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HTC Magic review: Google Android, take two
Posted on 25-Jun-2009 15:25 by Juha | Tags Filed under: Reviews

HTC Magic review: Google Android, take two
We’re a bit behind much of the world, and have only this week officially got the HTC Magic, or G2. This Google phone has created a great deal of stir, and Vodafone is plugging it hard by giving away lots of Magics in promotions around New Zealand.

The question on everyone’s minds when it comes to the Magic is whether or not it’s a match for Apple’s iPhone.

Having had both the HTC Dream (G1) and Magic (G2) for a few months now, I’d say “almost”, but the new iPhone 3GS will move the goal posts again. What’s more, HTC has a new Android-based phone coming up, the Hero, which looks like it’ll blow the Magic out of the water, and give the new iPhone 3GS a run for its money.

Going back to what’s at hand now, the HTC Dream isn’t bad, but it has some annoying shortcomings that the Magic addresses, such as better battery life and an including the upgraded Google Android 1.5 “Cupcake” Linux-based operating system.

Continuing the comparison, the Dream has a Qualcomm MSM7201A 32-bit RISC ARM6 processor, made with 65nm process that runs at 528MHz. This seems very similar to the MSM7200A used in the Magic.

The Magic gets a fair bit more RAM than the Dream though, at 288MB versus 192MB, and 512MB ROM compared to 256MB in the latter. This is important because the Google Market apps are not installed on SD cards – well, not without some hacking at least. Perhaps this is a crude anti-copying measure, but I think it’s a miss that the Android developers should rectify.

Other than that there’s a micro-SD 2.0 slot as mentioned on the Magic, a 3.2Mpixel camera and unlike the Dream, no slide-out keyboard. Instead, you poke straight at the 3.2” 320 by 480-pixel screen to enter text; more on this later.

The dimensions for the magic are a svelte 113 x 55.56 x 13.65 mm and the phone weighs just 116 grams with the 1,340mAh battery inserted. HTC reckons the battery gives 400 minutes talk time on WCDMA and 450 minutes on GSM, and 660/420 hours stand by, respectively. I didn't talk for that long, but found that even with GPS enabled and frequent use of 3G and voice calling, the Magic would easily last over a day between charges. The phone can be charged via the USB outlet too, which is good.

HTC Magic sideways

Since the Magic does UMTS in both 900MHz and 2100MHz, it’s better on Vodafone New Zealand’s network than the Dream, which only does 3G in the latter band.

Before you ask, no, the Magic isn’t a phone to consider if you want to use it on Telecom NZ’s 850MHz XT network.

When it comes to data speeds, there’s 7.2Mbit/s theoretical speed available for downloads and 2Mbit/s for uploads. Both phones also talk GSM/GPRS/EDGE in the 850/900/1800 and 1900MHz bands.

But wait, there’s more radio stuff going on in the Magic and Dream: GPS (integrated with Google Maps of course), Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) and Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR. The Magic gets Advanced Audio Distribution Profile or A2DP so that you can hook up wireless headsets with the phone – unfortunately, I don’t have a Bluetooth headset to test this feature with.

Several ring tone formats are supported: AAC, AAC+, AMR-NB, MIDI, MP3, WMA, WMV. I guess someone out there will make use of those file formats too.

Audio isn’t too bad, with decent sound quality and volume but the use of a mini-USB jack instead of a 3.5mm plug limits the choice of headsets. The built-in media player is only so and so, and certainly no match for what Apple provides on its devices.

The camera is another issue – despite a more than adequate 3.2Mpixel resolution, the Magic’s image capture device uses a mediocre lens so don’t expect to take great pictures.

Plus, there’s no flash for night shots, and the camera is slow to focus. There’s no video calling either, although that is a feature I suspect not many people will miss.

Back of HTC Magic with Google logo

Using the Magic
Bar a better camera, there aren’t many features missing on the Magic. The screen is great – bright and visible even outside, and it responds well to fingering. You don’t get the fancy pinching and expanding gestures as you do with the iPhone, but swiping to move screens and what the contain is easy and responsive.

Not having a physical keyboard bothered me at first: I find the one on the iPhone hard to use, courtesy of big hands. The one on the Magic was quick to get used to, especially once I tilted the phone into landscape mode that makes the keys wider and easier to hit. Once I learnt to take advantage of the OK-ish predictive text that only guesses words, not sentences, I got my typing up to speed.

Speaking of landscape mode, the Magic’s reasonably quick to adjust the screen as you move it. Oddly enough, Android keeps the home screen in portrait mode all the time, so only application screens move to landscape mode.

The function six functions buttons on the front of the Magic are somewhat counter-intuitive to use. The Home, Menu, Back ones perform multiple functions depending on the screen and application you’re in, and how long you press the button for. This isn’t true for the superfluous Search and Call button, but the End Call one can be used to power up and off the Magic.

What all this amounts to is that driving the Magic with a range of gestures, screen and button presses takes a while to get used to, and is a usability area that could be tidied up.

The clickable navigation nipple that lights up bright white when a call comes in, or a new email or text arrives, is much better than the one on the Dream however.

The functional Android home page with three screens on the HTC Magic features Google strongly.

Software tied to Google
As you would expect, the phone comes with the main Google Apps: Gmail, Youtube, and Maps. They all work great, but I want to access other email providers too and was disappointed that the standard mail client is only so and so compared to the Gmail one.

Moving onto the World Wide Web, the browser in Android 1.5 is superb. Everyone I’ve shown the Magic to have all said the same thing – it makes web browsing on a small-screen phone not just possible but eminently usable, and I totally agree with that.

It’s not perfect: Flash isn’t supported yet, but SSL and JavaScript work fine. You can pan and zoom web pages, so most sites work great with the Magic, even though they’re not optimised for tiny low-res screens. If mobile web is your priority, check out the Magic.

Getting my Outlook contacts to the Magic involved some tweaking and first importing them to Gmail. Now they’re all in the Cloud, which means I have access to them from anywhere on the web. So does anyone who gets into my Gmail account, which is worth bearing in mind.

Not so great is the lack of viewers for common file format – you can get PDF and Word viewers for instance from the Android Market, but the ones I tried worked poorly. If you use the built in Gmail client however, you can view all kinds of common productivity software files. You can see what Google’s thinking here, right?

For most corporates, the Magic probably doesn’t cut it, because it’s not that well integrated with the Microsoft Universe. Enterprises that have taken the Google route into the clouds may want look at the Magic as a client device for their data. Even so, there’s no remote kill switch for the Magic, in case the phone is stolen or lost.

Android Market: mixed bag
One big draw-card for the Magic is the ability to not just download third-party applications from the Android Market, but also to develop programs for it. There’s a whole lot of stuff available in the Android Market, and it’s fun to browse and get applications – use Wi-Fi though, so as not to run up massive 3G data charges.

There’s heaps of freeware available, some good, others pretty average. The rating systems comprises of stars and users’ comments, but you’ll soon find that the only way to evaluate an app is to download it from the Android Market and try it out.

Google’s working hard to position Android Market as a competitor to Apple and Microsoft’s equivalents, and given the open source nature of the OS, worldwide availability of apps and a freely available software developer’s kit, there’s plenty to attract programmers. How well Android market fares depends on the market share Google phones reach, and it’s early days still.

I’d be interested to hear from developers who’ve worked with Android and other platforms – how do they compare?

Update Thanks to Julius below, I remembered what I meant to write about the Android Market earlier: checked on its status locally, and was told that the Google Development Programme will become available for NZ developers, but... Vodafone doesn't yet know when that will be.

Great stuff on the Magic
• Phone is nicely built, with a great touch screen that’s bright and legible, and works well
• Good battery life even on 3G
• Despite some button confusion, it’s easy to get to grips with the Magic
• Fully-featured with 3G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS
• Call quality is great, and data speeds excellent with 3G support
• I’d buy the phone for the browser alone
• Android on the Magic feels fast and responsive, with no apps hanging or crashing during the review period
• Android is open source and if you’re so inclined, eminently hackable; the phone and the OS have much Geek Cred

Ho-hum stuff on the Magic
• Not being able to install applications on the SD card eats up system memory
• The camera works in daylight, but is nothing to write home about
• Multimedia capabilities could be better for such a pricey phone
• No 3.5mm jack for headsets

Clearly not stellar stuff on the Magic
• Whoever set the pricing at Vodafone for the Magic seriously screwed the pooch. With no plan, you’re looking at $1,100 for the phone alone. On 24-month contracts, the price for the Magic drops to between $319 with $130/month to pay and $619 ($40/month). That brings the Magic way too close to the iPhone pricing, and if people have a choice of that and the Magic you can guess which one they’ll pick.
• No desktop client software
• Enterprise integration for non-Google shops

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