The Ion offers many of the same features as the G1. We won't go into details here, but we'll list them for review purposes. For a more in-depth look, see our G1 review. Essentials include a calculator, an alarm clock, a calendar, text and multimedia messaging, and speaker-independent voice dialing. A few more organizer apps like a world clock and a to-do list would be nice, but they should be available as apps. And, of course, you can sync Google calendar and contacts.
More demanding users will like the presence of a YouTube app, Wi-Fi, USB mass storage and syncing, GPS with Google Maps integration, and Google Talk. The Ion's music player isn't terribly fancy; it offers album art, but features are limited to playlists, shuffle, repeat and an airplane mode. You can load your own music on the Ion or you can buy music from the Amazon MP3 store.
The Android Marketplace, which lets you download free and paid apps, is unchanged. We browsed through it a bit and again found it to be quick and easy to use. One quirk of the Android OS is that you can store applications on the internal memory only. On the Ion, that's limited to 288MG RAM and 512MB ROM, so it's important that you track your available storage carefully. The handset offers a memory card slot--a 2GB MicroSD card came with our review model--but you'll have to save it for photos, music and other files.
Thanks to the Cupcake 1.5 update, the Ion offers stereo Bluetooth and autopairing, video recording and video playback. We knocked the G1 for lacking those options, so we're glad to see them here. The stereo Bluetooth pairing worked without a hitch and the video recorder, while devoid of editing options, is intuitive (see Performance). You can choose from two quality formats.
Other Cupcake additions include bundled widgets on the home screen, video uploads to YouTube, photo upload to Picassa, one-touch access to a contact card from call log event, copy and paste in the Web browser, the capability to use pictures in your favorite contacts menu, search within a Web page, a tabbed Bookmarks interface, a user dictionary for custom words, and a few user interface tweaks. We'll delve more into the 1.5 update as it rolls out to the G1.
The 3.2-megapixel camera is a mixed bag. Though we were glad to see the video recording and playback, camera-editing feature were nonexistent. Also, while you have an autofocus, we found it as difficult to stabilize the Ion as it was with the G1. It's too bad, really, as we think that HTC had enough of an opportunity to refine the shooter from the G1.
To view your shots, the Ion has an easily accessible Gallery app. As we mentioned, we had to be careful to avoid blurry shots, but photo quality was decent on the whole. Colors could be brighter, but there was little image noise.
The full HTML browser is also quite similar. As we said earlier, scrolling around Web pages was a painless experience and the accelerometer makes for seamless switching between portrait and landscape modes. Also, we like that onscreen icons allow you to zoom in and out without digging through too many menus. Yet, at the end of the day, we still think that the iPhone has the best Web browser. Not only does its multitouch interface make for easier zooming, but also you only have to tap the top portion of the open Web page to enter a new URL. The Ion, on the other hand, requires a multistop process (press the menu button, select "go," type in the URL and press "go" again).
Sadly, messaging options aren't improved from the G1. Though you get a native Gmail app, Google Talk, and access to most POP3 accounts, full Microsoft Exchange Server support is still lacking. Though some versions of the Magic promise such capability, we couldn't find such support on the Ion. We could use the browser and Outlook Web Access (OWA) to check e-mail, but it's a rather clunky experience. Also, since the Ion doesn't appear to offer Outlook syncing for notes, contacts, or calendar, hard-core business users will be shut out from using it as a portable office. To date, the lack of full IMAP4 support remains one of Android's biggest flaws and we implore Google to correct it soon.
We tested the Google Ion in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. The Ion is a quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) world phone device that also supports T-Mobile's 3G network. Call quality was just short of amazing. We enjoyed crystal clear conversations and a strong signal. Voices sounded natural and we encountered no static or interference from other electronic devices. The volume level could be louder--we had trouble hearing in noisy places unless the sound was turned all the way up--but it was fine for most situations. All in all, we were quite pleased.
On their end, callers were also very pleased. In fact, some couldn't even tell we were using a cell phone. A couple people complained that they had trouble hearing us when we were in noisy environments, which makes sense considering we had a similar problem on our end, but the gripes ended there. Automated calling systems could understand us easily the majority of the time.
Speakerphone calls were decent. Like with the G1, audio was a bit garbled and fuzzy. It wasn't worse than with many other cell phones on the market, but it was a change from regular voice calls. The volume level remained a tad low, but we could hear callers without too much effort. We had to speak close to the phone if we wanted to be heard on the other end, though it wasn't a big deal. We tested the Ion with the Samsung SBH-600 stereo Bluetooth headset and had good call quality.
On the upside, the T-Mobile 3G connection was lightning fast under most circumstances. Particularly when using the browser, we noticed a positive change from the iPhone. T-Mobile 3G connection doesn't seem to penetrate as far into buildings as AT&T's does, but once you have it, you should be quite satisfied. Google Maps and YouTube videos took a bit longer to load, but we were pleased all around.
Like with the G1, the Ion's processor performed beautifully. The phone responded quickly to our commands when opening and closing applications and there was no lag time when navigating the menus. More importantly, we didn't experience any system freezes or crashes.
Multimedia quality was variable. Music quality was fine, as long as you used a Bluetooth or wired headset. Tunes over the single external speaker were tinny, but that's to be expected on almost any cell phone. Video quality was just OK. Clips that we recorded with the camcorder looked pretty washed out. Also, fast movements looked blurry. YouTube videos were pixelated almost to the point of being bothersome.
The Ion should have a rated talk time of 7.5 hours for GSM and 6.6 hours for 3G. The promised standby battery life is 17.5 days. According to FCC radiation tests, the Ion has a digital SAR of 1.22 watts per kilogram.
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