It’s been a month now since I posted my first impressions, and it’s time to fess up my thoughts on the HTC Magic. Truth be told, it has truly surprised me!
The Android user interface is simple yet elegant, and was definitely designed with finger actions in mind. Unlike Windows Mobile, Android never makes you wish for a stylus. Icons are nicely sized, menus are large and the flicking motions to advance lists, web pages and menus become second nature as soon as you start using the phone.
For some reason Android feels a lot nicer on the Magic that it did on the Dream, perhaps due to the way the Magic fits perfectly in hand and can be used (for the most part) with either one or two hands.
The one thing that could do with a bit of work out of the box is the icon set, some of them feel a bit childish. The preinstalled theme is up to the carrier though, and replacement themes can be installed easily through the Market to address this.
I’ve become quite fond of the way Android presents new alerts. Instead of springing out of nowhere and getting in the way of whatever you might be doing, notifications wait patiently in the bar at the top, where a drag of the finger can reveal them. It makes for a clean way of managing multiple notifications as well. Say for instance you have a new email, a new text message and a calendar appointment. The three will appear in the list, and can be dealt with individually, or dismissed using the “Clear Notifications” button.
In this shot you can see a third-party battery monitor at the audio player
Third party applications take similar advantage of this notification system, making them feel better integrated. The instant messaging app I’ve been using, Meebo, does this and it’s really smooth.
Google Apps Interaction
As a long time Gmail user and recent Google Calendar/Contacts convert, the Magic fitted in perfectly with my information setup. Being able to type in my Gmail address and have all my information available and always up-to-date is brilliant, and works extremely smoothly. Often I would be alerted to new email on my phone before my laptop showed it on the Google Notifier (although the notifier is rubbish).
It is worth mentioning that the email side of this can be largely duplicated on any other phone that can run Java apps, as the Gmail Java applet is pretty comprehensive. It doesn’t do HTML email though, something the Android client seems to do quite well.
What does seem like an odd omission is the ability to use more than one Gmail account using the Gmail application. I have an @gmail account in addition to one on a custom domain, both of which I use daily, and I could only sync one using the Gmail app. My attempts to sync the other using IMAP in the regular Mail email app was frustrating at best, and would frequently have trouble opening emails.
The phone side of things are good on the hardware front, but a few tweaks could be made to the software side of things. I found the Magic to be able to hold a very good signal even in areas where I struggle with other phones, however I did have issues when it did lose signal. For some reason it would not reconnect on its own ever time, so on several occasions during testing I’d pull it out of my pocket to find it disconnected from the phone network. Going into the phone network settings would automatically initiate a scan and reconnect it, but it’s a glitch that is rather a nuisance. I’d say it will be sorted out in a future update.
I’m not 100% content with the call log screen either. While it makes it easy to call someone you’ve called/received a call from previously, or enter their contact, the way it manages multiple calls from people is a bit odd. Best example of this happened to me the other day when I was trying to get hold of a friend of mine. Their line was busy, so I had to ring a number of times before I got through. The Magic showed every one of these calls in the list, even though I’d called them only a few minutes apart. This makes for a rather messy call log. It would be nice if each caller was only displayed once, with more detail on past calls available once you go into their contact.
I’ve had a Sony Ericsson HBH-PV740 Bluetooth headset while I’ve had the Magic, so I’ve teamed them up a fair bit and it worked pretty well. The Magic doesn’t have voice dialling which is a shame, but answering calls from the headset worked just fine, and redialling the last dialled number can be accomplished with a press of the headset button. Having the Bluetooth on and constantly connected didn’t seem to adversely affect the battery life either.
Like the iPhone and the Palm Pre, the Magic’s web browser is based on WebKit, which is widely touted as providing the best mobile browsing experience available on handsets today.
I noticed something odd on the Vodafone-branded handset that didn’t happen on the unbranded one I’m using now. Every time I’d leave the browser to check and email or change a song, the website I’d been viewing would reload once I switched back. The site was still displayed, but would reload, which can be very annoying, especially on larger sights. It wouldn’t always put me back where I was either. The same thing happens when switching between tabs (or tiles as they appear on Android). Why it does this I don’t know.
Other than this seemingly Vodafone-only issue the browser is very good. It renders pages very nicely, is reasonably quick, and makes it easy to move about. The pearl control can be used to scroll and select page items too. Whilst it is pretty good with Java pages, it doesn’t do flash.
I love having a proper YouTube app on a phone, it makes searching and viewing videos so much easier. It good at parties too J What I haven’t noticed on the Windows Mobile YouTube client is the ability to upload videos as well, something I tested on the Magic over 3G quite successfully.
Like the iPhone and the Pre, Android offers the ability to find and install apps directly on the phone the the press of a virtual button. It feels a lot like the iPhone App Store (I haven’t tested a Pre so I can’t compare), and works really well. Having used it on both the Magic and the iPhone now it is even clearer to me how necessary this is for Windows Mobile. I received a Touch Diamond2 a few days ago, and to install my apps I had to either stuff around with Activesync or install cab files, very messy in comparison.
Purchasing apps from the Market is pretty simple too, taking billing information from your Gmail account to present a list of credit cards, or offering the ability to add one.
What’s odd though is that the Market doesn’t show prices in your local currency. Whilst browsing through I found apps price in Euros, Pounds and US dollars, which can be just a tad confusing.
Obviously the Magic doesn’t have a hardware keyboard, so I will be talking about its software version. Since the Magic has a capacitive touchscreen, you’ll need to use your fingers to type, which will be a problem for those with larger hands. Since I don’t have large hands, I didn’t have too much difficulty typing on the portrait keyboard. Flipping the Magic on it’s side gives you a bigger keyboard, but this hides the application you are typing into, instead just showing an input box at the top for whatever field you selected to type into.
I tended to stick to portrait typing which, combined with the auto-correction, worked quite well for me. What’s nice about the Androids auto-correction feature is it gives you options for what you meant to enter, and learns as you go.
I did find the iPhone’s correction to be somewhat better, but the flexibility offered by Android’s system counterbalances this. What I didn’t like was the occasional lag when typing quickly, as the phone tried to keep up. This isn’t something I noticed on the iPhone.
It’s also worth noting that handsets that have “with Google” stamped on the back (such as the Vodafone models) have a different keyboard to the unbranded models, and by different I mean worse.
The camera has traditionally been an HTC weak point, and alas the Magic is no exception. A non-descript and flashless 3 megapixel autofocus camera that is ok during the day, and lousy and night. To be honest there isn’t really anything else to say about it, other than I wish it was better. It doesn’t even have the tap-focus of other recent HTC devices.
Having switched from a phone plus media player to just a phone, the Magic’s media playback functionality got a good workout, and I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint. It quickly detected all my music from my microSD card and presented it in an easy to use interface.
You can add a widget to the home screen to see the currently playing track, advance to the next track, and play/pause. The music player also appears in the notification bar, and can be opened by taping it in the notification window.
What’s a really downer is the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack, something HTC really need to make standard fitment. My Touch HD has it, as does the HTC-made Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 and the yet-be-be-released HTC Hero, so it’s a real shame it didn’t make an appearance here. I can see you average user buying one of these, and they don’t want to deal with adapters to listen to music through decent headphones. I had one lying around from previous HTC’s, so I could use my Seinheisers, but I doubt many others would 😛
I’ll say straight off that I’m a big fan of capacitive screens, and while the sensitivity of the Magic was good, it isn’t as good as an iPhone. There were times where the Magic didn’t seem to register my press and I had to have another go at it. This could be a software bug though.
The display is beautiful, with rich colours, excellent viewing angles and is suitably flush with the face of the device. The resolution matches the iPhone, which isn’t all that good to be honest when you consider the super-highres displays on offer in the Touch Diamond2 and Touch Pro2. Adequate is how I’d rate the resolution.
This is an area of big contention for me, I just can’t stand a device that won’t last a day using it’s features to the fullest. Whilst that may not seem fair, that’s the kind of user I am, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
In my first impressions article I was worried about the battery life since the first charge yealded very poor results. I can happily say it isn’t a concern.
The Magic was quite able to last of day using it to the max, combining plenty of calls with push Gmail, web browsing, several hours of music playback, about an hour of video and some general messing around with the phone resulted in plenty of battery left over at the end of the day. With light-moderate use three days is more than achievable.
As I said at the start the HTC Magic has really surprised me. I really disliked the original Android device (the HTC Dream), since it felt more like a pre-production test device than a retail product, which is totally different Magic.
Unlike its older brother it is sleek, good looking, the software feels far more refined, and the on the whole feels easy to use. Performance was good, and other than the occasional bug it was stable. You don’t need tobe a dev to like the Magic 😉