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Wait for a more fully developed and generally better phone - don't get this first generation Google Android based phone.

Although the phone is not a bad phone, it is also not a great phone, with competing products besting it in most respects.

 
 
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T-Mobile Google G1 Phone review Part 3

A poor camera, and no real reason to buy one - yet
 

The G1 can also be used with the slider closed, of course.

If all you want to do is dial a phone number, pressing the green dial button on the bottom left opens up a touch screen dial pad and allows you to dial phone numbers without needing to open the slider and access the keyboard at all.

Part three 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

 

 

The G1's camera is disappointing, although it is not particularly inferior to that of other cell phone cameras.

Overall, while the phone is good in many respects, it is great in no respects.  Its lack of excellence in any particular area means that no particular type of user will find a strong reason to preferentially choose the G1 over other phones which better provide the specific features and functions they seek.

However, we predict that the Google Android OS and the phones which use this OS will massively and quickly improve, so the rather disappointing showing of this first model Google phone does not mean that future models will not become more compelling.

 

The Camera

The G1 has a built in 3 megapixel camera.  It has no flash and isn't capable of taking video.

An interesting added feature is that the camera can integrate with the built in GPS so that you can store your location data in the picture - not visibly in the picture, but in the somewhat hidden file data associated with the picture.

The camera is not very good, but that is not surprising - I've yet to see any phone with a decent built in camera.  The camera seems to have a very slow shutter speed, and also is not very sensitive in lower light conditions (which is also unsurprising when you see how small the camera lens is - the bigger the lens, the more light which can be admitted and the better the camera will work in lower light conditions).

The camera is slow to start, and it is difficult to take a picture - pressing the shutter button often causes you to move the camera right at the instant you're taking a picture.

There's also no easy way to view the image, and to zoom in on it to check for focus and clarity, immediately after taking a picture.  Instead you have to save it, then switch to viewing pictures mode, and call it back up on the screen to look at.

One nice feature of the camera is that it can actually focus itself, rather than having a fixed focus lens.  The focusing is done automatically, and doesn't actually seem to make much difference in the final pictures.

Unusually, you can't change any of the camera settings.  You can't alter the size of the image, and neither can you alter the amount of compression each image has.  So every picture is full size (2048 x 1536) and moderately compressed.  Image file sizes range from about 450kB to 750kB, depending on how much compression the jpg program can automatically do to the picture.

Here are three sample images.  The pictures below have been shrunk from full-size to fit onto this page - if you click on them, that will open them full size in separate browser windows.  Note that all pictures tend to look better when shrunk down in size - if you want to get a true feeling for the underlying quality, open them full size (they will more than fill your screen).

The full size pictures have been unretouched.

Picture 1 - Outdoors, good quality


An outdoors picture

This was a surprisingly good picture in almost every respect (by phone camera standards).  It is reasonably sharp and detailed, and has detail in both the highlights (bright parts) and shadows.

If the camera could reliably take pictures of this quality, it would be much more useful.

 

Picture 2 - Outdoors, some quality anomalies


My much photographed dog, Katia, kindly agrees to be a model one more time

This is a strange picture, because when you look at it carefully, you'll see that it is reasonably sharp and in focus at the top and bottom, but there's a band in the middle that is blurry - very unfortunate, because that is where the subject of the picture is located.

It is hard to understand what caused this blurriness.  It isn't a focus issue, because the middle of the picture is also in the middle of the distance range.  And it isn't dirt on the lens or anything, because the photo was taken within a minute of taking the preceding picture, above, of the car.

And it isn't a blur due to camera movement/slow shutter speed, because that would affect the entire image equally.

Detail in the highlights (Katia's hind leg) is also completely washed out.

A poor quality picture.

 

Picture 3 - Indoors, poor detail


My 4 yr old daughter Anna at a local mall's food court

I'm giving the camera the benefit of the doubt here.  I took multiple pictures of Anna, and this is the best of them, with me taking special care to hold the camera as steadily as possible, and asking Anna to stay as still as possible.

The picture is fair in quality.  The highlights are washed out (eg the lights in the background) and the image details - eg of Anna's face - are soft and fuzzy rather than sharp and distinct.

But she's such a lovely little girl, it is hard not to love the picture, technical imperfections notwithstanding!

The Market

The 'Market' option on the phone connects you to the range of third party programs that can run on your phone.  This is one of the great hoped for features of choosing a Google Android based phone - pretty much anyone can develop applications to run on the Android OS and it is hoped that there will be a growing library of programs of all different types available.  This concept is reminiscent of the old Palm PDAs - if you ever had one of those, you'll remember that there were literally thousands of different programs you could load onto your Palm Pilot.

There's nothing new about the concept of an open operating system that third party developers can work with.  Nokia and some other phone manufacturers have been quietly (and largely ineffectively) offering their Symbian OS on a limited number of phones.  More recently, Apple has opened up its iPhone OS, and now allows anyone to develop applications for the iPhone, although it has a fairly restrictive policy about which applications it will then feature in its online application listing.

With phones becoming increasingly 'intelligent', with better screens, faster data, cameras and GPS capabilities, and phones becoming an inseparable part of ourselves, the range of applications that can be added to a phone is growing massively, and is now limited only by the imagination of the developers.

At present there are very few applications in the Market option, and some major omissions, but most of the programs that are available are free, and new applications are being added every day.  Almost certainly, in a few months time all the most common applications will be available, while more and more uncommon applications will continue to be added as well.

There may be some problems, though, if you go overboard in adding applications to your phone.  There's only 128MB of storage on your phone for applications, so sooner or later, you're going to run out of space for more programs.

With memory as inexpensive and small as it is these days, there's little excuse for such a miserly space for applications.

Oh - one thing about Google's Android operating system.  In common with just about every other sophisticated operating system these days, it has security vulnerabilities, with the first one being announced a mere two days after the phone went on sale. Ooops.

The Future of Google Android Based Phones

My review is in many places critical of the phone hardware and the software/capabilities than runs on the phone.

But it is important to realize that we are experiencing the first phone to use this new operating system.  Of course, that doesn't excuse hardware limitations that an experienced and quality phone manufacturer such as HTC should have better handled (like short battery life and poor camera quality), and neither does it necessarily excuse poor functionality.

But the future is exciting.  Several other phone handset manufacturers are known to be working on their own versions of phones using Android (ie Motorola and Kyocera).  For sure, the Android OS will be enhanced substantially and rapidly.  And, best of all, the open ended and - at least in theory - massive capabilities of the phone hardware allows for and encourages the ongoing development of many new programs to address the current weaknesses and omissions of the G1 phone.

Today, the G1 does not offer you a compelling reason to purchase it.  But wait six months, and not only will the G1 be much better than it is today, but there will also probably be competing phones from other manufacturers, and running on other networks as well as/instead of T-mobiles, and there'll be many more programs and capabilities on the G1 and the newer phones.

Updates to the G1

One nice thing about the G1 and T-mobile's management of the phone and its software is that updates to the phone's operating system and software are automatically sent to the phone via its data connection.

T-mobile tell me they have already released some updates and fixes, and are aggressively working on continuing to improve areas of uncovered weakness.  At least until such time as the G1 is no longer a current product, and no longer T-mobile's highest visibility flagship phone, it is probable to expect that a lot of resource and attention will be given to the phone and its features.

Most of the problems with the phone are software based rather than hardware based, and so if you do buy a G1 now, you can expect future enhancements on an ongoing basis.

Should You Buy a T-mobile G1?

The T-mobile G1 is not a bad phone, and in many respects, it is a good phone.  But, is it a great phone?  No.  And while good, it lacks any particular strength to appeal to any particular group of phone users.

If you want the slickest sexiest phone out there, you'll get an iPhone 3G.  If you want the best phone for email, you'll get a Blackberry.  And if you want a phone primarily for phone calls alone, you'll get anything else at all that is less expensive and doesn't require an extra $35/month for a data plan you're unlikely to get value from.

In other words, the G1 slips through the cracks of the current marketplace, and offers no-one a compelling reason to buy it.  And with a phone that comes bundled with a two year service contract commitment and a mandatory and expensive data plan, it isn't a phone you'd lightly buy without a strong reason to do so.

One more consideration to keep in mind - if you're considering a G1 because of its 3G data capabilities, do be sure to check what type of 3G coverage is available in your area.  T-mobile is still rolling out its 3G coverage, and if you're not in a major metropolitan area, you may find there's no 3G available.

So, to answer our question, no, you shouldn't buy a G1.  But - stay tuned.  The G1 will get better, and competing phones will also come out to broaden your range of choices.  Although the G1 is not a good choice for anyone today, the chances are that, sometime in the next year or so, the G1 and its new successors and competitors may become much more compelling for many more people.

Part three 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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