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GooglePhone responds to Android's aspirations

Posted: 29 Oct 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Android? GooglePhone? 3G iPhone? teardown?

Smart phones are again the talk of the town. This time it's the T-Mobile G1, a distinctly un-Apple, un-iPhone-like slider. Is the new "GooglePhone" a true revolution or simply a creative reuse?

It's been quiet since Apple Inc.'s July introduction of the 3G iPhone, when press releases, rumors and speculations brought a media feeding frenzy and long lines at AT&T shops. In the aftermath, we have seen the "March of the iPhone Killers," which has developed some 3G versions of tried-and-true smart phone designs and some tame iPhone imitations. The lack of hype revolving in the releases were partly because the makers of these new models have no Apple's marketing might, but also carry a deficit of new and exciting stories.

However, the perfect storm was on the horizon, and soon the allure of Google's open-source Android OS, T-Mobile's expanded 3G network and a clever new phone design from HTC all were integrated as the T-Mobile G1, also known as the HTC dream. This is the popular GooglePhone. While the headlines didn't match Apple's, there were headlines, customer lines and brisk advance sales.

T-Mobile G1 (Click to view teardown)

Ongoing news on G1
More will be written about the heavily cross-branded G1 and the endless possibilities of its Open Handset Alliance-leading software stack. The alliance is big news in itself, supported by more than 30 technology companies and dedicated to introduce innovation in mobile applications.

An Oct. 21 press release from the alliance highlighted the Android Open Source Project, with free access to all developers. "Googlephone Killers" seem to be on the way. However, the purpose of this article is to examine the inner workings of the G1/Dream and answer the "revolution or reuse" question.

In the command center of the main circuit board rests Qualcomm Corp.'s MSM7201A, a dual-core baseband and applications processor running at 528 MHz.

Qualcomm was involved in the media action too, with interview statements from Paul Jacobs, its CEO, regarding the company's role in the optimization of the Android OS for the 7201A during G1/Dream product development, and a September press release confirming the same.

Design wins for Qualcomm include the GSM/WCDMA transceiver (RTR6285) and power management IC (PMB7540). Samsung has the multichip memory in the form of K5E2G1GACM, 256Mbyte NAND flash along with 128Mbyte DDR SDRAM. This seems to be the working memory for the phone; user memory comes in the form of an included 1Gbyte MicroSD card, upgradable to 8Gbyte.

Avago scores a socket trifecta as the source of both WCDMA power amplifiers (ACPM-7381 and ACPM-7391) as well as the GPS LNA (ALM-1412). Wireless devices are dominated by Texas Instruments Inc. (TI), starting with the BRF6300 single-chip Bluetooth solution. Wi-Fi silicon takes a small modular circuit board using TI parts, most notably the well-known WL1251B 802.11b/g WLAN IC and its partner WLAN power amplifier WL1251FE. In general, the chipset contains few surprises and many well-tested configurations.

Click image to enlarge

G1 features
For fear that we might forget that the G1/Dream is an HTC concoction, a quick look at recent offerings from the Taiwan phonemaker shows a few hints about lineage. The 3.2Mpixel autofocus camera bears a striking similarity to the camera in HTC's Touch Diamond P3700, right down to the layout of the autofocus magnets. The silicon is identical: a 3.2MP CMOS image processor from Aptina Imaging (MT9T013D) and a flip-chip lens coil driver from Analog Devices (AD5398).

Much has been made of the G1/Dream Touchscreen, whose innovative display housing maintains constant orientation while swiveling along a planar path to cover and uncover a full QWERTY keypad. The display features a 480 x 320, 65-k Color TFT LCD module that carries ID marks from Sharp, flush-mounted under a capacitive touch panel.

The touchscreen controller is the widely used Synaptics 1007A, partnered to the touch panel by a Synaptics-branded flex substrate. This suggests that the touch panel itself is also a Synaptics offering, most likely part of the ClearTouch line.

G1's connections
Treading the line between versatility and overkill, the G1/Dream gives three separate interface options, all of which are visible for specific applications. In addition to the keypad and touchscreen, there is a small trackball placed among the phone control keys. Comparisons with the familiar Blackberry trackball are inevitable, and a few zealous users have been quick to blog their preference for one trackball or the other.

In reality, the G1/Dream integrates the EVQWJN jog ball module from Panasonic, the same module used by RIM on most if not all Blackberry trackball models. To further squash the controversy, the underlying circuitry is necessarily quite similar too, relying on a quartet of Hall Effect sensors needed for standard operation.

Overall, the G1/Dream hosts an impressive array of silicon solutions, but no bombshells. As for "revolution or reuse," in hardware design, it's a case of well-executed reuse. The revolution, if there is one, has an inventive new take on slider phone design, a huge cooperative product development effort, and the initial salvo from the alliance and Android Open Source Project.

- Bob Widenhofer
EE Times





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