I recently wrote in Gearhead about how impressed I was with the T-Mobile G1 cell phone — the one based on Google’s Android operating system. In fact, I was so impressed I gave the G1 a rating of 5 out of 5.
Reader Burt Bossi (Indianapolis, Ind.) wrote in to stick it to me: “How can you possibly rate this G1 device a ‘5 out of 5’ immediately after you said the camera lens is poor, there is no zoom, handset sound sucks, there is no Flash support, and it’s already showing signs of mechanical breakdown on the swivel keyboard? If there were no problems would you have rated it 7 out of 5?”
I felt the G1, despite the flaws I identified, was a significant product with enormous potential in the corporate and consumer market. Moreover, it is the best competition to the iPhone I’ve seen and it could prevent the “superphone” market from being a one-horse race.
Now, if I could have awarded fractional ratings I might have gone for 4.8 or 4.9 rather than 5 so you might think of my rating as a “rounding up”. That said, I have since discovered some problems with the G1.
First the minor stuff. There’s the issue of the battery life, a problem the G1 and iPhone have in common. On the G1, if you enable GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, along with a few of the “chattier” Android applications that communicate with various Internet services, your power will disappear faster than a bank that has just been handed a share of the bailout pot.
The Android operating system itself appears to have a few minor problems. It occasionally gets over-enthusiastic and scrolls lists more vigorously than you want and it can be slow to respond. Also, the entire system crashed on me three times for no obvious reason, but did recover after a couple of minutes.
So, that was the minor stuff. Now let’s get to the big warty things. In my column I discussed how Apple had reserved a backdoor into the iPhone that would allow the company to remotely remove any application it doesn’t approve of. I had researched the issue of whether there was a backdoor in the G1 and, finding nothing, assumed Google had avoided being evil.
Reader Steven J. Klein (Oak Park, Mich.) informed me that such a thing does exist, and the reason I hadn’t found it is Google calls it a “killswitch”. That said, there is a difference. Unlike Apple, Google can only remove applications that have been downloaded from the Android Marketplace. That is better, but only slightly.
Also, as to the openness of Android as implemented on the G1, well, there is a limitation. Up until the R30 release of Android you could get access to the shell, but the update removed that facility which annoyed a lot of tech folks. So, here’s the thing: Do these warty things constitute “evil” behavior? The fact that the phone is locked to a single provider is kind of evil, although as a first step into the market it is arguably justified (that said, teaming with T-Mobile qualifies as downright evil, in my book).
The killswitch? Again, not completely evil as it has limited scope, but then again, neither is it not evil. Removing shell access? Definitely more evil than otherwise.
So weighing up Google’s Evil Quotient (EQ), when it comes to the G1 I have to judge the company around 50% evil. And the G1 itself, I have to downgrade it to 4 out of 5, which for me means it’s definitely going to be goodbye T-Mobile. The G1 almost persuaded me to stay, but now it’s off to AT&T and the iPhone. To quote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “I wonder if it will be friendly?”