HTC Android G1

I obtained an HTC Android G1 dev phone to play with. I’ve been working with it for almost a week now, and so can post my initial thoughts. And they are quite seriously mixed. There are things about this phone that are just unbelievably good, but with some shockingly unbelievable flaws too, enough to possibly render the phone unusable for me to be honest. You’ll probably see as you go on that shocking, and unbelievable are two buzzwords I use a lot in this review. It’s more polite than rearranging this acronym FTW into its more usual order and expanding.

First, some caveats. The phone I received was a dev phone, it had the 1.0 firmware revision, and that might have been the cause of my initial problems. It’s now on 1.1 (and update was irritatingly problematic too). The dev phone comes with the phone, headphones, a US charger, a USB cable, and about two post cards worth of docs. Mostly these discussed set up of APNs. That wasn’t trivial, and O2, my provider were frankly as helpful as a chocolate teapot. It didn’t help that their systems showed, at least with the 1.0 firmware, that the phone was missing key capabilities.

Thanks to Noodles, I got some working access, and initially getting things synced with Google, and wifi was easy. I actually had some problems with bluetooth pairing, but it could have been the other end. I spent a lot of time trying to find the most elegant way or exporting my evolution contacts to Google, and eventually found the magic command line to produce the CSV on Debian Sid your paths may vary.

/usr/lib/evolution/2.24/evolution-addressbook-export --format=csv > Desktop/contacts.csv

First of all lets summarise the stunning features of this phone.

  • Big clear screen
    Mostly the interface is crisp and clean and the touch interface is very intuitive and easy to use.
  • QWERTY goodness
    The G1 screen slides out to reveal a full qwerty keyboard that is really easy to type on.
  • Shell goodness
    You can download applications that allow a local shell, and for me much more usefully an SSH client. Coupled with the keyboard and connectivity this is excellent.
  • Calendaring
    This is just superb, intuitive, easy to navigate, cosmetically pleasing, automatic sync.
  • Email
    Almost belongs in grumbles since the built in client does not, under any circumstances, accept self signed certs. But the K9 market app does it all, it seems to be a fork, or more likely set of patches maintained on the original email client.
  • Messaging
    This is really in both lists. The nice way in which the G1 threads correspondence is very helpful, but there are problems. See below.

And now, the reprehensible clangers.

  • Battery
    The battery life on the N95 is shockingly bad, but actually the G1 is on a par with that, you seem to need to constantly trim all the features that consume power to get through a day reasonably (all be it, the battery life is stretching now I think, and less day-to-day fiddling helps).
  • Video Capabilities 1/2
    This is the first 3G device I’ve ever had that didn’t have a forward facing camera for video calls. I know some other smart phones are similar, but the N95 I have does have this capability. A non issue for many, but something to note for some.
  • Video Capabilities 2/2
    Even now, quite a while after release, the G1 is incapable of using its camera for video clips. I find this extraordinary, I think it’s the only phone I’ve ever owned with a camera that can’t do this.
  • Media Messaging
    This is quite frankly, shockingly bad. It’s a complete pain in the ass to configure MMS, and even then it often simply doesn’t work. There are long delays and repeated failures in sending and receiving MMS, and yet other times it does it. I can’t yet work out the pattern. The way in which the phone shows attached images is really appalling, and difficult to manipulate.
    Rather than showing the image when clicked on till you click again, it annoyingly shows it for a number of seconds of its choosing and then goes back. You can’t zoom, rotate, download, or otherwise manipulate the image that doesn’t even fill the screen size available.
    Even more extraordinary is that while the phone can’t take video clips (see above) it also fails to be able to receive them. That’s an unbelievable flaw in a phone this high end. Instead my provider sends me an SMS telling me I’m a third class citizen and invites me to download the file using a browser. When you try to do this you will find you can’t actually save the damn attachment anywhere to bring the market apps (no inbuilt video viewer) to bear on this thing. I just can’t get over this stupidity. I have to wait to get home to a real PC to view these.
  • The contacts section in Google seems to allow no space for birthdays. Since for me that’s a pretty critical aspect of calendaring and I’d like the data hooked to the calendar, that’s annoying.
  • Headphones
    The headphones plug into a mini USB socket on the bottom, but as such they are custom. The N95 has a much better system of having an adapter that provides functionality to tweak music playing with a plain ordinary headphone jack in case you have better headphones.
  • Memory Management
    Another shockingly bad aspect of the phone. It’s onboard memory is quite limited, but so what? I put an 8 Gig micro SD in it. Well, almost nothing can actually be stored on the extra card apart from music and some other files. All applications, text messages, and so on take up the main memory as far as I know.
  • No automatic rotation
    The device certainly appears to have the accelerometers to allow automatic rotation of the screen, but simply, it doesn’t. You have to pop out the keyboard to do so whether you want to or not. Stupid.

Every new phone you acquire seems to have new features you don’t know how you did with out, and problems that irritate you from previous good experiences, but seriously, the MMS problems this phone has, has caused me to have both phones on my person and swapping SIM cards this last week. That’s just ridiculous. It’s quite likely the G1 will end up in a drawer until someone gets their act together and deals with that astonishing flaw. That or I’ll sell it on. It’s a shame, so much else in the phone is excellent, but the problems are often simply inexcusable in a smartphone well into the 21st century.

Update

I was pleased to read that a firmware update is to be released Real Soon Now, that will resolve most of the serious issues on my list, or at least I hope the MMS handling will be improved given what is on the list, otherwise this would be even more braindead.

Oh, and by the way, I know the iPhone shares some of these problems. There’s a reason I don’t have one.

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One thought on “HTC Android G1”

  1. I’ve had my Google development phone, the g1, for some time now. I haven’t had the luxury of time to write anything for it, but I mainly wanted it to try out Android anyway. I’ve reviewed the phone before, and again after some canonical firmware upgrades.

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