As hard as we tried to love T-Mobile’s G1, it just has too many niggles for us to hang out with it on a daily basis. The camera can’t record video, there’s no stereo Bluetooth and, most gratingly, its design is more boring than a year in solitary with John Major.
HTC has clearly been listening to our grumbles, because the Magic is a real improvement. While the ditching of the G1’s QWERTY keyboard might split opinion, the payoff is sleek, curvaceous design, a much better feature list and improved navigation.
On the menu
The latter has mainly come about thanks to a small change with the button layout. The G1’s ‘Menu’ button was perfectly placed in the centre, below the screen. Now it’s on the left, which is slightly less ergonomically pleasing. But this means there’s room for an extra key – a ‘Search’ button.
Since Google now effectively means search, this is a good button to have. It’s context-sensitive, so if you’re in contacts, it’ll search there, and on the home page it’ll take you to Google. This means the web surfing experience, already excellent, is even slicker.
As you’ll know, the T-Mobile G1 and the Magic have hundreds of applications to download. They’re mostly free, as Android Market has only recently added paid-for applications.
Android isn’t quite as intuitive to use as Apple’s OS, but it’s not far off and the Magic has the advanced 1.5 version, aka Cupcake. This is largely responsible for the many feature improvements.
The biggest of these is video recording. While it’s not of the greatest quality and far from a match for web camcorders like the Kodak Zx1, the Magic does give you the option of directly uploading to YouTube.
It’s a shame that the 3.2MP camera, while better than the iPhone’s ancient 2MP number, still lacks flash and doesn’t have the best autofocus, but at least HTC didn’t bother including a front-facing camera for video calling – a bonus in our book.
As on the G1, the 320x480 touchscreen is excellent – fast, responsive and a joy to use. It’s easy to understand where to touch and how it will work. This is, of course, crucial for a phone with no buttons, and the Magic is more successful than almost every other touchscreen phone in this respect.
If you need a different way of getting around, there’s also a neat trackball at the base, which can navigate you round the screen and confirm actions.
The accelerometer is very fast, switching from landscape to portrait faster than you can say BlackBerry Storm. Touchscreens only work well when they work fast, and the Magic is a slick operator in this regard.
Thanks for the memory
Sadly, the music experience is less enjoyable. Your tunes, photos and video are saved to removable memory cards, so you can have as much as you like providing you buy extra cards – a 2GB microSD is included in the box – and don’t mind the faff of swapping them over.
There’s still no 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a disappointment, though the supplied headphones are acceptable.
The lack of capacious memory impinges on the number of applications you can have at a time, as apps are kept only in the phone’s 192MB RAM.
Run out of space and you can delete programs safe in the knowledge you can install them again later but it’s still not as neat as the solution iTunes offers.
Short on juice
Battery life is acceptable but not outstanding, not least because the Magic is always chatting away with the internet to deliver and receive your emails.
Despite these disappointments, the Magic is a sensational handset with a cool operating system and a design that will suit those who find the iPhone just that little bit too hefty.