06 January 2009

Google G1 Handy activation in Austria

First a note for international readers -- in Austria and Germany, the word "Handy" is used ubiquitously for mobile phones, even among native English speakers.

In December, I had the opportunity to pass through Dubai (more about that in a subsequent post), and went shopping. I was lucky enough to find a store selling the new t-Mobile G1 phone, which is based on the HTC Dream hardware platform, and which runs the new Android operating system (based on Linux.)

The shop assistant helpfully pointed out that the phone couldn't be used in every country, and had a complex unlocking process, but I'd researched this already, and was prepared for it. I handed over my UAE currency, and received the box. It was a standard package, but was missing the latest addition I'd read about, a cable to adapt from the micro-USB to standard ear-phone jack, so it wasn't the latest version.

I knew it probably wouldn't work, but I tried a few different SIMs (none of them t-Mobile) to get past the initial activation -- and sure enough, I got to the point where it asks for the Gmail login, but the G1 timed out every time. I figured I would have more luck back in Austria, and sure enough, this week I was successful.

I visited a small shop that offers various telephone-related services, and bought a t-Mobile pre-paid card. (At first, I borrowed a t-Mobile SIM from the shop assistant, but it didn't work -- this was due to data services not being enabled on the SIM, as I proved when I tested it in my existing Nokia.) Plugging in the new t-Mobile SIM, I was successfully able to complete the initial registration (using my existing Gmail account), and started the process of downloading applications.

Now here was the first problem -- the initial pre-paid sum of 20 Euros disappeared VERY rapidly, and I was soon cut off. I realized that t-Mobile charge excessively for data traffic with their pre-paid cards, and that viewing Google Maps and downloading all those apps wasn't a smart idea. Since I was planning to use it with another SIM anyway, I didn't plan to sign on to a more economical data plan from t-Mobile. (They seem to offer 10 Gb for 10 Euros per month for existing voice accounts, which seems quite reasonable for a mobile service plan.)

Once I got home, I switched the phone to use my Wireless LAN, and downloaded to my heart's content.

I read the process to switch the G1 to another network provider, and started by booting the Android into safe mode (hold down the Menu button when powering on), then used the *#06# sequence to display the IMEI. I figured that I would need this to submit to the t-Mobile unlocking service.

Just for a laugh, I tried using my non-t-Mobile SIM in the G1. Hmmm... booted up OK. Accessing 3G services... OK. Calls in and out... OK. Wha? I realized that the Handy I had purchased in Dubai must have already been unlocked, because I certainly didn't enter an unlock code, and it's not a developer version.

My next challenge is to download the newest firmware -- this one seems to be running version 1.0. Hopefully, it will still work after the upgrade. Because I'm not using t-Mobile as my primary carrier, I suspect the Over The Air update won't reach me.

I've been using the phone fairly extensively for the past few days, and I must say I like it a lot. I have seen the iPhone 3G in operation, and feel the G1 is close to that standard, while offering a few features the iPhone doesn't have, like WLAN, a hardware keyboard, GPS, and a more open platform. Admittedly, the Android Market hasn't quite reached the 10,000 applications offered by the iPhone Marketplace, but I suspect it's just a matter of time, once Google allow people to make money through it.

Voice quality on the G1 is definitely better than my Nokia N73, and usability is far superior to Symbian, even with after-market add-ons like Fring (which I quite like.) I've upgraded the micro-SD to 8 Gb, so it has plenty of room for music and photos, and migrating all my existing contacts was a breeze (I merged my Gmail contacts with a copy of the SIM from my old mobile.) Battery life is the one weakness I have identified, but I've heard that HTC have a next-generation battery available soon which should improve that problem.

Most applications have been easy to learn to use. One small thing which wasn't immediately obvious -- accented characters can be typed by holding down the appropriate matching letter, then selecting from a list of accented versions which pops up.

Another minor issue is that sometimes the G1 loses the WPA-secured signal from my WLAN router, which doesn't automatically reconnect. Once noticed, I can reconnect manually, but it's something that hopefully will be fixed in a subsequent revision.

On the whole, I would say I am highly satisfied with the Google G1, and look forward to seeing what after-market software can do for me.