G1 versus Sidekick 2
I have been a Sidekick user since the black and white days. Prior to receiving my G1 on Tuesday evening, I had used my Sidekick 2 pretty heavily for nearly four years. I loved its solid feel and the membrane keyboard. The applications mostly worked together pretty well, though the web browser was butt-slow. I have high hopes that as the spiritual reincarnation of the Danger team, the Android team will spawn a worthy successor to the Sidekick 2, which I regard as a peculiarly satisfying pinnacle in the evolution of the mobile phone.
I have been playing with my G1 for three days now. Here’s how it has been so far . . .
I fault the Quick Start guide for going over what the buttons do and the user interface, then half way through the booklet it tells you how to put the battery inside the phone. That was somewhat annoying because the very first thing I wanted to know is how do I get the battery in the phone and turn it on. Transferring the SIM card was easy enough, and the “tap the Android” process worked rather well.
Unfortunately, the night I tried to first use the phone there was a bug that surfaced in Google’s internal systems so I could not log on to the phone through my hosted domain account. It tossed out a bizarre error code and as usual Google’s support was no help: another customer with Premier hosted domains was incorrectly informed that the G1 didn’t support domain logons.
In retrospect, I should have tried T-Mobile technical support, who have through the years done a solid job at escalating Sidekick issues appropriately. I give the device an extra bonus point for putting the “factory reset” feature within the options panel, rather than making it a voodoo process that involves a paper clip.
I wish the Android could be incarnated within the Sidekick 2’s hardware. The Sidekick 2 is built like a tank, with a solid feel and rubber bumpers. You could bash a fool in the skull with a Sidekick 2 if you had to, wipe off the blood, and get back to writing an email on that awesome rubber membrane keyboard.
The G1 is smaller in each dimension, and feels more rickety. It is solid enough, but it is no Sidekick 2. My biggest gripe is that the keyboard, while not truly awful, leaves something to be desired: there is little tactile feel and it took a little retraining to hold my right thumb further out over the keyboard in order to clear the right-side wedge. I am not sure how that will do for prolonged typing. The space key is also narrowed and at least once I have typed an ‘@’ instead of a space.
I like that it charges through the Mini USB port. Yes, I would prefer if it had a proper headphone jack, but that’s not a huge deal for me.
I really look forward to the day that the screen rotates based on how you are holding it.
The Gmail client is very nice: it integrates really well with Gmail on the web and my contacts list. If you compose a new message it can check not only your contacts list but also other addresses that you have corresponded with, which is nice. When I read a message on the phone it is marked as read in Gmail and vice versa. It is also easy enough to switch between tags.
The Sidekick 2 takes muddy pictures on a good day. The G1 has a 3 megapixel camera that takes some pretty nice photos under decent lighting conditions. Unfortunately, the G1 fails a few things the Sidekick 2 got right: the lens is right where I’m apt to put my thumb, there’s no flash, the shutter lag is substantial. The Pictures application is decoupled from the Camera application, so you need to switch from the one to the other to review your photos.
I was at first disappointed that there is no practical way to export my contacts from the Sidekick 2. I went through my Gmail Contacts list and cleaned everyone up, integrating phone numbers to email addresses. I had a lot of fun finding pictures of everyone on the web and cropping them into my contacts list. There seemed several instances where updates I made on the phone or on the web didn’t make it across. And one contact I swear got eaten and had to be re-added.
One feature lacking from the Sidekick 2 is the ability to put friends in groups. At the very least it is nice to be able to pull up a group of coworkers versus the rest of your friends. Maybe there is a “tag” feature I have overlooked, or things will improve in the future.
Another unfortunate bug is that in the Gmail interface, you can not add a photo to a contact who has only a phone number.
That said, the interface can be extremely frustrating: wide web pages require a lot of dragging up and down and back and forth. Sometimes columns of text will be shrunk to page width, but not always. You can not easily resize text. (You couldn’t do this on the Sidekick 2 at all.) The Google Reader app works well enough but there is no way to make the font larger. (I hate squinting.) I am not yet used to the zoom feature: you need to hold your finger down on the screen, without clicking a link or scrolling, then you need to go catch the + or – button that appears and hold that down . . .
The Sidekick 2 allowed for bookmark folders: the G1 web browser has no folders or even a provision to reorder the bookmarks. This is really frustrating because one of the great features to me was to have a folder of Nextmuni bookmarks so I could quickly pull up information on approaching transit vehicles. I look forward to this being fixed. It would be even more awesome if bookmarks could be synced with say a Firefox subfolder on my computers.
The web page links are often quite tiny, and my big beefy man fingers are constantly clicking on the wrong thing.
The G1 data plan includes I believe 400 SMS, whereas the Sidekick data plan was $5 cheaper and included unlimited SMS. I like that the SMS application groups messages by sender as in Gmail: tapping a thread brings up what amounts to a conversation with a contact. Deleting SMS messages is a little annoying: you get to confirm that you will delete an entire thread.
The Sidekick 2 supported AOL instant messenger and you could add a Yahoo instant messenger application. What it did do well was to proxy the connection through the Sidekick service so that if you lost reception temporarily messages would queue on either side and be delivered asynchronously. I do not know if the G1 does this.
The G1 supports Google / Jabber, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL within a single IM application. I prefer the way Pidgin works where contacts are grouped together regardless of their protocol. This IM application seems to require a lot of navigating up and down the hierarchy: I have no idea if it will be much fun if you are chatting with a friend through Google at the same time as you are chatting through Yahoo. Anyway, I don’t intend to use instant messaging much.
The Sidekick 2 had no navigation features. The G1 Maps application so far has been slow, inaccurate, and unstable: it crashed once and other times it would take a long time to inaccurately figure out its location. GPS is disabled by default to conserve battery power. There’s no turn-by-turn navigation. The first time I tried to grab directions the service was down, and the next time it took some fidgeting to figure out how to tell it that I wanted directions to the destination from my current location. (Click on the destination label on the map and then hit Menu > Directions.) Another frustration is that if I go to my location and then switch to Street View, I still have to click on the map near my location, and then figure out how to navigate the street view back over to the original location.
Map searches are very slow (often 10 seconds or more) even on the 3G network.
The Maps app could use some polish. I also need to get used to it. I am very disappointed that there is no transit support.
Yay! My mobile phone now syncs with my calendar! I can not really offer a thoughtful review of the Calendar application, because whenever I launch it the user interface makes me want to vomit. I guess it will take some getting used to.
The “desktop” pans across three screens, which offers some possibility. It is easy enough to trash the analog clock widget on the middle screen.
Unfortunately, the wide Google search bar on the right screen can not be trashed. I google-search from within the web browser. I do not need nor do I want a Google search bar widget on my phone “desktop”. Forcing it upon me is evil and Google should apologize.
Both phones have a marketplace where you can shop for and install additional applications. The Android Market is new and somewhat sparse. Apps download and install in the background, and have ratings and reviews so you can avoid the schlocky ones. The “Translate” app is kinda cute and potentially handy. And “cab4me lite” promises to help you map out your location and then call a local cab company, which sounds awfully neat.
What I really want is a nice note pad–I was always scribbling notes on my Sidekick. I also want an SSH client: preferably one that supports key authentication. Give it some time. I guess if I urgently desire a notepad I should jump on the developer tutorial.
People ask me what I think of the G1. I answer that it is okay and it will get nicer with time. the conventional wisdom that it is “good for a 1.0 device” works for me. If pressed I say that I miss the solid feel and membrane keyboard of my Sidekick 2. I like to think that in the next two years the Android platform will mature and someone will release a model with a form factor more to my taste.