Since the first mobile running on Google’s Android software platform was announced, I have been eagerly awaiting it’s release here in the UK. Well this week it finally happened, so yesterday I went into a T Mobile shop to have a play with one. Unfortunately it is a bit of a mixed bag, whilst looking quite stylish (it looked a bit ugly from the photos) there are a number of bad points about the G1 which unfortunately terminally let it down.
First off, the slide. I actually rather like this part, despite being highly dubious about overly elaborate mechanisms, the G1 screen slides up and to the right cleanly and locks into place with a fairly reassuring click. The problem is the G1 is not comfortable to hold in the horizontal position, and I found the keyboard buttons to be inadequate for any serious use. However the most serious problem with this was that the screen was not fully locked into place. Given that it is a touch screen the fact that the whole screen section flexes backwards and strains against the sliding mechanism, even the smallest amount of force is exerted against it, is very worrying.
The touchscreen itself worked quite well and Android has definitely incorporated several design elements that Apple initially came up with. However it feels like Google were as eager to incorporate finger swiping functions as they were not to look like they were copying Apple and as such there are two different ways of scrolling through icon menus like the ‘desktop’ and the application menu which just feels silly and inconsistent. The overall layout and design of the menus and functionality felt poor and counter intuitive. This was felt especially in the web-browser which, whilst working well ( and really showing how nice the screen was) felt clunky and unfriendly to navigate and use. There was also an issue with flash plugins but I am assuming that would be fixed by an update.
Overall, the G1 very much feels like the unfinished article. The black one looks surprisingly nice in the person, but an inconsistent GUI / navigation system lets it down as well as the quality of the screen sliding retention mechanism. Still, thankfully this is not the Android phone, but the first version running the software platform. I have high expectations of future phones and can only hope that meager sales will not put off other companies from adopting this platform.
T Mobile launched the first mobile based on the open source Android platform earlier this month. Although from a design prospective I am less than impressed with the device, I am extremely excited that this hitherto academic project is starting to gain mass market traction. Open source projects all too commonly go the route of the GP2x, OpenPandora or OpenMoko– accruing a loyal fan base but never really breaking out into the main stream. (I highly recommend taking a look at some of those projects.)
The fact that there is now a mass market device running the Android software stack is very encouraging, however with an industry behemoth like Google behind it, there was no way this project was going to roll over and die quietly. So, until it launches here in the UK (and wherever you may be in the World) you can try out a emulated version on T-Mobile’s website.