As an avid iPhone fan changing phone’s so dramatically might seem rather a significant step, however, my own circumstances permitted this comfortably as this review shall demonstrate. So, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the HTC Magic on Vodafone shall we?
First of all, in the box:
- The phone, obviously
- Slip case
- Hands free
- Mains charger
- USB Cable
- 2GB MicroSD card
The first obvious thing is the mains charger. To my chagrin Apple discontinued bundling these with iPhones or iPods long ago. I still have one from my old iPod 2G so I haven’t felt the absence as much as I might have done. Chalk that as one in the ‘plus’ column. Sadly it is immediately cancelled out by the irritating habit that HTC perpetuates: using the mini USB socket as the headphone socket. This annoys me endlessly as it means that proprietary headphones must be used and long phone calls cannot be made with the charger and hands free in use at the same time. Fortunately I still have my iPod touch for music and video, so not only do I rarely use the hands free, it is also just for calls, not media. These minor issues are simply that, however – minor. On to the substance.
Aesthetically it is a beautiful phone. A white, smooth shell, a good weight and the ergonomics are such that it sits in the hand feeling naturally balanced. At the bottom are six keys and a trackball. The home key does just that, home every time. The menu key opens the menu in whichever application is running – I like this, very intuitive and not just a single menu for all applications. Back either goes back, up a level or back a page depending on the application and search is exactly that. The two phone keys are green phone for calls and red phone for hang up or go to sleep if the phone is not being used. The keys are set well and are unintrusive. The phone can be operated pretty much with out them, just using the touch screen save for the occasional press of back and the sleep key.
The touch screen is also very good. It ‘kicks back’ harder than iPhone, meaning that harder presses are needed, which takes some getting used to, however the advantage is less accidental typing. It’s pot-ay-to/pot-ar-to with this. Each is as good as the other for different reasons. It is merely a case of getting used to the feel. The trackball is merely a matter of preference too. It is not necessary to use it ever to operate the phone, but it is there if you are a fan of such hardware. The trackball very kindly flashes white on an incoming call – very nice.
On to the interface. The home screen has twelve ‘slots’ where users can place shortcuts or widgets. Tap the icon and open the application. This works perfectly. At the top is a Google search field which opens the browser for results and at the bottom is a tab which, when pressed, brings up the whole applications menu. The applications open in the same fashion as the home screen icons. Users can also scroll down using the trackball on both screens too. Swiping works excellently on the touch screen but I am still getting used to not having ‘the pinch’ when viewing the web, images and so forth. Zoom keys do the same but are incremental zooms rather than tapping or pinching to preference. Panning is perfect and renders well.
The bundled applications are where Android scores massively. Integration with online services such as YouTube, Gmail, Maps etc is perfect, and I do mean absolutely perfect. I could not fool this phone no matter how hard I worked it. Use your Google account to log in to any application and this is ported to all other Google applications. This may be Google’s killer application for Android – web integration. The 3G is up to 7.2 MBP/S – twice the iPhone 3G (I have not used iPhone 3G S) and online applications load like greased lightning. The browser too is lightning fast, loading and rendering pages quickly and well. The interface is not up to Safari on the iPhone, but still very good. Maps is, as one would expect, marvellous. Seamless integration with all other applications like Locale, Twitter and services like Street View and Latitude are standard. Based upon my experience of both phones, the GPS in this phone slaps the iPhone around the head and laughs. Signal acquisition is lightning fast and I tracked last night to within a metre. Location without GPS (cell towers and triangulation) is sketchy, as it is on all phones, good to within a kilometre or so. One great function is that these can both be on or off, either or or both. This is excellent for battery life. iPhone (even 3G S) cannot do this and this was one of my biggest gripes. As I began to use iPhone more and more I found myself charging twice a day. For example, a recent trip to London saw me leave the house on a full charge at 10 am – literally unplugged from the mains and out. Moderate usage, i.e., 1-2 hours of music, occasional Twitter and Facebook and web browsing plus a Maps-navigated trip meant that it switched off, dead battery by 11 pm. This was a massive factor in my decision to go Android because this is simply not good enough. Despite Apple’s assurances about the 3G S I found myself disgruntled with iPhone as the function is superb, but it is not a great deal of use if it is dead before the day is out. I am sure Moore’s Law means that in a few years this will be a non-issue, but in the here and now something must be done.
My solution was to jump the fence to Android and to dust off my iPod Touch 32GB for music and video. Another factor in this decision was money. To get a 32GB iPhone 3G S free on contract the line rental on an 18 month deal is £75 per month. That is patently absurd. I am Apple’s biggest fan but until they open it up to all networks O2 are going to keep charging ludicrous prices. Granted, the package was unlimited everything, but that rings hollow when the Magic is £35 a month with 100 minutes, 600 texts and unlimited web. I don’t know anyone personal user that uses more than even a 1000 minutes and texts and for £45 you could get that and a free Magic with Vodafone. For my usage requirements I would have to pay an extra £720 over the contract. Even if I did not own an iPod touch, I could spend half of that on a top of the range iPod of any sort, get a free Magic and pocket the change. I have paid more for Apple previously because it is worth it, and I would again, but that is simply outrageous. The fact that I own an iPod Touch already made it even easier to go Android. I could go even further and get the free phone and a 32GB memory card for £63 on Amazon., thereby saving £650 or so. The iPhone is worth a premium, but it ain’t worth £650 plus £600 per contract in line rental. I am still Apple through and through, but no longer an iPhone user, for now anyway. I actually don’t blame Apple solely . O2 are just as guilty. I say again: open it up to all networks.
So here I am, having thought I would never leave iPhone, with an Android phone and an iPod Touch for media. Ideally the single gadget would be great, and for the first 12 months of iPhone it was, but sadly the cost combined with a phone that writes cheques that its battery cannot cash made it nigh on impossible not to go elsewhere. I even looked at the Nokia N97 but that keyboard is awful. I cannot believe they couldn’t come up with that phone minus the clunk. It is a shame too because the camera, at 5 MP with flash and Carl Zeiss optics is so very, very, VERY tempting. So, in light of all of this, what else is there to say?
Quite a lot actually.
I now benefit from a better camera. I had a lot of time for Steve Jobs’ protestation that optics were more important than megapixels, because he is right, however, we all know that 2 MP was and is crap and something of an e
mdarrassment, so when iPhone 3G S arrived with a none-too-stellar 3.2 MP (again, I cite the price) I started to get a little bit annoyed. I was not THAT bothered as I used my proper camera most of the time, and most folks used the iPhone camera for the odd blog/Facebook/drunken antics snap, nothing more. However, surely for the cost, 5 MP, zoom, flash and Carl Zeiss optics are in order? Anyway, since the camera on the Magic is decent, I should say so too. It too is 3.2 MP with a good digital zoom. There is no flash which is a shame but the photographs are crisp, well rendered and deep in rich colour. This camera is fine for the casual friends and family snapper, or the occasional holiday snap. The somewhat limited (as yet) Android Market has applications that will work with just about any photo hosting service and photos can also be posted to Facebook, Twitter, most blog hosts and most social networks. All of this can be done for free. Excellent job Google. The excellent, and free, ‘Qik’ application will host your media and automatically post them to just about every social network and blogging provider too, which is essentially what I just said, except for the killer app: it does so with video too, which neatly brings to me the video camera.
Video is recorded the same way as the camera snaps – point and shoot. The quality of video is very good for personal use and the frame rate is great. It has not lagged at all yet. The phone seamlessly uploads to YouTube as standard, just tap and it goes, and very quickly too thanks to the fast 3G connection. Adding Qik simply opens everything up. All that is needed is to log in to Qik and connect your social/blogging/hosting accounts and uploading is a breeze. Publishing over WiFi and 3G is fast, perfect and all the connectivity is in order, Bluetooth too. This element of the phone leaves me looking at my iPhone asking ‘What can YOU do?’.
Location based services are also coming in to their own on Android. Google Sky Maps is an excellent application that does for the sky what maps does for the ground. Speaking as an amateur astronomer this is a boon of an application. Spot something, point the phone at it, identify it in sky maps and it tells you all you need to know, all thanks to the GPS location fix. This is a sensational and criminally underrated application which leaves me asking, on my knees, at the top of my voice ‘FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE MAKE A CABLE AND SOFTWARE PATCH THAT WILL LET ME USE MY PHONE TO POINT MY TELESCOPE?’. The Android market also has some good stuff available, especially considering it is a fledgling store. The classics are all free – Space Invaders, Asteroids, Missile Command etc and there are plenty of stores online too. There is an installer application in the Market which will install and run .APK files from the memory card. Currently the phone and memory card could not hope to be filled with applications. The fact that I store and listen to/watch media on my iPod Touch means that this memory is free. The phone is nowhere near full and the card has a few megabytes used. I cannot possibly imagine having enough applications to fill it, unless high memory software like SatNav comes online, and even then quite a lot of these would be needed to fill it, and if that did happen then flash storage is getting cheaper every day with 32 GB cards available for £63 on Amazon. There is already freeware, turn-by-turn SatNav software online – ‘AndNAV’. It uses open source maps with a Google Maps-esque interface. I imagine that in a few years we will see free, full 3D SATNAV online for Android.
Android is looking like the likely pretender to the Apple crown. It doesn’t have the glamour which, sadly, seems to count for a lot, but it has it under the hood, and it won’t bankrupt you either. I really thought iPhone was it, the fully converged device. Sadly, batteries don’t play ball. Additionally, O2’s racketeering has left a sour taste in my mouth so I cannot justify the outlay and I do not feel I have bought second best either. The minute iPhone gives me what I want, I’ll probably be back, but right now I am back to waiting for Apple to amaze me again, which is a shame, because buying iPhone was a revelation. Upgrading it was a chore. I want Android to go ballistic to destabilise things a little more. Apple and O2 need a size 12 up the backside and Nokia need to stop making clunky phones, and, Blackberry who?
This phone is great – buy one and you won’t be disappointed.