Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The G in G1 stands for Garage

My fearless office manager circled around her local T-Mobile store last night. First at midnight (no lines), then at 3 am (no lines), then finally at 7 am. She was fourth in line and came back to the office sleepless but with a prized T-Mobile Android G1 phone for me. I actually asked her only to be there at 7 am to get me one, but the people at Funambol always go 101% to get the job done (and I am very proud of them).

So I have a G1 in my hands. I played around with it extensively today. Tonight I am planning to go deeper into the file system and play with applications outside the Android Market (that has only 50 apps, the rest will start appearing on the 27th, when the market will actually open).

The first impression must be on the device itself, not what is inside. I could give you my perspective, but I feel my fashion-conscious Italian wife summarized it all today. She saw I had a new gadget and asked me "what's that, a new garage door opener?". Yep, it is that ugly.

That said, it is not just the look... The sliding keyboard is hard to use, due to the bulky thingy at the end (the one with the buttons to open the garage). If you try to type while charging the device, it is almost impossible. I never thought I would miss the virtual keyboard of the iPhone...

I have to admit I never liked the idea of a sliding keyboard. Changing mode is a no no in usability. And it shows. You are browsing with the vertical screen and you need to type a URL? Go landscape, type the URL, then come back vertical. Worst: you are in your car and need to call someone? In order to type their name, you have to slide the keyboard out, type, click than go vertical again (without crashing the car, knowing you are also violating the law in California). It is quite bad.

The inside is much nicer. Not just because it is open source (that, you can't see). The GUI is smooth, the home page looks good, the Google integration is well done.

The only negative? It is just Google for now. You have to put in your Google credentials when you start the phone for the first time. It loads Gmail, contacts and calendar. Nice and smooth.

Do you want to use any other email? Forget it. The email client (the second one, they have two... one Gmail and one Email) is plainly horrible.

I tried setting my work IMAP email. It took an hour to download all my folders... Also, I am so unlucky to have called the company Funambol, and have hundreds of folders beneath it: Inbox starts with I and comes after F of Funambol. I never got to see the Inbox. When it showed up, it then disappeared again. Just unusable. I gave up after trying for at least an hour (I swear. I care about mobile email...).

So I tried POP. Much better (it gets only the Inbox) but the scheduled POP never worked. For the whole day, I was never notified of a new email...

On top of it, the client has no attachment support. A very disappointing experience.

Then I tested the Market: it worked flawlessly. I downloaded a Barcode Scanner app which allows you to take a picture of a barcode and sends you to the Google Product page of it. Very interesting. You can check a book in a bookstore and see how much it actually cost to buy it online. The end of brick and mortar store, dot come style.

GPS: average. Wifi: pretty good. Calls (hey, it is a phone as well, you know): no issues. Maps: very nice, with the cool Street View feature that you will never use once in your life (but it is still cool so it is worth it). Browser: vastly inferior to the iPhone. Music: same as before. Camera: not bad.

I also tried to download some apps online (outside the Market). If you have an .apk file somewhere and you download it with the browser, it gets installed. I tried the Funambol client, it installed perfectly but it needs some work (Carlo is working on it, I believe). I tried a ssh client, same experience.

My brain works in a strange way (surprise!): I never have expectations. I just experience life as it comes and that has served me reasonably well along the years. Very hard to be disappointed when you did not have high expectations of something.

This is the case for the G1 as well. I did not have any expectation for this device. I disliked the hardware, but I liked the software (although it needs some more work). Nothing compared to the reaction I had when I opened the box of the iPhone, the first day it went on sale. It was an emotional experience. It still is (when I look at it in the charger, I just want to pick it up and play with it). The book "Emotional Design" (a must buy) describes why I might feel this way. Definitely, no emotions on the G1 for me...

Overall, it looks like a good thing for Google (since the software is ok), but not a smash hit. I will be very very surprised if they sell a ton of G1s. Developers will buy it. Some Google maniac will buy it. But it is going to fade very fast.

Unless they can add a garage opener application on the Market. For that purpose, it looks great.