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T-Mobile G1 Review: Design

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01232009001-desktop-resolutionIn this chapter of the T-Mobile G1 Review we will cover the design of the G1 with all that is related to ergonomics and hardware usability. The G1 was not only created by one company as most phones are, the G1 was created by Google which was in charged of the software and the recognized handset-manufacturer  HTC.

The G1 has a unique form factor that differentiates it from the rest of smartphones. It has a curved bottom which is a weird design because it resembles a banana, in the picture you can see that it looks exactly as a banana with the case that comes bundled with it.

The G1 has a full 5 row QWERTY keyboard that is revealed when the screen is pushed sideways. The G1 has also a trackball at the bottom with a ‘’MENU’’ key on top and 4 extra keys surrounding the trackball.

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It comes in two colors, the black color which is the most popular because was launched first, and the white color which is hard to find because was launched later.

Ergonomics

The phone can be used in two modes, with the keyboard closed and with  the keyboard open. When the keyboard is closed the G1 is used in portrait mode and the phone appears to be a candy bar in form factor. It can be operated only with the touch screen, which is very comfortable because everyone’s finger can reach the top corners easily, or with the trackball and 5 buttons on the curved bottom, this is also a very comfortable position in which the curved bottom comes handy to assure the user’s comfort.  In portrait mode the G1 is one of the most comfortable devices I have ever held, the sensation is very pleasing to the user.

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If the user slides the screen sideways to use the QWERTY keyboard, the G1 has an assisted mechanism that pushes the screen in an extremelt harsh way, I would say. But as everything on phones nowadays this mechanism has a reason to be so fast and harsh. The reason is that the only way to input text on the G1 is with the QWERTY keyboard, therefore inputting text with the slider closed is impossible. Engineers at HTC made this mechanism to open abruptly fast so tthat the user can change mode REALLY fast to input text, so sliding the screen to access the only text input method available does not become a tedious task. Smart isn’t it? That is what I call good ergonomics.

After changing to keyboard mode abruptly fast, the user has now a landscape screen over a QWERTY keyboard. The curved bottom again proves to be a smart design because the right hand of the user feels comfortable when holding the device, the left hand also feels comfortable. But in this mode is where I found a big mistake on the G1’s design, the QWERTY keyboard has way too many keys, 48 to be exact. And the result is tiny keys that are hard to locate, the first time I literally searched the exclamation mark for an entire minute before finding it where it normally is, in the ‘’1’’ key and I could not type easily. You may ask why? Well, the problem is that the buttons are too small and there are too many of them, and on top of that they are the same color of the body. There should be less buttons and in a different color from the body, by doing this there will be more space so that bigger buttons can be placed and the color will make them contrast with the body so that they are easier to locate.

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The G1 has on the back a camera with no flash, and a small speaker. I found a really small, yet very smart detail on the G1’s back design. Near the camera lens there is a little ball, so that when the G1 is over a table on its back, the little ball separates the camera lens from the table, so that the camera lens does not scratch. Real smart.

To end the design chapter we will talk about the G1’s build quality. Sadly the G1 is mainly made out of plastic, it is an average plastic, not too cheap but not top of the range. As the plastic is just average it gets scratched if the user is not careful. Luckily, the G1 comes bundled with a really handy case. This is not the case with the screen, I inspected the screen and after thinking it over many times, I tried to scratch the G1’s screen with a regular key, nothing happened, the screen was as good as new.

The phone is made entirely from that same plastic, only the screen, buttons and camera lens are made from different materials. As the aesthetics of the phone are subjective, I will only say that to me, the G1 looks like if it were in an early beta stage, there are not other materials or patterns to make the G1 look more ‘’complete’’, there is only the plastic all over it. It looks too plain…

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The G1 is well designed, the only problem with the its design is the keyboard, there are way too many keys, too small and no contrast, thus making the text input harder than it should be. There is also the plastic body problem but that is personal because I am sure that there are people who like it that way. On the next chapter we will discuss the G1’s software and a look at the Android OS.

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By , International Correspondent on Jan 26th, 2009 GMT +2

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