Saturday, June 20, 2009

Buying Guide: HTC Magic

By Benedict Wee

I've had enough time to spend with the HTC Magic which I got last week and I'm ready to post a review/buying guide to New Zealand's first Android mobile.

Why I like it

It's got Google's Android OS:
One of the main features that I'm excited about, the Android platform was created by Google for the Open Handset Alliance in order to create a standardized operating system for mobile phones. Because the source code for the platform is free mobile manufacturers are allowed to create phones in any size, form and design as long as they meet the needed system requirements to run Android.

What you'll get is a unified interface amongst the various brand mobiles that you'll only need to learn how to use once. Mobile companies like Samsung, LG, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba and Acer will follow HTC in creating mobiles that run Android though mobiles aren't exclusive to phones alone as netbooks and even digital photo frames are being created to run Google's platform. I always parallel Android's use in portable devices/mobiles to that of PCs and notebooks; different computer makers (HP, Dell, Acer etc.) running the same operating system (Windows).

I don't want to go all gushy on the Android but another great point about the platform is that since it's open sourced people can develop any kind of application without having to go through stringent screening processes that Apple app developers are subject to because of copyright and trademark infringement. Sega and Nintendo Rom emulators here I come!

On to Android's actual interface. There is a learning curve to the OS and the only tutorial available on the mobile is how to use the on screen keyboard, the auto correct and dictionary. It's not rocket science however, so you'll be able to pick it up pretty fast and the quick start guide provided is useful. Here's a simple rundown on how to use the phone:
  • The main page is called Home.
  • Touch an icon to run the application.
  • Touch and hold the icon to move/drag the application to desired location.
  • Drag the icon to the bottom tab to remove the application from the Home screen. This does not uninstall the application. To do that you have to go to settings and remove the application from the phone permanently.
  • Icons and Widgets are different. Icons have to be activated by touching them while Widgets are applications that are run automatically. The analogue clock you see on the home screen is a Widget.
  • Different Widgets can be put onto the Home screen but they cannot overlap one another or over icons. You can insert a Widget by touching an empty space on the Home screen.
  • The home screen has more than one page which you can navigate by flicking left or right on a page. This allows you to put more icons and Widgets on the Home screens.
  • The tab at the bottom of Home is where all your applications are stored. Pull it upwards to access and scroll through the icons. Hold down on an icon and you can move it to the Home screen.
  • On top of Home is the Notifications bar. The right side informs you of the connection you're using, the strength of the connection, the amount of battery life and the time. The left side informs you of an incoming text, email and if a new application has been installed. The symbols of the notifications can be found in the Quick Start Guide. You can pull down the bar to preview the notifications you've received just like the bottom tab.
  • More applications can be downloaded from the Android Market. Currently the only applications you can download are those that are free. The paid applications will be rolled out soon. I'll be giving an applications review soon.

There is a trackball on the phone which is supposed to be the "mouse" but I don't see its use (being touch screen and all) other than functioning as shutter button and "glows when you got a text/missed call" indicator.
The last bit about the Android which I totally love is that your Google account is synched with the phone thus saving me the trouble of manually inputting contacts and calendar notifications. If you already have a contact list and calendar on an account other than Google you can easily sync them with the online/software program Plaxo. If you do not have your contacts/calendars online then I suggest you take some time to compile them on a Google account cause you'll only need to do it once and you're set for life. Also, Android comes with QuickOffice which allows you to access Microsoft Office documents which is pretty handy. Update: Well, turns out the HTC Magic does not have QuickOffice but only the HTML viewer to preview PDF and Office files. Also it doesn't have voice search. Wow Vodafone, I thought crippling your mobiles was a shallow thing practiced only by the american telcos. (Thanks Mike!)

A 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus and video recording, an internal compass and GPS. No, that's not Apple's new iPhone 3GS I'm talking about. The Magic has these features too and they've had them since its predecessor, the HTC Dream was released. The iPhone 3GS claims to be fast (600 MHz CPU and 256MB RAM) but it's relatively the same as the Magic (528 MHz CPU and 288 MB RAM).

This much hardware in compressed into a small and pocket-friendly size and it's pretty light (116 gm) which makes it easy to carry around. I also like the fact that the battery is removable which gives me the option of buying more of them should I need to travel without a power source available (i.e. camping, trekking, boating etc.).


Battery life:
Like all smartphones in the market now, expect to charge the Magic pretty frequently when you've got the whole shebang on. 3G, GPS and WiFi are your main culprits of battery drain though it is not terribly bad in my opinion. I've checked my Twitter, facebook and email while doing the odd surfing and map checking and I ended up having to charge the phone every two days. My first charge ended pretty quickly cause I had WiFi on to sync my Google account and download applications. If you're really concerned about battery life then there's always the option of buying additional batteries.

Storage Space:
The phone comes with an internal 512MB worth of space and you can expand it with a microSD card (Vodafone will provide an 8GB one upon purchase). This space might seem too little for people who want to use the Magic as a media player but for those who want to use it for standard phone functions it should be enough, which brings me to the next 'meh'.

Personal Media Player:
The Magic allows you to play audio in standard formats (Mp3, AAC, AAC+,WMA,WAV,MIDI OGG etc.) but I wouldn't use this as my main music player because there is no headphone jack (you gotta use the headphones provided with a mini-usb port) and there is not enough space to store all the music I have.

The video quality of the player is average. They support 3GP (standard video format mobiles shoot in) and Mp4 though they are pretty picky about what kind of Mp4 you're playing (just like the iPod).

The photo viewer is alright but the lack of multi-touch to zoom in out as well as flicking to browse though photos makes it clunky and similar to your standard mobile phone.

Overall I would say that if you're looking for your mobile to become your media player then you're in for a disappointment. I would suggest getting an iPod Touch for your portable entertainment needs and leave the Magic to do the other smartphone stuff. You'll save a lot on battery life in the process too.

Expect the phone to slow down when you wake it from its sleep or when you call upon the keyboard. This happens occasionally and it only lasts a second so it's nothing you should worry about.

Why I do not like it

There is nothing that brought out pure hate when using the Magic. The 'meh' bits didn't affect me that much and I'm really happy with the phone. Of course there'll always be room for improvement (better camera with flash, longer battery life) but for New Zealand's first Android mobile I would say that it is a great introduction to a platform that we might all be using in the future.

But, I do hate something that relates to the HTC Magic. Something that would turn me off purchasing the mobile. The price.

If you look at the HTC Magic by itself, you would not only see what an overall great smartphone it is, you would think that it is an essential gadget for anyone to have to keep yourself organized and in touch with the rest of the world. It is light, of an appropriate size and relatively easy to use. I would highly recommend this to anyone.

However if you compare it to another smartphone in the market right now you might think twice about purchasing the mobile.

As I've mentioned before, the price of the HTC Magic is steep and too close in comparison to the iPhone 3G and the future 3GS. Should the 32GB iPhone 3GS be sold at the same price as the current 16GB iPhone 3G is selling at ($1129) you would be paying $30 less for 23.5GB less of space (if you use the Vodafone provided 8GB card). And this is not factoring points like the iPhone is a great all round portable media player with a headphone jack (and of course it's the most popular phone around).

I also made the argument on a forum somewhere that Apple's hardware and OS were developed by in-house developers in the US which does explain the premium price we have to pay for the iPhone and its seamless interface. In the case of the Magic I made the PC/Windows parallel which meant that the phone should cost significantly lower since the developer is from Taiwan and they're using an the Android platform which is free. $30 is a tiny gap to separate both smartphones from each other.

Update: Also, the lack of QuickOffice and voice search is a kick to the balls Vodafone. Why?

My current verdict: Wait for the iPhone 3GS prices to be announced before making a decision. Chances are you'll get a better deal with the 3GS. If however you harbor an intense hatred for all things Apple then I would highly suggest you get the HTC Magic because it is a brilliant phone.


  1. Just a quick note to say the Vodafone HTC Magic doesn't come with QuickOffice and only has the (not great) HTML preview for PDFs and Office files :( It doesn't have voice search either...

  2. Thanks Mike! Updated the review.

  3. fwiw you can get PDF viewers off the market

  4. Yeah I know, but they're not QuickOffice aren't they? Also, am more concerned about the voice search/dial function because Vodafone might be selling a crippled Magic to its consumers.

  5. Hi Ben

    Like the review, quite open and honest. Just a couple of questions:-

    Is your HTC a genuine Vodafone one cos I'm jealous if you've already got hold of one?

    What does the Music player sound like through a set of normal speakers



  6. Hey Mark,

    My htc Magic is an imported set cause I didn't wanna wait for Vf's no-date release. It's not from the Euro countries either so it just has the htc brand. If you don't want to wait too you can always check importing sites or TradeMe to see if they're selling em.

    As for using normal speakers, am unable to find out cause like I mentioned, there is no headphone jack and the headphones they provided are connected via mini-usb but you're looking at radio quality which is pretty decent.

  7. Hi Ben..

    Does the HTC Magic have voice dial/command native? If not is there a 3rd party app which would provide it..For me lack of this feature is a deal breaker given NZ laws on mobile use in cars changing this year David

  8. Hey David,

    The HTC Magic Vodafone is selling does not have voice dial/command (along with other important stuff) and for now it looks like it's gonna stay that way. There are no current applications on the Android Market to solve this problem I'm afraid as far as free apps are concerned. But if there ever is a way to solve this problem I'll make a new blog post for it.

    If you want to use a smartphone in the car with voice commands, an iPhone 3GS is the way to go.

  9. Ben..Thank you..Appreciated. Is nice to have this point clarified..Its been a mission with Vodafone New market, Mobile One, who don't seem to know anything.

    Will go the 3GS way (if there was any stock left!!) I guess they will reload at some time.

    Is getting the 3GS with 32Meg for an extra $200 over the 16Meg worth it? I will use it mainly for business. I am not heavily into music or video or for a few MP3's to listen to on my overseas travels..Cheers David

  10. Hey again David,

    No, I honestly don't think that paying an extra $200 for double the storage space is a good idea.

    But.. it all really depends on your situation and buying habits. If you're planning on keeping this phone for the next 2+ years then 32GB might be the way to go since Apple changes it's space annually in tiers (iPhone 2010 will most prolly be 32GB and 64GB) making a 16GB iPhone feel pretty out of place. The iPhone could also double up as a camcorder and digital camera too when you go on trips but if you already have other gadgets that do the job then don't bother with it.

    Also you gotta consider the apps that you're gonna use. There'll be really convenient ones in the future like a Microsoft Office viewer/editor and Skype which might prove helpful for your business needs. This will also take up considerable space in your iPhone. These apps aren't out yet but take a look at the app store via iTunes and browse though them to see how many you might want to install in your iPhone.

    In summary:
    Some mp3s+Using the phone for less than 2 years+Got other gadgets to do stuff for you = 16GB

    Using the phone for more than 2 years +Thinking about porting your whole life onto a phone = 32GB

    (PS: If you have mates overseas you could try getting them to buy an iPhone 3GS for you since there are some out there which are much cheaper.)

  11. Ben.hi..

    Thank you. Will go the 32GB I think its a wise $200 investment for the points you raised.

    Too bad about the HTC Magic..I am a Google fan. You would almost feel (cynically) that Vodafone neutered the HTC Magic in favour of the i-phone.


  12. Hey David,

    Glad to be of help. Have fun with your new iPhone!