NEW YORK — Google, T-Mobile and other partners took the stage here Sept. 23 to unveil the T-Mobile G1 smart phone, the first Android mobile operating system-based device.
As previously reported, the G1 boasts a touch screen, a slideout QWERTY keyboard and trackball to give users the most accessibility possible while searching Web content from a mobile device. There are also some features that were demoed here for the first time, but here are some crucial facts to know right out of the gate.
Users interested in buying the phone, which costs $179 for a two-year voice and data service plan, can pre-order the gadget from this T-Mobile G1 Web site. Though the phone is cheaper than Apple’s $199 iPhone, the caveat is that there are limited quantities; the companies did not say what that limit is.
The device, which supports T-Mobile’s 3G and EDGE network and Wi-Fi will hit T-Mobile retail stores and online in the United States Oct. 22. The phone will be available in the United Kingdom in November, and in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and the Netherlands in the first quarter of 2009.
The phone appears very slick, but I heard more than one user remark that it does resemble the Sidekick Google’s Android creator Andy Rubin forged for T-Mobile years ago.
That resemblance evaporates when you turn the phone on and surf the Web and use other Web apps. Users can conduct Google Search with one touch, a departure from the norm of fumbling with a few buttons before accessing a search engine.
Searches are made through a new Web browser, which Rubin told the audience was based on the open-source WebKit code Google leveraged for its new Chrome Web browser. When asked about it, Rubin called it “Chrome Lite.”
During a pre-produced demo on a screen, T-Mobile showed Web apps at work on the G1, including a pre-loaded application that lets users search, sample and purchase music tracks from Amazon’s MP3 digital music download store. This action requires a Wi-Fi connection.
The demo also showed Google Maps and Google Maps Street View, which includes a new “compass” feature so that when users move around, the compass reacts and moves 360 degrees, right along with the user’s hand.
As far as communications and productivity software, the G1 syncs with your Gmail e-mail, calendar and contacts and most other POP3 or IMAP-based e-mail services.
While Rubin said G1 will read Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents from Microsoft, it does not yet support Microsoft Exchange. Rubin said that is a great opportunity for a third-party developer to step in and create something.
There is also support for Google Talk instant messaging, and AOL, Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live Messenger in the United States.
The real surprise of the day was a little quirky in nature.
Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who hounded Rubin to create a great mobile device that duplicates the desktop computer experience, took the stage on roller blades to underscore the ease of mobility users enjoy with the G1.
Actually, they has just rolled over from the launch of Google Transit in New York, but the picture made for a nice metaphor for an event whose chief theme is faster mobility on the Internet.
Page and Brin didn’t say much, commenting mostly on how much fun they had using the G1 and how fast the searches are on it. Brin said one of the first apps he ever used on it was an accelerometer.
What did he do with this? He threw his G1 up in the air and the accelerometer gauged how much time elapsed before he caught it.
Fortunately, Brin said this is not part of the Android Market apps store. Indeed, Facebook has enough silly apps for everyone.