Google phone wins cheers but told could be better
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nice try with the new phone, Google. Better luck next time. That's what some seem to be saying about Google Inc's (GOOG.O) first foray into the world of cell phones. But while it may not attract long lines like Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) iPhone, it offers much to those looking to use their phones for more than talking.
So what's it like? The G1, which is made for Google by HTC Corp (2498.TW) and sold by Deutsche Telekom AG (DTEGn.DE) unit T-Mobile, actually resembles an older handset -- the Sidekick, a soapbar-shaped phone also created by G1 designer Andy Rubin, the father of Google's Android mobile operating system. It has touch-screen controls, and a miniature computer keyboard that is uncovered by sliding the screen out.
This means a chunkier gadget than the svelte iPhone.
But it makes for a more familiar typing experience for consumers who dislike iPhone's virtual keypad, especially for typing longer notes.
The G1, which was greeted with cheers when it was unveiled in New York on Tuesday, shares many functions with iPhone -- a full web browser, an online market to buy games and software, and a music player. This will work in its favor for shoppers whose expectations from Google weren't as lofty.
Experts were not as giddy. Some analysts noted its lack of some typical smartphone features such as corporate e-mail and companion desktop software.
"This is an important device, but there has to be more to it," Michael Gartenberg a Jupitermedia analyst who described the phone as "a good first step" after the launch, even as he created a checklist of what he wants for the next versions.
Upcoming versions of the phone could have a completely new user interface, as Google has opened the operating system to outside developers. Both T-Mobile USA and HTC already have plans to offer more phones based on the Google systems.
The biggest draw for G1, especially for people who already like to use Google a lot on the desktop, could be its tight integration of familiar Google Web services, such as Google maps, search and Gmail, into its traditional phone features.
For example, tapping on any address in the contact database automatically links you to Google Maps, where you can get directions from your current location -- which the phone automatically knows thanks to its GPS technology.
If you're still worried about finding the place after all that, G1's Streetfinder produces a snapshot of the actual buildings at the location. Google has also developed a compass feature that changes the view as you move the phone, giving the impression that you're already there.
Also, once you've stored your friends' email addresses, you can also jump automatically from the contact database to gmail by simply tapping on the address.
One of the phone's quirkiest features is actually its security system. Instead of typing a password you slide your finger over a series of dots to get into the phone. So instead of remembering a password you just need to remember what kind of line to draw to join the dots.
Similarly, photographs taken on the phone's 3-megapixel camera can be quickly shared with friends by choosing a share option when the image is on your phone and then choosing either email or an Internet photo sharing site, such as Flickr.
Web surfing is similar to iPhone's, although iPhone enthusiasts may have to refrain from using two fingers to either pinch a page smaller or slide it bigger -- a feature unique to Apple.
Google's Android Market lets users download from a choice of almost 2,000 software applications, including everything from Ecorio, which helps users track their carbon footprints, to ShopSavvy, a comparison shopping aid.
While applications from Android Market are all free so far, T-Mobile USA said it expects its customers to be able to buy applications in the future.
The G1, which comes in black, brown and white and is $20 cheaper than iPhone at $179 with a 2-year contract, will be available in T-Mobile USA stores October 22.
Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart summed it up.
"There's nothing here that isn't available in one form or another on some of the other competing products," he said. "But at the same time, it's all here in a pretty nice form factor at a great price."