Yesterday afternoon I was given a preview of Vodafone's new HTC Magic. Due to go on sale on 5 May it is available for free on plans costing £30 a month and up.
The HTC Magic runs version 1.5 of Google's Android platform, better known as Cupcake. It's the first outing for the updated software, though owners of T-Mobile's G1 will also be able to get their hands on it by way of a software upgrade.
The HTC Magic really blew my socks off. The hardware is quite nicely designed in a consumer friendly shiny white plastic. It is much more compatible in size to other touchscreened smartphones than the G1 was. This is because it lacks the G1's extra height forced by the need to accommodate its hardware based keyboard under the screen. A qwerty keyboard is provided as an on-screen tappable one this time round.
The hardware replicates the small curve at the bottom edge that was found in the G1 though, and this helps make the device look distinctive. It didn't have any affect at all on the ergonomics of use, either negative or positive.
There is a range of buttons under the screen. The usual Call, End, back, home and menu buttons are augmented by a search button. This pulls up a Google search box on screen. This is just one aspect of the Magic's absolute predominance of its data centric nature.
For example, the Magic can help you find local eateries, use Google Latitude to show people's locations, even use Street View. You pan around a street by tilting the Magic in your hand. These services make use of the built in GPS and accelerometer.
The Android Marketplace, the online app store, has plenty on offer. I got excited about wanting a digital compass after panning around in Street View, and finding and downloading a free one must have taken all of a minute. It ran smoothly and seemed to be accurate.
Linkage between applications is impressive too. Taking advantage of another third party app I used the Magic's 3.2 megapixel camera to scan a barcode from a book I had with me. The book was identified as were places I could buy it online and its cheapest price. And if I really couldn't wait the software also identified a number of local stores were I could buy it, again with prices. Tap one of these and its location pops up in Google Maps. Had I wanted a little more info first, there were also links to some reviews.
This level of integration continues with other apps, for example it is easy to upload photos and video to various online locations, such as Picasa and YouTube. And the social networkers among us can have Facebook and Twitter clients, of course.
If all this sounds quite gushing, well, I'm not ashamed about that. I did only see the HTC Magic for about half an hour, and during the course of a longer review period may well find flaws and annoyances. But in my limited experience the software seemed to run smoothly, the user interface was intuitive, first impressions were really positive, and I only came away with one real gripe.
I'd have liked to see a 3.5mm headset slot instead of the headphones sharing the mini USB connector with the mains power and PC cables. But at least the two-piece headset that is provided does have a 3.5mm connector just past the microphone.