Ahead of the hotly anticipated T-Mobile G1 smartphone’s arrival in stores next week, early reviews show not everyone is convinced that the Android-powered handset is ready to take on the Apple iPhone or muscle onto the turf of Windows Mobile or the BlackBerry.
Yet among reviewers and industry watchers, there’s still little doubt that the G1 offers big potential for driving smartphone innovation.
One of the earliest reviews of the HTC-manufactured device, which was first introduced by Google and T-Mobile last month, came from the Wall Street Journal‘s Walter Mossberg, who called it a “worthy competitor” to the iPhone in his column this week. But Mossberg also saw several areas in need of improvement in its software and its hardware.
The New York Times‘s David Pogue described the handset’s Android platform as “polished enough to give Windows Mobile an inferiority complex the size of Australia.” Yet Pogue’s scorecard similarly illustrated that the G1 isn’t perfect. He gave it an A-minus for software, a B-minus for phone capabilities and a C for network capabilities.
Avi Greengart, mobile device research director at Current Analysis, came to a similar conclusion on the G1 — calling it an iPhone “challenger” that “falls short in every area.”
The early reviews come as the mobile phone industry is seeking to come to grips with an influx of powerful, new devices. That’s driven in part by competition: wireless carriers are finding themselves relying on increasingly advanced smartphones to woo more subscribers and increase revenue from lucrative non-voice services, like Web access. T-Mobile is the exclusive G1 carrier and AT&T is currently the exclusive iPhone network in the U.S.
Among those new consumer-oriented devices is the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone, which has rocketed in popularity since its debut a year ago and sparked a trend in consumer handsets toward touchscreens and easy access to third-party applications.
Not surprisingly, the iPhone also spawned a slew of competitors, among which the Google-backed Android platform is one of the most closely watched.
Hits and misses
And despite some initial criticism, the G1’s early reviewers still find a good deal about it to praise.
“This is a competitive product,” Greengart told InternetNews.com, noting G1’s “beautiful” touchscreen. The G1 features a 3.2-inch LCD flat touch-sensitive screen with 320 x 480 resolution. The iPhone has 3.5-inch widescreen, multi-touch display with 480 x 320 resolution.
Greengart also complimented the G1’s Web browsing capability — built off the same engine as the iPhone’s, he said — and its GPS application that provides real-time street views for navigation.
On the downside, Greengart wasn’t impressed with the G1’s girth, describing it as “heavier and bulkier” than the iPhone. The G1 weighs in at 5.6 ounces, and is 4.6 inches tall, 2.16 inches wide and.62 inches in thickness. Apple’s iPhone weighs 4.7 ounces and measures 4.5 inches in length, 2.4 inches wide and .48 inches thick.
Greengart also noted that the G1 offers no easy way to sync with non-Google mail applications, such as Microsoft Outlook, which enterprise users may find frustrating. The latest edition of the iPhone connects to Microsoft Exchange for access to e-mail, calendar and contacts.
“What Android does offer with the G1 is [smartphone development] potential, and some of these [downsides] will hopefully change with development going forward,” Greengart said.
It’s that potential that some say could result in Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) ultimately striding ahead of Apple and other smartphone players, such as Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM), Palm (NASDAQ: PALM), Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Motorola (NYSE: MOT), in the battle for smartphone sales and mobile service revenue.
Page 2: The benefits of openness
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Experts have lauded Google’s Android platform for being one of the most open to date in smartphone development. Both the search giant and T-Mobile have promised they will not control third-party applications and development efforts — allowing even Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications such as Skype. In contrast, Apple’s iPhone is tightly controlled when it comes to application deployment, as is RIM’s BlackBerry platform.
“Google needs to nurture the development community and provide tools and support for Android [to be a smartphone leading platform],” Greengart said, adding Google “needs to stay true to its promise of complete transparency.”
In the meantime, the G1, the first of a slew of Android-based handsets expected within the next year, is the perfect smartphone for Google fans, Greengart said — given how it provides easy access to Google’s online services. In fact, G1 buyers must set up a Google account to activate the smartphone. Users of the current-generation iPhone, meanwhile, need to establish an account with Apple’s music store, iTunes, for accessing music, video and third-party applications.
In his review this week Mossberg said the G1’s physical keyboard — which the iPhone lacks — is the “biggest differentiator” between the two handsets. The G1 has a slide-out, five-row QWERTY keyboard, while the iPhone offers an on-screen keyboard.
Yet Mossberg called the G1 a “very good first effort” that will appeal to T-Mobile customers, as the carrier currently does not offer any other touchscreen smartphones.
The iPhone still reigns as the top multimedia smartphone, Mossberg added, noting the G1’s music player, “while adequate, isn’t as nice” as the iPhone’s built-in iPod functionality. He also noted the G1’s lack of a built-in video player, although a “rudimentary” one can be downloaded from the Android Market store for third-party applications.
Overall, Mossberg described the G1 as chiefly appealing to users who either want to stay with T-Mobile or who want a physical keyboard, “but want to be part of the new world of powerful pocket computers.”
In his review the Times‘s Pogue also takes Google to task over the G1’s music features, writing that it’s where Android “really falls down.” To transfer music to the device, G1 users must sync the device to a PC and manually drag and drop files from their computers.
Pogue also called the G1 “homelier” than the iPhone, which — like many wares from the Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple — has received high marks for its sleek product design.
“Nobody looks at G1 and says, ‘Ooooh, I gotta have that,'” he wrote.
Update corrects details from New York Times review.