Google Phone – First Impressions

I’ve now had my G1 for almost a week, so it’s time to share some first impressions.

The executive summary is that I’m really rather happy with the phone. There’s one small niggle problem and one huge “what the bloody hell were they thinking” issue.

Good things first. The phone works well and does pretty much everything I wanted it to do. The standard applications that come with the phone all do what you want. The browser is of particularly high quality. Usually when I get a new phone, I replace the built-in browser with Opera Mini as soon as I can. But there’s no need at all for that here.

The screen is big (ok, not as big as an iPhone, but bigger than the screen on any other phone I’ve owned) and really sharp. I haven’t had any problems at all reading the display. And the touch screen is really responsive. The phone is a nice size and weight and fits nicely in my pocket. I don’t know how resistant it will be to scratches, but it comes with a protective sleeve which will counter that.

Once I was bored of the built-in applications I started looking for others to download from the Android Marketplace. There are many applications to choose from in many different areas. Two that I particularly like make good use of the location and direction sensing built in to the phone. One is a compass and the other is a star map which shows you a map of the sky in the direction that the phone is facing. I’ve also enjoyed using the GPS application which uploads your data to the InstaMapper web site allowing you to review (and mash-up) your data without the hassle of transfering it off the GPS device.

Two applications seem to be a rich seam for developers to mine and there are plenty of overlapping applications available. The first is weather forecasting. These applications use your location to give you local weather forecasts. The other is barcode scanning. These applications use the phone’s camera to scan a barcode and then search the internet to find alternative suppliers for the product in question. I can see this being ver useful of shopping trips. With both of these applications there are a number of different (but very similar) programs to choose from. And I can’t really see a good way to differentiate between them.

I mentioned a couple of problems with the phone. Let’s mention the smaller one first. The only input/output port on the phone is a USB port. Except it’s not a standard USB port – it is asymmetrical. Standard mini-USB plugs do fit in it, but I’m not sure that they’re supposed to. This port is used to charge the phone, but the problem is that it doubles as the output for the headphones. This means that you can’t use any headphones that you want. You have to use the ones that came with the phone. I haven’r tried them yet, but they aren’t the small ear-buds that I’ve become used to in the last couple of years. I hope that someone will soon produce some kind of adapter that allows me to use any headphones that I want.

Then there’s the big issue. This has been mentioned in every review of the phone that I’ve read. It’s a big enough problem that I seriously thought about sending the phone back. I’m still not sure that I’ve done the right thing by keeping it.

It’s the battery life. It’s appalling. I estimate that if I’m using the phone’s features to any great extent then I’ll get three or four hours of use out of it. Currently I’m carrying round the USB charging cable so I can plug it into my computer at work if it starts flagging in the middle of the afternoon. Of course, I can get more life out of it if I turn things off. Turning off the GPS, Bluetooth and wireless all help considerably – but what’s the point of a smartphone if you have to turn off all of the smart features? For an average day at work in London this won’t be a problem as I’m never going to be more than a couple of hours away from somewhere to charge it. But things like the GPS tracking will be most useful when I’m out of London walking on the South Downs or something like that. It’ll be a bit of problem if I have to turn the GPS off to conserve battery life in that situation.

I don’t understand how the product came to market with such a major flaw. I honestly think that at some point in the next six months, T-Mobile will contact all of the owners of G1s and offer them an improved battery. Without that I think that the G1 has no chance of becoming a mass market success.

It’s a shame because it’s a great product. It’s only (massively) let down by one fundamentally flawed design decision.

2 thoughts on “Google Phone – First Impressions”

  1. Things like Bluetooth, GPS and wireless networking of any kind always eat batteries. I don’t think there’s any phone or PDA on the market that gets good battery life when those are turned on.

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