The GPS receiver needed a few minutes upon the first start-up to locate the satellites available, but after that it worked just fine. And, of course, it comes as no surprise that the only application you can rely on for navigation right out of the box is Google Maps.
The interface is slightly different from what we've seen before. Quick double-tapping can't be used for zooming in and out; instead, this now happens through the two buttons at the bottom of the screen. These are hidden when not in use and appear when you touch the screen. But despite these small cosmetic changes, this is still the familiar Google Maps app we know and like.
Unfortunately, the built-in accelerometer doesn't automatically kick in when using Google Maps and the only way to make the T-Mobile G1 show you the maps in landscape mode is to slide the screen up.
The accelerometer works in the Street View mode only. This mode by the way is the most interesting part about the Google Maps on T-Mobile G1. If the Street View is available in the area you're interested in you can open a 360-degree photographic view of the area. When the digital compass is turned on it feels like making a virtual tour of the surroundings.
Voice guided navigation and turn-by-turn navigation aren't possible using Google Maps. Still, there is some kind of navigation: your route and current location appear on the screen so you'll reach your goal sometimes… assuming you can read maps of course.
Luckily, there is a free app that allows turn-by-turn voice guided navigation using the T-Mobile G1 and it's called AndNav! (there's AndNav!2 as well). The latter uses Google Maps, again, but adds some extra features that justify the download. AndNav! uses the inbuilt digital compass and you no longer have to turn the handset to orientate the map to match your direction.
As mentioned, the AndNav! app offers turn-by-turn navigation, which isn't bad at all. The voice guided navigation, though, is questionable - to use it you need an extra, free app (Text-To-Speech Library) which supports English along with many other languages. Using text-to-speech engines instead of pre-recorded voices is bound to give you a horrific computerized voice output but still the app is helpful.
The T-Mobile G1 comes with almost no preinstalled applications (unless we count Google Maps, the Amazon MP3 app or the YouTube client) but the Android Market is open for business and offers multiple apps (with a lot of free ones, as well) which can be downloaded directly from the handset using Wi-Fi or the mobile network (3G for example).
A nice touch is the warning shown if the application you're about to download has potentially unsafe access to personal data, connectivity settings or else. The warning says exactly what this application will access so you can abort the download if you prefer.
When an app is being downloaded a status bar appears at the top of the display to track progress. When download is complete, you can start the application from the same button.
The Android Market follows the logic of the pioneering Apple App Store. Everything about it - the structure, the look - is eerily familiar. Although it doesn't look quite that good.
It's as easy as pie to find and download the app you need….assuming of course the app you need is available! Having said that, the number of apps will grow over time and the selection will just get bigger and hopefully, better.
Applications vary from incredibly useless (such as the one that turns the display into a huge flashlight) to true must-have's (including file managers and video players).
As expected, there are also games ... lots of them. That's quite nice, as the G1 doesn't have any games pre-loaded much like the iPhone didn't have any back in the day.
As far as the Amazon MP3 application is concerned, it seems as Google's attempt at competing the iTunes store - it offers a wide choice of tracks. Interestingly however most are DRM-free, but we guess that's included in the price.
There we are at the end of our very first Android-powered review. The T-Mobile G1 made quite a start and had us impressed on quite a few counts. It's far from the perfect package but it gets the things that mater done and gets them done right. The interface is not only up and running, it has purpose and direction.
It maybe a long journey but the first step is daring enough. Instead of trying to expand on an already existing platform Google decided to build a new one from scratch and the effort is well worth it.
The immaturity of the platform has its disadvantages too - the limited third party software and the lack of hardware choices. Those are being addressed as we speak of course and the Android Market will be brimming with software sooner rather than later, while new Android devices should be just around the corner set to launch in 2009.
But back to the small story in the Android history, T-Mobile G1 or its sibling HTC Dream is already standing taller than its actual height. What would've been another average smart QWERTY messenger is the herald of Google OS. Of course, the lack of Flash support in the browser, Bluetooth file transfer or even a proper file manager will be used against the G1 but it's not what it would be remembered by.
As to the iPhone, it doesn't necessarily need to feel threatened at this point, but at least Apple will know that changing the rules on the mobile phone market is not their exclusive territory.