Editor's note: HTC has not announced an outright price for the Dream. Exclusive carrier Optus is only selling the Dream on contract at launch. Check out our Dream vs. iPhone pricing comparison for more information.
Calling its latest phone Dream is an interesting move by HTC. It strikes an image so far removed from the buzz words of consumer tech, like Xpress, Bold and Pro, and yet it seems to sum up our long wait for Google's Android platform — a system which has been but a dream for us tech-heads in Australia until now.
When you visit your local Optus store to see the Dream, brace yourself for an underwhelming first contact. The overall aesthetic of the Dream is a lacklustre step backwards for HTC, who've been busy designing some of the industry's sexiest handsets in the last 12 months. It's the company's take on function over form with the matte charcoal finish and rounded edges that lack the sharp, sexy design of the Touch Diamond and Touch HD.
The centrepiece of the Dream is a 3.2-inch 320x480-pixel touchscreen display. While this resolution isn't as rich as the Touch HD's WVGA (480x800) screen, it is no less impressive and is great for everyday use.
Alongside the touchscreen, the Dream has a variety of input options. Just below the display is a panel of mechanical keys and a trackball for basic navigation, and under the slide the Dream sports an excellent full QWERTY keyboard. The sliding mechanism moves the screen sideways in a small arc motion, which reveals five rows of well spaced keys.
Worst things first: the Dream is not the business phone it should be. Short of a few unreliable third-party solutions on the Android Market there is no MS Exchange email support, which seems a major oversight. This means no native access to business email or syncing with Outlook and no access to your company intranet.
The paradox is that the Dream's real strength is its online connectivity. Without any application downloads the handset has pre-installed apps for GMail, Google Maps, YouTube. To keep the data coming quickly, the Dream supports HSDPA transfers on a 2100MHz network — as used extensively by all the carriers in Australia except Telstra. We found that after tinkering with the web we'd have loved to use this phone for more serious business.
The HTC Dream uses Webkit as the basis for its browser, which is also the core of the Safari browser on the iPhone. It uses full HTML browsing and has Java support, plus you can surf almost every website; except ones that use Flash. You can pan across the screen with your finger, and though you can't zoom in by pinching as you can on the iPhone, you can bring up on-screen zoom controls at the bottom of the display. Similar to the iPhone, you can also double-tap on a web page to zoom in on a particular section.
While Apple had the unenviable task of incorporating a full-blown iPod-like music player into the iPhone, the T-Mobile G1 has been made as more of a mobile phone than a music player. That said, the music player on the G1 is robust for what it is, and will satisfy most casual listeners. Songs are organised by Artists, Albums, Songs and Playlists, as you'd expect. You get the typical music player functions like shuffle, repeat and the ability to create playlists on the fly. And even though there's no CoverFlow, you can still view album art in a list format. We especially like that you can instantly convert any song to a ringtone directly from the music player.
You can also upload any of your own music files — it supports MP3, M4A, AMR, WMA, MIDI, WAV, Ogg Vorgis formats and has 192MB RAM and 256MB ROM. The 1GB microSD card comes preloaded with 11 songs, and the expansion slot can support up to 8GB cards. But the most disappointing thing about the music player is hardware related: the G1 doesn't have stereo Bluetooth, and the lack of a 3.5mm jack says to us that the G1 isn't meant to be a music player replacement.
YouTube clips took quite a while to load via 3G, and quality wasn't the greatest. Though images and audio were synchronised, it was blurry — but then again we were watching low-res versions since we were on T-Mobile's network instead of on Wi-Fi.
The 3.2-megapixel camera beats the iPhone's 2-megapixel camera, but you can't record video. Worse, there are no camera settings, such as white balance, effects and shooting modes. And taking pictures was a challenge. You have to have a steady hand to get a clear shot, as the slightest movement will result in a blurry image. We took about 10 or 12 pictures before we could get a satisfactory shot, and by the end, we were frustrated. Picture quality was mediocre — objects on the outside had sharp definition but they got soft in the middle. The images also had a yellowish hue.
While this is a review of the HTC handset, the fact of it being the first phone in Australia to run Google's Android operating platform can't go unnoticed. Like the iPhone 3G, this is a landmark release.
We're still digging deeper in the platform, but so far we've been very impressed. Unlike the releases of new Nokia and Windows Mobile platforms, Android is a system built with touchscreen displays in mind, and this really shows in the finger-friendly design of its interface. A good example of this is the way notifications, like new SMS messages, are displayed in a drag-down menu at the top of the screen, an area on-screen shared with network coverage and battery life.
HTC's Dream isn't the most powerful phone around at the moment, but this doesn't stop Android from running exceptionally smoothly, with performance to rival the iPhone. Every finger gesture, swiping and scrolling, is met with a smooth and instant response. Android doesn't multitask, in the traditional sense, but instead appears to store an application's last active status for the next time this application is opened. This keeps things running lag-free, whilst allowing you to use several apps seamlessly without losing your place.
The Android Market is Google's answer to Apple's overwhelmingly popular App Store, though to call this a store would be incorrect considering every single application is free. We've spent a lot of our review time searching deeper and deeper into the Market, finding new apps and seeing what they do. There may not yet be the 15,000 apps found on Apple's Store, but there is more than enough to keep you amused for a very long time.
Android's zippy performance has made the Dream look very good in action, though parts of the phone unrelated to the operating system are less impressive. Battery life is abysmal, with only a day between charges with low-to-moderate use. While browsing the Android Market and the internet, the Dream lasted for less than eight hours before the battery died.
Also, call quality has been questionable, due perhaps to a weaker than usual radio antenna. Many of the calls we made were plagued with break-ups, and the phone lost its connection to the mobile network altogether on more than one occasion.
We came to our conclusion from the moment we started to test the Dream and little has changed as we continued: Android is awesome, but the handset needs work. Parts of the Dream are superb: the touchscreen, the QWERTY keyboard, the phone's performance in regards to menu navigation and applications. But, the shocking battery life and frequent disturbances during calls, plus the phone's daggy appearance, make the Dream a phone for early adopters only. 2009 will be a year full of sexy Android phones, so it might be best to wait for the next generation.