HTC Dream, T-Mobile G1

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This is a fan review of the T-Mobile G1 cell phone, also known as the HTC Dream. An unsolicited testimonial, if you will.


I'm devotee of open source and feel deeply wronged by Microsoft. I used to love Apple when they were the Apple II, but reluctantly switched allegiance to the IBM PC when that platform became the most transparent as opposed to the hermetically-sealed Macintosh. I believe the slogan of Make Magazine: "If you can't open it, you don't own it."

I've drooled over the iPhone and assumed that I would probably end up getting one sooner or later, but DRM makes me crazy. So I held out with the cheapest possible cell phone I could find until I was pushed into iPhone ownership. Then my wife demanded a better phone and forced the issue. It didn't take much shopping to decide that the current (first?) generation of Android phone would be the right choice.

So here we are. After a week of fiddling with the phone, I think I've seen about 75% of what the phone can do and that is enough for me to write up some impressions.

What rocks

Location apps

For me, the killer app is Latitude and location-based searches. It is insanely useful to be able to open up my phone and see the location of my friends, or at least the ones that aren't scared by the erosion of their privacy. It is also stunning that I can flip open my phone and speak "pizza" into it and be presented with a list of local pizza joints.

Other location apps look cool and it seems like there ought to be something fun that could be done with BreadCrumbs or whatever they call the personal mapping app.

I'm a little surprised at how little I've used the GPS. It is such a battery hog that I haven't really turned it on much. The wifi and cell tower triangulation method works surprisingly well.

I use the traffic widget in google maps quite a bit to make decisions about my commute. This is somewhat more useful than checking the traffic state at my desk and then hoping it doesn't change too much in the 30 minutes it takes me to get to the choke point.

The augmented reality app, Wikitude, makes for a great demo, but I doubt I'll use it when I'm not showing off.

The Locale app makes the gphone much more useful by letting me assign preferences based on location or time or network. Now my phone will automatically switch to silent/vibrate mode when I get close to church.

I've always wanted a device that could record and play back a GPS trail, but now that I no longer bike to work, I'm not sure that I'll use this. Still I love that I can do it.

Touch interface (even without pinching)

Sure, everybody loves the multi-touch. And I admit pinching and stretching are great and would be handy when trying to navigate google maps. But, the touch interface on the G1 is responsive enough to be a pleasure to use. Maybe the multi-touch thing will come in an update...

As it is, the interface makes sense to me and my four-year-old.

It acts like a USB thumb-drive

Plug it into a PC and it has a simple directory structure for pulling photos out and shoving mp3s in. No annoying software layer is needed. I don't always remember to carry a thumb drive when I need one, but I almost always have my phone. I might not always have a USB cable, however.

A fine wifi client and web-browser

I sure like being able to carry a web browser in my pocket. No one should be without access to wikipedia for more than an hour or so.

It's beautiful

I used to hate it that most middle schoolers had sexier cell phones than mine. No more.

The Android app store is great

Not only that, but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to figure out how to write my own apps. Even if I never write my own, knowing that I *could* install a home-brewed app on this phone without having to jail-break it is a good thing. And speaking of jail-breaking, I still might consider it since it offers the possibility of using the gphone as a wireless router or a tethered modem. Both awesome applications.

The swing-out keyboard

Having a keyboard is definitely a good thing. It doesn't seem like a big deal until I need it, and then I'm really glad that it is there.

Barcode scanning app

Being able to scan any barcode and do searches for that product will probably come in handy at some point. Very cool, but not exactly the most useful for me.

What stinks

The pricing structure

T-Mobile demands a two-year contract and an expensive data plan. If I were allowed to buy just what I use, I would have a phone that was used for voice calls only in emergencies, SMS for receiving hourly alerts, and email every other day or so. I don't think I should have to pay for all the junk that I don't want.

T-Mobile coverage

How much sense does it make to have a cell phone with no coverage at your house? I'm wrangling with a powered antenna to try to boost the signal, but right now, my phone is useless as I sit in my living room. Well, not *useless*, it just can't make voice calls. But it does work as a wifi client and web browser. So if I could install skype on it, it would actually be perfectly useful.

Remind me again why I'm paying T-Mobile for a big data plan on my phone when I'm using none of T-Mobile's services at my house.

The stock 1-GB SD card becomes invisible to the phone

I'm not sure if this is repeatable, but I've found my phone in the state that the SD card is invisible to the phone itself. If I connect the phone to a computer via USB, the SD card is perfectly visible, but a file manager running on the phone sees the /sdcard directory as empty or maybe unmounted. In the System Settings on the phone, there is an option SD Card & Phone Storage > Unmount/eject SD card. That is always gray and has no effect when clicked. It would be better still if there was a "Mount SD card" option, but there isn't. I've found that a reboot of the phone restores the /sdcard directory.

This is a bummer because all the text reader software wants to read the SD card for files to display. And they can't if the directory is not mounted.

It is odd, but the music player app still can play things resident on the SD card even if a text reader or file manager can't see the /sdcard directory.