A strong second Android phone from HTC. (June 22nd, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: HTC
Price: $150 on Rogers contract, $200 on T-Mobile con
- Great design to look at and hold in the hand.
- Android is powerful; good onscreen keyboard.
- Removable storage and battery.
- Good, not great, battery life and call quality.
- Capacitive (finger-friendly) touchscreen with trackball.
- Simple drag-and-drop media handling.
- Poor camera quality and features.
- Some stock apps limited vs. iPhone; Android Market has less than App Store.
- No 3.5mm earphone jack; proprietary ExtUSB port.
- Touchscreen isn't quite as bright or as smooth as Apple's.
- Currently in a limbo area for pricing.
HTC's first Android phone, the Dream (or T-Mobile G1), was ostensibly pitched as an "iPhone killer" but was really an alternative to a legion of lookalike Windows Mobile phones. The Magic -- called the myTouch 3G in the US -- encroaches much more directly on Apple's territory. It's thinner, sleeker and the first Android device to depend on a touchscreen keyboard. But do the form factor and a host of much-needed software features like video recording manage to unseat Apple from the hearts and minds of at least some prospective customers, or is it arriving too late?
design and expansion
One moment spent with the Magic and its ergonomics, at least, appear to trump both the Dream/G1 and the iPhone, albeit in different ways. The profile is noticeably thinner than the somewhat blocky, older HTC device but, because of the smaller 3.2-inch display and added thickness compared to iPhones, is easier to hold without being delicate in the way the iPhone requires. It won't fit as elegantly into a tight pocket but is at least slightly less prone to slipping out of one's hand. We'd add that the Magic is genuinely "pretty" insofar as it's smooth and without unnecessary design clutter, though get it in white or red if possible: like the iPhone 3G and 3GS, the glossy black invariably attracts fingerprints.
Hardware controls on the front will feel more than a little familiar to anyone who's had time with the Dream or G1; there are four buttons on the front face plus a trackball. While there's something to be said for the minimalism of the iPhone, we don't mind these controls at all and have found ourselves getting accustomed to them in short order. The trackball is also a useful touch for those who live in more northern climates and need true control without removing gloves on a particularly cold winter's day.
As for the display that the phone hinges upon: it's close, but just not quite as good as what Apple offers. It's capacitive and uses the electricity from your fingers to gauge input, so it responds to gentle taps and supports flicks and other gestures. However, it's not multi-touch and has just a bit too much friction to be perfect. The image is bright and vivid indoors or in cloudier situations outside, but in reasonably bright sunlight the screen is rendered dimmer than the iPhone's and is harder to use as a result. When testing, we also noticed that it was more prone to showing smudges and of collecting the occasional semi-permanent stain that needs a damp, lint-free cloth to remove.
HTC's design has one definite advantage over Apple's in terms of expandability: namely, it exists. While the microSDHC card slot is regrettably not external, the back panel slides off easily (but not accidentally) and reveals both the storage slot as well as a removable battery pack; for those who do enough calling in a day that one battery often isn't enough, this could be a godsend. Out of the box, the storage is somewhat anemic -- Rogers gives its Magic just a 2GB card, T-Mobile a 4GB card -- but microSDHC is inexpensive enough these days that 16GB is realistic, even if it quickly closes some of the price gap between this and an iPhone 3G S. The Magic also only officially supports 16GB as its maximum, so those who want 32GB may have little choice but to turn to Apple.
One dire flaw threatens to undermine much of the smartphone's media ambitions, however. In its idiosyncratic way, HTC has decided to only use an ExtUSB port for audio, charging and data. Without an adapter, which isn't included in the box, buyers have to use HTC's bundled, fairly low quality earphone and mic combo instead of their own headset. A similar complication prevents users from playing audio while charging. There's always stereo Bluetooth, but that requires wireless headphones and a willingness to tolerate audio compression. We can only hope that HTC one day learns that media phones are much less useful when you can't choose how you listen.