Early adopters rarely have much luck when it comes to technology. Take the first iPhone, lacking 3G, or the rather ugly and bulky G1 Google phone on T-Mobile. There’s a hefty price to pay to be first, but there’s usually a great reward for waiting for the second generation.
Just as Apple got it right with the iPhone 3G, HTC was busy working on its second Android product, and like the G1’s exclusive to T-Mobile, the Magic has become an exclusive in the UK for Vodafone. HTC has since announced the Hero (full review next month), a relatively minor hardware update with some new software tricks, but Magic owners needn’t worry too much as the new HTC Sense panels, which allow you to jump around between weather forecasts, Facebook updates or the latest Tweets, is rumoured to be coming to Vodafone sometime in August.
The Magic was released with the second incarnation of the Android operating system, nicknamed ‘Donut’, but like the iPhone, Google offers firmware updates that automatically keep the OS, and installed applications, up to date. Updates can be performed over the air, which is a real boon, and saves the need to hook the handset up to a PC and install USB-flash drivers and other such nonsense.
If you’re still unsure what the story is about Android, then simply ask yourself how much you use Google. If you use Google for searching, as most people do, it’s obvious, but look beyond to Google Mail, Maps (including Street View) or things like Google Docs. If you use any Google application, then Android could be the OS for you. Yes, you can get Google Maps on an iPhone, Windows Mobile or any Java based mobile, but there’s a level of integration on the Magic that can’t be matched elsewhere.
When you first start up the phone, you’ll be invited to enter your existing Google account and – as long as you’ve got one – everything is automatically set up. You can have your iGoogle home page on the browser (in a mobile format) and your Google Mail will begin downloading in a flash.
If you haven’t yet sold your soul to Google, it doesn’t matter because the phone is equally as appealing to people who have their own email account and won’t be walking around with Google Maps permanently loaded. However, thanks to the digital compass and Street View, you will get addicted to standing on the street and moving the phone around to see your location move on screen in real time. That’s if the location has been photographed yet.
The Chrome web browser is fast, easy to navigate and handles multiple windows with ease. It’s also incredibly stable, so you won’t find it shutting down for no reason like the Nokia N97 browser. With a quick flick of the finger, you can pull down a list of new notifications (email, updates or alerts from applications such as new Tweets), or pull up the full menu from the bottom when on the home screen. Icons can be placed on the home screen and moved about like the iPhone, but with far more flexibility as you can include shortcuts and widgets.
There’s also an incredibly clever locking facility, using a user-selected gesture based on your movement between nine on-screen dots. Repeat the motion with your thumb and the phone unlocks, doing away with the need for entering a PIN. When it comes to innovation, it seems that Apple, Android and Palm are now leading the way, leaving Windows Mobile and Symbian lagging behind.
Twist in the tale?
Everything seems like utopia, but there are a few niggling issues with the Magic. They’re not major, but worth pointing out. Firstly, the camera may be a respectable 3.2-megapixel autofocus job, but there’s no camera button and controls are extremely limited. Android still has a way to go before it can really compete in the imaging stakes, and for video it fares even worse; recording at a paltry 320×240 pixels at a mere 15 frames per second. That’s seriously poor.
On the base of the phone is an old-school Mini-USB socket, instead of the new standard Micro-USB slot, and there’s no headphone socket either.
Although you can play music and video on the phone, it’s nowhere near as polished as the iPhone, with videos only accessible from the Gallery application. The phone is clearly aimed at the type of user more focused on the Internet side of things rather than wanting iPod style functions. When I copied over videos that were encoded for a mobile phone, the Magic struggled to play all but the lowest resolution videos. Compared to the Samsung I8910 HD or the iPhone, the Magic is a definite fail.
The Magic is a far better handset than the T-Mobile G1 and, even with the Hero now arriving on Orange and T-Mobile, Vodafone has little to fear because the Magic can still hold its own. As time goes on, it is becoming more and more obvious that Android is going to be a hugely successful platform. For now, the Magic is the only choice for Vodafone customers, but I wouldn’t recommend this for people who want something to watch movies on – at least not before the OS is updated.
At the time of writing, the choice of Android devices is pretty small and every single phone has been made by one manufacturer, HTC. The Magic is pretty similar to the new HTC Hero (available on Orange and T-Mobile) but has a cleaner look and feel, with less of the angular design at the base. The OS is slick and the phone is fast, reliable and has excellent battery life given all that’s going on, but it really does disappoint when you try and play videos. The camera won’t really excite much either, but if you want something for Internet based services, this really is magic.