Trevor Sullivan's Tech Room

Minding the gap between administration and development

Review: T-Mobile HTC G2

Posted by Trevor Sullivan on 2010/10/14


Introduction

The T-Mobile G2 is a brand new handset from HTC, that was released in early October 2010. I just purchased one this week, as I was seeking out a full-featured smartphone handset, combined with an affordable mobile plan. The non-contract price for the device is $499 pre-tax, and the contract price is $199. I elected to purchase the device out of contract, to take advantage of T-Mobile’s lower monthly rates, and avoid being locked into a service provider (something I strongly dislike in principal). Even on a non-contract plan, T-Mobile will give me the unlock code for my G2 after 3 months of service 🙂

To preface the rest of the article, this is my first experience with a Google Android-based handset, and I had previously been using an iPhone 3GS. That should give you a frame of reference for my review, as some of the points I will touch on, will specifically address shortcomings, and strong points, of the iOS platform, and how it compares to the G2.

Within this review, I may refer to the G2 as the “T-Mobile G2,” “HTC G2,” or simply the “G2.” These terms are all interchangeable, so don’t let this confuse you. The terms smartphone and smart-device are also analogous, in my writing.

Display

G2 - Screen Cropped Soft Edges (40% size)

While shopping for a mobile device, one of the important criteria I had was a high-quality display. High-quality, at least for me, can be defined as having the following properties:

  • High resolution (sharp)
  • High contrast
  • Bright
  • Super dark blacks

Unfortunately, there isn’t really any single device that masters all of these properties, but the latest in smart-device offerings certainly get very close. The HTC G2 is no exception.

Brightness & Black Levels

During my research, one of the higher quality screens I could find was the iPhone 4, which is incredibly sharp, bright, and crisp, along with fairly good black levels. The iPhone 4’s display still came nowhere close to competing with the screen on the Samsung Galaxy S, which in my opinion, is the best smartphone display on the market, besides its screen resolution. The Galaxy S has incredibly dark blacks that blend in directly with the device’s bezel. The display’s brightness is non-contestable as well — It was a really hard decision to step away from the Galaxy S, in favor of the HTC G2, particularly for its screen quality.

With these other devices in mind, and also keeping in mind that I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison on any of them, I’d have to say that the T-Mobile G2 is comparable to the iPhone 4. The brightness and black levels are quite good, but not as good as the Galaxy S. It does, however, easily trump the black levels of my iPhone 3GS. Comparing these two devices side-by-side (G2 vs. iPhone 3GS), you will easily notice the “grey” black levels on the iPhone 3GS screen. On the T-Mobile G2, you will see some of this same “greyness” however, it is significantly less than the washed out color tones you’ll see on the iPhone 3GS.

Icons & TextT-Mobile G2 Icons Home Screen Soft Edges (40% size)

Icons and text rendered on the G2’s screen are very crisp, similar to what you’d see on the iPhone 4’s “Retina” display. Again, coming from the iPhone 3GS, it’s much more crisp, but still slightly less crisp than the iPhone 4’s super high resolution. Text found in e-mails, menu systems, or contact lists, is nicely anti-aliasing, and has a very smooth, organic feeling to it. The iPhone 3GS has a similarly smooth feeling to its text, however given the lower resolution, it is much more noticeably “pixelized” than the G2.

One thing that I’ve noticed about the icons on Android is that they are all quite crisp. Sometimes, on the iPhone, certain icons would be incorrectly sized for their purpose, and would appear stretched. I’m sure this is bound to happen at some point along the life of my Android device as well, but I haven’t seen it yet.

I had the opportunity to take my new G2 to the Sprint store today, and compare it to the Samsung Galaxy S. I noticed, right off the bat, that the screen crispness of the G2 far exceeds that of the Galaxy S. The Galaxy S still is king in terms of color saturation and black levels, but I didn’t notice how pixelized the screen was until I had used my G2 for a couple of days. It’s kind of a toss-up, and a decision you’ll have to make – either sacrifice the crisp screen of the G2 for the deep blacks of the Galaxy S (which I admit are quite attractive), or settle for slightly less blackness, and get a super crisp screen!

Bottom Line: The T-Mobile HTC G2 has a very good quality screen, and although the black levels & brightness don’t compare to the Galaxy S or iPhone 4, there are other features that make up for it.

Bluetooth

General Thoughts

Bluetooth is a technology that I’ve got a love/hate relationship with. It’s really nice, in some situations, but in others, I really wonder why devices even still support it. I don’t use a bluetooth headset, due to complications with using them — maybe it’s just me — but I do like the fact that my car, a 2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited, supports Bluetooth quite nicely, when paired with the right handset.

Bluetooth on the iPhone

I had my iPhone 3GS before I bought my car in February, so when I got the car, was eager to try out the car’s Bluetooth integration with it. Upon attempting to connect the two devices together, I discovered that, although they paired just fine, the iPhone didn’t support a certain protocol that allowed the car to download its address book. Because of this, I had been forced to dial phone numbers from my iPhone, which requires a few extra steps (unlock, find contact, etc.), and taking my eyes off the road. Other than that, the iPhone did allow me to stream music, and audio from other apps such as games, through to the car’s stereo system.

Bluetooth on the T-Mobile G2

After converting to the HTC G2, I found that pairing it with my car was incredibly easy. Enabling Bluetooth was simple, through the built-in widget that you can add to one of the Android home screens. Once Bluetooth was enabled, I put my car into pairing mode, which made it visible to the G2 through a friendly name: “SONATA.” The car sets its temporary pairing password to “0000” but Android didn’t even require me to enter the four-digit PIN; it just connected after I selected the car’s Bluetooth identifier. That sure was easy! After the two devices established a relationship, the car’s stereo indicated that it had already begun downloading the phonebook from my G2. After a minute, it let me hit the dial button on the steering wheel – I said “by name” –> “<friend’s name>” –> “on mobile” –> “yes”, and the phone began dialing, with the audio directed through the car’s stereo system!

In addition to voice dialing and talking, I was able to successfully stream music to my car over Bluetooth. For these purposes, I only tested with the built-in music player app on the G2. The only issue I have with this, and I’m not sure if it’s related to the car or the G2, but audio played via Bluetooth is much quieter. When the volume is all the way up on the G2, I still have to crank the car’s radio volume most of the way up to get much noise out of it. I may have to either stick with the auxiliary input (G2’s headphone jack), or just continue using my car’s iPod integration.

Bottom Line: Bluetooth on the T-Mobile G2 is freaking awesome – it actually works!

Android Market

android_market

The Android Market is a similar offering to Apple’s AppStore, as well as other application markets popping up out there.

App Categories

The Android market (“A-market”) seems to lack the level of categorization that the Apple AppStore (simply “AppStore” hereafter) has. Apple and Google both break out apps in categories, but it seems a bit odd to me how games and other apps are explicitly separated from each other in the A-market.

Just browsing around on the A-market, I noticed that quite a few apps failed to include screenshots with them. I don’t remember very many, if any, on the AppStore that didn’t include screenshots – this was pretty much standard. Also some apps had one-line descriptions (also without screenshots), or descriptions that didn’t go into enough detail about how the app worked. Both the lack of good descriptions, and the lack of screenshots, takes away from the professionalism that the Apple AppStore generally has.

App Prices

I noticed that some apps seem to be fairly more expensive on the Android platform, compared with the AppStore. One example of a huge price difference, is the cost of Doodle Jump. Doodle Jump is a simple, but highly successful game, in which each round only takes several minutes to play — it’s great for some quick on-the-go entertainment. This game costs $0.99 on the AppStore, but on the A-market, it costs a whopping $3.49! That’s a 350% mark-up compared to the AppStore! No thanks, I’ll save my money.

Another odd thing I noticed about app prices is that apps offered in a foreign currency have an estimated US dollars cost associated with them, that can have a weird value like ~$2.10 or ~$6.41. I preferred the standardization of AppStore apps, so you could quickly glance at the dollar amount and get a good idea of what it was going to cost you. I know this is borderline nitpicking, but standardization of such things is nice.

App Compatibility

One of the core issues with the openness of the Android platform and associated hardware is the fact that apps aren’t always tested on every device available. Apple’s situation, with limited and controlled hardware releases, allows them to perform both simpler, and more comprehensive testing, to ensure that applications will work properly. With all of the different Android device manufacturers, and OS customizations, app developers & testers have a much bigger issue to address. Unfortunately, while looking for prospective apps to download on the A-market, you’ll sometimes see comments stating specific compatibility issues such as: “Driver issue causes lockup on T-Mobile G2!” or “Some handsets (eg. Samsung Galaxy S) are not currently supported.

Bottom Line: Meh. It’s decent compared to the AppStore, and certainly adequate, but could use some better organization.

Battery Life & Charging

5

One of the shortcomings I see to the G2 is the battery life and charging speeds. I’ve always had 3G services enabled on the device, so I assume that’s consuming a fair amount of energy. The HSPA+ service is nice and fast, although I’m sure this comes at a cost to battery life. The wireless seemed to drain the battery pretty quickly as well. I had enabled it to try to reduce strain on the battery, but after a while of browsing, video streaming, app downloads, and gaming, it sorely needed charging.

The micro-USB charging port is on the side of the G2, and not in a position that would make plugging it into a dock very easy. I wonder if we’ll see a compatible dock in the G2’s future.

After hooking the G2 up to the charger included out of the box the first couple times, I noticed that charging was extremely slow. I haven’t timed anything, but compared to the time it took the iPhone to charge up from a very low state, it seemed to be fairly long. If your G2 battery is dead, and you’re heading out somewhere, you’ll certainly want to invest in a car charger, or an extra USB <–> micro-USB cable if your car has a USB port like mine does 🙂 I’d estimate a full charge, from dead, to take around 2-3 hours. I’ll have to time this sometime to be sure.

Another option would be to purchase a replacement battery, and keep it with you. As of this writing, I can only find one option on Amazon, and it’s sold by eForCity who I’ve had bad luck with in the past. If you hold out a bit longer, I’m sure more accessories will become available for the G2.

Bottom Line: The G2 could use a larger battery, and maybe they could work on faster charging batteries also?

Input Methods

T-Mobile G2 Keyboard Cropped Soft Edges (40% size)

Wow. The input options on the G2 are seemingly endless. This really blew me away. The G2 has an on-screen keyboard, physical + landscape keyboard, AND Swype! There’s also a row of four touch-sensitive buttons, and a touch-based scrolling device, but I’m focusing on the text input options here. Let’s examine each of these input options in a bit more detail.

Physical Keyboard

I’ve found that the physical keyboard provides nice, tactile feedback. It’s a little bit too broad for my thumbs however, although this tends to be a personal preference amongst different people with uniquely sized hands. A unique feature of the keyboard are the 3 “Quick Keys” which can be customized in the Android Settings menu. These can be tweaked to serve functions such as:

  • Launching any application
  • Open the Settings menu
  • Open the Android navigation service
  • Open a specific Gmail label

Since I don’t typically use the physical keyboard, these Quick Keys don’t really come in handy too much for me. Depending on your use of the device however, you may find that you get more use out of them.

On-Screen Keyboard

The G2’s on-screen keyboard (OSK) is good, but not as good as the iPhone’s in my opinion. Part of it may be a lack of experience typing on the G2, but the keys feel smaller and harder to hit accurately than the iPhone’s. One feature I really enjoyed on the iPhone was the ability to hold a key and have it pop up the accented versions of the character. This came in handy occasionally for me, and thankfully the Android OS seems to replicate this feature fairly well. In fact, there are two sub-menus on each key depending on how long you hold it. If you hold it for a short period, it’ll insert the ALT character for the key, and if you hold it a bit longer, it’ll pop open the accent menu, and other extended characters. This implementation allows for simple typing, while not forcing you to reach down and hit the ALT and SYM keys to use a key’s alternate function.

Swype

swype_logo

Now this is the first time I’ve heard of or used Swype, so forgive me if this is something that most Android users are accustomed to. Let me start off by saying that Swype IS VERY COOL! In a few short tutorials, I was quickly up and running, swyping away at text messages. Swype is an incredibly innovative text input feature that allows you to swipe your finger across the relevant letters in a word, and it figures out the most likely word that you’re trying to input. If there are several possibilities, it will instantly pop up a box that gives you those options. This box automatically has the most likely item selected, but if you need to select a different suggested word, you can simply tap it. If the most likely item is the one you want, you don’t have to tap it, you can simply continue typing! An important feature of Swype is that it automatically inserts spaces in between words where necessary, so you can continue swyping and not worry about hitting the space bar — this is REALLY efficient! After some typing with Swype, it turned out that sometimes it wouldn’t insert punctuation when I wanted it to. For example, the iPhone usually assumes that “its” means “it’s” but Swype just types “its” with no apostrophe. Not a big deal really, but it does involve going back to correct some words, if you’re a grammar nazi like me!

Bottom Line: Swype is awesome, and having plenty of text input options is good. Androids OSK is more than adequate and gets the job done well.

T-Mobile Service

3G/HSPA Performance

T-Mobile Logo (from TechFused)It seems that everyone using the G2 has been testing network connectivity (latency and throughput) using a SpeedTest.net utility, but when I tried to download and launch this app from the Android Marketplace, it gave me an error. Later on, I found the FCC speed test app, which works fairly well; I used this to test the 3G/HSPA speeds, because the Chicago area has not gotten HSPA+ service from T-Mobile yet. Coming from the AT&T 3G network, I’ve gotta say that it’s pretty fast, or at least comparable! That is, at least when I can get a signal. In my home office, T-Mobile’s service will occasionally drop completely, but to be fair, AT&T often would as well (does this actually surprise anyone?). I ran to my local Starbucks during the day, and got a full, strong HSPA signal.

When I purchased my G2 at my local corporate-owned T-Mobile store, the guy that sold it to me also had a G2 himself. He showed me some speed tests that he had performed in various areas, and he was able to hit 6-9Mbps download speeds without much trouble. Upload speeds were a bit concerning, as all of his tests showed in the vicinity of 0.50Mbps — terrible, at best. Nonetheless, I took the plunge and trusted the airwaves to get me speeds that were acceptable. After all, a number is just a number — what really matters is my experience as a user of the T-Mobile data service.

While the G2 will seamlessly switch between HSPA, 3G, and EDGE, you’ll sometimes notice that applications requiring data service will hiccup during these otherwise easily unnoticed changes. For example, while trying to update my Twitter timeline, the freshly released TweetDeck 1.0 for Android would complain about a lack of data service. This goes for any service provider and device however; network changes aren’t easily handled in software, but it’s still worth noting.

Benchmarks

I performed the following benchmarks using the FCC Broadband Test application. I have omitted performance tests where there was a problem, such as an extended application hang during download or upload tests. Only properly completed tests have been included.

Benchmark: Home office

On my desk in my home office, I would consistently get 2 bars of HSPA signal, as long as the phone was in the right position and location. Here are the results:

image

Benchmark: Outdoor Testing

I took my car out to some open areas, and actually found a local cell tower that seemed to be giving a full HSPA signal. I ran a few benchmarks from that area, and got these results:

image

As you can see, the peak download speeds are a bit higher than in my house, but the upload speeds still suffer pretty heavily.

After doing some research, it appears that the Chicago area may not yet be officially HSPA+ supported (I didn’t realize this when I originally got the device, and wrote this article). This is a little disappointing, and also confusing, because the G2 shows an icon indicating that it’s connected to the HSPA+ network. I’ve just posed the question to T-Mobile on Twitter, so hopefully I’ll get a response. Aaaaaand here’s their response!

@pcgeek86 The H will show when you are on a tower with a high speed connection 3G/HSPA the HSPA+ is coming soon. ^CG

image

General Notes

Overall, I am highly impressed with T-Mobile; It is not my first experience using their phone service, but my last experience was about 5 years ago. It is, however, my first experience using them as a smart device provider for both phone and data services. I believe that, from my experiences, T-Mobile provides a professional service, have high quality customer service, and employ well-trained retail personnel. T-Mobile is also active on Twitter, and they do respond to individual messages. This is par for the course in today’s social media-connected world, but not all companies get involved to the extent that I think they should, either. A T-Mobile representative responded to several inquires of mine on Twitter, one regarding service coverage in my house (they suggested I fill out an online form), and one regarding tethering & wifi calling support on the HTC G2. The rep went so far as to say: “@pcgeek86 Tethering and Wi-Fi sharing will not be supported on the device initially, but we know you want and are working on it. ^CG.” If that doesn’t qualify as a customer commitment, I’m not sure what does.

In today’s world where some service providers (ahem, AT&T and Verizon) can charge nearly $150 (last I checked) for a full, unlimited voice, text, and data plan, I think that T-Mobile provides a very affordable service without compromising their quality. The only thing I could see suffering at all may be coverage in some areas, but depending on your amount of travel, you are quite likely to never even run into such issues.

Bottom Line: If you think T-Mobile is a subpar provider, I’d highly suggest you re-evaluate your opinion. Their HSPA+ network is reportedly good, but could use some expansion

Conclusion

Well, I’ve covered most of the main points I wanted to talk about with the G2. There’s a lot more, but for now it’s time to wrap up this article.

This all boils down to a few key points:

  1. The Android platform is quite an excellent contender to Apple’s iOS
  2. The HTC G2 is an exceptional handset
  3. T-Mobile’s service is quite decent and affordable

I hope this helps you in your purchasing decisions! I highly recommend the G2 🙂

Sources

Battery icon from DeviantArt (~Shadowfax2009)
Bluetooth icon from
VeryIcon
T-Mobile Logo pulled from TechFused
Actual photos of T-Mobile HTC G2 taken by Trevor Sullivan

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