Vodafone NZ HTC Magic – With Pseudo-code

(If you just want the quick version, skip to the decision code)

Pricing has now been revealed. Vodafone wants $1099 for the phone outright or $649 and below on a plan. This puts it within $50 of the 16GB iPhone 3G (not S). I know which one I’d choose.
The launch party has been dated to the 24th of June 2009. I presume this is on or very close to the day of public availability. Will update when I know more.

HTC MagicWhen the iPhone slid on to the scene, it didn’t so much displace any current phones; it created an entirely new market segment. It decimated the status quo, and it has taken a couple of years for competitors to catch up.

In the intervening time, I’ve fondled and fumed over more phones than you could shake an accelerometer at. None has come close to the usability of the original iPhone. When you combine that usability with the the feature set of the latest 3G S revision, Apple might as well just provide me with an industrial shredder in which to toss each phone I’m sent to review.

So you could say my expectations of Vodafone’s HTC Magic were modest. The Magic is the second hardware revision from HTC to run Google’s Android operating system. The first one – the G1 – was not widely released outside of the USA, and was subject to some faint praise. By all accounts, the 1.5 version of Android – cutely codenamed Cupcake – is greatly improved over the 1.0 version. Combined with this new OS, the HTC Magic is the first phone I’ve reviewed that comes close to competing with the iPhone for usability and sheer fun.

The physical similarities between the Magic and iPhone are striking, but then again, layout options for a full-screen, touchscreen phone are few. The Magic has a slightly smaller screen than the iPhone, and a slightly more ‘plasticy’ feel overall. I like the hardware buttons on the Magic, including the back button and call buttons which make it easier to answer a call without seeing the screen. The menu button also allows applications to use more screen real estate, with no requirement for a permanent toolbar as is common on a lot of iPhone apps. One glaring omission is the lack of storage on the Magic: 512MB. It’s expandable via micro SD cards, but with todays flash memory pricing, I really can’t see why they didn’t solder in at least 8GB.

In terms of radio hardware, the Magic runs 3G on 900/2100MHz, so is practically usable only on Vodafone, and not XT. As an aside, you’re going to see numbers like 900/2100 a whole lot more in phone reviews in New Zealand, due to the similar-but-different nature of the two main 3G networks. In a nutshell:

  • Phones with 900/2100 will work great on Vodafone 3G, and barely at all on XT.
  • Phones with 850/2100 will work great on XT and pretty well on Vodafone 3G (in main centers), and will probably still be able to do calls (but not 3G) on Vodafone anywhere.

Back on topic: you’ll also find the Magic reasonably intuitive to use from a software standpoint. The concept of multiple home screens are supported, with the addition of ‘widgets’ on each screen. The Google search box you see in most screenshots is a widget, with other options being clocks, media players, and possibly 3rd-party widgets. One thing I really liked about the Android OS is the way it handles notifications. All notifications are ‘stacked’ in a panel that can be slid down from the top of the screen (the devs call it a window shade). Everything is there: sms and email notifications, missed calls, and notifications from third party apps such as twitter messages from Twidroid.

The Magic includes access to the Android Market. Similar to Apple’s App Store, you can download applications directly onto your device. Market’s 4,000 apps pale compared to Apple’s 50,000, but all the essentials are there. You’ll find the staples like casual games and social networking apps among others.

When you really get under the hood, you actually start to notice places where the Magic outpaces the iPhone. Being a completely open operating system, applications are free to behave however the are allowed to. Of course you’ll be prompted to allow an application to access your phone memory, make data connections, or anything else ‘risky’. Once you’ve granted that access, the applications can run in the background, participate in the shared notification system, and access hardware features like the notification LED light or GPS sensor. Sure iPhone apps can talk via similar APIs, but I just got a more comfortable feeling that apps on Android are more tightly integrated with the ‘workflow’ of the phone.

So the several-hundred-dollar (because Vodafone aren’t telling us how much it will cost yet – you can register your interest, but that’s all) question is: should you buy one? Going on overseas rates, I’m guessing the pricing is going to be not too dissimilar to an iPhone 3G. Based on that, you can use the following guidelines to help your decision.

  • If you’re a regular Google user, including a standard GMail account, Calendar, and frequent Google search and Maps usage, you’ll find the Magic a fantastic mobile companion. I loved the way all my Google contacts came across as soon as I entered a Google username.
  • If you use a Google Apps Enterprise account, with your own domain name, for some bizarre reason you can’t link that account up with the Magic. You can use the very competent browser to access the mobile web versions, but you won’t get syncing or push email. My bad! You can use an apps for domain account with no problems.
  • If you use a corporate email account with Microsoft Exchange, you’ll need to fork out money for a third-party syncing application, or talk to your IT guys about opening up an IMAP connection. At the moment, the iPhone’s support of Exchange is massively better than Android – this happens to be a showstopper for me.
  • If you’re an open-source zealot, then Android is the platform for you. There’s none of the lock-in you get with the iPhone.
  • If you have an extensive iTunes library and don’t want to carry a separate iPod, then an iPhone would be a better choice than the Magic.

If you’re a code-head, here’s some pseudocode to parse the above thoughts:

  You = Open source zealot OR
  Magic Price < iPhone Price AND
  You = GMail user AND
  You != Microsoft Exchange user AND
  (You don't have iTunes OR You already have an iPod)

So there it is. The Magic is a damn good effort: nothing else I’ve tested has come as close to the iPhone’s usability and quality. The Magic doesn’t best the iPhone, but if it comes out marginally cheaper or if you have some niche requirements, it’s going to be a damn hard choice between the two.

Full specs are here, and I’ll update this post once Vodafone deigns to let us know a price.


  1. good review, just confirms my opinion on this vs iphone.

    andy please post back here when you find someone selling an unlocked samsung, i’d rather have it as well.

  2. Regarding Exchange Sync, apparently thre are 3 flavours of HTC Magic. The included software build depends which one you have.


    Essentially, there is a Vodafone/Google build, a Google build and an HTC build.

    The HTC build includes HTC’s ‘Special sauce’ with Exchange Active Sync and some improved apps.

    I note Android 2.0 ‘Donut’ may be here in a couple of months! The dev cycle for Android is much faster than Iphone OS. May also be a point to consider in your decision making.

  3. That’s bloody interesting Rob. You’d think if HTC have licensed ActiveSync, then it should be available on any phone? Madness.

  4. @Ben
    Methinks ’tis a product of the Google/Vodafone agreement. Wouldn’t be the first time carrieres have crippled an otherwise great piece of phone hardware.

    Ah well.

    I’m a big fan of the Dataviz Roadsync product anyway.
    Used it for years on my old SE P900 (Solid, reliable touchscreen Open OS phone anyone? They did exist pre-iPhone, despite the ‘Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field’. 🙂 I miss my jog-wheel!)
    It won’t be terribly expensive for Android. Still in Beta at present.

  5. Mike Riversdale :Thanks for that, v useful … damn iTunes is the killer eh!

    Depends. I like the tight integration of the itunes store with the app, and it’s certainly the way to go for updating your ipod software or getting iphone apps, but (and I admit I’m a little behind in versions) if you take the iphone out of the picture it’s a pretty ordinary music player. Also, the library management is crude and lacking in some nice features.
    Personally I like WinAmp. Media Monkey and Songbird also look promising.

  6. Thanks, good info here. I’ll definately be getting one of these over the locked down iPhone. A Note: in AU, the three version will come with Active Sync and some other (non google) pre loaded apps. less than a week to release day!

    Ans yes, good code..

  7. @Rob_nz
    Interesting link. Although that’s a bit backwards compared to ActiveSync. Personally I’d rather keep my corporate email in Exchange, and sync it to the phone, rather than move everything to GMail.

  8. I think they are enabling paid apps as they roll out per region.

    I seem to recall seeing something from Oz that paid apps will available when the phone is released there.

  9. Thanks for the review … I have been using Android on a G1 Dev Phone as my main handset for last few months and I really like the OS…. will be interesting to get my hands on a Magic and compare the soft-keyboard to the hw-keyboard on the G1.

    The main attraction of Android for me is the Java-based application stack.

  10. Pricing is a little disappointing, we’ll need to wait and see how discounts and corporate palns work out.

    One thing over-looked in the comparison with the current IP3G is the fact that the Magic is a generational upgrade in processor and memory (I’m referring to RAM here) over th3 existing iPhone 3G.

    The Magic ha a 528Mhz Qualcomm® MSM7201a, and 192Mb RAM.
    The IP3G has a 400Mhz processor and 128Mb RAM

    Of course that changes with the 3Gs, which has (apparently) a 600Mhz processor and 256Mb RAM.


    The Samsung i7500 has the same processor as the Magic, but only 128Mb RAM. (Although it does have 8GB internal Flash storage and a better camera)

  11. Stephen Fry calls it the “ARM Cortex A8 processor and PowerVR SGX GPU”. Is that the same thing?

    Either way, it’s a vatload faster than the 3G original, especially for graphics. I’d be pretty worried if I were Sony.

  12. Sorry, yeah my bad. Copied the wrong proc from the article for post.

    The 3g has the ARM1176JZF-S

    The 3Gs (and the Palm Pre) have the ARM Cortex A8 processor and PowerVR SGX GPU

  13. I can’t see why people with iTunes wouldn’t use doubleTwist? (http://www.doubletwist.com/dt/Home/Index.dt) – thats what I intend to do when the Samsung or Motorola Android phone comes out. I have an ipod touch and I really, really cannot stand it, it is irritating in the extreme. The limitations on how you can run applications on the iPhone I also find quite disconcerting – no background tasks keep the iPhone in the dark ages of Java ME IMHO. I don’t care if Android is open source, I just care about background apps.

    Clearly none of the free MS Exchange integration apps on the Android Store are any good either? I haven’t checked, not being an Exchange user.

    My big problem with the HTC Magic is a lack of a 3.5mm audio jack – it cannot be an all in one device without it.

  14. RichardV :Clearly none of the free MS Exchange integration apps on the Android Store are any good either? I haven’t checked, not being an Exchange user.
    My big problem with the HTC Magic is a lack of a 3.5mm audio jack – it cannot be an all in one device without it.

    Don’t yet have an Android, so can’t comment on the free apps on Market. However, did use Roadsync from Dataviz for years on Symbian and it worked fine. In free beta at present for Android. Wasn’t hugely expensive back when.
    Could always jailbreak and use one of the HTC (as opposed to Vodafone) Roms floating around. The HTC rom has Exchange sync from what I understand.

  15. Bear in mind I’m comparing Exchange connectivity on the stock Vodafone HTC Magic to the stock iPhone. The iPhone blows it out of the water.

    Given the comments above, it doesn’t look too difficult to get Exchange connectivity sorted. Perhaps I need to add an “IF you == hacker” to the pseudocode?

  16. Interesting to contrast Vodafone NZ Magic procing with OZ.

    VAU – Cost of handset: Free
    Plan – $79 Single Business Cap
    3 months free access+ – just for buying Direct
    FREE* HTC Magic with Google™
    700 minutes (300 standard mins + 400 Vodafone-to-Vodafone mins) and 300 standard TXTs or PXTs a month*
    Per second billing – only pay for what you use (min 22 sec call duration)
    1GB* of data each month

    VNZ – Cost of handset $549
    Plan – Smart 80, 24 Mth
    120 anytime minutes
    600 TXTs
    250MB of data

  17. A bit more like it.
    Just got a pre-registration offer from VF.
    they are offering 300 magics to pre-reg customers for $100+ off the normal Smart plan.
    So on Smart 80, goes to $419, Smart 130 goes for $219

  18. “You can use an apps for domain account with no problems.” Thanks for pointing this out. This is major for me. But what do I need to do to tweak this. I mean: when the standard icon opens to Gmail.com can I simply change the URL? Is it that easy? If so: super!

  19. Expansys – http://www.expansys.co.nz – has a whole raft of HTC Magic accessories, inluding audio adaptors for 3.5mm and RCA.

    Screen protectors too.

    I think the basic 3.5mm adaptor was around $20.

    I also seem to remember one that had 3.5mm stereo and usb pass-through for charging while listening.

    Just go to the site and search on HTC Magic

  20. was busy cutting down an iphone screen protector today so cheers for the link to a nz company supplying magic accessories.

    had the phone about 4 days and i like it.

    was round at my bro’s in the weekend comparing it to his iphone. all the main features are about the same. camera on the magic is better with auto focus. had to google for the format of videos that the magic can play, seems like most podcasts need converting or i just havn’t found the right podcast s/w yet. not being able to buy apps from the android market is a pain and no one knowing just when it’ll be available is a bigger pain. lots of free apps are available but a lot of them a real beta’ish. love how you can customize the look of the screen, i’ve got an ipod touch and i’m bored with the look of that and iphone. only dropped my bro’s iphone twice, they’re so shiny and slippery! apples definitly had a better graphic designer on the job then google but maybe that’ll all change in 2.0.

  21. I have an HTC magic (not vodafone, that has less memory!) and I can say that it is great, the app market is alive and expanding but there’s a real lack of any games that fully utilize the graphics engine (open al 2.0 or something)

  22. newbie here… anyone know how to add an alarm ringtone to the HTC magic (the ones in the phone are painful especially the Rooster) doesn’t appear to be an option to download a tune for an alarm???. TIA

  23. Get Ringdroid from the market (Free).
    You can edit any music file and save as a ringtone of any type. 😀

  24. thanks Rob I did that some ringtones crossed over to be used as alarm tone but others didn’t (yet they show as normal ringtones) not sure what the issue is…weird …may start from scratch

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