The T-Mobile G2 is the first true successor to the phone that started it all, the T-Mobile G1, over two years ago. I have been carrying two Android devices (a Google Nexus One, and a T-Mobile myTouch 3G Slide) because there has not been a single Android device that met my needs. Does the T-Mobile G2, with its increased storage capacity, support for the faster HSPA+ network, with its innovative keyboard design and stock Android experience meet my needs? Read on to find out.
The T-Mobile G2 has been available for pre-order for existing customers and will be available for order for customers in stores starting October 6. I personally pre-ordered mine as soon as I could (this is not a T-Mobile provided unit). Many people have been holding on to their original T-Mobile G1 due to the fact they had a two–year agreement that conveniently has just expired. I’m sure they are interested in whether the T-Mobile G2 is considered a worthy, true successor to the T-Mobile G1.
Before we get into the bulk of this review, let me first go over some of the concerns that people have been posting on the T-Mobile G2. There’s already been some controversy about “issues” with the new T-Mobile G2 from those early adopters who purchased the device via pre-order. The three largest complaints about the device are:
- The “keyboard hinge” issue when you hold the phone upside down (more on this below)
- Only 1.5 GB of usable storage space instead of the 4 GB listed on the T-Mobile G2 site
- The lack of built–in tethering, either via USB or wireless, when this is supposed to be a “stock” Android device
I personally don’t have an issue with the “keyboard hinge” problem. I don’t understand why someone would attempt to hold their phone with the tips of their fingers at the bottom edge of the device, which means you don’t truly have a secure grip on the phone. Why would you hold your phone upside down in this manner? If I did this, I would be worried about dropping the phone, not the fact that the keyboard and screen are slightly separated. (I demonstrate a “normal” hold versus the “fingertip” hold a video later in the post)
The 1.5 GB of usable storage space however is an issue. The fact that T-Mobile has listed this as a phone with 4 GB of storage space is a bit of a marketing issue. When HTC announced the HTC Desire Z, which is the same hardware except running the Sense UI for the European market, they announced it with 1.5 GB of storage space. I think that T-Mobile would have been better off doing the same thing, because we truly don’t have 4 GB of storage space available for us to use on this device. This is a bit of a disappointment, considering this is more of a flagship phone, and the Samsung vibrant has 16 GB of space (with 2 GB available for applications), and the higher end Verizon and Sprint models from Motorola have 8 GB available. If nothing else, I think before the T-Mobile G2 is available for sale to the general public, T-Mobile should amend the specifications to state that 1.5 GB are available. It is still a lot more storage than I have on my Nexus One, but not as much as on the other flagship phones on other networks. T-Mobile’s current response to this mismatch in available space leaves a bit to be desired.
The biggest single issue for me that has been voiced so far is the lack of built–in tethering. Other Android devices that do not have wireless tethering built–in at least have USB tethering available if they are running Froyo (Android 2.2). While T-Mobile has stated that tethering may be available in the future, not having this in a stock Android device is very annoying, especially when I have been using it daily on my Nexus One.
Now, back to the actual review. Since the Nexus One is my daily driver phone, most of my impressions and comparisons will be based on that fact. Since the T-Mobile G2 looks like a Nexus One with a slide-out keyboard, it makes sense (to me) to compare from that perspective. In fact, the T-Mobile G2 looks like the bigger brother of the Nexus One. I also carry the T-Mobile myTouch 3G Slide because it has a hardware keyboard, which I use for typing out longer e-mails and other documents.
Since the software is pretty much the stock Android experience, there isn’t really much new to discuss here. One of the biggest draws of the T-Mobile G2 is that it runs stock Android experience and not Motorola’s MotoBlur, Samsung’s TouchWiz, or HTC’s Sense UI. For those of us that have been using something like CyanogenMod on their other non-stock devices, this is a welcome “feature” of this phone.
Almost all of the downloadable applications that Google makes have been included on this device by default. Some of the additional applications which normally don’t come installed from Google include: Goggles, Shopper, Earth, Google Sky Maps, My Tracks, Finance, Listen, and Google Translate, to name a few. Interestingly, when I updated applications, Google Goggles always fails to upgrade for some reason.
In addition, a PhotoBucket app is available which allows for uploading of Videos taken with the T-Mobile G2 directly online. Interestingly, the G2 site also lists Wolfram Alpha, but it is not preloaded and is not available in the Android Market.
A list of apps I’m currently running on the T-Mobile G2 is available on AppBrain.
As I mentioned before, one of the things that is mysteriously missing is built–in USB and wireless tethering. T-Mobile has officially said that:
T-Mobile does not currently support handsets tethering or offer a tethering rate plan. Though tethering and Wi-Fi sharing will not be initially supported on the T-Mobile G2, we know that consumers are interested in these features and we are working to develop a solution to support them in the future.
So, while I understand that T-Mobile has no official support for this feature yet, I hope that they will quickly make this available, as many Nexus One users have been using this feature with T-Mobile’s network. I don’t mind having to pay a little extra for officially supported tethering, but T-Mobile needs to quickly think through this and make something available soon. Otherwise, for many users, what would be the advantage of moving away from a Nexus One or rooted phone running wireless tethering?
On most of their newer Android devices, T-Mobile has included the Swype keyboard layout, and it is included on the T-Mobile G2. Additionally, the standard Android keyboard and the slide-out hardware keyboard are both available.
Some minor changes on the home screen include an increase in the number of available home screens (from 5 to 7). There are also some new widgets. Two new Google voice widgets are available: Google Voice Inbox and Google Voice Settings. In addition, there is the Quick Keys widget (to be discussed more in the hardware section). Interestingly, all three of these widgets are only 3 x 1 in size, which is an odd size. Most widgets are 2x or 4x wide. There isn’t much you can put beside a 3 x 1 widget on the home screen.
The T-Mobile G2 is the first phone on T-Mobile’s network to include HSPA+ high–speed networking. T-Mobile is marketing the T-Mobile G2 as having 4G speeds on a 3G network, which is accurate, but it’s not truly 4G. The fastest speeds I have gotten so far using the SpeedTest.net application is just over 10 Mbps download and around 650 kbps upload speed. I can consistently get over 7 Mbps download, and my upload speed is usually around 600 kb per second. Since I am not in an area that has had HSPA+ turned on, my speeds are not as fast as others are getting who have HSPA+ enabled. I would definitely say that this phone is fast. It feels fast. Even though it features an 800 MHz processor, due to the fact this is a newer Snapdragon architecture, it feels much faster than my Nexus One, which has a 1 GHz processor.
Specs (from T-Mobile.com):
- Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ MSM7230 mobile processor
- Slide-out QWERTY keyboard, unique Z-hinge design
- Android 2.2 OS
- 3.7” S-TFT WVGA display
- 512 MB of RAM, 4 GB of internal memory
- 8-GB SD card, expandable to 32 GB
- 5-megapixel camera with LED flash and autofocus
- 720p HD video capture
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
- Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR + A2DP stereo
- 3.5-mm stereo headset
- 4.68” (L) x 2.38” (W) x .58” (H)
- Weight: 6.5 ounces
- Included battery: 1300 mAh Li-ion
- Talk time: up to 6.5 hours
- Standby time: up to 17.5 days
The T-Mobile G2 has several notable differences/improvements over the Nexus One. While the Nexus One felt very solidly constructed, the new metal battery cover back on the G2 makes the phone feel much more solid. I really like the new design with the hardware latch to remove the battery cover. You simply pull and hold the battery door latch, and the cover comes off. To put it back on, you place 2 feet into some notches on the back of the device and swing the door back in place. I do notice a little bit of give along the long edge of the battery cover (near the volume keys) when I have the keyboard exposed and I am typing. My middle fingers which naturally fall along that position of the device pushing in slightly on that edge of the battery door when I am typing. This does not affect the usability of the device, but it is one area where they could slightly improve the build quality.
On the right side of the device, there is now a dedicated hardware button for the camera – a welcome improvement. This button is raised and easy to find, however it is parallel to the battery door release lever, so sometimes you want to push that button instead of the camera button. Unlike the myTouch 3G Slide, the camera button is on the screen (front) portion of the phone, not the body portion. However, there is no issue with pressing the button, since the way the two halves of the phone meet in the middle (due to the innovative Z-hinge), there is no “give”, so pressing down on the camera button works well.
The power and headset ports on the top of the phone switched positions compared to the Nexus One. The power button is now located on the top right, and the headset port is slightly left of center. The power button location now matches where the iPhone’s power button is. The power button is also slightly raised in the front and easier to press than the Nexus One’s power button.
On the left side of the device, are the volume up and down keys. These are also easier to press than on the Nexus One. The micro-USB port has moved to the side of the device as well. At first I wondered why they would do this, but I believe it is so that it easier to use with car and desktop docks. I hope they come out with desktop and car docks, but accessories are not yet available and will not be until October 6.
On the bottom of the device, there is a lone hole for the microphone.
On the back, unlike the Nexus One, the glass cover for the camera lens is built into the body of the phone, not on the battery cover. While this means there should be less dust that appears underneath the camera lens, if you scratch it, it will not be easy to replace. Also, unlike the Nexus One camera cover, the back the T-Mobile G2 is completely flat. This slightly muffles the speakerphone if you have the phone laying on it’s back. Sometimes, if I want to listen to the speaker, I simply turn the phone facedown with the speaker facing upwards.
On the front, there are a few welcome changes. Having had the original T-Mobile G1, I have always disliked the button placement on the Nexus One. To me, having the buttons in the original order: home, menu, back, and search, always made sense to me. In fact, the placement of the menu and back buttons is also in the same place as other devices, including BlackBerry devices. Those who have had a Nexus One may remember the issue with the buttons on the front of the device. You always had the press slightly above where the buttons appeared on the screen. I had to unlearn that habit with this phone. In fact, the button press action is directly on top of the silkscreened capacitive touch buttons, but also works if you press slightly below the button.
There is also a raised metallic border around the edge of the phone on the face. This is a welcome addition because it means that when you have your hands wrapped around the phone you don’t easily touched the capacitive screen with your fingertips. This was often the cause of incorrectly recognized touch events on the Nexus One screen. I am also happy to report that the T-Mobile G2 does not suffer from the same digitizer issues as the Nexus One (it shouldn’t, as it doesn’t use the same digitizer technology). One thing that I have always liked on the myTouch 3G Slide is that the buttons on the front were actually physical buttons that you could press in. While the G2 does have haptic feedback, there is still some satisfaction at pressing in a physical button. However, overall, I am very happy with the new buttons on the front of the device.
One of the nicest features of the Nexus One was the trackball. The trackball could light up with different colors based on notifications and also pulse with different colors and patterns. In addition, you could use the trackball for very precise text selection or navigation. One concern that I had longer-term with the Nexus One was damaging the trackball, since it sticks out on the front of the device. BlackBerry phones have often had to have the trackball replaced. I have used the Nexus One daily since it came out in January, and have not had any issues with it, however. On the T-Mobile G2, they replaced the trackball with a touchpad. I actually like this touchpad – it still allows for easy quick movement around on the screen and precise navigation. But what about the notification light from the trackball? I am pleased to say that it still exists on the trackpad – it is simply a ring that surrounds the outside edge of the trackpad! While the light for that ring is slightly less bright, you can still see it. It is nice to see that this feature was thought of when designing the T-Mobile G2.
One of the things I dislike the most about the Nexus One was its poor reception. It often drops signal in weaker signal areas – places where my BlackBerry 9700 would have no issues with signal at all. On my drive to work, there is a particular spot the Nexus One always loses 3G connectivity and drops phone calls. The T-Mobile G2 does not have this issue! While the signal isn’t as good as with my BlackBerry 9700, it is vastly improved over the Nexus One.
Battery life on the T-Mobile G2 is not bad considering the 1300 mAh lithium-ion battery. The battery life is about the same as my Nexus One. This means I can generally get through a day, but do have to charge at night. For example, yesterday I took the phone off of the charger at 5:30 in the morning and used it throughout the day and it shut down with 0% battery at 11:30 at night (this included about an hour of charging on a car charger, though). I made about 45 minutes worth of phone calls (via Bluetooth in my car, which is a big battery drain), listened to 2 hours of podcasts (on speakerphone at home), listened to an hour of music, sent several e-mails, text messages, downloaded 160 MB of podcasts, kept updated on Twitter, and read over 1000 items in Google reader in the web browser (probably 2 – 3 hours of online surfing). This was in addition to tweaking other settings and installing applications on the phone throughout the day.
The camera has a built-in LED flash, is 5 MP, and has autofocus. The camera is MUCH faster to focus and capture images than the Nexus One, and takes good quality photos using the autofocus. Indoor photos look great, and the outdoor ones turned out decent as well, even though it was a bit overcast when I took pictures.
(Note: More photos taken with the G2 camera in the gallery at the bottom of this post)
In addition, the T-Mobile G2 can take 720p hi-def video. Here is a short video taken indoors:
I saved the feature I was most anticipating for the end: the hardware slide-out keyboard. Well, calling it “slide–out” is not very accurate. The new HTC Z–hinge is a very innovative design that was first announced on the T-Mobile G2, but is also appearing in the HTC Desire Z. The premise with this innovative new design is that you can simply give a slight push horizontally on the bottom edge of the phone and the screen, operating on the Z-hinge, flips up and then forward and rests behind a raised edge of the four–row keyboard. This provides extra room at the top of the keyboard so you don’t have problems pressing the top row of keys, a problem that is often found on slide-out keyboards.
The following video (done with the phone off) shows the Z-Hinge in action, as well as demonstrates why holding the phone upside down isn’t really an issue. You would have to hold the phone in a non-safe way to have the screen come away from the body, and as you can see, it’s not an easy thing to do.
With the phone on, the following short video shows that once the keyboard is exposed, the screen rotates to landscape mode quickly and the backlit keyboard lights up.
One of the new differentiators of this new keyboard are three dedicated hardware “quick keys”. These keys can be programmed to quickly access any application on your phone.
While some may welcome this feature, I am very disappointed with those keys. Android has always had the ability to assign keyboard shortcuts to any application on hardware keyboards. You simply press the search key followed by any other key on the keyboard. There are several configured by default, such as: search–G opens Gmail, search–B opens the web browser, and so on. These are configurable via the settings under applications, quick launch. Why would they waste three dedicated keys when this functionality is ready built in?
My complaint is that these keys cannot be reassigned to the other hardware keys on the front of the phone screen. Only the menu and search keys are on the hardware keyboard. The home and back keys are missing, and cannot be assigned to the quick keys. I understand that it is probably easier for some users who do not know about the built-in shortcut key functionality, but I wish that there was more flexibility in what could be assigned to the three buttons.
In addition, there is a “www. / .com” button where the tab key normally is. I don’t think that having this button saves a lot of time, and would rather have seen the tab key there instead of having to press Alt–Z in order to press tab. I often use the tab key for quickly navigating through entry fields in e-mail and when adding calendar entries or new contacts.
Personally, I would have much preferred a keyboard layout on the myTouch 3G Slide, or at least (if keeping the Quick Keys), the HTC Desire Z layout. While the letters depicted on the keys on the T-Mobile G2 are much more clear to read, the layout is inferior to the slide. The keypress feeling on the T-Mobile G2 is decent. It isn’t mushy, at the keys aren’t too hard either. Overall, I am happy with the keyboard, but am a bit annoyed about key layout.
What’s Missing? A plea to manufacturers/phone carriers
One of the most interesting things I found when comparing the Nexus One to many of the newer Android phones is that there are still features of the Nexus One that have yet to be replicated on any other Android device. Here are some of the features that would really like manufacturers to start including going forward:
- Charging without plugging into the Micro-USB Port – As I mentioned in my review of the Nexus One, there are three gold contacts on the bottom that allow me to easily put it into and out of a desktop dock without having to worry about plugging into the micro-USB port. All modern BlackBerry devices have had this functionality for years (since at least the BlackBerry Pearl). This allows me to keep my device charged in a dock but quickly remove it if necessary when I need to step away from my desk. It would have been nice to see this Nexus One feature carried forward to the G2.
- Desktop and car docks – While the car dock on the Nexus One wasn’t my cup of tea, it would be nice to have an official car dock available. I hope that at least a desktop dock (like the Nexus One’s) will be made available for the G2 once it is officially launched next week.The Droid 2 has both car and desktop docks, and I hope that T-Mobile makes these available as well, since battery life on Android phones still isn’t as good as it could be. In general, just having more accessories available for the phone would be a great start.
Overall, this is the best GSM-based Android phone out there right now in the US (with a hardware keyboard). I am happy with the T-Mobile G2, and plan to keep it as my primary phone, despite issues with the keyboard. I am hoping that T-Mobile brings tethering support ASAP. Once it does, I will not have to carry my Nexus One as well.
Should a G1 owner upgrade? Definitely! A Nexus One user? Not yet if you tether, or don’t need the additional storage for apps or don’t want a hardware keyboard. A myTouch 3G Slide user? Not necessarily if you’re happy with the device you have. Other Android users? Definitely.
The T-Mobile G2 will be available in T-Mobile retail stores beginning on October 6th, 2010.
MSRP: Retail pricing hasn’t been announced, but based on the pre-order pricing, it should be available for $249 ($199, after $50 rebate) with a two-year Even More agreement, or $499 to buy the phone without contract (Even More Plus).
What I Like: Z-Hinge design, HPSA+ speed, build quality, trackpad, screen.
What Needs Improvement: Update specs to state 1.5 GB of storage space, keyboard key layout, lack of tethering support.