At first glance, the T-Mobile G1 ($179 with a two-year contract) doesn't seem to merit much attention. It looks like just another bland, HTC-manufactured phone. But use the G1 -- the first phone to run Google Inc.'s Android operating system -- for five minutes, and you'll start to see why it's one of the best-designed phones you can buy. Not only is the G1 intuitive to use, but its customization options (via Android) also make it a tweaker's delight.
From the start, the G1 offers a different, more intuitive smart-phone experience. At boot-up, the phone displays a cartoon graphic of an android, with an animated finger pointing at the android and instructions to "touch the android to begin."
The ensuing screens are clearly presented and walk you through the speedy setup process. You'll need a Google account, the phone explains, for automatic syncing of your contacts, calendar and e-mail with your Web-based Google data.
If you don't already have an account, you can sign up directly from the phone. Otherwise, sign in to link your existing Google account and the phone. After the initial, over-the-air synchronization finished, my Google e-mail and calendar info was available to me on the phone, and the phone was ready for use.
The phone itself has a candy bar design with a matte black finish and slightly rubberized plastic back. It's narrower than its chief rival, Apple Inc.'s iPhone, but slightly thicker (the G1 measures 4.6 by 2.2 by 0.6 in. and weighs 5.6 ounces). The 3.2-in. capacitive touch-screen display dominates the front face of the phone; the physical buttons on the phone are well-chosen and clearly labeled.
The lower fifth of the phone holds an easy-glide track ball (similar to the track ball found on Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices) and five buttons: a green talk button to activate the phone itself; a home button to return you to home screen; a back button to move to the previously viewed screen in the browser and throughout the phone; a red end button; and a rectangular, context-sensitive menu button. This last button is conveniently situated beneath the screen and directly above the trackball. Double-press the button to quickly release the screen lock; hold it down for a couple of seconds to get a shortcut screen to recently used applications.
A full QWERTY keyboard hides beneath display; when you press the middle left part of the phone, the display smoothly slides up. At the same time, the phone automatically rotates the screen's orientation from vertical to horizontal; you have to use the horizontal orientation for data-entry tasks, as the phone lacks an on-screen keyboard (unlike the Apple iPhone 3G or the RIM BlackBerry Storm).
The roomy backlit keyboard made typing easy, though the buttons felt a bit too flat for my comfort. (Because the flat buttons butt up against the rim of the phone, pressing the bottom row of buttons was sometimes difficult; the same issue arose with the buttons at the far right.) My right thumb had to work harder than my left because, in effect, the keyboard was deeply inset -- my thumb had to reach around and over the bottom fifth of the phone to reach it.
The only other physical buttons on the phone are a volume rocker switch on the upper left side and a dedicated camera shutter button on the right side. A microSD Card slot is hidden on the left of the phone. To access it, you open the screen and press a subtle tab; the card then pops out of the side. (Warning: You'll need fingernails to get it to pop out easily). T-Mobile includes a 1GB card. The device has been tested with up to 8GB microSD Cards and should support 16GB cards when available.