HTC Magic £400
1st Jun 2009 | 10:38
The second Google Android phone finally lands: with new features and an upgraded interface, it's a belter
HTC Magic: Overview; look and feel
While the world is once again going ga-ga over the latest iteration of the Apple iPhone, some of them have forgotten about the Android movement from Google and others, and the latest from this organisation has landed, the HTC Magic.
Having already brought out the world's first Android-powered phone with the T-Mobile G1, the Taiwanese company got its act together faster than the likes of Samsung, Motorola and LG to bring out another 3.2-inch touchscreen handset.
And this one manages to fix a huge amount of flaws found in the first iteration, and even sheds the physical keyboard in favour of an on-screen effort, thanks to the latest Cupcake 1.5 update of Android.
It once again seamlessly integrates Android Market to take on the App Store with a whole host of bolt-on programs, and even pings in with pocket-friendly dimensions of 113 x 55 x 14mm, and as lighter than a 120g feather (as it only weighs 119g).
But it's all very well to say that you're going to get the best phone just because it's fixed a few bugs and shed a few pounds... what we want to know is whether the HTC Magic is the phone that's going to thrust Android into the psyche of the phone buying public as successfully as Apple has with its iPhone.
The main talking point about the HTC Magic is clearly the fact that it's the next in the Android lineage, and to that end, you can hardly say it's spectacular as it's sporting the same interface we've seen before on the G1, more or less.
In the box
First of all, let's have a look at what we get in the box. There's the phone itself, and it's accompanied by a Mini USB 2.0 charger, a similarly ported headset, a cover for the phone and USB lead as well, all in the same white, making them easier to spot on a cluttered desk.
But what's both different and interesting is the move to team up with Vodafone, resulting in a whole new chassis while retaining the same 3.2-inch screen.
The layout of the buttons is slightly different, with two key changes: the menu button, previously positioned at the base of the screen on the T-Mobile G1, has shifted to just above and to the left of the trackball, and there's now a new search button on the far right, which interacts with nearly every application on the phone to let you search for whatever your heart desires.
The lip that repulsed a few users on the G1 has been retained, but has shrunk in size somewhat and been moulded much more discreetly into the shell of the phone, while still being nice to hold in portrait mode.
But the startlingly different change between the HTC Magic and the G1 is the loss of the keyboard. In an interview with T-Mobile previously we were told that the keyboard was one of the real selling points of the G1, something the customers really looked for when picking up the device for easier messaging.
Well, either Vodafone thinks the pink network is lying or just wants to differentiate itself somehow, but its shed the QWERTY and now sits at a size zero-esque 14mm thickness, which means it's much more lightweight (and attractive) than its G1 sibling.
One interesting by-product of the weight loss is the way it feels in the hand. The plastic exterior doesn't quite stray into the realms of feeling cheap, but the overall feel is something you'll have to get used to, as the light feel of the phone feels odd initially.
However, it's just about the right size for one-handed operation in most cases, although you'll probably find yourself 'doing an iPhone', ie placing it in one palm and poking with the other hand on more than one occasion as you interact with the plethora of different screens on offer.
What's more, you have to remember from the off that this phone may be free, but will cost you £35 a month (albeit only £30 if you do it online) for the next two years. That's a very long time for the gadget-lover, especially when the next 12-18 months are likely to herald the arrival of a great many new Android phones for you to salivate over, so a nice deal could soon turn into a prison sentence if you're not sure this is the phone for you.
HTC Magic: Interface
The Android interface itself barely needs any introduction after the millions of pages and column inches dedicated to the open source effort, and the OS on the HTC Magic is pretty much the same thing as seen on all the T-Mobile G1's the world over.
Ease of use
However, for those who thought the original G1 was just too ugly and shied away from its clunky frame, we'll run you through some of the sparkling highlights you can expect from the HTC Magic.
The first thing you'll notice is the fact you can swipe left and right from the home screen, with easy dragging and dropping of the icons all around just by long-pressing on them.
This also calls up the deletion bin at the bottom of the screen where you can throw them away, should you find they're cluttering up your minimalist screen.
While the three home screen effort doesn't give you the simplicity of the iPhone by launching rows and rows of applications at you simply by swiping constantly to the right (and more in the future thanks to iPhone 3.0 firmware) it's easily enough for what you want, as you can simply drag up the menu from the bottom and access all your recently downloaded applications and menu functions, sorted alphabetically.
In fact, Google and OHA have put a lot of effort into providing a really simple to use interface, especially from the home screen, and it shows.
In addition to being able to drag (or double tap if your fingers are a little tired) the menu bar up from the bottom of the screen, you can also drag from the top and find your notifications all grouped nicely together.
This means wherever you are in the phone, should you receive a text message, email or want to interact with music or a connected PC, you can do so all from here, which is a really nice touch and one that shows how messaging is integral to the usage of the HTC Magic.
Other neat touches include the ability to unlock the phone by simply drawing a pattern over a set of nine dots (apologies to Android converts who have been raving about this feature for ages) as well as nicely laid out and easily pressable menus.
The accelerometer on the HTC Magic is a something of a bugbear though, as it doesn't move as smoothly as you'd like. When you flip the phone on its side, the screen moves out of focus then pops back up in the new configuration after a second or two.
The time this takes seems to vary between applications... some are almost instant, but areas like messaging can take a bit longer. It's hardly hours, but if you like viewing things in landscape then this might irritate you for a while.
One interesting change to come for Android in the Cupcake upgrade is you can no longer view the home screen in landscape, which is one of the only areas of the HTC Magic not to allow you to work widescreen. It's no great loss, but a bizarre change that doesn't seem necessary.
Google also offers you an instant way into its whole range of services from the off, as it invites you to enter your Google profile details as you turn on the phone, with Google's Mail, Maps, Talk and Gears all set up and ready to go for you, which is either a brilliant thing if you're a Google-ite or rubbish if you've never used Google before.
Though you'd have to question the decision to buy an Android phone when you've no interest in Google's services really.
HTC Magic: Calling and contacts
HTC has lumped the phone dialler and contacts all together on the phone, meaning that you can access the application through two icons. There are a range of four tabs at the top for the dialler, contacts, call log and starred favourites, which also houses your 'most regularly called' contacts, which is a real help.
Each contact is listed in fairly large type, which means that each is easy to read and press, with opening each listing taking you through to communication options, ie emailing, phoning and calling, all with one press of the button.
However, scrolling through these was a little annoying, and the search option could only be activated by pressing the search button and tapping the screen... it might not sound like much but felt a little convoluted time after time, which is why the 'Favourites' section came in very handy.
You're also able to create a 2D barcode which can be read by the Barcode Scanner application if you want to quickly share contact info... it might only be for Android phones and others that can read such things, but it's a very cool little feature.
Call quality itself was pretty good, with maximum volume highly audible and of anything a little too loud. The lip may not help in terms of the call recipient being able to hear you better, but it gave the impression of talking into something on the phone, which was a nice touch.
Reception was generally OK too, although there were a couple of instances where 3G was easily lost and with it all reception, which was annoying as you would hope that the phone would automatically work with the best available network.
However, even on minimal coverage the 3G connection for the internet managed to keep plugging away, so that's a pretty big tick in the box for the HTC Magic.
HTC Magic: Messaging
When we posted our initial hands on with the HTC Magic, one of the things promised to us by Peter Chou, CEO of HTC, at the launch was improved accuracy in the on screen keyboard.
It's doubtful many people even know how accurate the G1's virtual keyboard actually was given that most would have flipped out the physical QWERTY, but we were still a tad disappointed with the effort when we first had a play with it.
Of course, when the hands on was first posted, the landscape keyboard wasn't available, so we couldn't tell how good that was.
However, even after a good amount of time with the phone, we still found ourselves struggling with accuracy, and the word correction tool was only partially effective.
Great QWERTY keyboard
In fairness, it offered us the right word more often than not, but sometimes would offer variations on the word you're searching for rather than the word itself.
But flip the phone into landscape mode, and the virtual QWERTY is among the best out there.
The HTC Magic is the perfect size to fit between two hands, with all keys in easy reach of the fingers, and the accuracy is much improved thanks to the large and pressable keys, with the addition of the word prediction helping the stroke speed to something approaching physical keys, which was a real pleasure to see.
As mentioned before, the only real problem is the irritation of the accelerometer, which can really lag at times. It's a shame there's no way to set the keyboard to automatically start in QWERTY mode, as there are times when you find you simply can't be bothered to rotate.
Another point with the touchscreen, which is mostly raised through writing a message, is the strange way the bottom row of buttons is hard to press, with only around half the button actually pressable.
You'd have thought HTC would have extended the touchscreen a bit to compensate for this, but mostly we found ourselves prodding to no effect on more than one occasion, which was a bit annoying. This was actually true of a number of other applications, but most pronounced during message composition.
Email is also as simple as you'd expect on a phone powered by Google, with adding a new account as simple as entering an email address and password, although as mentioned, when turning on the phone and entering your Google profile, you're already set up to be a-Gmailing.
Gmail itself on the phone is a real joy to use too, with simple stars and ticks (the same as in the internet version) allowing easy management of your messages.
The pop up bar at the bottom allows you to archive, manage or delete your message(s) and although opening a message took a bit of time, we were still pleased.
However, full HTML emails didn't reformat to fit the screen, which was both odd and annoying, which meant a bit of fiddling with settings on more than one occasion.
Perhaps one day we'll see Microsoft Exchange support on and Android handset, and when that happens, emailing will be an almost complete experience, much like we've seen on the iPhone.
HTC Magic: Internet
Internet on the HTC Magic is something of a conundrum. On the one hand, it's a great browser with the ability to have multiple windows open at once, and on the other, it's a little tricky to navigate and get the page to fit the window properly, although the Webkit browser does have a very good go a providing a decent mobile internet experience.
While the mobile sites, such as BBC and Wikipedia, are formatted perfectly for the Magic's screen (and scrolling through them with the responsive touchscreen is a real dream) full HTML sites such as TechRadar are a different story.
When entering a new web address (which also doubles as a search bar, with auto-complete of previously entered addresses and simultaneously searching Google and providing results) you're taken to a large version of the site, which you can either zoom out of using the on screen zoom buttons, or hit the magnifying pane to see the whole page and have a square that lets you look around to your chosen portion.
There is no perfect way to display full HTML on a mobile device, as you either have to zoom in to see text, reformat it, or zoom so far out you can see the whole pane.
While the Webkit-based browser on the HTC Magic might not be as intuitive as Safari when it comes to double-tap reformatting, it still does a very good job and bridging the gap between full desktop and mobile browsing.
The little animation that allowed you to change between windows was also pretty cool, and as mentioned multiple windows meant we were never told we'd hit the maximum available, so we could continue browsing as we wanted, with the last webpage never being shut down on exit unless we forced it to.
HTC Magic: Camera
The camera on the HTC Magic has come in for some stick with its 3.2MP sensor with no flash, and it seems the criticism is only partly justified.
While it may only be a one-trick pony (the trick being taking pictures when the conditions are perfect) it manages that trick with considerable aplomb, as you can see here:
Now compare that picture to one taken with a 10MP Samsung P1000 camera:
As you can see, there isn't a huge amount of difference, and to be honest we were pretty impressed when we viewed the images on a computer screen.
However, once the lighting began to fall, the lack of any kind of picture settings began to hurt the picture quality on the HTC Magic:
As you can see, the picture detail is far more defined using a compact camera:
And once you move inside, and especially with varying lighting conditions, the camera on the HTC Magic is unable to cope and create the sharp lines necessary to take a good picture:
With flash on the P1000 camera, a lot of the issues were taken care of, something that surely would have helped the HTC Magic:
And once you get into low lighting conditions, it was pretty much game over:
And the same photo taken without flash on the P1000, but with night mode activated (again, something we would have liked to see on the HTC Magic, but as mentioned it was completely devoid of camera settings):
Video wasn't much better, taking a slightly jerky and low resolution movie. There was (as with the camera) the opportunity to load it up to the internet in a variety of forms (with YouTube an obvious favourite given the Google synchronisation).
But overall, it was a camera to forget, despite managing to pack in video recording from the off (Apple, take note).
HTC Magic: Media
Given the target audience for the HTC Magic (and the iPhone audience it's competing for) it's once again perplexing that the manufacturers didn't focus more on the media capabilities of the device.
No 3.5mm headphone jack
The first omission is a 3.5mm headphone jack for using your own headphones - and to further the misery the supplied headphones cannot be changed for your own cans or buds, so you're forced to make do with HTC's frankly average (at best) headphones.
Of course, you could pair with a Bluetooth set to listen to stereo audio (and we genuinely are happy that HTC has included this from the off) but the proportion of users out there that have a set is pretty miniscule.
The media options themselves are fairly bog standard. There's a standalone music client, which is capable of background playing (with direct access available from the notifications bar) and there's also video playback, accessed through the gallery, which is divided into pictures and video.
Music is available in the usual Album, Artist, Song and Playlist flavours, with party shuffle on top, for those countless moments when you're in a silent party and you need a mobile phone to get it all started.
As mentioned above, being forced to use the headphones is a real let down, as sonically they give basic, tinny sound and don't fit well in the ears. Surely HTC could have taken its cues from Asian neighbours Samsung and bundled some semi-decent buds?
Video is basic but more than functional. Fast forwarding, pausing and rewinding are available, and scrolling through the video using the status bar was nice and accurate.
Once again, the common gripe of a screen to small to watch a movie rears its head (as well as a fairly poor contrast ratio, as you can see by the picture) and you wouldn't want to take this as your primary video player on a long journey.
On top of that, there's a good YouTube client available too, with good quality video on offer thanks to being able to watch in both high and normal quality.
The option to toggle is well hidden down a few menus, but thankfully HQ is selected by default (and it really makes a difference). As you can see, YouTube quality is pretty darn good:
We (as we suspect many, many others will do) downloaded the Last.Fm client too and that gave us a huge range of tracks easily... although you have to remember to only use it in a Wi-Fi area in order to not munch up a whole load of data, and it does drain the battery like nothing else if you use it for a prolonged period of time.
Basic media performance
Overall, the media functionality is good without being stellar, and without the ability to upgrade the headphones you feel thoroughly hamstrung when using the early iPod-a-like white headphones. You can buy an adaptor, but to not include it in the box is a real shame.
Although watching the Dramatic Chipmunk on a phone in high quality is NEVER going to get old.
HTC Magic: Applications
Normally not a category that we look at with mobile phones, but Android phones, like the iPhone, are only halfway to realising their potential unless you start downloading a raft of applications to accessories and improve the hardware.
And unlike the iPhone, most are still free on the Market, although we suspect that will quickly change as there needs to be a lot more choice to really make Android Market a regular destination.
That said, there are already a number of decent applications out there, and here are a selection of the ones we liked:
Makes use of the phone's internal magnet to find metal - worryingly accurate, very cool and ultimately useless... although that's no reason not to download it.
The now-famous application that uses the camera to find a barcode then connects to the internet to find prices. However, it struggled to find a lot of the things we scanned, and even fewer had multiple options for price comparison.
Based on the old favourite, wiping your finger across the screen segregates the balls helping you to fill up the screen. Addictive and battery draining after the third hour of playing...
From LastMinute.com, this uses GPS and the internal compass to guide you in the direction of bars, clubs and bowling alleys. We only used it once to find a bar... and that was only down the road anyway. But still, when lost and out and about, definitely worth a look, even though it doesn't have an option to find a cash point.
Other more awesome applications are those inbuilt - for instance Google Talk and Google Maps.
The latter is especially cool as it uses the internal compass and the StreetView function to let you simply move the phone and pan around the location you're spying on.
Only really useful if you're out and about and trying to walk your way to a location, but still very 'Virtual Reality'. All we need now is a Google endorsed massive headset and we're sold forever.
One of the interesting thing Google / the OHA has done with the HTC Magic is strip out other messaging clients in favour of simply having its own Google Talk.
While this makes sense from a business perspective (especially when you can / will be able to download the others from the Market) it's not something we initially applauded the company for doing, but we guess brand identity is all important in this day and age.
HTC Magic: Battery life and organiser
The quoted battery life is 660 hours on standby, although that's with everything turned off. However, and especially given the slim chassis, we managed to squeeze well over 24 hours' use out of the phone with heavy usage, and with a little less calling, downloading and streaming we could probably have managed 48 hours without needing to charge again.
The battery monitoring on the phone is especially impressive, as you can head down into the settings to monitor how much battery life you have left in terms of percentage.
While this may be a novelty in most cases, it also is very handy when you're sub 10% and need to know whether downloading an app really is a sensible thing to do so far from a charger.
While normal organisers are simply a calendar with basic meeting and memo functionality, the HTC Magic makes use of Google Calendar (shockingly) and automatically synchronises with your online account, meaning there's far less chance of you forgetting to pop an appointment in.
For those of you that use Google Calendar for work, this is a veritable godsend, for the others, you'll have to stay hoping that Exchange support comes on board soon.
Entering a new meeting is a simple as it is on a PC, with options for location, contact and repeat appointments, as well as a handy 'Morse Code' style system when looking at the whole month to work out how many appointments you have in a given week.
HTC Magic: PC Connectivity and connectivity
Inexplicably, the HTC Magic has very little in the way of PC synchronisation. Well, it's slightly to do with the fact that Google likes to put a lot of stead in its cloud data model - one of the first things the phone does on start up is sync all your Google Mail contacts into the phone.
However, with no simple way to merge them (like you get on the INQ1 phone, which draws details from a number of sources) you end up with some annoying entries that you have to manually and systematically tidy up.
While you obviously can tether the phone to the computer, it's for three things only, and that's sending data to the SD card, tethering the phone as a modem and the obvious development tool.
In fact, apart from the folder screen in Windows that lets you drag and drop files onto the phone, the only other interface was the SDK, which let's face it, many of us are not going to be downloading and using.
We actually had a real problem connecting up the phone to our Windows Vista powered PC and we had to download the SDK and point out where the drivers were in order for it to register.
Having a look online showed us this is a common problem for Android users, although it isn't the majority thankfully. Hopefully this will be remedied in later models, as someone with less inclination to work out the problem would be stumped and probably pretty annoyed at the PC or the phone.
That said, we were able to 'Mount' and 'Unmount' the phone with ease multiple times during the transfer in order to switch between USB functions, and anyone that often connects peripherals to a PC will know that constantly ejecting a re-connecting a device is usually fraught with problems, so we have to applaud the HTC Magic for doing such a thing.
The usual plethora of connectivity options are present and correct on the HTC Magic, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the ability to turn the 3G connection on and off to conserve battery.
We're glad Vodafone learnt from the BlackBerry Storm mistake when it assumed a lack of Wi-Fi could be compensated for by a 3G signal, and the connection picked up our home and work networks with ease, shifting the 3G out of the way for faster and cheaper data.
HTC Magic: Gallery: official photography
HTC Magic: TechRadar verdict
Overall, the HTC Magic is a great improvement on its predecessor, and not just cosmetically. Its shape, button placement and use of the new Android 1.5 upgrade is all a definite upgrade, and despite the appeals of our G1-loving friends, we don't miss the physical keyboard one iota.
The touchscreen is to die for, Android's 1.5 firmware upgrade has really done the business in terms of adding new functionality, and Google's presence throughout the phone really adds a number of applications that are genuinely useful and ultimately cool.
And that's before we even get to the Market app store. Why it might currently be leagues behind Apple's effort, and there's a good chance it may never become more popular.
But the fact that it's open source means there will be some darn good applications coming from some very clever people in the near future, and as each of these is installed, the HTC Magic becomes that much more awesome.
We'd even go as far as saying it's a genuine iThrone contender as it offers something very different but equally as compelling as the iPhone, and for all the people that simply don't want Apple's device they would find a lot to love here, especially with all the applications on show.
That said, we still had a number of things to feel like we were sold short on slightly, namely the lack of a 3.5mm jack on the chassis itself and a bog-standard 3.2MP camera with no flash, as well as the slight lag when using the accelerometer. The lack of responsiveness at the base of the screen was also slightly annoying, requiring multiple presses on more than one occasion.
Some users might also find the chassis a little lightweight as well, especially those that were really excited by the way the original G1 looked. The new Samsung i7500 might fix a lot of these problems without losing any of the functionality, so we're certainly looking forward to that comparison.
In short, this is a very good upgrade from HTC, which has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the last 18 months, and all we can do now is salivate at the prospect of a year chock-full with new Android handsets. However, they'll all have to go the extra mile to beat this new kid on the block.