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HTC Magic review

Barry de la Rosa
25 Jun 2009
Expert Reviews Best Buy Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
320
per month, 18-month contract

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Specifications

Android, 3.2in 320x480 display

This is the second handset to use Google's Android OS and is exclusive to Vodafone; the first handset, the G1, is available only from T-Mobile.

Both are manufactured by smartphone specialist HTC, but they're very different in design. Unlike the G1, the Magic doesn't have a keyboard, relying instead on a capacitive touchscreen with only a trackball to aid with fine control. Capacitive screens rely on touch rather than pressure, so the Magic doesn't require a stylus. The touchscreen is comparable to the iPhone's in sensitivity and, coupled with Android's well-designed interface, is a pleasure to use.

Since the G1 launched, Google has released an update to the Android operating system that improves its support for touchscreens, particularly for input. When held vertically, the Magic displays a QWERTY keyboard with keys that are just 4mm wide. Using our thumbs to type, we found the onscreen keyboard amazingly accurate, plus it's backed by clever word-prediction software that displays possible matches above the keyboard. Turn the phone horizontally and it flips to a more spacious landscape orientation and, unlike the iPhone, can switch orientation during typing.

Having been designed for touchscreen operation, Android uses thumb-tip-sized tabs and menu options. To scroll through the Contacts screen, for example, you drag a square block up and down instead of a thin scroll bar. A pop-up containing the letters of the alphabet helps you jump to the right entry. The interface is far more responsive than most rivals and on a par with Apple's efforts, although it lacks the iPhone's multi-touch gestures.

It even beats the iPhone in certain areas, as Apple's device has draconian restrictions on how you transfer data to and from the handset and runs only approved applications. By comparison, you can plug the Magic into your PC over USB and it mounts like any other removable storage device, allowing you to drag and drop files between the two. Untick a box in the options, and the Magic will run any application developed for it, irrespective of its origin.

The white plastic case has a matt silver metal strip around the sides, and the whole unit feels sturdy. It's narrower and lighter than the iPhone, and although it's slightly thicker, it feels more compact. The screen is smaller, but the resolution is identical, so images look a little sharper. Results from its 3.2-megapixel camera are on a par with those of the iPhone's 2-megapixel camera - not very impressive. The Magic can also record video at low quality, which the iPhone can't.

The Magic is let down by its lack of a dedicated 3.5mm headphone socket. The supplied headphones plug directly into the USB port, but those who want to use their own set will have to buy a £5 adaptor (from www.easydevices.co.uk).

There's only 192MB of built-in flash memory, compared to the iPhone's 8GB or 16GB of storage. This means you'll have to splash out an extra £15 for an 8GB MicroSD card. 16GB cards are available but these cost around £45 at present. On the plus side, the memory card slot makes it easy to move data to and from the phone.

The fact that we can make such direct comparisons with the iPhone says a lot about the Magic. It's the first phone we've seen that comes close to matching it for ease of use. However, like the iPhone, the Magic has its quirks. For example, it won't download email attachments in formats that it doesn't support, and it doesn't natively support Microsoft Office formats or PDF files. Thankfully, someone has already written an application that provides access to Google's Docs site, so you can at least view documents stored there. Like Apple's AppStore, the Android Market contains a wealth of third-party applications, ranging from the ingenious to the ridiculous.

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