I barely ever use my iPhone as an actual phone. To me it’s an iPod first, an SMS and Internet device second and a phone third. My phone usage is so limited that I’m subscribed to the minimum voice service plan AT&T allows with the iPhone, yet I constantly have around 4,000 minutes in my Rollover bucket (and those minutes expire after 12 months). Unfortunately, this lack of regard for a smart phone’s phone features shone through clearly in my recent review of T-Mobile’s Android-based G1 with Google smart phone.
After the review went live, I decided to follow up with a series of blog posts (like this one) that would cover some of the many functions of the G1 that I wasn’t able to address initially — including phone functionality, such as looking up contacts and placing calls.
So in the wake of my generally positive review of the G1 as an Internet device, here is the rub: I’m not impressed with the G1 as a phone.
Once I started making calls to actual people, I immediately noticed that the earpiece was not working. When I pressed the phone to my ear, I could hear nothing at all. The calls connect, and the microphone works because the party on the other end could hear me breathing and yelling “Hello? Hellooooo?” Further tests showed the speakerphone works, as do Bluetooth and cabled headsets. It’s just the handset’s ear speaker that has a problem. The question is whether this problem has been there from the jump and I failed to notice it during my initial tests or whether my fears about the device’s fragility in the face of its forceful sliding mechanism have been borne out.
To be clear, I made dozens of calls with the phone during the initial review period as I tested the battery performance, the speakerphone and various headsets, and I never noticed a problem. But I never had an actual conversation with anyone while using the G1 and therefore I am not positive whether it initially worked or was a dud out of the box.
Because I play a podcast across the phone connection during the battery tests, and I never noticed the missing sound during the tests (which I monitor pretty much constantly), I’m inclined to think that the earpiece stopped working while the device was in my possession. And I am sure the snapping slider has had other ill effects on the G1, as the touch-screen has loosened up significantly over the last couple of days. The G1 now feels a little jiggly in my hand, particularly when I am just holding it (rather than actually using it, presumably because my grip is tighter.)
Hardware faults aside, I’m not wild about the Contacts experience with the G1 either. The G1 syncs its contact database with the Gmail account I used to register the phone when I first set it up. The problem is that I don’t use my Gmail contacts for anything other than e-mail, so there are no phone numbers in there at all to sync to the G1. All those phone numbers are instead stored in my work Exchange account.
As I mentioned in the review, the G1 doesn’t support the Exchange protocol. I can work around this via IMAP for e-mail, but using IMAP will only let me see the names of my contacts. I cannot call them from this interface and in fact, I can’t see their phone numbers or their e-mail addresses at all. Which makes this workaround pretty useless for calls.
If you already have all that contact info in Gmail, this isn’t a big deal at all — in fact, this integration is probably a plus. But I am forced to accept the reality that I now need to synchronize my Outlook contacts with Gmail, using something like Plaxo, er, Comcast’s Plaxo (how did I miss that merger?) At least until some third-party developer comes along to create a new dial application (which could be any minute, if I’m lucky).