On September 23, 2008, the mobile operating system we all know as Android was finally launched. Of course, an operating system is nothing without the hardware to back it up, and this week marks the debut of the first Android phone, the HTC Dream, also known as the T-Mobile G1.
While it didn’t exactly set the world on fire in terms of sales, the G1 sparked a mobile revolution that eventually resulted in Android dominating the entire industry and giving the phone legendary status as the first Android-branded phone.
But how was the T-Mobile G1? What features, specifications and innovations has it brought to the table? What did people do with it in 2008 and what impact did it have on future Android phones?
While we could technically go back to the formative days of Android, the G1 story didn’t begin until 2005 when Google bought Android for around $ 50 million.
Now, supported by Google’s enormous pool of resources, Andy Rubin (later the short-lived Essential) and other Android founders began in earnest to transform Android into a mobile operating system based on the Linux kernel, which can rival Symbian, Windows Mobile, and soon could be iPhone OS (later iOS).
The world caught a glimpse of the first Android cell phone prototype in late 2007. The internal reference device, codenamed “Sooner,” immediately attracted comparisons to Blackberry phones, and even at a quick glance, it’s not hard to see why.
Though a key feature (pun absolutely deliberate) would find its way to the G1, much of Sooner’s design was abandoned after the industry-shattering announcement of the iPhone and the introduction of the touchscreen. The phone has never seen a commercial release.
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But while many were waiting for the first “Google Phone”, the search giant secretly had much bigger plans.
As an open, standardized platform, Android quickly attracted third-party attention. This culminated in the formation of the Open Handset Alliance, which included leading phone manufacturers, network operators and chip manufacturers, all of whom were committed to developing open standards for mobile devices.
One of those founding members of OHA was HTC, a Taiwanese OEM whose sales and market share would skyrocket in the following years thanks to the Android platform (before the recent decline). HTC also had a long history of working with Google, including working on the first real Google Phone, the Google Nexus One.
But that relationship started with the first Android phone released on September 23, 2008, the HTC Dream. Less than a month later, the same phone went on sale in the US on October 22nd at a price of $ 179 called the T-Mobile G1.
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It’s fair to say that looking back at the G1 and looking at today’s phones does him no favor, but even in 2008 it wasn’t exactly the most eye-catching phone out there.
Perfectly described as a phone that looked like “a device in a 1970s science fiction movie set in 2038″ by Engadget At the time of release, the G1 couldn’t match the sleek looks of the iPhone 3G, Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, Nokia N96 or Blackberry Bold 9000, but it offered a relatively unique form factor and a brand new operating system experience.
The heart of the phone was the 3.2-inch, flip-up capacitive TFT touchscreen with a resolution of 320 x 480 (~ 180 ppi). In contrast to the almost frameless beauties of today, the G1 had a screen-to-body ratio of almost 50% with an aspect ratio of 3: 2.
The T-Mobile G1 / HTC Dream
Hidden beneath the slide-out display was a full QWERTY keyboard for those who weren’t entirely convinced of this newfangled touchscreen future.
In fact, the G1 didn’t have a virtual keyboard at all when it started, meaning users had to pull out the display and use the QWERTY keyboard whenever they wanted to type anything. Thankfully, a later update added the much-requested feature.
In 2008, the T-Mobile G1 wasn’t exactly the most eye-catching cell phone on the market either.
The phone also had five physical buttons. In addition to the usual buttons for answering and filing calls at the time, the G1 had home, back and menu buttons.
These were all on the phone’s chin, which was bent slightly to keep the microphone closer to your mouth while on the phone – a questionable design quirk that almost always got in the way when trying to type on the keyboard.
As if five buttons weren’t enough, the phone also had a dedicated camera shutter button, volume rocker and deep breath a clickable trackball. Oh trackballs, how we don’t miss you at all.
Aside from a single speaker on the back, the G1’s only other notable design decision was actually to remove a popular connector. That’s right, the G1 didn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack.
What feels terrifyingly predictive today, the G1 required users to plug an adapter into the phone in order to use a standard headphone, the culprit being the phone’s proprietary “ExtUSB” port (which was also mini-USB compatible) .
Far from being the harbinger of the death of all headphone jacks, the G1 was a big exception to the rule. Later Android phones would take over the port and together they would live happily ever after … until their chaotic divorce years later.
Features and Specifications
Despite the G1’s questionable design, it still had a lot going for it on the feature front, and most of it was thanks to that brand new thing called Android … you may have heard of it by now.
Even in its primitive version 1.0 (Google didn’t add a snack-centric nickname until 1.1 Petit Four), Android offered features that the competition simply couldn’t match.
Customizable home screens (up to three at startup), widgets, copy and paste, multitasking for all apps (including third party apps); Some of the G1’s best features still form the backbone of Android today. In particular, the inclusion of a notification drawer was a huge leap over the messy notification system on Apple’s phones.
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The G1 also laid the foundation for Google’s app and service model, which would gross in billions of dollars over the next decade.
Google Maps (with GPS and an industry-first integrated compass), Gmail and YouTube were preinstalled, as well as a simple HTML browser, which of course opened the Google search start page.
But the most important take was the Android Market, a digital storefront that opened with just over a dozen third-party apps that we know today as the Google Play Store. It would slowly gain momentum as other developers joined the Android crew, providing G1 users with a potentially endless source of tools and games to play with.
As for the rough specs, the internal parts of the G1 sound ridiculous from a modern standpoint, but it had enough clout in its day. The G1 was powered by a Qualcomm MSM7201A SoC with an Adreno 130 GPU and supported by 192 MB RAM, 256 MB internal storage (expandable to 16 GB) and a replaceable 1,150 mAh battery.
On the front of the camera, the G1 had a 3.15 megapixel shooter with autofocus. Video recordings were added later using Android 1.5 Cupcake.
What did people think of that?
T-Mobile shipped one million G1 units in the US in the first six months. It helped Android to jump to fourth place in the US smartphone market with a market share of six percent behind Windows Mobile OS (11%), Blackberry RIM OS (22%) and the iPhone operating system (50%).
Despite decent sales, overall ratings for the phone were everywhere. Some praised the phone’s impressive specs (for the time) and how it effectively brought the Google ecosystem to the phone. Others questioned the phone because of its bland design, pathetic battery life (just over five hours of talk time), and the limited number of apps on the Android Market at launch.
However, the common thread in all discussions about the G1 was Android, with almost all fans and critics agreed that the operating system was very promising and could become a big player in the wireless industry.
T-Mobile G1: The Legacy of the First Android Phone
Over a decade after the G1 was released, Android has a firm grip on the industry with over 70% market share and hundreds of partner brands making Android-powered devices.
The G1 story finally ended in 2010 after HTC stopped production with Android 1.6 Donut as the official software update.
While it was far from the finished item, the G1 remains an important part of Android’s history and its influence can still be seen in the DNA of the Galaxies, Pixels, and the many other different phones we use today.
So the next time you get your beloved Android phone out of your pocket, think of the iconic phone that started it all.
Did you have a G1 before? Share your memories in the comments!
Publisher’s Note: This is an updated version of a 2018 article.