The most intensely anticipated phone over the last six months in our labs has to be the HTC Dream. Not because it's particularly amazing; it's because it's the very first phone we've seen with Google's Android mobile operating system on board. For that reason, it's also dubbed the "Google phone" or G1.
Out of the box
First impressions are good. When you take the G1 out of the box and turn it on, you'll have it set up and synchronised with your Gmail email, contacts and calendar in just a minute or two.
|The physical design with its snappy sliding keyboard has a certain appeal
This simplicity extends to the rest of the interface. Commonly used shortcuts, a clock and "widgets" feature prominently on the home screen, while other apps are a finger drag away. Browsing the web is a joyously speedy, intuitive process.
Despite the 320 x 480 resolution, the screen feels cramped, and you have to do a fair bit of zooming in and out. But there's a magnifying glass mode that allows you to read text and headlines while zoomed right back from the page.
Email support is good, with push for Gmail, and POP3 and IMAP support for other accounts, although it's best to use the phone with the former. This preserves all the best features of Gmail, from threaded conversations to the powerful search. The Contacts tool works just as well, and we were able to navigate a list of our 500 contacts with one sweep of the finger.
|The HTC Dream up close
GPS, home screen
Other Google applications are integrated smoothly into the Dream. Google Maps uses GPS to identify your location and provide directions and in StreetView includes a nifty Compass feature, so that you can spin 360-degrees and see the full view from a selected location.
Look down at your phone screen and you'll see the ground. Android OS includes modified and simplified interfaces for not just Gmail and Maps, but also YouTube, Calendar and Google Search from the desktop.
The browser allows zoom in and out and panning. The Dream also features three 'desktops', so you can spread your apps across them, customizing the layout to some degree.
Android's answer to Apple's App Store - looks promising, with a generous selection of free games and applications for download. And, in terms of its core spec, the G1 is reasonably well endowed. There's HSDPA, Wi-Fi, assisted GPS and so on, although once you look past the new UI you'll find a basic phone.
|Email and web are its bread and butter, but despite the 5-row keyboard, more focused bursts of writing aren't its raison d'etre
It's when you get to documents and spreadsheets that things skid to a halt. You can view office documents, but there's no way to create and edit documents out of the box, and no note-taker preinstalled, either.
Android allows you to view Google Docs, but not edit or create new ones. It's a shame, but it clearly stamps this as being a device to access the internet - email and web are its bread and butter, but despite the 5-row keyboard, more focused bursts of writing aren't its raison d'etre.
Dream vs iPhone
The Dream is the clearest competitor to the iPhone, given its online focus, so the obvious question is - how does it compare?
The 3.2-megapixel camera is ropy, but the physical design with its snappy sliding keyboard has a certain appeal. Without a solid purpose for that keyboard, we're left wondering whether keeping it off-screen while browsing - the direct comparison to the iPhone is encouraged - is really that vital.
For now, it seems a strange mix of the cutting edge and the old-fashioned.