Full Review and Specification for the HTC Magic:::
With an influx of Google Android phones on the horizon, the hype that surrounds these portals to the open application market may die down quickly. Thankfully, we’re still caught up in this wave of excitement, and that’s because the second Android phone has landed.
Look and feel:::
The HTC Magic will inevitably draw comparisons to the T-Mobile G1, as not only are they both Android devices, but they are both made by HTC and as such sport more than the occasional similarity. That said, the Magic is far more svelte than the G1 without a slide-out QWERTY keyboard adding to its weight.
There’s still the protruding cusp at the end of the device. On the G1 we assumed it was to help accommodate the hinge required for the slide-out keyboard but, due to the lack of aforementioned keyboard, we can only assume that it is now a kind of calling card for all of HTC’s Android devices. The ivory white hardware certainly affords it a striking look, but it is unlikely to be to everyone’s taste.
The 3.2-inch screen (the same size as the G1) dominates the fascia, while below are six solitary keys that sit either side of a trackball, which is reminiscent of that found on a BlackBerry. From left to right, these buttons are the home key, which will take you back to your home screen at any time, the menu key, which will bring up a list of options depending on the feature or functionality you’re currently in, the back key and the Google Search key (symbolised by a magnifying glass), with the call and call end keys lying below them. Although the buttons are not particularly raised they felt good under the thumbs, as did the trackball, which provides a genuine alternative to navigating via the touch-screen.
Android 1.5 OS:::
Google has upgraded its operating system to 1.5, also known as the ‘cupcake’, and this makes for an improved touch-screen experience. It’s a capacitive screen that, without getting too technical, senses electrons from your fingers and allows you to lightly swipe across the screen, whereas a resistive screen requires you to actually press down. It feels and looks slick and contributes to a hugely enjoyable user experience.
The HTC Magic has three home screens that can be switched simply by swiping your finger horizontally across the screen. The beauty of having three home screens is that you can choose to keep various applications or contacts separate from each other. For example, use one screen for all of your business apps, another for your music and video files and the third for all your downloaded applications. To customise each home screen, simply pull up the main menu via a tab found at the bottom of the screen, press and hold the icon you want until you feel a short vibration and then drag and drop it onto your chosen screen. To remove an icon or shortcut from the home screen, repeat the same process but drop it on the menu tab, which automatically transforms into a virtual dustbin.
As there is no actual keyboard, any text or numbers must be input via the virtual keyboard. Any time you touch a text field this keyboard will automatically appear. The process works flawlessly, but we did feel the keyboard was a little cramped when in portrait mode, so the thicker thumbed may find themselves hitting the wrong key on occasions. Thankfully, the Magic is equipped with an excellent accelerometer that transforms the screen into landscape mode when held horizontally. Due to the width of the screen, the keyboard is far roomier in this mode and thus easier to type. You can also switch on haptic feedback that will give a quick pulse each time you press a key.
Another bonus of the HTC Magic running on the Android 1.5 operating system (OS) is that you can record and upload videos to the likes of YouTube, something you couldn’t do with the G1. A YouTube shortcut can be found in the main menu, and what a treat it is. The video quality is exceptional and the service provides the full YouTube experience via a platform built for mobiles. For the best results, we recommend using a Wi-Fi hotspot (another string to the Magic’s bow) as at times the video froze while it rebuffed when using a data connection.
So far so good. Now for the downside to the HTC Magic, and it lies with the camera. As we mentioned, the Magic can upload videos directly to YouTube. Simply click the menu key when in YouTube and, assuming you have an account, you will be given the option to do so. Great as that is, whether you want to be showboating the disappointing video that the Magic captures is another thing entirely.
Both the video camera and the camera itself suffer from the omission of a few crucial ingredients. There is no flash or zoom, for one thing. As a result, pictures taken in low or poor lighting really suffer, while the video camera takes a second or two for the lighting to adjust should you move the focus from a well-lit area to one in shade, for example. The camera is of the 3.2-megapixel variety, which, while it may pale in significance with the arrival of eight-megapixel snappers, should not automatically equate to a negative photograph experience. However, omitting a flash and a zoom is barely forgivable.
Being a Google device, it is no surprise to find the Magic caters for all of its services. We’ve touched upon the search bar, but in addition, you can sync a Google Mail account to be alerted to any incoming mail as soon as it arrives in your inbox. Press and drag at the top of the home screen, where the battery life, time and data connection sit, and it will reveal all your notifications, such as emails and text messages. Other accounts can be set up in conjunction with the phone, but it’s only Google Mail that will be received in this push like fashion.
Google Maps is of course on board, and it provides as pleasurable an experience as ever. The Magic’s GPS provided a fast fix and it kept up with us as we wandered the streets of London, immediately adjusting each time we took a corner. However, the killer aspect of Google Maps on the HTC Magic is the inclusion of Street View. This service has been making headlines since its introduction to the UK in March, with many claiming it is an infringement of people’s privacy rights. All we can say, from a technology perspective, is that it’s a cracking addition from Google.
For those of you who have recently awoken from a coma or returned from an epic trip to the South Pole, Street View provides actual still footage of certain areas. The idea is that it aids you in your journey by displaying what you can see around you. In truth, most people probably use it to spy on their next door neighbours’ garden or to see if their car has been picked up in the footage. While it doesn’t cover the whole of the UK, users can view accessible roads (highlighted blue) when you select the Street View mode. What’s more, switch on the built-in compass and depending how you tilt the handset, the street view will adjust in accordance with it.
The HTC Magic comes with a 2GB memory card to compensate for the miserly on-board 192MB RAM. The handset can support cards of up to 8GB – plenty of room for housing all the Android apps you’ll inevitably download. The Android Market continues to grow at an impressive rate, with 1,000’s of available applications ranging from ShopSavvy, which uses the Magic’s camera to scan barcodes before feeding back on the cheapest place to buy that product, to a George W. Bush Soundboard, which has a selection of ‘Dubya’s’ best sound bites.
It’s disappointing to find HTC has not included a 3.5mm headset port or, for that matter, an adapter, instead opting for its own headphones that connect via a miniUSB port. We found this set of cans uncomfortable, particularly as the ear buds were too big to fit securely in our lugholes.
However, these grievances aren’t enough to deter us from what is the best Google phone to date. Granted, there are only two so far, but it bodes well for the future. If it wasn’t for the poor camera and video recording facility, we’d be awarding our second five star review in as many issues. Vodafone has shown a great deal of nouse by bagging the HTC Magic as an exclusive, and is sure to reap the rewards. If things continue in this manner, the haze of excitement surrounding Google Android devices may in fact be here for some time yet.