Here Comes the Google Phone

T-Mobile and Google on Tuesday announced the impending arrival of the first smart phone based on Google's Android Platform, the T-Mobile G1. Previously codenamed Dream, the G1 is made by handset manufacturer HTC, which has partnered closely with Microsoft in the past on numerous Windows Mobile-based smart phones.

"The first Android-powered phone comes 'with Google'," says Marc Vanlerberghe, a product marketing director at Google. "The Google applications on Android take full advantage of the features of the Android platform. Your emails, contacts, calendar entries, Google Talk chats are fully synchronized with Gmail and Calendar on the web. New events are pushed in real-time to your phone and any changes you make on-the-go are immediately available on the web. If you ever lose or break your phone, all your data is safe and secure in the cloud."

Widely seen as the first viable rival to Apple's iPhone, the Android platform will soon be available on a variety of smart phones and from all major wireless carriers. As the first Android phone, however, the G1 will be especially scrutinized. From a functionality standpoint, it appears very similar to the iPhone, but features two keyboard options, a small, traditional thumbpad and a larger, slide-out keyboard.

The G1 is cheaper than the iPhone as well. Its $179 entry price is $20 less than that of the cheapest iPhone, but its monthly service fees are significantly less expensive than anything offered by AT&T, the iPhone's exclusive carrier in the US. The cheapest G1 data plan is just $25 a month, and that includes 400 SMS messages a month. AT&T's data plan for the iPhone is $30 a month, but includes no SMS; AT&T's least expensive SMS option, for 200 messages, is $5 a month.

On the downside, T-Mobile's 3G wireless network is available only in 13 major metropolitan areas in the US at the moment, so many G1 users will find themselves browsing the Web and accessing other data services at painfully slow EDGE speeds. T-Mobile says it will expand its 3G coverage rapidly.

The G1--like the first generation Zune MP3 player, oddly--is available in white, black, or brown. It includes a 3 megapixel camera (compared to the lousy 2 megapixel version in the iPhone) and superior Google applications. It also offers over-the-air access to Amazon MP3, an online service that sells music only in unprotected MP3 format. The latter is clearly a shot across the bow of Apple, which is enjoys great success with its iPod and iTunes successes in the digital music market.

Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who awkwardly showed up at the G1 launch event on rollerblades, both praised the device and noted that its open platform should help it win both users and third-party developers. That, too, is a subtle dig at Apple, which has gotten into trouble lately for denying developers who create competitive software from selling their wares for the iPhone. All Android phones will have access to an Android Market online store, Google says.

The T-Mobile G1 will begin shipping publicly October 22 in the US. T-Mobile says it will be made available in Canada in November and around the world after that.

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