October 28, 2008

[G1 Report] Ditching the 5-Way and getting acquainted with Google’s mobile phone

When a co-worker (a creative director) noticed my “5-way” navigational Nokia phone, his quick response was blunt: “You got to fix that.” I avoided the iPhone touch-screen scene and it was easy. All I needed was to make and receive calls. More influenced by my work, I went ahead and pre-ordered the T-Mobile G1. It debuted October 22nd (also marked on the invoice) and it arrived the same day in the mail.

The packaging is plain, not bold—simple, which can also be said of the set-up: swapping the SIM card, turning on and synching Gmail and Contacts data. I was quickly up-and-running with the device.

The hardware’s appearance is also simple. Matte-black finish. The dark exterior makes the Android software seem that much brighter. This is probably a detail that only a visual designer would appreciate, but the main menu’s icons were consistent in form and perspective. Main menus, at least from the tiny few that I’ve seen, can have a variety of icons, and though well-intended, are not uniform.

The Droid font—made by Ascender Corporation in Elk Grove Village, IL, whaddaya know—is appealing in its varied sizes, whether it’s a label for an application icon or as text. A five-page type specimen can be found in this article.

Moving from the presentation to the device and touch itself: from clicking to swiping to scrolling, the interaction feels good. Presumably to avoid mimicking iPhone interactions, the G1 bottom menu is often used to house certain actions related to the currently active application. One of the G1’s bottom row of hard controls has a button, directly labeled “Menu”—pressing this displays an array of context-sensitive actions that appear from the bottom in a toaster-esque motion. Pressing it again brings the Menu down. Beneath the Menu hard key is a trackball used to navigate and select elements.

There were a few times, because of their proximity, that the trackball is inadvertently touched at the same time the Menu hard key is pressed, but this hasn’t caused any accidental interactions. It’s too early to tell if the trackball is useful. If a new message, call or email, comes in, a notification icon appears in the status bar. Just touch and drag for a notifications menu to appear in a curtain-like motion.

I chatted with a T-Mobile representative about the iPhone, and he expressed his inability (I’m being gentle here based on his feedback) to type on a virtual keyboard. This is why he likes the G1—although he is, of course, a T-Mobile employee. Carrier loyalty aside, there appears to be a strong preference for a physical QWERTY keyboard. I haven’t typed much yet but the G1’s version is fine. Every hard key felt pressed and the results? Precise. One imprecise interaction with the keyboard is the duplicate Menu hard key located close to the shift hard key which sometimes gets mixed up. As far as the physical keyboard goes, I like the fact that it is the only keyboard. For every text-input, you’re forced to use it, but in a good way.

These are a few of the discovered interactions so far as I use the G1 more. I’m enjoying the device itself and the experience of it. To borrow the term that a work-client said, it feels “Googley.”

It’s good to see, what I expected to be, a positive alternative to the benchmark iPhone. As the crew at Engadget put it in their review of the G1: “When facing off with platforms like the iPhone and Windows Mobile devices, it holds its own, but has a lot of ground to cover before it’s really making the competition sweat. Still, if you’re just excited to be a part of a platform that's likely going to be around for a very, very long time, the G1’s a totally reasonable day-to-day device to make it happen, and we expect some pretty great things from this corner of the market down the road.”

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