The T-Mobile G2—the successor to the granddaddy of all Android smart phones, the G1—is the carrier's first smart phone to run on T-Mobile's faster HSPA+ data networks. The sleek phone, available for $200 with a two-year contract and after rebates, is slightly smaller than its ancestor, measuring 4.68 in. x 2.37 in. x 0.55 in. Yet it packs a 3.7-in. WVGA Super-TFT touch-screen display, a fast 1GHz Snapdragon processor, and one of the most spacious, sensibly configured physical keyboards I've seen on a phone.
The G2 is one of the first phones to come with built-in support for Google Voice, a free Web-based phone service that among other things, allows you to route calls made to different phones to the G2; it also transcribes voicemails into text.
Another built-in feature is Google Voice Action, a souped-up version of voice command that claims to allow you to perform compete operations, such as direct-dialing numbers or preparing and sending e-mails by simple dictation. However, I found this feature a little buggy. For example, when I tried calling my friend Alex in the Bronx, the G2 immediately started dialing a stranger in California by the name of Ivan. And often, when I said: "send email to Mike," it would launch a Web search for that phrase. Voice Action also had trouble finding phone contacts that were not stored on my G-mail account.
What's more, some early reviewer have encountered problems with G2's keyboard, which has a unique hinge design that allows it to swing slightly forward. In some cases, the hinges appeared loose.
However, the keyboard hinges on our press sample, as well as the one on another G2 we bought at a nearby store, seemed quite sturdy.
Another surprising disappointment: The spec sheet claims the G2 comes with an 8-gigabyte (GB) memory card and 4GB of internal memory. But less than 2 GB of space is available to the user. Here's how T-Mobile explains it on its Facebook page:
"Thanks for the questions about the G2′s memory. Here's the scoop: The G2 includes 4GB of internal memory, of which a portion is accessible for downloading applications from the Android Market and a portion is allocated for both the operating system and preloaded applications. You can also store content and some applications on the included 8GB SD card, which is expandable up to 32GB."
Here are some of my other first impressions:
Navigation. The G2, which supports seven customizable screens of applications, has a rather Spartan home screen, completely devoid of widgets and lacking a contacts icon. Those omissions, however, can be easily corrected. You can scroll to any screen by swiping your finger toward the left or right on either the display or the trackpad/select button at the phone's base. A more direct approach is pressing and holding the application button (a matrix of small dots sandwiched between the phone and Web shortcuts) generates mini-icons of all seven screens. Tap any one of them to jump to the appropriate screen.
Display. The 3.7-in. screen seemed adequately sharp and bright, though it isn't nearly as good as the displays on the Samsung Galaxy S phones. The multi-touch screen lets you zoom in and out of photos or Web pages using two fingers (for instance, your thumb and index fingers). It also has a handy on-screen drop-down status bar that alerts you and takes you to new messages, upcoming appointments, and other items that need your attention.
Data entry. While the Google Voice Action had trouble taking orders, the G2's three QWERTY keyboards had no trouble understanding me perfectly. The raised back-lit keys of the physical QWERTY keyboard, which included three programmable shortcuts, were well spaced and easy to find in dim light. The G2 also comes with two virtual keyboards: a standard Android version with excellent predictive text capabilities, as well as a Swype keyboard, which allows users to type words by dragging a finger across the screen from letter to letter. It takes some practice, but we find the Swype keyboard very effective for typing quickly with minimal mistakes.
Web browsing. The full Web browser supports Flash 10 out of the box, which means you don't have to leave the browser to watch most videos. As with some Android phones I've observed with Flash 10, videos do occasionally freeze or even crash. But these occasional glitches are a minor price to pay for the convenience of being able to view videos that aren't supported by the YouTube app.
4G or not 4G. T-Mobile has been billing its HSPA+ data network as "4G," a designation that connotes the next generation of high-speed mobile data communication. However, most industry experts say HSPA+ is really 3.5 G, an intermediate step between today's widely deployed 3G networks and emerging 4G networks based on WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) and LTE (Long-term evolution) technologies.
True 4G networks promise download speeds approaching and exceeding 5 megabits per second (mbps) under optimal conditions. Indeed, last June, while testing the HTC Evo 4G on Sprint's 4G WiMax network, I measured download speeds up to 3.5 mbps. However, during my informal tests of the G2 at the local HSPA+ zone, the maximum speed I was able to measure was about 1 mbps. That's fast, but it isn't quite 4G speed.
Bottom line: With its large display and ergonomic keyboard, the G2 seems like a promising Android phone for people who'll do a lot of e-mailing and texting. But a possible hinge problem and quirky Google Voice Action performance may indicate T-Mobile prematurely boxed and shipped the first models off the assembly line.