Sunday, 26 October 2008

Google phone: Pluses and minuses

After much fanfare and rumours, the Google phone is finally here. Termed G1, the phone will be first launched in the United States on October 22 by Taiwan-based HTC on TMobile network. The first phone boasting Google Android software, created by a Google-led consortium, it has received mixed reviews from analysts and users.

Here's bringing you where the Google phone appeals, and where it disappoints. Peek into the hits and misses of G1.

Plus 1: Touchscreen-cum keypad
iPhone's and all wannabe iPhone's biggest attraction is its touchscreen interface, Google G1 goes a step ahead. The Google phone's 3.2-inch colour touchscreen slides out to expose a full Qwerty keyboard. The phone also packs a trackball.

Also, along with Google Maps with Satellite View, Traffic, and Street View, Google phone also has a compass mode that orients the screen as user moves. Weighing 158 grams, the phone is similar in size to 3G iPhone, just slightly heavier, and narrower at sides.

Plus 2: 3.2 megapixel camera
Google phone comes with a 3.2 megapixel camera with photo-sharing capability. Though 3 megapixel camera may not look too impressive considering the present crop of phones which boast of higher megapixel. It is higher than iPhone's 2 megapixel camera.

Also, unlike iPhone the Google phone supports multimedia messaging.

Plus 3: Varied interface
Don't like the appearance of Google phone say from LG, but really like the features that it offers. No sweat, you have the option to go for Google phone from some other service provider. According to Andy Rubin, who developed Android for Google, Google phones' interface is completely replaceable.

T-Mobile too plans to introduce a range of Google-powered phones, including more basic ones without a touchscreen or full keyboards.

Motorola, LG and Samsung are expected to launch Android models worldwide in 2009 and their Google phones may appear vastly different from TMobile's G1.

Plus 4: Openness
Powered by an open source operating system, G1 has an obvious advantage: options galore.

Google is in fact counting the device unleashing the creativity of software developers, who are free to write applications for it. Developers will be able to submit applications to an online store run by Google, which will apply minimal vetting.

Both Google and Apple are wooing developers to create applications for their devices, but unlike Apple, which keeps a tight grip on the iPhone's hardware and operating software, Google's Android is open to change by outside developers.

Apple launched a similar store for the iPhone this year, but keeps much tighter control over what applications are available. It has blocked programmes that compete with its own.

Plus 5: Pricing
Google phone will cost $179, $20 less than the 3G iPhone. In India, iPhone sells for Rs 31,000 for 8GB and Rs 36,100 for 16GB.

The data plans are also far less than those available for the iPhone in the US, with an unlimited text and Internet plan costing just $35, in addition to regular voice plans. The phone will be available in stores in the United States from October 22.

The G1 will be available in the UK from November and across Europe in the first quarter of 2009.

Minus 1: Corporate email
Unlike the iPhone, Research in Motion Ltd's BlackBerry and most other high-end smartphones sold in the US, the G1 has a very limited ability to connect to corporate email servers.

A miss which will dent its plan to grab a significant marketshare from either RIM, which according to Gartner sold over 55 per cent of smartphones in the second quarter of 2008, or Windows Mobile, which sold about 20 per cent of the smartphones in the US in the second quarter.

At present, G1 targets the consumer market, a fact openly acknowledged by Cole Brodman, chief technology and innovation officer for T-Mobile USA, during the launch event.

Minus 2: Little on looks
Google phone offers little on the looks front. According to several analysts, while the phone raises the bar for mobile platforms, it has little new to offer users in terms of looks.

Like the iPhone, the G1 has a high-resolution screen, making it easier to browse websites that haven't been specifically adapted for a cellphone. However, like iPhone there is no multi-touch gesture support.

Minus 3: No cutting-edge features
On the face of it, G1 doesn't offer anything more than what most other high-end phones already do. "There aren't a lot of ‘wow’ features on it," told Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief of PC Magazine to a news wire.

Though Bluetooth-headset profile is supported, but there is no stereo Bluetooth and no tethering.

Minus 4: No video recording
Sorely miss video recording feature in Apple iPhone. Feel it was a big negative. It's there is Google in Google Android phone too. Like iPhone, in G1 too users cannot shoot video.

This is specially a dampener since video recording feature is today found in most cellphones, even those at the lower end.

Minus 5: Brand recall
One big problem for Google Android is how to explain to users what it is. Unlike iPhone, which came on the back of Apple's hugely successful iPod music player, Android is still an unknown brand, though it has Google name attached to it.

Also, Google is not likely to have the kind of leverage in mobile that it is used to in the PC world, where it dominates search. Phone carriers have a huge say over how devices are designed and what data services are accessible over their networks.