Google can search out just about anything on the Internet, but can it call to say you'll be late for dinner?
Starting next week, it can.
The G1, the first cellphone equipped with Google Inc.'s mobile Android software, will go on sale Wednesday at T-Mobile stores and some electronics stores.
If purchased with a two-year calling plan, the phone will cost $179. The cost jumps to $399 without a plan.
The phone uses a touch screen that can whip through images with the swipe of a finger. It has a full keyboard and can download music, display online maps, play games, store photos, show videos, e-mail, instant message, access GPS and communicate at 3G and Wi-Fi speeds.
In other words, it's a direct competitor to the much loved/hyped iPhone.
Though not nearly as elegant and stylish as Apple Inc.'s iPhone, the G1 is a promising contender.
The Android-equipped phone is better at some tasks than the Apple model. The G1 has a real-world keyboard, as opposed to the iPhone's virtual layout, making it easier to use out of the box. Not to mention more fingernail-friendly.
The G1 multitasks beautifully, and, not surprisingly, it seamlessly integrates Google's search and other applications.
And the G1 battery, unlike the iPhone's, can be replaced by the user without sending the whole phone back to the company.
But the G1 has some growing up to do. And it has a lot of catching up to do with the iPhone -- from the company that gave us the iPod, which remains king when it comes to music and movies.
Here's how they compare:
* Keyboard/ergonomics: The iPhone's virtual, on-screen keyboard is more appealing to the eye than to the hand. It takes a lot of getting used to, and some people never become entirely comfortable with it.
The G1 solution -- a keyboard that slides out from under the screen as on the popular Sidekick phones -- is less elegant but more practical. Because it runs nearly the length of the phone, the keys are relatively uncrowded, and there are some nice touches, such as separate number keys.
It may not be as easy to use as the full keyboards on BlackBerry models, with their protruding keys and satisfying clicks, but the squishier G1 buttons are passable.
The placement of the phone and navigation buttons on the G1 are more problematic. Their location makes the phone asymmetrical for keyboard use, putting some strain on the right thumb. After a heavy texting session, numbness ensued.
The real keyboard makes the G1 heavier, too, and a bit clunkier. Also, iPhone wins on screen size -- it's bigger.
As for on-screen display, the G1 emulates Apple's clean but playful animations and backdrops. Heidi Klum should be telling Apple it's perpetually in.
* Internet: Search is everywhere on the G1. It's first encountered on one of the main screens, where there's a familiar-looking Google box simply waiting to be filled in.
When you play music, a touch of the song title on the screen allows you to search out the artist not only on Google but also YouTube and Amazon.
On both phones, the Internet is a joy to surf. They offer near-full views of websites instead of maddeningly scaled-back mobile versions that appear on other phones.
The G1 features a "back" button that, with a click, flips to the previous screen viewed.
* E-mail, IMs: The G1 loves Google's own Gmail and handles it with ease. But an on-screen tool that's supposed to add accounts is hit and miss. Mostly, in our experience, miss.
The G1 has a nifty pull-down feature on the home screen to give access to messages.
As for IMs -- instant messages for you analog types -- the G1 has loads of potential, mainly because it runs these services concurrently with other applications. But in tests, the buddy lists on the IM services were nearly always misrepresented on the phone, showing "on" when we logged off, and vice versa.
One basic cellphone feature the G1 got right -- and the iPhone didn't -- was picture messaging between phones. On the G1, it's a snap.
* Music: You can listen to it on both. But the ease of transferring music from computer to phone gives the iPhone the edge.
It would be tough to beat Apple at that game. Its landmark iTunes software makes organizing and downloading music practically intuitive.
With the G1, you drag and drop music files between devices -- hardly an organic process.
You won't have to worry about most music purchased at the iTunes store, however. Songs with Apple's digital rights protection won't play at all on the G1. But songs bought at online music stores, such as Amazon.com, that use the MP3 format will work fine.
The G1 is stingy on music storage, given the price. Its basic model at $179 comes with 1 gigabyte of storage. The lowest-level iPhone, at $199, comes with an 8-GB capacity.
* Applications: Developers have gone nuts producing hundreds of games and fitness, healthcare, social networking, travel, sports and other kinds of software, all ready for downloading onto the iPhone.
Many are free; others cost as little as 99 cents. The apps are among the joys of owning the Apple phone.
The G1 might get there, but it has a lot of ground to make up. Only a handful of apps are available at launch.
* Did we mention they make phone calls?
Yes, they do.