The first Android-powered phone to market, the T-Mobile G1 (HTC Dream), was an awkward device with its main appeal derived from the fact it was Android-powered. The HTC Magic is the second Android device to reach consumers, and in terms of hardware, it’s largely the same as its predecessor. The key difference is the move from a slide out, physical QWERTY keyboard to an iPhone-style on-screen keyboard. If you have your doubts as to whether this is enough to make the Magic an attractive device in an iPhone-crazed world, you might be surprised with our findings. Read on for the full review.
The tech specs
- 528 MHz Qualcomm MSM7200A processor
- 288 MB RAM
- 3.2-inch touch screen (320×480)
- 7.2mbps HSDPA (900/2100 MHz) and quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE
- 512mb internal storage with microSD expansion
- Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP
- 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi
- 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus and video recording
Hardware and build quality
Dropping the physical QWERTY has made the Magic a little thinner than its predecessor, the HTC Dream. The trademark “chin” on the front of the Dream has been preserved, however this time it’s a gentle curve that makes the phone sit nicely in your palm, and still offers a level of screen protection from drops.
For a phone with a plastic shell, it feels solid enough in the hand – I just wish it was a little heavier. At 116 grams, it’s just 17 grams lighter than the iPhone 3G I’m so used to, but it’s crossed the line of being too light, and feels cheaper than it should as a result. Speaking of cheap, the “squeeze test” makes the Magic exhibit a slight level of plastic creakiness that is absent in its competitors. It’s nowhere near as prevalent as the Dream, but it’s there, and it’s unfortunate.
The microSD slot is underneath the battery cover, so it’s going to be a little less convenient if you plan on using a number of smaller microSD cards to store all your music. The Magic is SD 2.0 compatible, so once 32GB microSD cards are available, it should support them.
Like the Dream, the Magic is lacking a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is utterly ridiculous for any smartphone, let alone a device competing with the iPhone. You’ll need to buy an adapter that sits in the mini-USB port at the bottom of the phone to use headphones – unless they’re Bluetooth headphones, in which case the addition of A2DP will have you covered. Apparently, future Android devices from HTC will feature a 3.5mm jack, but that doesn’t help here.
The physical QWERTY keyboard of the Dream might have been a love-it-or-hate-it affair, but that doesn’t mean any old on-screen keyboard implementation will please the haters. Luckily, Android has gone close to perfection with their implementation, with one unfortunate caveat that I’ll get to later.
The auto-correction and prediction/suggestion is really slick, out performing that of the iPhone. You get multiple suggestions (“poss” will suggest possible and posse) including different forms of a word (“possi” will suggest possible and possibility) – needless to say, hunt-and-peck typists will absolutely adore this thing. There’s also the ability to nominate what you’ve entered at any time as a correct spelling, which is automatically added to the phone’s dictionary – much nicer than the workaround involved with doing so on the iPhone.
Unlike the iPhone, the comma and period keys are available on the QWERTY view. Like the iPhone, you will have to toggle to another view to access numbers and symbols, but if you hold that button down you get a context menu with commonly used symbols like the question mark. Like the iPhone, there’s contextual views – for example, when entering an email address, the space bar is replaced with an @ symbol and a .com shortcut, and when entering a URL, the space bar is replaced with a forward slash and a .com shortcut.
Unfortunately, the keyboard gets less usable the faster you type. Once you hit roughly 35 words per minute, the space bar in particular seems to get finicky. Granted, I’m not sure how many users will realistically hit this speed, but I’d say more than a few seasoned iPhone typists will. It’s unclear whether this is a limitation of Android itself, or hardware that’s struggling to keep up – but I have to mention that the iPhone 3G also starts to break down when typing at this speed, just without quite the same level of inconsistency for registering keypresses.
Battery life was the achilles’ heel of the HTC Dream, which needed a lunchtime charge to make it through a day – even with restrained usage. I was pleasantly surprised to see the difference in the Magic.
For starters, the battery capacity has been bumped 20%, up to 1340 mAh, and based on our testing, it appears that Android has undergone some serious tweaks under the hood to decrease power consumption between version 1.0 and 1.5.
The first test was a standby test, with push Gmail running and Twidroid, a Twitter client, updating in the background. The Magic managed to last 40 hours in this state. This is, of course, nowhere near BlackBerry Bold or Nokia E71 levels of battery life, but it’s a massive improvement over the Dream, which struggled to last 8 hours on a similar configuration.
The media player is neck and neck with the iPhone. It’s not quite as snappy and fluid, and doesn’t have “ooh shiny” features like Cover Flow, but it’s functional, responsive and intuitive.
As I mentioned in my review of the HTC Dream/T-Mobile G1, Android scores over Apple’s devices in a big way when it comes to freedom. You can easily select any song as a ringtone, and easily add music from any computer by USB mounting or using a card reader. Both are technically possible with the iPhone, but require ugly workarounds to do so – the latter requiring access to the computer you activated your iPhone on, which I discovered the hard way while overseas with a new netbook, with my MacBook Pro half way across the globe. (The fact I couldn’t add rips of legally bought CDs to my phone from my computer left a long lasting sour taste in my mouth, but I digress.)
It does take a little while for the music player to process files added to the microSD card since the last time you launched it (a very rough estimate being about a second per track) so your initial dump of several gigabytes will take a while, but further launches are nice and snappy.
Another nice touch is the ability to hold down an artist name to reveal a shortcut to search for that artist on Google or YouTube (the latter of which, incase you haven’t already discovered, is a gold mine of music videos and rarities).
It really is a crying shame that HTC left out the 3.5mm jack, as this is the one thing that makes the Magic lose major points.
I first looked at Android in April for our smartphone showdown. Two months later, and the Android Market is in much better shape. There’s plenty of competition for apps like RSS readers and Twitter clients, which gives developers an incentive not to rest on their laurels.
Exchange ActiveSync support is on board, straight out of the box, provided you’re not using one of the “with Google” versions of the phone (like Vodafone’s offering) – as Google requires manufacturers to include a specific set of software, and nothing extra, to use the “with Google” branding. Nevertheless, this is likely to make the Magic significantly more viable in (or, dare I say, appealing to) the enterprise market.
Also included in the load out is Quickoffice, allowing you to view, but not create or edit, Microsoft Word and Excel documents. Strangely, Quickoffice isn’t ready with a full blown version for those who need to create and edit, and at the time of writing, hadn’t responded to my query as to whether Magic owners will need to pay for the privilege of that upgrade once it’s ready. For those that need it now, there’s Documents to Go.
There’s also an app called PDF viewer, which I’ll leave up to you to decipher.
Yes, it’s got one. Proving once again that megapixels alone do not a camera make, the quality of the shots is decidedly average. Autofocus is relatively quick, but you’ll need an awfully steady set of hands to not end up with a blurred photo.
The quality of video recordings was incredibly disappointing. The maximum resolution is 352×288 whether you’re using 3GP (H.263) or MPEG4 format. If you’ve captured something amazing, you can upload recordings to YouTube, or send via email, MMS or a third-party application.
I’m delighted that there is finally a handset on the market that I can, with a straight face, say represents a serious contender to the iPhone. It’s thin, sexy, and functional – and it will grow in capability with every revision of Android and every app added to the Android Market.
What’s that? You want me to stop comparing things to the iPhone? OK, how about this. This is first phone I’ve experienced that is both suitable and appealing for every market – personal use, SMBs, and the enterprise – which is a pretty significant development.
If you already have your life, or your business, running on Google’s servers using tools like Gmail and Google Calendar, I think you’d be crazy not to go with an Android phone. “Setting it up” involves entering your Google account details…that’s it. Automatic two-way sync and everything.
At the moment, you’ve got two choices – the one with the keyboard or the one without. The question is, with so many Android-powered devices arriving in the next six months, do you make a simple choice now or a much harder choice later. And that’s one I can’t answer for you.