Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First Android Phone Lands on Earth

The first mobile phone to operate using Google's Android open platform will soon be available to T-Mobile customers in the U.S., after which it will touch down in the U.K. and then across Europe. Called the G1, the phone sounds like a mix of the iPhone and BlackBerry Bold, with a dash of Nokia N95 and Sony Ericsson K850 thrown in for good measure. What I mean is that it loooks to incorporate many of the best features of these phones to create a (hopefully) really, really cool product.

First, there's the touch-screen interface that slides down to reveal a QWERTY keyboard. This is combined with a BlackBerry-like trackball as an alternative means of operation. To zoom into a Web page, tap the screen (similar to the "pinch" function with the iPhone). One set-back I've noticed with the Bold is that, when I'm surfing a Web page, I'm forced to close it down to go back and check newly received e-mails. With the G1, you can easily go back and forth between Websites and e-mails.

Like both the iPhone and Bold, the G1 operates on the 3G network, and also integrates WiFi access. If you want to access e-mail, the device syncs seamlessly with Gmail, plus most other POP3 or IMAP accounts. To boot, it also boasts other Google favourites, like Maps, Street View, Gmail, and YouTube. A really cool feature: there's a built-in compass that will let you view locations at 360-degrees around you by just moving the phone in your hand.

The integrated digital camera is a step above the standard camera phones at a moderate (but certainly not industry-leading) 3 MP. Music playback and purchase is also an important facet of the phone experience. Using a new application developed by Amazon.com, customers can search, purchase and download from more than six-million DRM-free tunes.

Android is built around an open source platform, which means that pretty much anyone can develop an "app" for an Android phone that can then be downloaded to the device. The best part, however, is that Google will be offering Android to participating phone manufacturers for free. In addition to HTC, these currently include Motorola Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., and LG Electronics Inc.; as well as Texas Instruments. At launch, apps will include one designed for comparative shopping (ShopSavvy), and another that tracks daily behaviours in order to help users become more environmentally-conscious.

While Canada isn't on the list of companies to initially see this phone, I'm hopeful that it will eventually come here. It will sell in the U.S. for $179 with a two-year voice and data agreement starting October 22.

Could the device blow the iPhone out of the water? Who knows. But judging from the basic specs and design description, I'd say it has a pretty good chance.

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