Android At A Glance: Part 1 - Hardware

*This post as well as the second part are written by a guest writer named Dan K. IF he tells me so, I'll divulge his full name. But I don't go around giving away other people's secret identities. Enjoy!

All over the web you’re seeing reviews for T-Mobile’s flagship Android device, the G1 which is also their flagship device for their new 3G network, from all these techie sites that do nothing but review all things tech. Well I decided to take it upon myself to write my own review, as unbiased as possible, from me/you, your average joe nerd/geek. Also I want to state on the record that this isn’t a “IT’S NOT AN IPHONE LAWL!!” speech, the iPhone is a good device not gonna lie, it totally redefined the mobile phone market, spurring countless phones attempting to mimic some of its features and changing how we view mobile devices. Both the iPhone and the G1 have their similarities and their differences.

For those that have no clue what I’m talking about, a couple of years back, our lovely neighborhood search engine giant Google decided to have a go at the mobile phone market, helping develop what the tech community succinctly named “The G-Phone”, which would be completely open source. Another year passed and the OS was given the codename “Android” and for about a year Google would release Software Development Kits or SDK’s, allowing developers to test the OS and also create custom applications that ran on Android. I caught one of the later SDK’s, the version before the final beta which contained an emulator which ran the Android OS so I could play around with it, which I was already looking forward to. That’s pretty much Android in a nutshell, open source for cellphones, limited only by the creativity of the developer community.

Fast forward to October 21st, day before the October 22nd national launch of the G1, and here it is on my doorstep just waiting for me to open her up and play with her. Sounds kind of dirty huh? After careful unboxing I had in my hand what some call the next big thing, or what some crazies call “The iPhone Killer”, I just thought it was a pretty awesome phone. There are so many things I love about this phone, but at the same time there are things that I wish were done different, so lets get this circus rolling.


Hardware

The G1 from T-Mobile is actually manufactured by Taiwan phone manufacturer HTC, who has made phones such as T-Mobile’s Wing, the Dash, the Shadow, as well as some of the newer devices like Sprint’s Touch Diamond and soon Touch Pro. It has a very nice matte black finish to it and has a solid and a tad heavy for it’s size feel to it. The matte black finish is gorgeous, I was worried for a while that it would have a glossy finish which usually turn out to be serious fingerprint magnets so I was pleasantly surprised by that. It comes with a full capacitive touch-screen, meaning you can use your fingers instead of a stylus to navigate the phone, as well as 6 buttons on the front: Call, Home, Back, End Call which also strangely is used to enable silent mode, lock the device and power on/off the device, a menu button, and a trackball which turns out is from RIM’s BlackBerry line. The bottom of the phone also juts out a bit, resembling that on Motorola’s RAZR phone which most people call the “chin” though I’ve read here or there some call it a “bananaphone” (CELLULAR, MODULAR, INTERACTIVE-ODULAR!) Holding the phone landscape (sideways) you can slide the phone up which changes the view to landscape mode and reveals the full QWERTY keyboard, it has a nice “clack” noise to it when you slide it up and down, while it looks sort of flimsy, is of pretty solid construction it looks like. Flipping the screen up also provides access to the MicroSD slot, which by the way the G1 comes with a 1GB MicroSD card, primarily used for storing photos and other media files, the G1 is confirmed to support up to 16GB MicroSDHC cards. For side buttons, on the left side you have the volume buttons which can be used to adjust the volume on your ringer, or depending on what application you’re running i.e. YouTube, change the Audio/Video volume. The other side you have the button that enables camera mode, pressing it halfway down focuses the picture, pressing it all the way takes the photo. On the back you will find the speakerphone as well as the 3.2 Megapixel camera, which takes photos at a default resolution of 2048 x 1536. On the bottom of the phone you’ll see the microphone hole as well at the Mini-USB port for charging the device and also moving data between the G1 and a PC. Unfortunately HTC did not include a 3.5mm headphone jack but thankfully T-Mo included a set of earbuds that plug into the Mini-USB port but it still would have been nice to see a 3.5mm audio jack. Also the process of removing the back cover to insert the battery is pretty ass backwards. You have to flip open the keyboard press up on a tap holding the cover in place and gently pull the back over off. Again, it may feel that it’s cheaply made, but the G1 is in fact a very solid device.


The Screen

The touch-screen on the G1 is very well done, I considered it to be very responsive and didn’t require extreme pressure to recognize my fingers. The HVGA screen is beautiful, colors are bright and vivid and text was sharp and easy to read with no noticeable jaggedness that I could see. After some moderate use fingerprints do tend to show up but it’s like that on all touchscreen phones, so you can always wipe it with some cloth or leave on the protective cover when you first get the phone. YouTube video quality is equivalent to that of a PC, if you’re not on wifi it will automatically lower the quality so to load more quickly, and even so they’re still quite good, it may have the higher quality versions on 3G but size I only have EDGE coverage, I can’t confirm that yet.


Keyboard

One of the big appeals for the G1 was the inclusion of a full QWERTY keyboard, and after using it a while, it’s a hit and a miss in certain regards. They keys are evenly spaced and are a good size so those who have large fingers like me, would find this to be a welcoming feature. Keyboard also includes a search button which just sends a search query to google, or if you’re running the YouTube app, will search for videos on YouTube. Also the keyboard includes a menu button to display options depending on the app that’s currently running. Overall I like the keyboard, I find the keys to have adequate spacing and easy to navigate, plus they keys are backlit. However there are a few, albeit minor, gripes I had with the keyboard. The keys them selves are a little too flat, and they don’t have very much tactile feedback from pressing the keys, then again I’ve been spoiled by the keyboard on the BlackBerry Curve which was nothing short of amazing. Also while holding it landscape and typing, the “chin” on the phone makes typing a little cumbersome at first, but you quickly get used to it and work around it. The spacebar also could have been a bit more wider as well. Sometime they say in early-mid 2009, they will include a touchscreen keyboard to be used in portrait mode, a la iPhone. This in my opinion is a bit odd, since the iPhone’s screen is a bit wider and allows for easier typing, and would made it a bit of a hassle, unless they made the touchscreen keyboard a compact QWERTY keyboard like they have on the BlackBerry Pearl, then I could see it being useful. Overall I think the keyboard is well thought out, and even with the really flat keys, I still find typing on it very easy.


Antenna (Reception/Data)

This part is usually pretty short. Call quality was good and the speakerphone works pretty well on calls. Even on EDGE YouTube videos loaded fairly quickly, as a test I was watching videos between 4 and 7 minutes long. Web browsing got a bit slow when there were a number of images to load but was overall pretty bearable. Expect web browsing and all data services in general to be much faster when T-mobile rolls out more of their 3G network in the area.

On the hardware side overall, the G1 is a very well put together device. Solid construction, aesthetically appealing in its simplicity, a gorgeous screen, and a well rounded keyboard. Unfortunately it’s always the small details, such as the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack and keys with little feedback, that mar what could’ve been an amazing design.


Camera

The camera is like any normal camera you’d see on a phone. A 3.2 megapixel camera, with autofocus, you activate by either pressing the camera side button, or going to the list of applications and selecting the camera app. Overall photos taken with the camera are pretty good quality under good lighting conditions, under low lighting, not so much, the inclusion of flash would have made a world of difference on this device. There also is no zoom feature on the phone. Also you need a very steady hand to get the best possible photos, otherwise they’re going to turn out really blurry. The camera really was the only feature that was a bit of a disappointment.