Google (NSDQ: GOOG) reps visibly bristled when asked whether G1 is an “iPhone competitor”, so as an iPhone user, I made an effort to not see the phone through Apple-colored lenses. However, there are obviously aspects of the device where it’s useful to compare the two. Some thoughts from my opportunity to play with the device.
— Form factor: It’s a boxy smartphone. If you could only touch the device and couldn’t see it, it’d probably feel like a thousand other models, though at least it’s fairly compact. The slide-out screen and keyboard is smooth, though again, nothing really new there.
— Navigation: It’s not difficult, but it’s not effortless either… The device itself has just a few buttons on the front, though just from looking at them, you wouldn’t know instantly what they do. Once you do bring up the main menu, the layout of apps looks standard (icons placed in rows of four or five), though there’s nothing pretty about this page. Aesthetically, it’s more Windows Mobile than iPhone.
— Browsing: Solid, but not spectacular. You can zoom and scroll on a webpage pretty easily, but it’s not the smoothest experience. And pages don’t seem to render quite as true as they do on a typical computer or an iPhone — certainly much better, however, than on low-end phones. To enter in text (like a URL or a search query), you have to open the physical keyboard, which disrupts the continuity of browsing somewhat. Interesting note on that, however: While there’s no on-screen keyboard, the Android platform allows for one to be developed by a third party. For those that have grown accustomed to on-screen text entry, this could be a welcome add-on. Speed wise, the network seemed pretty brisk — probably quicker than the well-documented, pokey 3G AT&T (NYSE: T) network here in New York.
More on apps, camera and phone, after the jump
— Apps: Two third-party launch partners were present to explain their apps, and both offered glimpses into what separates this device from others. One, Ecorio, allows users and companies to track their travel patterns, for the purpose of reducing their carbon footprint. There’s one clear reason why it’s launching on Android, and not the iPhone: it can run in the background. For an app to be able to track your motion (where you’re driving, what speeds etc.) it needs to be on all the time, runing in the background. The other, ShopSavvy a barcode scanner for shoppers to get more information: It favors android, since it offers direct access to the camera — there are barcode scanners for the iPhone, but apps need to go through hoops, to get access to the images. And the camera seems to work quite effectively for this purpose… a demo-er was able to scan a barcode off a small pack of gum and bring up info about it. In terms of the Android market, it looks pretty straightforward, with various filtering mechanisms, including ratings (this is important if app-developers are to have unfettered access).
— Camera: Perhaps it was just the light, but I had a hard time taking a crisp shot.
— The phone: Yes, it makes phone calls too. Pretty straightforward.
— Overall: The G1 is an impressive device that will push the envelope in terms of what you can accomplish with an open platform. But it’s not a slick, shiny and polished the way the iPhone is, so it probably won’t be cool in the same way (though a smart marketing push could help that). It’s also hard to know how fast it can spin until we see a range of third party apps. One rep from Google reiterated a couple of times that what we’re seeing is the “tip of the iceberg”, which is pretty impressive, if true. Were I in the market for a new phone, it’d definitely be a strong contender for my dollars.