T-Mobile, Google unleash $179 Android phone

Gadget blogs have leaked as much as they could about the first Google Android cell phone, and at a press conference in New York this morning, T-Mobile officially unveiled the device at last. The G1 is manufactured by Taiwan’s HTC, and it features a large touch screen, a handful of buttons below it, and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard on the side. Just like the iPhone, the G1 uses an accelerometer to switch between portrait and landscape display modes automatically.

The device itself may not look as sexy as the iPhone, but the software is where T-Mobile and Google will likely focus the brunt of their joint marketing effort. Google’s Android platform not only includes an open-source, Linux-based operating system and a neat user interface, but also a full-featured suite of apps. You’ll find a WebKit-based browser, Google Talk, Gmail, Amazon MP3 software that lets you buy songs with the device, a built-in version of Google Maps with a “compass” feature that follows your movements in the Street View mode, and a music player that lets you search for related videos on YouTube.

If the built-in apps don’t satisfy you, you’ll be able to hop into the Android Market and download third-party software. Google points out that developers don’t have to jump through hoops to get started writing Android apps (indeed, the SDK is freely downloadable here), so G1 owners should eventually have access to a healthy software library. Google co-founder Sergey Brin even mentioned writing an app that, if you throw the G1 in the air, calculates how long it spends flying before falling back in your hand (or the floor). A T-Mobile executive also discussed an app that lets you scan product bar codes and look up prices online.

T-Mobile says you’ll be able to pre-order the G1 starting today for $179—about 20 bucks cheaper than the iPhone. The device will officially become available on October 22 in the U.S., some time in November in the United Kingdom, and in the first quarter of 2009 for the rest of Europe. The G1 may not replace Blackberry and iPhone devices in corporate users’ pockets just yet, though: there’s currently no Microsoft Exchange e-mail support, and T-Mobile suggested it may leave that up to third-party developers.

As always, you can grab the Android SDK and run the included emulator if you’d like to experiment with the Android user interface. Judging by what T-Mobile showed during the launch event, the G1’s UI is exactly the same.

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