As a true early-adopting mobile geek, I was one of the people in my local T-Mobile store last week on the launch day for the new Android phone, the G1.

I’ve had a few days to play with it now, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it so far.

If you want a considered review which discusses specific features, it’s worth checking out Engadget, Ars Technica, or CNET. Rather than duplicate proper reviews like that, I thought I’d share a less coherent post of my feelings about the device. 🙂

In short, I don’t regret buying it. I like it. But I’m not sure I’d recommend it.

I’ll try and explain why…

There is a lot to like about the phone.

The capacitive touchscreen has the free scrolling loveliness that attracted so many people to the iPhone.

Aspects of the interface are impressive, both in innovation and usability – such as a neat twist on providing notifications (from both core and third-party apps) in a pull-down curtain.

The out-of-box setup experience is slick. Give it your Google userid and password, and within minutes it has sucked your diary, contacts and email from the Google servers, all without any need for installing PC sync software or faffing about with USB cables.

Some of the apps are very good – such as the instant messaging client, which is hard to fault.

The Android Market provides a way to browse, download and install third-party apps from within the phone – again without the need for getting files across from a PC. The management of third-party applications is elegant, and uninstalling them cleanly is easy.

The phone is physically neat, with a very good QWERTY thumboard, and an impressive mini-trackball.

And more.


The set of apps that you get out-of-the-box don’t feel complete, for my smartphone needs at any rate. And not all of the apps that are there are great. Several of them have clunky user interfaces, or are just too basic and simplistic in function, such as the media player.

But I don’t mind. In fact, I kind of like that.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the EU was leading the charge against Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player in the Windows operating system. I’m over-simplifying, of course, but the analogy I’m aiming for is that there is something good about the principle of an operating system providing the foundation, leaving others free to provide the applications.

Android is an open platform, coming out on day 1 (before day 1 in fact!) with an extensive and powerful API. Someone will almost certainly produce a better third-party media player. Several people probably will, in fact.

Through a combination of word-of-mouth, and reviews and comments in Android Market, the good ones will naturally bubble to the top, and the community will settle on it’s favourites.

Android’s awesome media player isn’t here yet, but it will be. And it will likely be developed by someone other than Google. I’m looking forward to seeing that happen, and excited that I will get to be a part of it.

It doesn’t feel like getting a finished product – a closed, black box which will work the way the designers wanted. Instead, it feels like joining a community that will mould Android into an amazing platform.

Not only is the API pretty good, but the core OS is open-sourced. If I want, I can (presumably) look at how the phone software was written and learn how they did some of their neat tricks. If I think of improvements to the core apps or just want to make a change, I can download the source, edit it, and recompile it. This is an empowering level of access, and for a geek and hacker like me, it buys Android a lot of goodwill.

To make another tortured analogy, it reminds me of the phrase “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. but give him the means to fish for himself and he will feed himself for a lifetime”. In a similar way, give a geek a gadget, and you will entertain them for a day. But give a geek an open platform and the tools to make their own software, they will entertain themselves for… well, longer.

Would I be as forgiving of the phone’s faults if I didn’t have another phone to use as my primary smartphone? I don’t know – perhaps not. I’m still using the Treo Pro as my primary PDA and mobile, so maybe I’m in a better position to tolerate the G1’s shortcomings.

And I know that this is all a lot of hippy-sounding guff. But there is something about Android, and the G1, that I just really like. I can’t put my finger on it. Intellectually, most of the reasons I can point to were present in the OpenMoko, which I never got as excited about. But something about this feels different. This feels like what the OpenMoko should’ve been.

For want of a better word, I am fond of Android. A weird word to use about a gadget, I know. I don’t love it, like I love my Treo. I’m not evangelical about it, in the way that I see iPhone users love their phones. In fact, as I said at the start, I probably wouldn’t recommend it to most of my friends and family.

Not yet.

But watch this space. It’s already neat, and fun to use. And while I might not love the phone as it is now, I love the potential that it promises.

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4 Responses to “Android”

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