3 July 2009

The Summer of Magic

At last it's the time of year when all our academics start going away on their summer holidays and we get time to prepare for September and more importantly some time to try out new software & hardware which may need installing for next semester.

This year I've got a new best friend in the form of the HTC magic which I've been trying out for the last couple of weeks. I have to say that so far I've been more impressed with this phone than any of the others in our mobile networking equipment vault.

Lets start with the negatives though because there really aren't that many. The main drawback is Androids current lack of easy changable proxy settings. I've been playing with this phone at home simply because I couldn't use it on our wi-fi network here because of the proxy. The second problem is that the incoming SMS sound only plays once. Not good if you weren't within 20ft of your phone when it went off. This is a minor problem though and can be fixed by using a long mp3 track as your notification sound. My six minute repeating sonar track works a treat and I haven't missed any messages since. The next problem I found was that the dial pad keeps locking when you try to access voicemail. This is more of an annoyance than a problem as you just have to tap the screen a couple of times to unlock it. It's just annoying when you're trying to follow a speaking menu ('If you want to wait a long time... press 7' type thing). And my final gripe is that nobody seems to have tested the functionality without an internet connection. I don't have a data tarif so the first time I went to the calendar it wouldn't do anything without a google login which I couldn't do at the time as I was away from my access points. After logging in the first time though this feature is available without a connection and it will synchronise when you next connect.

So it sounds like quite a negative review so far? Well forget it. These are all trivial complaints and can be easily overcome by the tech-savvy. This phone is not only gorgeous to look at, it has the Android O/S which must be one of the most intuitive user interfaces ever designed. I've looked at the manual about twice so far (mainly for setting up the wi-fi link). Every part of Android seems really intuitive and well thought out which is why this is the first phone in our networking kit which I actually want to go out and buy for myself (the competition of Nokias E90 communicator, N96 and even HTC's win mobile-6 powered touch-pro just don't get anywhere near this usable). Even the calculator is simple and intuitive which is a good test of whether the manufacturer wants you to adapt to their product (* instead of x buttons) or vice versa.

Not only that, it was a doddle to set up my home email accounts on this phone, supporting standard pop3 protocols instead of requiring me to go through the mobile operators system. Yay I now have wi-fi email access that doesn't cost me extra. Superb and a refreshing change from every other phone I've owned personally over the past decade. This is the difference with Android though. It is Linux based and customisable to the n-th degree as I discovered when I set up another access point at work and started browsing through the Android Market.

I was astounded by the number of free applications available and the level of customisation they bring to your phone. I have already installed a trekkie tricorder app which gives you a visual display of all sorts of environment details such as local wi-fi spots and cell information. I also installed an app called chompSMS which gives you a threaded view of SMS conversations with word balloons which can be customised. I also installed Meebo IM which allows me to connect to various IM services and another application called FBabble which connects to my Facebook account. Then I discovered Twidroid, a twitter client and I've finally jumped on the twitter bandwagon just to see how it works. It's great that Twidroid can send a twitter message which can also be sent to update Facebook. Life may be boring around here at the moment but within the first hour of signing up, half a dozen people were already following my twitter feed. Not only that but I was getting local news feeds about a bank raid before I'd even had chance to hear it on local radio. Now I get what twitter is about, it's a cross between IM and a forum and you can even eavesdrop on other peoples conversations to find out what they're talking about.

Still I digress, I was talking about the HTC magic. What more can I say really? It's touch sensitivity and intuitive interface make it a delight to use. It's expanding market makes it highly customisable and it's got me using thigs like twitter which I never expected to take an interest in. It puts the 'personal' back into personal computing and the addition of a bluetooth keyboard and data tarif would make my computing experience truly mobile. Even the browser is usable although occasionally slow. The on-screen keyboard is a little fiddly but then you get the superb predictive text which shows the words it thinks you're trying to enter above the keypad. There's even a single button for '.com' to save time. Then I discovered there's a user dictionary so I can add my own words to the predictive text system. Suddenly I can find my own frequently used usernames in the predictive text links. In short this is the first time I've felt like the phone is trying to figure out what I want, rather than me having to understand its syntax and quirks.

So what now? Well I'm going to enjoy using this phone for a while before jumping in to buy my own. This phone has already got some competition in the form of the HTC Hero with its Hero-sense Android extension which looks like an even sweeter interface (although the phones extended chin is ugly imho). There's also the Samsung I7500 which has 8GB of onboard memory and a 5mpix camera with a flash. And the iPhone 3G? Well I tend to think Apple products are way over-priced and appeal most to a 'certain crowd'. You know who you are... design trumps functionality... not in my book!