HTC Magic: Hands-On With the New Google Android Smartphone

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HTC Magic
Not yet for sale in the United States, the HTC Magic surfaced today in the form of a developer's version dubbed I/O, distributed at the Google conference of the same name. And the second-generation Magic indeed has a touch of magic: Its lightweight design, gorgeous screen, and new Android 1.5 operating system make a compelling combination. The phone will be released by T-Mobile this summer, under an as-yet-unannounced name.

The eye-catching Magic handset is what the T-Mobile G1 should have been--sleek, elegantly curved, and graced with distinctive design touches. When the G1 first came out, I described it as bland. Viewed side-by-side with the HTC Magic, the G1 now looks downright kludgy. It feels bulky, too, and no wonder: Though the Magic is only slightly smaller than the G1 (measures 4.5 by 2.2 by 0.5 inches versus the G1's 4.6 by 2.2 by 0.6 inches), it feels significantly smaller than the G1, and it is noticeably lighter (weighing 4.1 ounces versus the G1's 5.6 ounces). The Apple iPhone 3G is taller than the Magic, but it is slimmer, as well.

The Magic's gentle curves are more than aesthetic touches. The phone has a more pronounced curve at the bottom, where the resulting shape forms a comfortable thumb grip, than at the top. The curves, coupled with the shiny black finish, make it eminently more pocketable than the G1. Like the iPhone 3G, the Magic is highly prone to showing fingerprints--on its screen and on its front and back chassis--due to its shiny finish. The only element that didn't attract fingerprints was the blue, rubberized texture stripe that runs around the edge of the phone.

Other design touches I appreciated were the well-cut, light-up navigation buttons beneath the screen (Home, Menu, back, and search-a new addition) and the deep well that surrounds the navigation trackball. Also, the volume rocker is longer and easier to press than the one on the G1. The back slides down and off easily, and the microSD Card is accessible without your having to remove the battery.

I didn't like the placement or size of the oblong Talk and send/power buttons, however. These critical buttons were unduly small, and I often inadvertently hit the power button instead of the back button bcause of their proximity. Also annoying is the design decision to have the mini-USB port at the bottom double as the headphone jack; as a result, you have to use HTC's proprietary headphones or add a dongle for regular headphones. At least the port is free and clear, and omits the troublesome cover that the G1 sports.

I missed having a physical keyboard, as on the G1. Though I appreciated being able to do some limited typing with one hand using the new-to-Android native on-screen keyboard, I felt that the keyboard was too tightly packed, making it occasionally difficult to type on. Going back to fix typos was harder than I would have liked, too (unlike on an iPhone, I couldn't drag the cursor back where I wanted it in a line). I found the horizontal keyboard roomier, but I could see only five lines of text in the screen above it.

I loved the Magic's 3.2-inch, 320-by-480-resolution (HVGA) capacitive touch display. Placed next to the G1's display, it was brighter, more vibrant, and sharper. The built-in camera gains camcorder functions. It lacks the dedicated shutter button that the G1 offers; but you can use the trackball as a physical shutter button, so you needn't rely solely on pressing the on-screen shutter, as you must on the iPhone).

In most other respects, the phone functions in the same ways that the G1 phone (with its first-generation Android operating system) did. But the Magic's Android 1.5 OS introduces a few critical improvements, the most obvious being the on-screen keyboard (which appears when you touch a text field). The phone now has integrated universal search, so can search for things on the Web or within individual apps. Android 1.5 can record and upload video and pictures to YouTube and Picasa, and play video in MPEG-4 and 3GP formats. You can now add widgets to the home screen (a media player was already installed, but other new options include a calendar and a picture frame). Android 1.5 also has stereo Bluetooth support--crucial given the clunky headphone jack setup--lets you copy and paste from within the browser (about time), and lets you search from within a page.

I found a lot to like in this compact iteration of the HTC Magic. I especially appreciated its size and its easy-to-use trackball, yet I can't help but lament its lack of a physical keyboard.

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