Thursday, October 14, 2010
After lots of anxoius waiting, we finally have our shiny new G2s. Remember, we have both been using G1s that we got on launch day two years ago, so we were definitely due for an upgrade. And man, is the G2 an upgrade. I'm really loving it so far, and have almost no issues with it. It's a seriously solid device, and one I would recommend to anyone. It does have a few minor flaws, but on the whole, it's an excellent phone. Let's take a look at it in a bit more detail.
The G2 is a remarkably solid device. It quite honestly feels like one of the most professional and elegant devices I've ever used. It looks great, and the combination of metal and soft-touch give it a polished, professional look that feels great in the hand.
The hinge on the G2 is a very unique design that hasn't been used before. HTC calls it the Z-Hinge, with the screen lifting up slightly before snapping back down to expose the keyboard. There are widespread complaints about the hinge being too loose, and it does indeed feel looser than you'd expect. But it hasn't bothered me yet. I have yet to experience a time when the hinge performs poorly, or the "looseness" has any negative affect. I think it's just a different type of hinge than what we're used to and it's going to take some adjusting to acclamate to it. Sliding the hinge open with one hand is easy, and I don't find it accidentally opening by itself in my pocket.
Like the other recent high-end devices from HTC, the G2 has a super-LCD screen with touch buttons below it. I was initially very skeptical of the idea of touch buttons, especially after reading complaints about how easy they can be to hit accidentally on the Nexus One. But I'm happy to report that they aren't causing any problems. In fact, I'm finding them very easy to use, and they work great. The screen is gorgeous, especially compared to the G1 I'm used to. It's not quite as vibrant as the Samsung screens, but it looks great inside and out.
One of the G2's stand-out features is its hardware keyboard. A physical keyboard is a requirement for me, and the G2 is the first high-end device since the G1 that has had a keyboard I've wanted to use. There have been others, of course, like the MyTouch Slide, or Motorola Backflip, or even the new Droid 2 that have all had physical keyboards. But there was always a compromise...either the keyboard was good and the device was underpowered, or the device was excellent and the keyboard lacking. The G2 is the first device in a while that has really delivered on both fronts.
After using the excellent G1 keyboard for the past couple years, the G2 keyboard, as excellent as it may be, is taking me some time to get used to. It's the same adjustment period whenever a new device is used, but things like not having a dedicated number row, ALT buttons being in a different place, special characters being on different keys, etc. that is proving to be a slight challenge to get used to. On the whole, however, the keyboard is rock solid, and has lots of nice additions, like the three quick keys that can launch applications or activities, a dedicated @ button, and a www.com button.
The G2 camera is a 5MP model that can also shoot 720p HD video. In my tests so far, it has performed quite well. It's no DSLR replacement, and the audio quality is average at best, but it works better than any cameraphone I've used before. And as they say, the best camera is the one you have with you. The G2 camera may not win any quality awards, but it definitely gets the job done, it's very fast, and the flash works very well for low-light shots. It's far and away better than the G1 camera.
The G1 (and Nexus One) had a trackball, similar to those BlackBerrys have been rocking for years. The G2 does away with the ball and instead sports a touch-sensitive pad on the front. This can be used for scrolling down lists, moving the cursor in text boxes, selecting icons, etc. It performs extremely well, and I haven't found myself missing the ball at all. The touchpad looks considerably sleeker, and it even has an LED border that pulses slowly for notifications...too slowly.
This is one of my biggest complaints about the G2, actually. The G1 had a notification LED at the top that would flash different colors depending on what type of notification you received. And it flashed frequently enough that I could glance at the phone without turning it on and know what was waiting. On the G2, though, all notifications flash the trackpad border the same color (white), and it pulses so slowly as to be pretty useless for quickly glancing to see if notifications are present. This means always waking up the screen to see what's going on. A small gripe, but definitely a valid one.
Another minor gripe is the location of the power-button. I realize that almost every single recent smartphone, including the iPhone, has the power button on the top right of the device, but after using a G1, the button placement is annoying. To have to push the top button, then slide to unlock often means doing some hand shuffling, whereas the G1 was a simple matter of just pushing the menu button twice. Even if the G2 could be turned on by pressing the trackpad, then sliding to unlock...oh well.
The G2 is the first device to operate on T-Mobile's new HSPA+ network, which delivers 4G speeds. The device is capable of reaching speeds of up to 14MBps, while actual speeds will be slightly less. My tests have delivered somewhere between 5 and 6MBps down, and around 1MBps up, which isn't as fast as it could be, but it's way faster than the G1, and the network will only get faster with time. From a practical standpoint, webpages load extremely quickly, apps from the Market download so fast that I almost don't even see a "downloading" notification, and file downloads (from Listen, for example) finish much faster than they used to.
There are also a few extra features that the G2 has that most would likely take for granted. It has a screen that handles multi-touch perfectly, it has a standard headphone jack, it has an ambient light sensor, and also a proximity sensor. All of these have become staples on modern smartphones, so there's nothing revolutionary here. But coming from a G1 which had none of these, they feel new to me...and they're so great to have.
The final hardware note worth mentioning is the battery door. The G2 has a solid soft-touch housing with a metal battery door. The door is asymmetrical and has a dedicated release switch. The switch is firm and hard to hit accidentally. But it makes removing the battery door extremely easy (especially compared to the G1). And it looks really good to boot. Now if replacement batteries would just come down in price...
The G2 runs stock Android, exactly as Google intended it to be. It doesn't have any custom skins, homescreen replacements, etc. bogging it down, and it's very refreshing. I know there are some people who prefer HTC's Sense skin, or Samsung's TouchWiz skin, but I am definitely not one of them. The G1 had stock Android, and I grew quite fond of it. Devices that run stock generally receive software updates much faster than those that don't (though not always), and it just generally feels better to start with the pure Android experience. If I want to customize it, I can do it myself.
Browsing with Flash is amazing, too. It's so fast and smooth that I honestly forget its there. It feels just like desktop browsing, and I've already gotten used to it. It's really nice not having to worry about whether a website is going to load properly or not. Kudos to Adobe and Google for making it work so well.
Of course, no experience is perfect, and the G2 is no exception. T-Mobile made one change to the OS which has angered a lot of people: they removed wireless tethering. This is a feature of stock Android, but carriers almost always remove it or charge extra for it, for obvious reasons. The fact that it is MIA on the G2 has caused a lot of people to cry foul and say it's not really stock Android. Personaly, I don't mind that it's not included, and I completely understand the reasoning for its removal.
Another gripe is the plethora of pre-installed apps. The G2 comes loaded with all of Google's various apps, and not just those, like Gmail and Maps that come on (almost) every Android phone. The G2 has Finance, Listen, MyTracks, Earth, Goggles, Voice, etc, in addition to some T-Mobile added apps like MyAccount, Photobucket, etc. And not a single one of these can be removed. Sure, the G2 has plenty of app storage, but it's frustrating to be forced into accepting apps you don't use. Again, this isn't much of an issue for me since I use most of Google's apps anyway...and it's not nearly as bad as the crapware that comes pre-installed on some other Android devices.
The G2 is one of the best, fastest, and most solid Android phones on the market. It doesn't have the biggest screen, or the fastest processor, or the most powerful camera, but it's a quality device nonetheless, and can more than hold its own with the big boys. It's perfect for me, and is so much better than the G1 as to be hardly worth comparing the two.
There's been some drama surrounding hacking the G2, but new devices always take time to crack and I'm confident the excellent hackers will find a way sooner or later. The few minor shortcomings aren't a big deal for me, and it's quite honestly the best phone I've ever owned.
I have yet to encounter a time when the G2 locks up, or runs slowly. It plays all of the high-graphic games very well, handles multitasking with ease, and lasts all day on a single charge. It's an awesome upgrade for anyone else still rocking a G1, or anyone who wants an extremely fast and solid device that runs stock Android.
There have even been rumors lately that T-Mobile is preparing an update that enables WiFi calling, and wireless tethering. That remains to be seen, but if true, it will make an already excellent device even better.
Overall, I'd give the G2 a 9.5 out of 10. It isn't without its flaws, but it's perfect for me, and I would recommend it to anyone.