In fact, one of the classes of applications you can download for the G1 is a flashlight feature that takes advantage of the screen brightness so that you can use the device to light up your surroundings. Nice, but it'll kill your night vision if you need to make a phone call.
Likewise, the G1 uses a wide variety of wireless communications, including GSM, Edge, WiFi and 3G. But it doesn't take advantage of T-Mobile's @Home technology that supports voice over Wi-Fi on all of the company's other Wi-Fi capable phones. And as nice as the 3G support is, you can't actually use it unless you're in one of the few cities where it's available. The good versus bad stories abound.
The music player sounds quite nice through the included headset, and you can even listen to music through the built-in speaker, although it sounds as bad as you'd suspect it would. But you must use the included headphones a standard headset, such as a noise cancelling design, or a standard set of earbuds won't work unless they include a mini-USB connector. There's no standard headphone jack on the G1.
The mini-USB port on the G1 will allow you to attach the device to your computer, which in turn will recognize it as a mass storage device. You can copy music files and photos to the storage, and the G1 will recognize and play them if they aren't restricted by digital rights management. This means you can't use the songs you bought from iTunes without going through the cumbersome process of creating a CD, and then copying the CD contents to the G1. iTunes files without DRM will work fine however.
Unfortunately, there's no support software for your computer that will synchronize with the G1. You can use Google's applications and on-line service as a destination for synchronization, but that means they're not on your computer.
Integrated GPS supports location-based services, such as navigation with real-time street views and searches. For example, the G1 features a restaurant locater you can download that will find eateries close to you, wherever you are. The image below shows restaurants in Washington, DC, near the White House, including a McDonalds frequented by a former President.
One interesting feature about the G1's navigation is that it doesn't depend on GPS. If you're somewhere that a GPS signal can't reach, such as inside a building, the G1 can also locate itself, albeit less precisely, using signals from cell sites.
The device can use both features at the same time, so if you travel from a place without GPS coverage to a place with a view of the satellites, the changeover is automatic.
In short, the G1 brings a lot to the smartphone market, but there's a lot that it doesn't bring.
It's fun to use, and it has some nice installed software and features, but it's not a game-changer. The good news is that T-Mobile can update the Android software remotely, so you can expect some features to simply arrive when T-Mobile thinks they're ready to be sent out.
In the meantime, you can get a very nice smartphone that lacks the refinement of products that have been on the market longer. But the G1 does bring some needed features that others are sure to emulate, such as the combination of a touch screen and an actual keyboard. The fact that Google claims that it intends for this platform to support open source software also means a lot in terms of potential, but right now that potential is still waiting to be realized.
Wayne Rash is a freelance writer based in the Washington, DC, area.
This article was first published on SmartPhoneToday.com.