Android Cometh: First Looks, Critiques and Bugs in the G1

So, I got my G1 Android, aka Googlephone ahead of schedule last night and have now spent some time with it, so here’s a hands-on look as well as a bit of criticism.

I think the phone, especially the Android OS, has a lot of promise, and potentially can unseat the iPhone, if you look at functionality.

Stylewise, the G1 is a bit of a beast, though, and won’t win any beauty contests. But, erstwhile netcrunchers, we don’t want pageant wins, do we? We want to work! Handle business. That’s why we owned BlackBerries. Or at least I did.


So, first things first: what I like. The interface is simple and intuitive. I found myself moving between touchscreen and trackball, and only sliding the keyboard out when necessary. Skilled users, it appears, can fly through using only keyboard but I’m not there yet.

Maps are exceptionally smooth. Street view looks awesome. The first developer to build an app that lays over street view and gives you ‘augmented reality’ info on what you’re looking at (eg Chrysler building, turn around 180 degrees, there it is, here’s a hyperlink to more info) will make a mint. I haven’t really toyed with compass yet but that’ll be integral.

Hookup to a machine is easy too. The phone just appeared as a disk mounted on my Mac when I connected it, with phone, music and images folders. I suppose you just drop in what you want.

So, as far as that goes the G1 is status quo plus some, full of the basics and potential. But I’ve got some beef right off the bat. I don’t see why they didn’t ship it with a text editor, or have one ready in the Android Market. It’s a simple program, but important. I’m typing this in a Gmail email now, which works. I’d imagine they’re waiting for Google Documents to get ported to the phone, but as of now the browser can’t access Documents either, it just sees the web page as uneditable text (that, like all pages as well as Gmail messages, you can’t copy text from).

Another ‘Doy!’ I’ve come up against early is the inability to log in to your YouTube account. You can access videos, search, make favorites, etc., but can’t yet access the base of stuff you’ve played with on YT. The only thing you can do in Settings is clear your search history.

A quick flit around the Android Market turned up very little of interest, save a Weather Channel app. The shelves were pretty bare.

My biggest problem so far has been with importing contacts. With a few hundred on a SIM and some thousand in my Gmail, many one-timers I have no interest in keeping in my phone, I’m going to have some thick, high grass to mow. I found a bug in opening a contact while an import was still taking place, and as a result I still have “Sync is currently experiencing problems. It will be back shortly” in my Contacts Synchronization screen. I suspect “shortly” is now running a little long and I might need a hard reset.

sync problems on the G1

sync problems on the G1, originally uploaded by nparish.

Another pain in the ass is going to be joining said contacts—some people have multiple emails, discontinued or alternate, and phone numbers from the SIM. I don’t think Android is smart enough to group these together, or I’m not smart enough to figure out how to do that. Either way, I’m going to have to do some monkey work inputting contacts before things are nice and clean.

too many contacts!

too many contacts!, originally uploaded by nparish.

That said, this is a bug I’m willing to live with for a while and work around.

Overall, the interface is easy enough, and that’s great, but I’m a little disappointed at the level of customization–those used to BlackBerries will be a bit miffed at the intial lack of tweakability. All this is sure to evolve, though, as Android develops and has more intelligent people looking after it.

Further to this topic, there’s a story I wrote in this month’s Creativity about some of the things to look forward to in Android. I’ll link it up once it’s online; it might be an interesting read, and delves into deeper issues with the openness of the OS.

UPDATE: So the contacts sync resolved in due time and I sucked it up and typed in a shedload of phone numbers.

Here’s the story from Creativity; I’ve been exploring the Android Market; it’s pretty amazing and I think it’ll get better.

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