By Nate Adcock on Mon, 11/24/2008
In my previous post, I put up some unboxing pictures of the G1 next to the beloved iPhone and iPod touch. Now let's look at the G1's home screen, menus and OS...
First off, let me apologize for not being able to post an abundance of screenshots on every aspect of the G1, but unlike iPhone and iPod touch, there is no screen capture utility built into the G1, and as of yet there wasn't one in the Android Market (Google's version of the app store), or at least one that I could locate. You can easily create screenshots of your iPhone or touch by simultaneously pressing the home button and the power button (which will save the screen in your photos). For the G1, the only way I have thus far found is to load the Android SDK on your home computer--see the end of my post here to learn more about installing and using the G1 SDK tools. You must connect the G1 to your computer via USB in application debug mode, and then run a batch file called "ddms.bat" (in the tools directory). The batch file will start up a debugging tool, which has a function for taking screenshots. It was not very reliable running on my Vista Home laptop, and some screens would simply not capture in the utility, so in a few cases I had to substitute emulator pix instead below. The debug tool also has a feature which will let you open a file browser into the G1s operating system. Not surprisingly, the system partition has a UNIX-like file hierarchy common to java.
The G1 file system..
The first thing that comes up after you have initially powered up the G1 is a user registration for Google's Gmail. Fortunately, if you don't have an account, the setup program will let you create one, but this seemed a little onerous to me in order to use a phone. What if I don't want a Gmail account? Don't get me wrong.. I absolutely love Gmail, but Google's influence in this regard is maybe a bit presumptuous. Of course, when one considers that Google will control the back-end of most of the web-services that the G1 will access, it makes sense. After all, you also need an Apple iTunes account to register your Apple devices (which is also a bit annoying). Google probably also figures that if you are buying a G1, there's a good chance you already have an account.
Customizing your home screen..add widgets, shortcuts, etc.
It's easy to change and customize the background and objects in the G1 home screen. The difference with the G1 is that the above menu is displayed allowing you to change the wallpaper and add widgets/shortcuts to your desktop. Of course, Apple apps take care of the details of adding shortcuts for you when you install them, and the only way to change the main black background is to "jailbreak" your iPhone or touch. You can easily drag icons around on the G1 screens to your desire. The default desktop expands across 3 separate screens, and similar to iPhone you simply drag left or right to access the extended desktop. The default home includes a clock (which I think is kind of overlarge and so moved it to a side screen), and a search widget in the right hand screen (which I moved back to the main center screen). There are app shortcuts to the phone dialer, contacts, browser, and maps applications. The T-Mobile "MyFaves" has a prominent shortcut in the upper-left of the main screen. Starting an app can be accomplished by selecting shortcuts or widgets on the very responsive touchscreen. Menu navigation and selection can also be accomplished using the trackball. Both work very well. The G1 also has an app launcher menu tab (the gray tab in the center) at the bottom of the screen to access all loaded apps, which when pressed wil cause a screen (with shortcuts) to all installed apps to pop up. Both my son and I really liked the G1's display responsivness. I often find that there are buttons on my touch (esp at the corners) that will not select reliably. I had no such issues with the G1.
Across the top of the G1 screen, a bar indicates the various network, connection, battery status, and system time. This space also serves to notify you of messages. You can drag this down like a "miniblind" to read incoming message specifics, for example.
The miniblind in action...
The G1 is equipped with a menu hard button. You select this button to access additional program options and settings in G1 applications. The menu options typically pop-up and disappear at the bottom of whatever application you are using at the time, which is a handy way of making maximum use of screen real-estate by not including a persistent menu in the application GUI of the apps themselves. This appears to be a standardized design concept in the Android GUI that works well in my opinion. There are a few widgets available for adding to the home screen like the clock, search and a photo frame widget. Widgets actually execute some application function right on the home screen. The Search widget, for example, will allow you to enter search strings (and present word hits as you type). To my knowledge, Apple has no similar functionality that allows users to interact directly with objects on any of the main home screens in this fashion.
Search Widget in action...
USB connections...mount G1 storage on your computer
There are several other unique aspects to the G1 that defenitely bear noteworthy mention. One is the ability to add removable storage (a 1GB card is included). You can very easily mount the same removable storage by connecting the phone to your computer. This makes it a simple operation to copy/paste pictures and music to/from your phone without using any third-party tools or applications. Secondly, the OS is not restricted to a single application running at a time. You can run multiple apps in parallel. For instance, have chat running in the background while using the browser. In my case, some of the apps I loaded (like the meebo multi-chat client) worked for a while but would exit mysteriously. The G1 browser also supports Google Gears, which provides web apps an off-line capability. I tried this with a web service that is Gears capable (RememberTheMilk.com), and then turned the phone's cell radio off while using the site. The service had registered with the G1 browser, but produced errors when I tried to use it in this manner.
So far, we've reviewed a little of the G1 hardware, the OS and main screens, and how they compare to the latest Apple iPhone and touch devices. The G1 definitely wins major points in my opinion, but at the heart of both G1 and Apple--the OS--is the deciding factor for still giving Apple the edge. Because of Apple's tighter control of the UI and OS, apps have less chance of misbehaving. There's also something to be said for how much more simple common tasks tend to be when input options are limited. The G1 home screen definitely provides more customization and functionality. The controls are more varied, and a hardware keyboard is hard to criticize. It works well, but with enough out of the box minor glitches to think it needs more time to mature.
I will next be posting on the G1 main apps like the browser and gmail, so stay tuned!