HTC's T-Mobile G1 smartphone has its ups and its downs

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      For years, rumours swirled that Google would make its way into the mobile-phone scene. These rumours included Photoshopped mock-ups, supposed “leaks” of insider information, and all sorts of other speculation on the Web.

      Eventually, rather than delve into the hardware business, Google decided to leave creating the actual device to manufacturer HTC. In the fall, the “Google Phone” was released as the T-Mobile G1 aka the HTC Dream.

      Google developed the smartphone’s operating system, Android. It’s an open-source operating system, which allows anybody to create software for it and customize how these phones work.

      Google also created the Android Market, which allows anybody to submit an application, without the restrictive review process employed by, say, Apple.

      The G1 is currently available in the U.S, Australia, and some European countries. But there are still no Canadian carriers offering the phone, and any Canadians who wish to obtain it must do so by importing it, usually from the U.S. There’s been no word on when it might come to Canada.

      Since the phone works on GSM networks, Canadians are only able to use it under Fido or Rogers. But, before gaining access to either network, the phone must be unlocked.

      The method for unlocking is relatively painless: simply stick in a non-T-Mobile SIM card (if imported from the U.S.) into the phone, and you will receive a prompt for an unlock code, which can easily be found for sale on-line.

      Once the phone is unlocked, it’s time to reap the benefits, which include a touchscreen, slide-out keypad, and BlackBerry-like scroll ball.

      The phone has 512 megabytes of internal memory, and comes with a one-gigabyte microSD card, though users are able to switch it out for cards as large as 16 gigs. The touchscreen is as responsive as the iPhone’s, though the ultra-glossy feel of the screen can make fluid gestures difficult at times.

      As for call reception, the Fido network was crystal clear, and text messages are a snap using the full-sized keyboard (which is also backlit). For those who prefer typing with a touchscreen keypad, there are several apps that include the feature.

      The operating system itself is also quite slick. There are three menu screens that users are able to swipe to—much like the iPhone—and the menu is a pull-up tab that reveals all of the applications. Users are able to place application shortcuts on any of the three menu screens, in any order they wish.

      While better than the iPhone’s, the camera on the G1 is still a bit of a miss. It’s 3.2 megapixels, and does not do well in mid to low light situations. There are a few photo apps available in the marketplace, such as one that waits until a shot is clear before capturing an image, but on the whole, the camera is simply decent.

      As for gripes about the phone, there are a couple of things that should be noted.

      First and foremost, the battery life sucks. After a full day of calls and texting (around 15 calls and 40 texts) don’t be surprised to find the phone dead or dying. Compared to the iPhone, the battery in the G1 is noticeably worse; throw in the use of Wi-Fi or 3G and users would be lucky to have their phone last half a day.

      Another thing that needs to be implemented is the ability for the phone to go into landscape mode by simply turning the phone sideways. Currently, only by sliding out the keypad will the phone slip into landscape mode, though there are some third-party apps that have the feature inside.

      Also needed is a video recorder. While there are a few video-recording apps available on the market, most of them suffer from glitches or crashing, and the phone would benefit from an official recording function.

      Finally, while the phone is capable of playing music, it seems as if HTC didn’t really make much of an effort to encourage it. There is no headphone jack, merely a USB slot that forces users to use a headphone adapter to access their tunes on the go.

      While the phone certainly has its ups, it also has its downs. The Android operating system is sleek and has potential, but some growing pains still need to be sorted out before consumers will really have something to be excited about.

      That may happen sooner rather than later, as the HTC Magic, the second-generation version of the G1, will debut in Europe in April.