Is it a BlackBerry? Is it a Symbian? No, it’s the Google Sooner, the first Android reference device

May 8, 2012
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If you had fun with the images of that early prototype of a Google phone we showed you a couple of weeks ago, you should prepare yourselves for something even more “special” today. Developer Steven Troughton-Smith got his hands on the first ever “Android reference device” and we are now excited to show you a few high-resolution photos that document Android’s early days.

The Google Sooner, aka the HTC EXCA 300, wasn’t ever officially released, but it’s interesting to see how much head work Google managed to do between 2007, when this device was in the works, and October 2008, when the HTC Dream (or the T-Mobile G1) hit the market.

Tech specs and look

The Sooner was supposed to be powered by an OMAP 850 processor and feature 64 MB of RAM, as well as 64 MB of on-board memory. The LCD screen sported by the device didn’t support touch input and came with a “generous” 320 x 240 pixel resolution.

Other features included a 1.3 megapixel camera (that’s actually decent if you think about it) with video recording capabilities, a 2G radio, a mini-SD slot, a mini-USB port, a full Qwerty keyboard, a four-way d-pad, and four system buttons. WiFi and 3G connectivity were missing, but that doesn’t come as a surprise.

As for the phone’s design, I don’t know about you, but I can’t help smiling when I look at the photos below. However, Troughton-Smith does mention that the device felt “surprisingly light” and that the exterior “had a certain quality to it”, so if the Sooner wasn’t elegant (and it certainly wasn’t), at least it was solid, without being too bulky.

Software

While some of you might have a good laugh when looking at the exterior of the Google Sooner, we are more interested in the phone’s software. Built on May 15 2007, according to Troughton-Smith, the device runs a much earlier Android version than anything we’ve seen before.

As you may imagine, the fact that the Google Sooner didn’t support touch input made this early software build very different from Android’s first stock version. However, there are a number of other differences too, mostly when talking about the home screen and the phone’s pre-loaded apps.

In fact, the Google Sooner didn’t actually feature a home screen, as we know it these days. Instead, the phone’s primary interface consisted of a large (and pretty cool) clock and a pop-up Google search bar. As far as apps go, you had Google Talk, Gmail, a calculator, a calendar, a notepad, Google Maps, YouTube, Google Earth, and a bunch of other similar “programs” pre-installed on the device.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sure, most of them were rudimentary and looked kind of ugly, to be honest (what’s up with the green Google Talk?), but for such an early smartphone, there were quite a few things to keep you busy. Unfortunately, there were also a few bugs here and there and neither Google Maps, nor YouTube ran smoothly for Troughton-Smith.

Was Sooner canceled because of the iPhone?

Aside from providing us with a sweet look back at Android’s childhood, Steven Troughton-Smith tries to explain the reasons why the Google Sooner was never shown to the public.

Troughton-Smith says that “it’s quite clear that Android was being designed to a completely different target before the iPhone was released” and that Apple’s gadget determined Google to change its perspective and step up its game a notch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, Diane Hackthorn, an employee of Google’s Android engineering group, describes Smith’s blog post as “misleading”. According to Hackthorn, the T-Mobile G1 and the Google Sooner “were basically the same” and the decision to drop Sooner was taken “well before the iPhone announcement”.

In cases like this, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, but I, for one, don’t think it’s that important to know whether Google canceled the Sooner due to the iPhone or not. What is important, though, is that Android really has come a long way from its inception, and that mobile technology as a whole progressed tremendously in just a few short years.

You should also check out the following Android demo from November 2007. You can catch a glimpse of the Sooner in this clip, but you can also see a different and significantly more complex prototype, with a touchscreen and a “friendlier” interface. Have fun!

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