Friday, October 17, 2008

The Android G1

As some readers of this blog may remember, I have long been looking for a suitable pda/cellphone/web browser to replace my aging Nokia 9300 and fill the gap in my life left by the demise of the Psion pda's. Yesterday I finally got a chance to play with the new G1, a phone about to be available from T-mobile, made by HTC, running Google's Android software.

It is very impressive. One of the limits to my present phone is that it does not have 3G and connects to the web rather slowly over EDGE. The T-mobile sales clerk told me that, for some unknown reason, 3G was not working in the store, so I could only use the EDGE connection of the G1. But using EDGE, it was strikingly faster than my current phone on EDGE. I don't know if that reflects the phone or the network. That's important, because although the G1 has 3G, no network has much 3G coverage outside of major metropolitan areas.

The keyboard is small but quite usable for thumb typing. The screen is a little smaller than an iPhone screen, bigger than most others, very sharp and usable. The software felt very smooth and the UI quite nice.

In part, I may be being impressed by the difference between a current high end cell phone and my several year old one. For instance, the G1 has GPS, providing a standard map version, a satellite photo version, a version showing where there are traffic problems, and a streetview version which is fun, although I'm not sure how useful--all of which I gather that other high end phones have too. But overall, the G1 was the first phone I have seen that felt much better than what I have--unlike the Nokia E90, which is more or less the successor to mine and, on net, worse.

Two of the things I use my present machine for are reading books and going over my manuscripts noting things I want to fix. Android currently does not have a word processor, which is a possible problem. One solution, so long as I have an internet connection from the phone, is to put my manuscripts on Google docs and edit them there--but that doesn't help much if I'm in an airplane over the Atlantic, as I will be in a few days. A second solution, for reading but not, I think, editing, is to save books in HTML and then use the browser on the G1 to read them.

Another thing I occasionally use my present machine for is to connect my Macbook to the internet by bluetoothing it to my phone, which is connected via EDGE, set up the Macbook as a WiFi modem and so provide my kids in the backseat of the minivan as we drive across the country each summer with a rolling hotspot--although a very slow one. The G1 itself has WiFi, so in principle I could cut out the middleman--link the G1 to the internet via EDGE or 3G, turn it into a WiFi modem, and connect the family notebooks through that while travelling. Unfortunately the software to do that, although I gather it exists for some other phone operating systems, doesn't appear to exist yet for Android.

I expect both of these problems to be temporary. Android is open source, both the word processor and the tethering software are things lots of other people want, so they should soon appear.

The remaining issue is actually getting myself a G1. That will require me to show up by 8:30 Wednesday morning, when they start handing them out, at a local T-mobile store, switch from AT&T to T-Mobile, and get all three of the family cell phones set up for the new network.

Which would be easier if I weren't planning to get on an airplane Wednesday afternoon and fly to London via Paris. But I think I'll try to do it anyway. Just the thought of wandering around London with a map of the city in my pocket that magically shows me where I am and tells me how to get to where I want to go ... .


vakeraj said...

If you have AT&T, why not get the iPhone. I might switch from T-Mobile to AT&T just to get it.

Anonymous said...

Have you looked at Nokia's e71? Looks pretty decent, I was playing with it in the store the other day and was impressed.

David Friedman said...

The iPhone is designed as a combination iPod, phone, internet device. What I want is a combination phone, internet device, pocket computer aka pda. So although the iPhone is very pretty, it isn't designed to do what I want. Among other things, there is no physical keyboard and it can't be linked to a bluetooth keyboard.

The e71, which I have seen described but have not handled, appears to have a smaller and lower resolution screen than I want.

Anonymous said...

Walking around London... I don't know anything specific, so just a general caution: make sure you're not socked with huge roaming data charges.

Anonymous said...

For reading, get a Kindle. Well worth the investment.

You can easily put your own HTML docs/books on the Kindle, and you can also convert PDF books to the Kindle using the Mobipocket Creator program (free).

David Friedman said...

A kindle is big. If I'm going to carry something that size, I might almost as well carry my 2 lb baby notebook.

I want something that fits in my pocket, is with me all the time, and provides anything from a minute to hours worth of reading material when required. The Psion met that requirement. So does my Nokia 9300.

NCLu said...

Actually, there is a new handheld video game system (not quite released yet) that could almost fit your bill. Over at it is called the Open Pandora and it's a very capable open source handheld Linux box. The thing is specifically designed as a gaming system, but if you are up for a serious challenge, it looks like it could be made to do the things you want increadably well. I'm considering one myself somewhere down the line, but to a large extent simply as a new environment for me to experiment in.

David Friedman said...

My thanks to Nathaniel. The Pandora isn't a cell phone, so probably doesn't fit my requirements, but it does indeed look impressive and interesting. I wonder if anyone is going to provide a version with software optimized for a PDA rather than a game machine--it ought to be easy enough. Just put on OpenOffice and a few other programs.

Eric Rasmusen said...

For taking notes, how about writing them as draft email messages?

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