Google's Android platform has had a lot of coverage in recent months, but we've seen little in the way of new handsets. Until last week, T-Mobile has been Android's only supporter, with its G1 (a.k.a. the HTC Dream). But Vodafone has now entered the fray, with HTC's Magic and the updated 'Cupcake' version (1.5) of Android. Where T-Mobile's G1 had a promising platform but uninspiring hardware, we think new HTC Magic from Vodafone scores well in both areas. The handset is free on pay-monthly plans from £30.
The HTC Magic is an attractive device. The shiny, brilliant white casing may be a little 'dress-down Friday' for some professionals, but it's refreshingly different from run-of-the-mill blacks and greys, without being too flashy. The white livery is punctuated by a silver band running round the edge that carries a volume rocker on the left and a Mini-USB connector on the bottom.
The shiny white HTC Magic, which is exclusive to Vodafone, runs version 1.5 of Google's Android platform.
T-Mobile's G1 had a slide-out mini-QWERTY keyboard hidden beneath the screen, but the HTC Magic relies on its touch-screen alone, providing a tappable on-screen keyboard. Like the G1, the HTC Magic includes an accelerometer, and the screen automatically rotates as you turn the device in your hand. The on-screen keyboard is a little too fiddly for our liking in portrait mode, but we found it easy to tap out SMS messages or other text in landscape mode.
The absence of a physical keyboard means that the HTC Magic is quite svelte, measuring 55mm wide by 113mm tall by 13.65mm thick and weighing 118.5g. By contrast, the bigger, heavier G1's measurements are 55.7mm by 117.7mm by 17.1mm and 158g.
The HTC Magic does retain some of the design features of the G1, though. The upwardly curved lip at the bottom of the casing is still here, adding a distinctive quirk without affecting usability. The miniature trackball beneath the screen acts lets you navigate when you don't want to tap the touch-screen. This might seem like overkill, but actually we appreciated the ability to scroll with it at times rather than sweep the screen.
The HTC Magic has Home, Menu, Back and Search buttons on teh top row, with Call and End buttons beneath.
Also beneath the screen are Home, Menu, Back and Search buttons, with Call and End beneath this quartet. The Menu button doesn't actually call up the handset's main menu — that function is achieved by dragging a small tab on the bottom of the touch screen upwards (and downwards when you want to lose the menu). The Menu button actually calls up a context-sensitive menu that varies depending on the application you're using.
Sweep left and right on the main screen and two more screens appear that you can populate with your choice of applications. This is a different convention to the multiple main screen options on other devices as you're much freer to dictate how the three interrelate with each other. One screen is completely blank to start with, while the other just has a clock on it. So you could arrange three groupings of apps and shortcuts in whatever configuration suits you.
The screen measures 3.2in. across the diagonal and has a native resolution of 320 by 480 pixels. It may be a little short on pixels, but it's superbly bright and clear. The screen also distinguishes well between taps and sweeps, and is admirably responsive.
The HTC Magic ships with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a stereo headset and a carrying pouch. There's no printed getting-started guide or manual. Although it wasn't supplied with our review sample, we're told that the HTC Magic will include a Mini-USB-to-3.5mm converter so you can use your own choice of headset.
The HTC Magic is a 3G/HSDPA device with quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE support. It has 512MB of ROM and 192MB of RAM, plus a microSD card slot under the battery cover — Vodafone supplies a 2GB card. We downloaded several applications to the device and were never offered the option to install to the card, so we assume that apps only go to the internal memory.
The processor is a 528MHz Qualcomm MSM7201a and we had no complaints about its ability to handle the demands we placed on it during testing. Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) and GPS are all integrated. Having GPS switched on is crucial if you want to make the most of the HTC Magic, as many of its applications are location based. Google Latitude is supported, for example, and there are plenty of applications for finding resources near your current location.
The accelerometer is also used by a range of applications. For example, in Google Street View, you can pan around a location simply by tilting the handset.
The HTC Magic runs version 1.5 of the Android platform, previously known as Cupcake. The very tight tie-in with Google's applications is evident in some of the preinstalled software. For example Google Calendar and Google Talk are here, as is Google Mail and Google Maps. There is a YouTube application too. The web browser takes you straight to the Google search page, naturally. The Google applications synchronise with online data and it's a pleasant surprise to see Google contacts and calendar data synchronise automatically. Unfortunately there's still no out-of-the-box support for Microsoft Exchange (although a number of third-party solutions are now available), and no way to synchronise contacts or calendar data with your PC.
A key feature of the HTC Magic (and the Android platform in general) is the Android Market , where Google is obviously — and understandably — trying to emulate Apple's success with its iPhone App Store. There is a good range of applications available, including many free ones. We only had time to sample a few, but there's clearly plenty of opportunity to expand your HTC Magic's capabilities over time.
The HTC Magic has a 3.2-megapixel camera that shoots stills and video and uploads the results to Picasa and YouTube respectively. There's no flash unit.
HTC's devices are not known for the excellence of their cameras, and the Magic is no exception. It shoots stills at 3.2 megapixels, but lacks a flash and is short on settings, although you can upload photos to Picasa easily. You can also shoot video and upload it to YouTube. There's no side button for activating the camera, so you can't take quickfire snaps. All in all, the camera is pretty disappointing. And despite being a 3G device there is no front facing camera for two way video calling.
Other applications include an alarm clock, calculator, email client and music player. As noted above, you can add plenty more via the Android Market.
Performance & battery life
To get the most out of the HTC Magic you really need to have HSDPA or 3G coverage. When we were reduced to GPRS, things became distinctly sluggish.
Inevitably the connected nature of many of the HTC Magic's applications means that you'll push the battery pretty hard. The quoted life is up to 7.5 hours of talk and 420 hours on standby. We found we needed to charge the battery every day at first, but after the initial burst of heavy use this settled down to a couple of days between charges.
We had one issue with the screen, which goes out of focus when it switches orientation, becoming sharp again after a short wait. This isn't a deal breaker, but it is a bit distracting.
The HTC Magic is a well-designed handset that's comfortable to hold, has a responsive touch-screen and should satisfy anyone who is happy to use Google's suite of applications. However if your email, contacts, calendar and other PIM (Personal Information Management) data are managed by enterprise servers such as Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Domino, there's no out-of-the-box support. Although the Android platform has plenty going for it, this deficiency is likely to prevent it from being widely deployed in businesses for now.