massively less than claimed.  After 10 hours of standby, the battery charge reduced from 100% to 75% (implying 40 hours to go all the way down to zero) and after an extra four hours, the calculation suggested 36 hours to take the battery down to zero.

Of course, none of us want to have a phone with just a few percent of battery charge remaining, so its practical life, on standby only, is close to 24 hours - this is definitely a phone you must charge every night.

As soon as you start using the phone - whether for phone calls or for email or web browsing or GPS/mapping - you'll start chewing through that battery life in double-quick time.

The very short battery life is a major weakness of this phone and a problem for people who wish to be able to make full use of the phone's features without needing to recharge the phone during the day.

It takes an hour and a half or slightly longer to recharge the phone.

Email

This is, for me, the most important feature of the G1 or any other similar phone.  The main reason for choosing one of these smart-phone units is to have email wherever I am; and secondarily, to access the internet.

If it wasn't for these two features, I'd stick with a regular cell phone.

So, I was very interested to see how the email worked.  Unfortunately, the email is terribly under-featured, and this is the main reason I'm putting my G1 on the shelf for now and going back to using my Blackberry.

The G1's lack of email smarts is inexplicable.  If you were launching a new device that you wanted to compete directly with the Blackberry and iPhone, surely part of your research and development process would be to buy the competing phones and identify their clever features and then ensure that your new device had the same capabilities and hopefully more.

So how to understand the major omissions on the G1?  For example, it won't open attachments with messages.  So if someone sends you any sort of attached file, it will show you in the email that there is an attachment, but there's no easy way you can open it (there is a strange workaround - send the email to the phone's linked gmail account, and Google will process the attachment on its email server and apparently you may then be able to view it through the gmail account).

You can't zoom in or out when viewing emails, and if you're viewing a formatted html style email, perhaps with a text image, you might sometimes find the image is too small to read, but you have no way of magnifying the image so as to be able to read it.

Some emails with embedded web links in them don't allow you to click on the links to go to the websites, which is a frustration, made worse because you can't cut and paste a link (or anything else) from an email to the web browser (or anywhere else).

A key feature of the Blackberry email service is you can send bcc copies of every email you send to your own account, which allows you to synchronize the email you send from your Blackberry with your main email file on your computer.  This feature isn't possible on the G1, so there's no way of telling, other than checking on the phone, if you ever replied to an email or what you said if you did reply.

Another very useful feature of the Blackberry is the ability to easily program 'scripts' - stored blocks of text that you can add to emails.  If you find yourself regularly repeating certain things in emails, you can create these 'scripts' or 'canned responses' and add them to your emails without having to type them individually each time.  For example, instead of something like this lengthy note 'Thanks for your email and query about our new widget product on sale.  The widgets are normally priced at $9.95 each, but for this week only can be purchased for $7.95.  You can take advantage of this special offer on our website at www.widgets.com/sale.htm, and if you need any more information, don't hesitate to contact us at (800)555-1212' you might set up a script so that you just type in 'widsale' and that causes the entire text to appear.  Unfortunately, this is not possible on the G1 at all, so you'll be doomed to repetitive typing.

Oh - if the preceding isn't enough of a series of deal breakers, there's one other problem with email, too.  It, ummm, doesn't work.  There's a 'known issue' with POP3 email that means most of the time, it simply won't connect to your server and get your messages.

Web Browsing

The G1 has a good web browser, and when it is connected to the internet either through Wi-Fi or 3G data service, web pages load quickly.

Most web pages seem to display correctly on the browser, and there's a moderately convenient way of zooming in to more conveniently read the text - not as elegant as on the iPhone, but better than nothing.

The web browser is better than on a Blackberry, but not as good as on a 3G iPhone.

Contact Information, Calendar, To Do List

The G1 will only allow you to synchronize and share this type of information with your linked Gmail account.

If you use any other sort of personal organizer software - in my case, I use Outlook - you are completely out of luck.

This is another deal breaker for me.  I've hundreds of contacts, and want to be able to add or edit contacts on either my phone or computer and have the changes reflected at both places.  I want to be able to look at my calendar, and to add or change appointments, on either my phone or computer and have that information updated too.  I can do such things easily with my Blackberry, and with my iPhone too.  But it is impossible with the G1.

Google is copying the worst of the 'bad old ways' of other software companies by trying to force you into a totally closed system whereby the only way you can get any of these functionalities is if you convert your entire work practices to their Google platform of applications.  What makes this particularly upsetting is that they are doing this while promoting their Android software as 'open' software.

Hopefully the 'open' Android software will allow an enterprising developer to create the necessary synchronization routines for the 'closed' phone to work with Outlook and other third party personal organizer, mail, scheduler and contact type managers.  But until that should ever appear, your choices are unappealing - either convert your entire computerized information management system to the Google service, or copy stuff over by hand.

The Cost of Using a G1

The G1 itself currently sells for $179, and we understand that Walmart is about to start selling them for $149.  You need to commit to a hefty two year contract when buying the phone - otherwise, the phone by itself lists for $399.

When you buy a G1 from T-mobile you need to first choose a calling plan for your phone service, and then you choose a plan for the data service for the G1.

T-mobile has already made some changes to its data service plans, and as of 29 October 2008, there are two options to choose from - one gives you 'unlimited' data and the other restricts your data.

The 'unlimited' data is not really unlimited either, and T-mobile may restrict your access to high speed data services if you use what they deem to be too much data a month.

The restricted data usage allows you web browsing, but a maximum of 400 messages a month, which can be any mix of text messages, instant messages, pictures, and also emails.  The chances are you probably won't have a lot of text messages, IMs, or picture messages, but you're also having every email counted in that limit as well, so you may quickly exceed that limit.

The two data plans cost either $25 or $35 a month, and most of us will need to choose the $35/month plan.

By comparison, an unlimited dataplan for a Blackberry costs $20/month, so you're paying a $15/month premium for the high speed data and G1 interface.

Comparing these rates with AT&T's rates for the iPhone 3G shows the T-mobile rates for the G1 to be probably about $10/month cheaper.

International Data

Be very careful if taking your phone overseas.  If you start using any of its data services internationally, you'll be paying massively - $15/MB in most countries.  Just about everything other than phone calls uses the data service, too, and 1MB of data is very little.

To put this data cost in perspective, a single picture is probably about 600kB - it will cost you about $9 to send one picture from your phone to one person.

By comparison, if you're traveling internationally with your Blackberry, you can get a $20/month unlimited international data plan.  The same price as sending perhaps two pictures with your G1 buys you unlimited data service on your Blackberry.

Don't T-mobile actually want to sell G1 phones?  They're sure making the pricing about as unappealing as possible.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

The G1 will preferentially first connect to the internet through a Wi-Fi connection if one is available.  The reason it gives priority to Wi-Fi isn't necessarily because Wi-Fi is 'better' or faster (depending on the network the Wi-Fi router is connected to, it may actually be appreciably slower), but rather because if the phone is using Wi-Fi, it is not using the T-mobile network!  So Wi-fi connections are 'free' as far as T-mobile is concerned and place less stress on their network bandwidth, so the phone is configured to give preference to Wi-fi.

The Wi-fi receiver in the phone doesn't seem to be as sensitive as the ones in either my iPhone or laptop, and will often drop signal in places where my laptop and iPhone are still reliably connected.

More seriously, it is in some strange way incompatible with the Actiontec router that was provided with my FIOS data line by Verizon, and it would sometimes fail to connect to it and at the same time scramble the settings in the router, so that the router wouldn't work with any other wireless devices either.  I'd have to reset the router and the phone to restore functionality.

The Bluetooth also works imperfectly.  It paired to the Bluetooth built in to my Landrover, but doesn't automatically connect to it when I get into the car.  It works well with a Cardo S-800 however.

The big disappointment with the Bluetooth is how limited its connection capabilities are.  Again, remember that the Google Android operating system is being billed as an 'open' operating system, but here's one more example of how the open system concept actually results in closed and restrictive feature sets.

The Bluetooth connection will support headsets and handsfree profiles.  But is has none of the other profiles you'd hope for - for example, it won't broadcast stereo music to BT equipped headsets, and it doesn't have any type of file access/transfer or modem capabilities.  This is very regrettable.

Part two of a three part series on the Google/T-mobile G1 - please also visit

1.  About the G1 in General
2.  Using the G1
3.  Sample images, the future, and should you buy one

 

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Originally published 31 Oct 2008, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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