Short version: Like the Nexus One, the G2 is a unified Google experience, and it excels because of that. The vaunted HSPA+ is fast as hell and there is very little to criticize from start to finish. That said, it’s also a brick and the form factor isn’t for everyone.
- 3.7″ S-TFT LCD display (800×480)
- 800MHz Qualcomm MSM7230, 512MB RAM, 4GB internal, MicroSD slot (comes with 8GB)
- Slide-out QWERTY keyboard
- HSPA+ access where available
- 5-megapixel camera with LED flash, autofocus, 720p video
- Beautiful and solid construction
- Screen extremely bright and sharp
- HSPA+ really is ridiculously fast
- Quick and responsive in every way
- Perhaps a little too solid (heavy, bulky)
- Keyboard not my style (may be yours)
- Troublesome slide mechanism – damn thing keeps pinching me
- “Vanilla” Android 2.2 may not be enough, yet pre-installed apps too much, for some
I’m not going to lie: the G2 was the first phone I was really looking forward to since the Nexus One. I’ve been using a G1 as my “actual” phone (as opposed to a review phone or backup) and I thought it would be appropriate to jump from one to the next. As it turns out, while I can’t say I’m disappointed exactly, I think the G2 isn’t a match for me. The thing is, they’ve made it a bit more extreme in a few ways, ways that will be extremely compelling for some people, but put off others.
Let’s start with the phone itself. I haven’t had anyone see this phone without admiring it. The two-tone grey/metal body and black screen bezel make it look a little MacBook-ish at first glance, but on close inspection it has an understated and confident style that make it look simultaneously high-tech and accessible. The front is pleasantly symmetrical, and the back is pleasantly asymmetrical. There is a feeling of solidity and quality throughout, with no piece feeling cheap or out of place. Whoever HTC had on the ID team for the G2 should be given bonuses. It’s a thing of beauty.
It’s also a thing of mass. On being handed the phone, many have remarked that while it feels very solid, it’s also surprisingly heavy. At 6.7oz, it’s an ounce heavier than the larger Epic 4G and two ounces heavier than an iPhone. Sure, that doesn’t seem like a lot, but I assure you that it’s noticeable. Not that it’s uncomfortably heavy, but it will drag your pocket down, and when it falls, it sounds like you’ve dropped a dumbbell.
The sliding mechanism is a complicated one, and not everyone will dig it. I think it’s great when it works, but I feel this is one of the areas of the G2 in which the designers got ahead of themselves and made something that’s more cool than functional. It doesn’t really slide so much as it rises and falls in an arc, and not even a shallow arc. There’s a good third of an inch or more between the two halves of the G2 sandwich when you open it up, and although I know this is probably not the case, those little hinges don’t look like they’re going to last two months, let alone two years. But people said the same thing about the G1’s unorthodox slide method.
The thing that bothers me about the slide mechanism on the G2 is that it’s easy to get it wrong. Most slider phones require only that you apply pressure on the horizontal. With the G2, you must apply horizontal pressure, but only from below. If your thumb is even slightly above the horizontal, the slight downward pressure that creates acts against the mechanism, preventing the screen from sliding. It doesn’t sound like much of an issue, but think about it. You’re cradling the phone in your right hand. Where is your thumb? Above the phone. You have to reach across it and down to slide out the keyboard with that hand, and it is very close to impossible to open it from that position. In the left hand it’s child’s play, but in the right it’s way more difficult than it should be.
Because the screen part is thin, also, and because there is very little bezel on the sides of it, I tended to hit my email icon when I opened the phone (it unlocks automatically). That’s something you can get used to, but it’s still annoying. The volume button is also placed right where I tend to grip it, but that may not be a problem for you.
And as a last note on the slide mechanism, this little bastard keeps pinching me! Because the arc has a near-vertical start and end, there is room for a tiny bit of your finger or palm to get stuck in between. Now, some of you may say I just have flabby palms. But I tell you that is not the case. I’ve developed a method of avoiding being pinched, but hasty or negligent operation results in a little nip. Bad G2! No biting!
There are external buttons for the camera, power, volume, and battery release. They all have different feels, which I suppose is intentional. The volume button is a bit too easy to hit (it’s long and activates easily) while the power button is a bit too hard (it’s nearly flush with the case, and tilted back somewhat). The camera button is great, though, allowing you to hold it halfway down to focus and then trigger the exposure at will. The battery release is snappy, convenient, and hard to hit by accident. The charge port is about a quarter of the way up the left side — not convenient for any kind of cradle, but not as bad as having one on the top.
Under the attractive back panel you’ll find the battery, of course, which must be removed in order to switch SIM and MicroSD cards. I would have preferred being able to swap SD externally, but it’s not that big of a deal, especially with the size of MicroSD growing.
The face buttons (home, menu, back, search) all activate willingly and I rarely hit them by accident. Their activation area is pretty small, but I almost never had to look to hit the correct button. The trackpoint was responsive and worked just as well as a trackball, which is not much of a surprise. I would have preferred a matte finish on it… but really, that’s beyond nitpicking.
The 3.7″ “super LCD” display is super indeed. It’s extremely bright, perfectly visible in daylight, and showed colors extremely well. Its 800×480 resolution isn’t quite the pixel density of the iPhone 4, but is still excellent. Contrast is excellent, and at minimum brightness it gives out very little light (great for clock/alarm apps like Bedside). No complaints at all about it.
While there is an LED that lights up at the top of the phone when you’re charging, it is not used for notifications. Instead, the trackpad has a soft backlight that pulses on and off. I understand they were going for a monochrome thing, but color LED notifications are extremely practical and I wish the G2 had them. The subtle light-up notification is at least tasteful, however.
I suspect I may be in the minority on this one, but I didn’t particularly enjoy using the G2’s keyboard. The keys feel crisp when I press them with my index finger, but under my thumb they feel soft and smooshy. It feels a bit cramped vertically, though the spacing seems adequate objectively. I just don’t know what it is about the keyboard, but I can’t seem to type confidently, even after using it for more than a week straight. The slightly raised border at the bottom also interferes with my pressing of the bottom row of keys.
I can’t describe it adequately, and it’s certainly just my opinion (it’s clearly not bad), but I just didn’t enjoy the keyboard on this phone. It may be totally different for you, but I recommend getting it in your hands before pulling the trigger. They should have them on display all over the place, so take the time to stop in to a T-Mobile store and give it a test run.
The camera is 5 megapixels and has both autofocus and an LED flash. The results I got were mixed, and I wouldn’t say this is a particularly good example of a camera phone. It’ll take pictures when you need it to, sure, and on Facebook or printed out as 3x5s they’ll look fine, but the usual artifacting, noise, and smeary look of the small sensor camera are present in every shot. The flash, however, is powerful and shots taken with it turned out pretty decent.
Here are a couple sample shots; click for full resolution. You can really see how terrifying the sensor smear is on that one with the tree, and the exposure ain’t so hot either.
The stock camera app isn’t a powerful one, but I found it responsive and good enough for most basic shots. Touch to focus would have been really nice, though, and although I don’t like them I know people appreciate in-camera effects and presets.
Software and performance
Although the G2 is running a processor that’s 200MHz slower than other high-end smartphones on the market, it felt more responsive than any I’ve used. It installed, launched, and quit applications without the slightest hesitation. Navigation in my picture galleries and music collection was quick, and so was media when launched. Touches, drags, and gestures were accurate and it never ignored or forgot any interactions, as some phones do when they’re “thinking.” Angry Birds played as smoothly as it does on my iPad.
The browser is your basic Froyo browser, and it performs admirably here. Multi-touch is in full effect and I feel I’m truly getting the same mobile full-internet experience that I’ve always envied on iPhones.
The software kit shipped with the G2 is extensive: it comes with many “optional” Google applications pre-installed: Earth, Sky Map, Translate, Listen, Finance, Navigation, Latitude, and a few more. The idea they’re approaching, of course, is that eventually they’ll be able to provide you with pretty much everything you need pre-installed, minus a few personal apps and games.
Unfortunately, T-Mobile felt the need to install a few extra uninstallable apps. Photobucket and Web2Go are the most obvious, and Facebook and Twitter are non-removable as well. In fact, all the apps it comes with are non-removable, Google or not. It’s a bit disconcerting that this thing ships with more apps than I had in total on my G1.
There are a few bugs I noticed, though others haven’t affected me (like the random power-off issue mentioned in the comments). The keyboard backlight, for instance, tends to just shut off or turn on whenever it likes, whether I’m SMSing, emailing, or what have you. And I’ve noticed a lot of extra notifications — one email causes the phone to ding twice. By and large it’s a pretty polished experience, though; I don’t recall seeing any apps hang, fail to rotate, etc.
HSPA+ speeds are a little hard to gauge right now, but the G2 performed above normal 3G speeds even with only one “H” bar. Latency was extremely low, which is great when browsing the web. In an informal test against another phone running on 3G, I had a CrunchGear post fully loaded on the G2 before the other had even started rendering the page (both having launched from Google at the same time). It really felt nearly as fast as broadband on my desktop browser, though of course quite a bit smaller. How it compares to 4G I can’t say, but right now the areas where you have both good 4G coverage and good HSPA+ coverage are pretty few and far between, so I doubt many people will have to choose between them over the next few months. Incidentally, though, I’d go with the G2 over the Epic 4G now that I’ve played with them both.
The best speeds I got were around 8Mb/s, which is to say between 900KB/s and 1MB/s. I have no doubt that the phone could easily manage the maximum theoretical speed of the HSPA+ network, which is around 21Mb/s. The important thing is that I never felt limited by the network, as I often do even with a good 3G signal.
My favorite part of using the G2 was how everything seems to work together, and work well. There has clearly been much optimization, and having an app download, install, and launch all within four or five seconds is thrilling. My least favorite part was the hardware, though admittedly the hardware is still better than 90% of the phones out there. If you want what is essentially a Google-powered pocket computer weighing down your jacket, the G2 is an absolutely smashing phone. If you need something lightweight and simple, the G2 is overkill by miles. I’d go so far as saying this is the premier Android handset on the market right now, if the form factor is to your liking. Highly recommended — but as with any other major tech purchase, get it in your hand before you pull the trigger.