After having been a T-Mobile customer since Voicestream, and a Voicestream customer since Powertel, I have been waiting for some time for my mobile phone provider to have the "cool" gear. Don't get me wrong--I didn't exactly feel like I was missing out when the iPhone hit the market but was restricted to AT&T. After all, my last Apple computer was an Apple II+ with a green screen, dual 5 1/4" floppy drives, and a tractor-fed printer. I've been a PC guy since the days of the 8088 and the XT, so I was willing to put up with Windows Mobile on the T-Mobile Shadow for a while. However, the Open Handset Alliance and the Linux-based Android platform really appealed to me since I both reject intellectual property and admire the spontaneous creativity of open-source projects. When I heard that T-Mobile was going to be the first to bring an Android phone to market, I saw the writing on the wall and decided to join the ranks of the early adopters.
Gmail became a central part of my computing life in June 2004, and I've been happy enough to start using Google Groups, Documents, Analytics, Reader, Scholar, Maps, Blogger, and iGoogle pretty regularly. I figured that I would be pretty much ready to go when my cunningly integrated, even hackish, Google technology sprung fully formed from its green and white box. Nope. As an enthusiastic Facebook user, I have long used Facebook as a contacts-minder, and I had never taken the time to tidy my Google Contacts. Gmail successfully guessed my intended email recipients often enough, and as far as I was concerned, that was all the functionality I needed. After all, a quick Gmail search with the person's name and area code was going to summon up a needed phone number just as quickly, right? Maybe so, but the G1 was unaffected by this reasoning. You pretty much must use Google Contacts. Okay, so I burned maybe four hours integrating my SIM data into Contacts and then consolidating and removing duplicates. Ouch. At least my phone contacts are henceforth as safe as Google's servers can make them. Someone starting a fresh Gmail account would not have this massive cleanup to do, however, so a SIM import would actually be pretty fast for such users.
The upside is that Contacts allows you to use any internet terminal to heavily edit your contacts without using a USB cable--the work you do in Google Contacts will automatically sync up with your G1. Additionally, you can import contacts from Outlook, Yahoo, or Hotmail to try to avoid any data-entry marathons. This interoperability will reduce the pain if you are using Outlook at the office. My problem came from the fact that my contact data was coming from my T-Mobile Shadow and I had to spend a lot of time consolidating mobile and home numbers back under the same name headings. For users who already take advantage of Google Calendar, Contacts, and other Google services, the clean integration of these offered by the G1 will be very advantageous.
After my essential bit of phonebook pain, I was ready to really get my Google phone fix. I picked the G1 unlimited data plan with a bucket of 400 text messages, a package which also includes Hotspot access where available. (Incidentally, there was a hiccup in the T-Mobile billing system, and a number of users including myself were temporarily deprived of access at the end of October when the automated system automatically disabled the Total Internet add-on for G1 users but didn't add the new G1 data-plan flag in its place. My connectivity was restored in about thirty minutes by a helpful CSR who was very friendly for someone working the late-night shift.)
The G1 works pretty well as an mp3 player, although HTC refused to include a standard stereo jack and so the user has to either use the OEM ExtUSB earphones or buy a dongle to allow use of your standard 3.5mm earphones. The phone comes preloaded with an Amazon client for purchasing DRM-free music. The G1 did not support video playback out of the box (other than streaming YouTube videos with the preloaded client), but video playback applications are available on Android Market and more are surely being developed. Likewise, the camera function is currently very spartan, no doubt something that industrious developers are working to remedy (within a day of release there was already a shutter-speed settings software mod available).
Of all the applications that I have downloaded, perhaps the most important are those that compete with the Android Market app itself. The market applications/shortcuts offered by SlideMe and OnlyAndroid offer alternative distribution channels. So far, these don't have much that isn't available on Market, and in the case of OnlyAndroid, many of the offerings are not free. Yet, it is reassuring to know that alternatives do exist and are about as easy to use as the primary means for application dissemination. The G1 is happy enough to run third-party applications that didn't come from Android Market so long as you enable "non-Market applications" in the Applications settings submenu. This sort of freedom might result in a few dysfunctional handsets, but it also promises to inspire oodles of innovation. One semi-subversive application available from SlideMe is Fluid Nexus, which is a "sneakernet" application designed to "enable activists and relief workers to send messages and data amongst themselves independent of a centralized cellular network." The idea is that short range connections can be used to pass packets around and hopefully route around a network taken down either by natural or governmental cataclysm. Whether we'll be wielding Android phones in some post-apocalyptic Mad Max scenario remains to be seen.
At present, many apps--both on Android Market and other distribution channels--are still in development, so the ratings and comments are useful in determining whether a particular project is far enough along to be relatively pain and glitch-free. This state of affairs is indicative of the relatively unfettered Market distribution available to developers, who pay a $25 registration fee and agree to a developer agreement in order to list a new selection. Many apps have already been updated several times in the time since the G1's official release.
Here are some of the apps that I am playing with so far:
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