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IRA FLATOW, host:

This is Talk of the Nation Science Friday. I'm Ira Flatow. Google has teamed up with T-Mobile and gadget maker HTC to fire the first shot in these smart phone wars. In this week, they unveil their new G1 phone, ready to hit the shelves next month - take on the iPhone. It comes complete with touch-screen, email, maps, Internet browsing. How much though is that like the iPhone - how does it stack up? Well, my next guest had the opportunity to actually play around with the G phone - G1 phone - earlier this week. He did a side-by-side comparison. He's here with us today. Joshua Topolsky is the editor-in-chief of endgadget.com. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JOSHUA TOPOLSKY (Editor in Chief, Engadget.com): Hi, how are you? It's engadget.

FLATOW: Enga - what did I say?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: End. Well, it happens. You know, you might have said en. That could be my mistake.

FLATOW: You've done too much radio...

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Well, it's possible.

FLATOW: Engadget.

FLATOW: So is it an app killer? Is that an iPhone killer, this thing?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Well, I'm not sure it's an iPhone killer. I mean, I feel that term gets thrown around a lot. It's a good phone. It's got a lot of really interesting features. It's different than the iPhone. And I think it's going to appeal to some people who might by an iPhone, but there's going to be a lot of people who are looking for something slightly different, and that's where it's aimed.

FLATOW: And what's slightly different about it?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Well, for one thing, it's built on sort of this idea of open source and openness. Google's whole - you know, there's whole spiel on the phone is - we're not going to put restraints on you; you can do whatever you want with it. You can put whatever apps you want on it. And so I think that people who are looking for a little more tweakability. You know, geeks will get into it a bit more. Whereas the iPhone is aimed squarely at a broad casual, you know, more of a casual consumer market.

FLATOW: And they've actually - there's been a lot of people complaining this week - recently that Apple has been too strict on what it allows on its own iPhone.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Yeah. The timing is actually quite good for T-Mobile and Google, and HTC, the company that makes the phone, because Apple has taken a lot of heat recently for the way they've been running their app store, you know, which is where you can buy applications for the iPhone. They've been, you know, basically they've been sort of arbitrarily, mysteriously pulling applications, and, you know, they've got a really strict set of rules that they use. And - to judge what goes on in the store and what doesn't and - so the timing is great for T-Mobile because they're saying, look, here's something where you can do what you want. We're not going to tell you not to do it. We won't pull your app off of our app store. They have an app store called the Android Marketplace. So it's, you know - definitely there's a bit of storm brewing in that region.

FLATOW: How about the keyboard. One of the things that the iPhone was revolutionary in is having that glass - no real keys on it. You can make the keyboard - the face look like anything you want it to. Is that the same here?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Well, I mean, it's a touch-screen phone. It uses a similar technology to the I-Phone for its touch-screen, but it also has this flip-out physical keyboard. And, so you've got a lot of what the iPhone is doing in terms of the screen can be whatever you want and it's got, you know - it's a capacitive, they call it a capacitive touch-screen, which is more sensitive than the typical touch-screens you see on phones. But, you know, the physical keyboard is kind of a big win in a lot of ways. A lot of people aren't comfortable with the iPhone's virtual keyboard. But it doesn't have a virtual keyboard, you have to use a physical one.

FLATOW: Let's get a phone call to Mike (ph) from Portland, Oregon. Hi, Mike.

MIKE (Caller): Hi.

FLATOW: Hi there.

MIKE: I was wondering if Google's successful in promoting this Android platform across multiple companies - doesn't that open up the possibility of virus attack?

FLATOW: Yeah. If it's open source, can't more people get in and hack the system?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Well, there's certainly - you're probably a little more risk than with an iPhone. But, you know, we've got phones like Windows Mobile Phones, for instance, and Palm Phones, that has been pretty much free reign. You can make whatever apps you want for them. And they haven't really plagued with viruses or malware very much. So I'm - I think, you know, we'll see this is a much bigger market they're playing for than the sort of business users or the geekier users for those devices. But, you know, I think that - I think they're going to be keeping a watch. It's not just going to be do as you please. I think that they're going to be keeping a very close eye on the kind of apps that people are making.

FLATOW: Thanks for calling.

MIKE: Thank you very much.

FLATOW: You talked about Apple keeping its system very close to its chest and it does that. Don't you have to be a Google user to use this phone, too?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: You know this is - I haven't gotten a confirmation on this. I've heard different people saying different things, but it does - I mean at the basic of the base of this, you have to use Gmail to get contacts onto the device to see contacts. Which wouldn't - I would imagine means you need to have a Gmail account. I don't know if - I don't think they're going to have a service where you just have your contacts separate. So I think there is - obviously they're trying to tie in their cloud services and their webmail to the phone. So yeah, the way it looks is you're going to have to have a Google account to use it.

FLATOW: Is there anything missing, glaringly missing? How did they forget to put this?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: On the G-1?

FLATOW: Yeah, on the G-1.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Well, very much like Apple, they don't have any kind of video recorder. You can do pictures, but if you want to shoot a video, there's no way to do it right now, which seems very odd. They don't have a video player. There's apparently one that's available on their applications throughout the marketplace, but it doesn't come with one. So if you want to watch a video on it, you have to get a separate app you need to download. You know, it doesn't have multi-touch the way the iPhone does. So when you want to zoom in on something, you actually have to use a little plus or minus.

FLATOW: You can't squeeze it with your fingers.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: There's no pinching - right. There's no two-finger gestures that you use on it. So it is missing a few things but, I think it's missing far less than the iPhone was when it came out of the gate.

FLATOW: Do you expect it to be as big a seller as the iPhone?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Well, I don't know about that. I mean, AT&T is a very - you know, is a very dominant network here in America, and Apple of course, is a brand to be reckoned with. This is a little more grass roots, and I think that for T-Mobile, it's going to be very successful. And I think for Google, it's going to really cement their place as a contender in smart phones in this sort of converged area that we're moving in with devices. Will it sell as many? I mean -

FLATOW: Who knows?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: I don't know, but I would say that, at a glance, probably not.

FLATOW: Why would a programmer want to write a program for this phone versus write one for the iPhone.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Well, I think that the main reason - OK, so - if you write an application for the iPhone, you can't write a web browser. You can make your own web browser. You're on email application. There's very restrictive limitations put on developers for the iPhone. You can do certain things; you can't do other things. Apple's sort of vague about it, but they don't want you competing with their products that are on - their apps that are on the phone. If - where as with Android, you can do whatever you want. You want a browser, an email client - you can go ahead and do it. So if you're going to invest a lot of time and money in something, you know, you sort of have to - with Apple, you have to hope that they'll approve the application. Whereas with G1 and Android, you know, it will go out to the marketplace.

FLATOW: The fact that Google has jumped in here - is that sort of heading off to pass somebody like Microsoft that might want to jump in with their own iPhone?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Well, I mean Microsoft has a big place in the market with Windows Mobile. So I'm sure what they're looking at is advancing that into the next stage, something that probably, you know, more touch, more flashy. I'm not sure that it's a - I don't think this precludes the possibility of something like a zoom phone or some sort of Microsoft, sort of more consumer-oriented phone. But it certainly is, you know, Google entering this market is going to be add - you know, a big added competition for those guys.

FLATOW: Yeah. They are an 800-pound gorilla now.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Yeah, I mean, it's - they're not fooling around. I mean, Google is a very serious contender. I mean, they own so much of what goes on online, you know that for them to step into the Phone OS or device OS area is...

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Is a pretty big deal.

FLATOW: Now, there are a lot of early adapters. You probably maybe one of them. I got to have that first one that's out there.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: It's possible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TOPOLSKY: That is possible.

FLATOW: Well, look what happened to a lot of people who bought the first iPhone, and they paid a lot of money for it and in just a few months later, the second version came out a couple of hundred bucks less or more.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Yeah. We'll it's about a year later. But...

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: But they didn't release the price.

FLATOW: And they felt burned. They felt they got burned by being an early adapter. Might the same thing be happening here. Should you wait, you know?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Well, the price of the entry is way lower for this. If you're - sign a new contract or a T-Mobile customer renewing your contract, it's $179 which is not huge investment for a lot of phone buyers right now. So, it's not that $600, oh you know, was it $599 for the iPhone when it come out which is astronomical and now look into what they're charging at this, $199 that they're charging now.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. And the service plan, is it basically the same?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: It's actually - I mean in terms of what you get, I think it's a little bit more economical. They offer a $25 plan which is unlimited data and 400 text messages and then they have a $35 plan which is unlimited everything basically where in Apples, the Apple and AT&T, they're - it's a little bit more expensive.

FLATOW: What about the bandwidth, the wide channel such as downloads.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Well, yeah, I know. It's a 3G device. But T-Mobile's 3G network which is different than AT&Ts is not nearly as widespread as AT&T, this is not - it doesn't - they don't have as many areas of coverage. So, you know, it's - there's a trade-off there. Then again, AT&Ts can be very spotty so...

FLATOW: And they also talked about that there was a cap on this early on the service.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: You know, the day of the announcement, there was this kind of small tax saying, we're going to cap you at a gig a month and if you go beyond one gig of data a month, we're going to have to slow your downloads. But they actually, you know, really responded to the - we saw a big outcry on our site of users. Very upset about it and I think they really responded to it, and they've actually taken that off of the documentation now, so...

FLATOW: So, if you're starting out with your first smart phone, and you're choosing between an iPhone and this new phone, who's this for, who's is it not for?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Well, you know, that's a lot of factors.

FLATOW: Yeah, I mean if you just, you know, I don't know how to use any electronic device. You're like the person that can't take the 12 on the clock, you know?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: OK. Yeah, then you should probably get an iPhone. You know, I can't it's because it's a much more controlled environment. It's a bit - it's a slicker environment and it's more geared towards, you're not going to run off the beaten path, you know, you're staying on what Apple has sort of set up for you.

FLATOW: And when you plug it in, it goes right to iTunes.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Yeah, it's all integrated.

FLATOW: Can you interface all? Is this phone also integrated into something?

Mr. TOPOLSKY: No, this is only - well, it's integrated into Gmail and into Google services. So, you get tight integration with if you're Gmail user and a lot of people are now. But in terms of you're an Apple user and you've got all your contacts in the Apple address book and then, you know...

FLATOW: Calendar...

Mr. TOPOLSKY: In all accounts, calendar. It's not going to sync with those, and so for a lot of users that's going to be - the same with Windows. It's not going to sync with your Outlook. So that's kind of a road block I think for a lot of users especially entry-level users who just want something easy.

FLATOW: So, you'd have to migrate all of those - the equivalent Google apps online.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Essentially, you'd have to put your contacts and your calendar data into Gmail or Google.

FLATOW: And you press a button, and it syncs just like it would.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: It actually syncs over the air. So it syncs continuously. If you change your contacts in your Gmail, it will push that to the phone and vice versa.

FLATOW: I'm doing that on my iPhone with my...

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Yeah, right. No, it's very similar.

FLATOW: It's the same thing. Well, thanks, Josh. Thank you for taking time to be with us. Josh Topolsky is editor in chief of engadget.com.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: That's right.

FLATOW: Thank you.

Mr. TOPOLSKY: Thanks for having me.

FLATOW: We're going to take a short break. Switch gears and when we come back, we're going to talk with Carl Djerassi. He's here to talk about his new play, "Taboos" which talks about - well, maybe you don't need people to have children or something like that. Stay with us, we'll explain - well, that is when we come back. Stay with us, we'll be right back.

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