Google Me, Baby

A look at the latest smartphone from T-Mobile.

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Photo by Getty Images

Nov. 19, 2008--In the last 10 years, no product has infiltrated our daily lives more than the cellular phone. One of the most widespread images of the recent election was the sight of thousands of people using their cell-phone cameras to share the joy of Obama's win. People have been texting, e-mailing and tweeting on the go. Following this surge of always-on communication, the uber-popular search engine Google has entered the phone market with a device of its own.

The G1 is marketed as T-Mobile's crown jewel, replacing the popular Sidekick series. And the G1 enters the market as a competitor to the BlackBerry and Apple's iPhone. But serious smartphone users—and serious corporate contracts—will still view the G1 as a silly novelty, one that BlackBerry or iPhone users would likely give to their teenage child. But, maybe that's what Google was going for.

The G1 does bring to the table all the presumed gadgetry of this generation of phones: QWERTY keyboard, touch screen, 3G network and a 3.2 megapixel camera. The touch screen has a nice, sharp resolution and, at 3.2 inches, is large enough to accommodate most users' tastes. It's pretty easy to navigate through lists. And it's no problem to use your finger to scroll through Web pages.

The most impressive feature is the Google Android operating system (the app store for the G1). It allows any developer to create and upload an application for the platform without an approval process from T-Mobile. Android offers access to YouTube, Amazon MP3 stores and top-notch integration with Google applications. The phone's 3G network will operate in 22 major markets, which is great if you're in a major metro area but can mean spotty service or none at all if you live in a rural area.

The G1 is a users' phone. The phone takes full advantage of the Google brand name and all its intrinsic value. Google Maps? Check. Google Street View and Google Calendar? Check. The super-popular Gmail? Of course. These functions help bridge the gap that regular phone users may have when upgrading to smartphone status. Its other features include voice dialing, conference calling, speakerphone and the ability to send certain numbers directly to voicemail. The G1 also supports Google Talk, AOL, Yahoo! Messenger and Windows Live Messenger.

For the legions who now demand a music player in their phones, the G1 doesn't disappoint. The Amazon MP3 functionality allows site surfing and easy click ordering. You can even look for related songs or materials via Google or YouTube while a song is playing. Overall, the function is promising, though not the knockout iPhone killer many people expected.

Where the phone drops the ball is in its surprisingly uninspiring design. Its Sidekick-influenced look comes off as dated, and if you're the type who demands a head-turning phone, this will certainly underwhelm. The keyboard was the most annoying feature. I don't have large fingers, but I found the size of the keys too small and a bit cumbersome.

At $179 with a 2-year contract, the G1 is priced competitively with other phones of its caliber. Needless to say, the G1 will make a dent in the marketplace. However, for the phone to surpass the mammoth popularity of the BlackBerry and the iPhone, some fixes will be necessary. Google is in this for the long haul and will grow impatient not being the top dog. It's a decent start, but those who invest in the G1 should look forward to technological updates on a fairly aggressive schedule.

Khalid Salaam is the senior editor at SLAM Magazine.

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