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Yesterday I bought the first cellphone of my life. I had been using the junker phone that my niece lost two years ago when she was in 7th grade. It resurfaced when she finally cleaned her closet. The phone was already on the plan and they had replaced it Tmobile was going to charge to turn it off. My entry phone almost worked, and it wasn’t pink. Eventually I would need to get an ‘adult phone’.

So a few months ago Google started making noise about the Android. Open source, touch screen, 3G, browser, all the good stuff in modern phones. I had thought about getting an iPhone, but that was so last Spring. Verizon has a few iPhone copies, but they are basically wannabees. Why not get the real thing?

Since I live in a fringe area, they don’t have Tmobile stores nearby. The noncorporate stores don’t carry the phone yet. I went twice to the store on Newbury street in Boston, but their hours are not late enough for my schedule. Yesterday I finally got my G1.

My uncle asked last night if the G1 was any better than the iPhone. I told him that it probably isn’t better as far as a design standpoint. Apple has been working up the various parts of that interface for years. The true value to me is that the Android and G1 are open source. By encouraging people to not only use the phone but actually improve it, the G1 has much more potential than the locked down design from Apple.

Here are a few observations about the device and what it has me thinking about:

The web browser is okay, pages load pretty slow. Having a web browser in my pocket is definitely a plus.

When you turn the phone on its side, the screen doesn’t adjust. You have to open the slider to get it to switch to landscape mode. That’s annoying to me, and certainly somebody will hack into the motion sensor and fix the flaw.

On the keyboard, there are not arrow keys. The keys are pretty small, but seem to work ok. After a bit of practice I have gotten the hang of a bit more. It took me a while to figure out that the rolly ball is like a track ball and allows you to move the cursor around. It is pretty sensitive.

Email: The phone is linked to my Google account. So this means that gmail, google documents, youtube and blogger all know that I am me. I think I signed in once and everything else was good to go.

Photos: One of the reasons that I got this phone was that it has a 3 megapixel camera. A couple of years ago I started carrying a Nikon S4 digicam in my pocket every day. Having a camera with me all the time changed the way I think about photography. That camera finally died in September, and I have missed the smallish size of it compared to my larger Canon S515. The exposure of the G1’s camera is not that great in low light. It is not yet seamless to shoot and have it go straight to my flickr account. At this point, the best way seems to be to take the picture, then email it to the flickr address tied to my account. Pictures go up, but don’t have tags, nor are they added to sets. Certainly that will be figured out. Since the phone has a micro sd card reader, I could use my other camera with an adapter and micro sd, then use the phone to upload on the fly. That will be useful. No video yet. Somebody will solve that issue, right?

Internet: for me, web access is a new thing to have in my pocket. I think I will like it.

Power: The battery took its first charge while I sat at the counter in the store and played with it. The seat was comfortable and there was much to learn about the phone, so I stayed a couple of hours. Several times it shut itself down in the store. I pointed this behavior out to the salesguy, but he did not seem inclined to replace the phone. A great feature of power is that the phone charges with a standard mini USB plug. This means that I can get a charge any time I am near a computer. It also means that I do not need to have a special phone charger. They tried to sell a car charger to the guy after me in line. I quietly told him that the phone used USB and saved him twenty bucks. You could probably use a Minty Boost to top it off if for some reason you were out of reach of the great USB.

Reception: This phone has much better reception in my fringy town in the suburbs than my middle school hand me down. Originally, I thought that I would only be able to use it as a phone around home base. Instead, I have been able to get email and web access in town, and the coverage seems better than I anticipated. Apparently the 2G coverage includes data. In the house, the phone does not seem to be able to see the wireless N router very well. Tomorrow I will see how it likes the routers at school.

Maps: Since the phone is tied to all things Google, google maps and street view are ready to roll. I looked at the street in Boston where I often park my car, but the photos must have been taken on a day when I was out of the city. When there is good coverage from lots of cell towers, the phone can pinpoint its gps location pretty well. Out in the boonies, it shows the one tower that is in range. One really nice thing about that is that the phone can show me where the cell towers are in my area. I have been wondering where the cell towers are for quite some time. It appears that the phone can show me the location of the Tmobile cell antennae through the maps data. The other day, I was actually seriously considering looking up the coverage maps in the FCC documentation. To me, the gps reception/simulation means that back country geocaching will not be successful, but innercity hunting could work fine.

Physical form: The phone is a bit clunky and big, but not as big as a blackberry. Last night some Blackberry addicts found me out at a family party and had a wonderful time showing me how good my phone was. I was worried about the hinge, but it seems sturdy, and I think HTC is the company tht makes the Sidekick. Getting the back off to change the sim card and battery was a tool-free event. Fingernails and a couple of tugs got the plastic back off.

Interface: I have found the interface both good and a bit complex. I like the touch screen response, but wish it had the magnification feature I see on the iPhone. My 10 year old daughter has enjoyed poking around in the menus, and figured out the music player aspect pretty well before I did. She seems to think that it will be easy to learn the features and add more capability to it.

What does the G1 Android have me looking to learn? It would be nice to make a headphone adapter that can make use of the regular 1/8th inch stereo plug. The board and surface mount components could be made easily in the Fab Lab. A usb keyboard would be nice to be able to plug in and use at times. Custom cut vinyl will be very possible, there is lots of real estate on the back that is just waiting for a skin. My friend Perry is anxious to learn about programming in Java so he can make his own apps for the android. Could students in programming classes learn to program for the G1?

What possibilities do you see in the G1 Android? What does it make want you to learn? What has it taught you already? How will it change the way people see phones and hardware? Can it change the way people learn?

Chris Connors

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.


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