HTC G2 (T-Mobile) full review

HTC’s G2 on T-Mobile represents the next step in the vanilla Android pseudo-official Google phone roadmap. The G1, an HTC device, launched in the fall of 2008, establishing Android as a new force on the mobile scene and serving as a guinea pig for app producers. A year and some months later, Google sold their HTC Nexus One from their own online shop (the endeavor was widely regarded as a poorly executed mistake), and became the primary device for development and debuted a major Android update. The G2 looks a bit like the child of the G1 and N1, featuring a full keyboard and sliding mechanism reminiscent of the former, and the build quality and elegance of the latter. Running plain Jane Android, the device is likely to receive updates more rapidly and further down the road than most other Google gadgets currently on shelves. I’ve had the G2 for about two-and-a-half weeks now, and it’s one of my favorite Androids. But not because it’s perfect… (cont.)




Beautiful!


Body

The first thing I noticed about the G2, and what is easily my favorite aspect of the device, is the build quality. The phone feels more like a chunky Nexus One than the successor to T-Mobile’s G1 and when you hold this baby in your hand, you know it’s a quality chunk of gear. The materials are top notch, and when weighing the G2 against another quality phone like Samsung’s Epic 4G, the difference is dramatic enough that the Epic pales in comparison, feeling like a cheap toy (keyboard keys aside, which I’ll get to later).

While some are bothered by what they perceive as a loose sliding mechanism (see photo and the keyboard comparison video below for a demonstration), I find this very minor problem negligible. In fact, I hesitate to call it a problem, as it’s quite difficult for me to pick up the phone from the edges of the screen without grasping the bottom half of the device. It’s a downright challenge for me to expose this flaw, where the sliding mechanism opens, leaving the lower slab of kit dangling in the air. So, if I have to try so diligently to make it happen, can it really be thought of as an unintentional opening of the device? I say no, but I recognize that differences in build quality–which I had a very difficult lesson in during my exchanges of many G1s–might explain why some people are more upset by the issue than I am. I never would have noticed it had I not seen it pointed out in a video. In fact, the G2′s sliding mechanism is the best I’ve ever used. (cont.)


Me trying to expose the sliding mechanism “flaw” without dropping the phone.


Keyboard

So, I love the sliding mechanism, but what about the keyboard? First, I need to say that I have become wholly dependent on Swype. The drag-to-type software keyboard is so quick and effortless to use that it has all but ruined me for other keyboards. Thankfully, the G2 comes with Swype pre-installed. Awesome. There’s one killer option to check off on my list. Do I even need a real kb? Over the months of searching and waiting for the best hardware QWERTY on an Android, I’ve fallen in love with virtual keyboards, and my answer is no; I’m fine typing on-screen. But not everyone has abandoned hard keys, so I forced myself to use the G2′s sliding board for one week straight. (cont.)



The keyboard is pretty good; not great, and definitely not perfect. The keys have a fair amount of separation and a bit less travel than I would prefer. “Prefer” is the key word in that sentence, as a great deal of phone reviews are based on taste. Personally, I’m looking forward to the Lexikon/Merge’s rubbery keys for my own personal hard kb solution but the G2 will suffice for many of you. The letters are arranged in a staggered design, which is the only one I can imagine considering, if I were to design my ultimate device. HTC threw in some Quick Keys that you can assign favorite apps to, so if you’re typing on the open keyboard and want to jump between GMail, TweetDeck, and Handcent, all you have to do is hit a silver key (a Quick Keys widget is also available). The soft, rounded pads aren’t as well-defined for the blind typing fingertips as I would like and when it comes to the actual buttons, Epic’s clicky alphabet feels more solid in my hands. Not to mention that tapping away on the G2 gives me the odd sensation that something crinkly like cellophane is resting under the keys. Here’s my video comparison of the keyboards from DROID 2, Epic 4G, and the G2. The G2 wins, but probably wouldn’t if the Lexikon were here today. That’s my guess. (cont.)

Video: Keyboard Showdown: DROID 2, Epic 4G, G2:



Data:

So the #1 selling point of the G2–a sliding keyboard–isn’t quite what I would like it to be but that’s OK because Swype is on board and I’m happy to have such a great option. What about the next sales sheet bullet point, HSPA+? T-Mobile upgraded and expanded their existing 3G HSPA network, increasing speed limits from 7 Mbit/s down up to a theoretical DL of 21 Mbit/s, and may be branding the product with the much-less-confusing-for-the-average-consumer, 4G. I’ve heard stories of people getting crazy good speeds on this new network. However, in my current home of Charlotte, NC, I have yet to achieve what I would consider 4G speeds with the G2. I have run dozens of speed tests and filmed three. I’ve run into all kinds of trouble with my phone switching and dropping data connections. Complicating matters is the lack of a visual distinction, of any kind, between an HSPA and an HSPA+ connection. Considering that the two are likely to be marketed by T-Mobile as 3G and 4G, respectively, I’d say unique notification bar icons are in order. But that’s me. A lot of readers and viewers have complained about my speed tests, saying that I needed to hack this and wiggle that and run the tests again, but I’ve provided extremely favorable environments for speed testing, and the big numbers never appeared. All I can say is that, here, in Charlotte, North Carolina, the G2 I have is not any faster, data-wise, than say, my N1 or Vibrant. (cont.)

Video: Speedtest: EVO vs. G2:



Video: Last Chance, G2:



Camera:

The G2 features the same camera software as any other vanilla (non-customized by OEM or carrier) Android 2.2 installation. A video walkthrough can be found here, along with a number of video and still photo samples. In general, I found the camera produced very sharp and clear images when light was abundant. But when the scene is dim, both static and moving shots became problematic. For me, the 5MP camera and single LED flash are sufficient for the kind of shots I tend to take with cell phones. Then again, once I have a phone with a camera on par with iPhone 4 I tend to use my mobile for more demanding and serious shoots. I’m satisfied with the G2 single cam and it’s definitely near the top of the list of HTC camera phones, but it’s not going to blow your socks off with its performance overall. Still, take a shot in the sunlight or capture some 720p HD video on a hot day at the beach, and you won’t regret carrying the G2. (cont.)




Remember to select 720p from the YouTube menu!


Software:

The G2 ships with Android 2.2, which means you can have apps auto update and even run form the SD card (for apps that support it). Froyo also has a number of optimizations and features that result in faster performance than 2.1, such as the Just in Time compiler, or JIT. Despite being clocked at 800MHz, the G2 can hold its own in benchmarking apps, and sits at the top of the Quadrant Standard list of tested devices. For more information on the G2′s software, research Android 2.2. The only significant changes here are some Google Voice widgets and the heaping helping of bundled Google apps. (cont.)



Conclusion:

The G2 is one of my favorite Androids on the Market. In fact, as of today, it’s in my top two. Things may change in the coming holiday season, but if you’re looking for a killer Android device with a hardware keyboard, the G2 is definitely worth a look. If the keyboard feels right for you and people in your area are getting 4G speeds, this gadget is a solid investment. It’s likely to see upgrades in the coming months that enhance usability and increase performance. I don’t think it’s likely that support will taper off anytime soon. For me, the lack of HSPA+ data speeds did not affect practical usage. However, considering that is one of the key selling points, I’m a bit disappointed with my SpeedTest results. But not nearly as disappointed as I am that there’s no other means to determine if the phone is even accessing HSPA+!

The other key selling point, the keyboard, just isn’t as good as Swype in my book, which means I’m carrying around unnecessary bulk. But because the materials feel so nice (did you see that battery door?) it’s not a big deal to lug the extra weight around. Those of you that simply can’t stand virtual keyboard may find a very good friend in the G2. Personally, I’m hoping the Lexicon can lure me back into the world of hard QWERTYs. The G2 wasn’t able to. Because I’m not using the kb, and because my EVO often doubles the G2′s data speeds, it makes more sense for me to stick with the EVO, for now. I like the big screen, and it just continues to tickle my fancy. It’s got personality, and Sense makes it pretty. Still, the G2 has a bangin’ body. (Cue facepalm.)

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