The MyTouch 3G (from T-Mobile U.S.A) is also known worldwide as the HTC Magic. This unit connects to the T-Mobile USA network and I’ve been using their service with various phones for a while now. MyTouch 3G revolves around a few ideas: “lots of apps, Google integration, 100% you, super fast 3G, life in one touch and instant sharing”. That is at least, T-Mobile’s interpretation of what the HTC Magic is. In this review, I’ll tell you what value the MyTouch 3G brings on the table, and of course, how it compares with the iPhone 3GS or the HTC Hero. I don’t think that I can escape from answering that question.
We all have a different usage pattern that influences how we perceive certain features (like a keyboard). It is also the single most important thing that affects battery life. I used the HTC Magic as my main phone, to check emails and Facebook updates (a lot) but I replied only moderately. I browsed the web a few times a day to check on news or stock quotes, and I used the map application, at least for a few minutes every other day. I don’t call much (10mn a day?) and I didn’t play games or use any other app very often (I have not installed many apps: just Facebook and Glympse).
The HTC Magic is a cute phone that is well built. It doesn’t feel like a high-end device like an Xperia X1 or an iPhone, but its plastic design is shiny and clean. It feels good enough, and overall, I don’t have any complaints about its perceived durability. If anything, it is harder to drop than an iPhone because it’s not completely flat.
I like the USB port for charging and there’s even a little hole for a hand-strap: that could limit the casualties due to drops. The Android design calls for a few physical buttons, but honestly they would have been better off with a pure touchscreen device (no buttons *required*). The buttons could have been easily replaced with icons, which would have allowed the screen to be larger. Physical buttons reminds me of Windows Mobile… Physical buttons should always be optional on a touch device.
Physically, the weak point is the display. The image quality is very good, but it is just not as reactive as phones like the 3GS or the HTC Hero. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s clearly a bit annoying, especially if you have played with something better. Luckily, you will find it to be OK, but it’s good to know that there’s something better out there.
Fun: The MyTouch 3G is extremely customizable. Once you have chosen the color (black, white, merlot), it is possible to further customize the back plate by using existing cool designs, or create your own and upload your artwork!
Basics (very good)
Dialing and placing a call to either a contact or a number is very easy and works well. The sound volume is OK in a quiet environment, but it could be too soft for a noisy place. The sound quality was good, even with 2/4 bars.
Searching the contacts by scrolling or by entering a name is also quite efficient. If you have a lot of contacts, chances are that you will want to type the first few letters of the contact name. I wish that there was a way to directly jump to a specific letter, but there isn’t. The iPhone used to have that problem as well. It has been fixed since.
Phone settings (easy)
Overall, the setup is easy and the menus are intuitive. The Exchange setup is usually the most annoying part, but it’s mainly because of exchange, not because of the phone itself. Connecting to a WIFI network is also very easy, so no problem there. Overall, I would say that setting things up can be done without any trouble.
Virtual keyboard (good)
The virtual keyboard is your only way to input data, reply to messages and so on. It works OK, but found my typing to be slightly slower than on the iPhone. It’s probably because the screen is just a tiny bit smaller, but these few millimeters do make a difference. It’s obviously much slower than typing on a blackberry – at least, for me. I won’t say it enough, but you will see and hear about people who can type very fast with a virtual keyboard. What matters is whether or not YOU can do it. If you text a lot, this is a big deal, so take the time to see if a virtual keyboard will be a source of frustration or not. If you come from a numeric pad phone… chances are that this is actually improvement.
I really liked Android’s suggestions when typing. The suggestions are good, and context-aware: if you type a website URL, it will suggest websites so that you can go quickly to a popular site. In an email, it will suggest common words and in the contacts, it will suggest… contacts :) I prefer the Android way, where users have to take action to choose a suggestion, rather than the iPhone way, where you have to take action to avoid using the suggestion. To phone: don’t try to be smarter than me.
Web browsing (good)
Overall, the web experience with desktop sites is good, but not excellent. I like the fact that all the websites that I use regularly “just work”. Because sites are usually design to fit in a 1024×768 display, you will have to scroll things around. The MyTouch 3G/HTC Magic does an fairly good job at it: it is better than Windows Mobile 6.1 phones and Blackberry phones, but not as fast and responsive than the iPhone 3GS. The iPhone’s zoom is also much better and intuitive. Overall, the Android web browsing provides one of the best experience available, just not The best.
Flash: Flash is currently not supported, so this is not a “full web experience”. It might become available in the future as Google puts more resources into it. This is one of the most anticipated feature.
Mi sc: I really like the address bar edit box. As you type, it will suggest sites based on their names. It’s particularly great for new sites, as old ones should be stored in your history. It is handy as well if you don’t want to store your browsing history on your phone.
As you can guess, the integration with Gmail is very well done, and the setup is extremely easy: you just need your email address and password. The MyTouch 3G comes loaded with a “work email” app that supports Exchange, but it does not sync the contacts or the calendar (argh!) – which is a big turn off for anyone using Exchange seriously.
Just like the iPhone, the HTC Magic is a great device to *read* emails, but it can be tedious to reply for the reasons mentioned in the Virtual Keyboard paragraph. HTML email are rendered properly, and I have no complaints on that front, except that the scroll/zoom interface is a far cry from the “pinch and zoom”.
If your email is on Yahoo, MSN or others, you will have to get the mail server information (pop3, imap…), which can be annoying for novice users. Clearly, we’re in Google Land.
Although Android is built with basic security features, it is also not meant to be a fortress. The security mainly consists of preventing unwanted users from accessing the device. Apps ask your permission to access things at install time (most people just say “yes”). There’s no strong content encryption like Blackberry phones have. Instead of using the usual 4-digit password, Android uses an unlock pattern with up to 9 points. I haven’t done any deep analysis, but using 4 points would allows less combinations than a 4-digit code, and using more points possibly becomes harder to remember. That said, I think that it is good enough for most users, but it’s very far from being unbreakable, just like the 4-digit code. There’s no built-in remote wipe, but you might find a 3rd party app that does it (like Mobile Defense, beta is free). If you need to encrypt your content, there might be an app that does it, or you might want to look at a Blackberry.
Photo and Video (not so great)
Photos: In the few photos that we shot, the MyTouch 3G performed quite decently when good lighting was available. The color balance is a little off (too warm), but overall, it’s a good representation of what we were seeing. In dim lighting (diner, party), the photos were blurry and quite frankly unusable.
Movie in native resolution
Video: In the high-quality mode, video resolution is 352×288, 325Kbps and 12.3fps. Needless to say that this is not impressive at all. The aspect ratio (square-ish) is weird as well. On that front, the MyTouch 3G gets obliterated by the competition.
Out of the box, the MyTouch 3G is snappy, and quite responsive. That said, the phone can slow down significantly with background applications and background tasks (sync…). When that happens, the user interface becomes much less responsive and the display scrolling becomes choppy. I don’t tend to run a lot of apps in the background, but if you plan on using Android’s ability to keep stuff running in the background (the iPhone isn’t very multi-task friendly), that might be an issue. Most users will be OK, in my opinion.
While nice, the touch display isn’t as reactive as the iPhone 3GS or the HTC Hero. I would say that it’s “enough” but to give you a comparison, the reactivity of the MyTouch 3G is superior to most Windows Mobile 6.1 phone, better than the BlackBerry Storm, but inferior to the iPhone 3GS and the HTC Hero.
Battery Life (1 day)
As usual battery life varies incredibly depending on your usage, but after using this for a while, I would say that in general, you have to charge it every day. If you use the GPS keep an eye on battery usage… it felt quite taxing.
YouTube: video playback quality is good (assuming that your download speed is) and on par with the iPhone 3GS. However, the iPhone 3GS has a much better audio output, thanks to the dual speakers. There’s no Adobe Flash support, so if you’re a Hulu fan, you’ll have to wait for an App.
MP4 Playback: I played the Spider-Man 3 trailer that I got from my PSP (360×280, 736Kbps). It played just fine and the Image quality was very good. I’m not sure that
Music playback: If you manage to connect headphones (no 3.5mm connector), I fully expect the audio output to be “OK”. Seriously, there’s a USB to 3.5mm Jack adapter that you can use.
Maps: Any smartphone should have a decent Map application. Fortunately, the MyTouch 3G / HTC Magic does have a good implementation. It gets the job done and is quite efficient and is totally usable.
Maps are smooth, but not as smooth as the iPhone 3GS or the HTC Hero
Glympse: Glympse is an application that lets you “share your where” for a determined amount of time with anyone who has an email. There’s no need for your friends to have a Glympse account.
Google Voice: Google Voice (GV) lets you create a “virtual” number that can then be redirected to one or many physical phones. The GV app lets you place calls using your T-Mobile minutes, which doesn’t seem all that useful, except that calls placed via GV show up with your GV number. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to call via WIFI (for free/low-price/from abroad) with the current version.
Skype: Skype works very well (voice and IM), and unlike the iPhone version, it can stay up even when you switch to another app. That’s huge for those who want to stay connected at all time. The downside of this app is that I found it to slow down the phone
Voice Search: MyTouch 3G comes loaded with a Google Voice Search widget. It works surprisingly well. Just say a search phrase and it will transcribe it to text and start a Google search. It takes 3-4 seconds for the voice search to be ready to listen to your search. This needs to start “instantly” to be a massive hit.
It would be nice to be able to shut down all non-essential apps quickly (1-click), but no smartphone offers this functionality in a convenient way… (message in a bottle).
The scrooling could be smoother, but it’s good enough
Computer connection: if you wonder, the phone is recognized as a USB drive on PC and Mac. It makes copying files easy. To mount the phone as a drive, go into the notification area and click on the USB icon. It will ask you if you want to mount/unmount. Easy.
Things that could be better
Copy/Paste: You might have laughed at the iPhone’s lack of copy/paste, but Android, doesn’t do much better. Sure, the MyTouch 3G has copy/paste, but the functionality is very limited: you can copy/paste from an edit box to another, that’s it. Want to copy from a web page? can’t do. From an email? Can’t do.
Update: a reader (doriandroid) pointed out that while copy/paste doesn’t work in GMail, it does in the web browser. You have to go into Menu>>More>>Copy Text, then click one to define the selection start, and again for the selection end.
Productivity: just like the iPhone, I found the HTC Magic / Mytouch 3G to be less productive for email than a Blackberry is.
No UMA/HotSpot@home: With HotSpot@home, T-mobile has an awesome and unique feature (in the U.S market). UMA-enabled phones (like the BB 8900) use WIFI to reach the T-Mobile cellular network. First, it guaranties that you get a 100% reception at home or wherever there’s an open WIFI network, secondly, calls could cost less. Finally it works abroad (no roaming!). It’s too bad that the MyTouch 3G/HTC Magic does not support this functionality.
No multitouch: Android doesn’t currently officially support multi-touch, but that is supposed to change with Android 2.0. Pinch and Zoom is the one feature that I’d like to see on every touch phone (come on, the Zune HD and the Palm Pre have it). The hardware zoom slider on Windows Mobile 6.5 is also an interesting idea.
More widgets: On HTC-branded devices, there are cool widgets like People (speed dial) or Mail (message, including Exchange) that offer frequently accessed information in full-screen. Of course, there might be something in the app store that does that (I didn’t find any at the time of publication), but it would be really nice to get something out of the box.
No 3.5mm audio connector: I know that industrial design can be tricky, but not integrating a 3.5mm audio in a music-capable device means one thing: most users won’t use it as a music device. It’s a faux-pas.
Conclusion (sets the bar for entry-level smartphones)
The MyTouch 3G (Aka HTC Magic) is a good smartphone, and if you take into account the voice+data plan price ($55 combined, minimum) it is more affordable than competing phones. Programs can also run in the background (GPS tracker…), the app market is more “open”, although the Application quality is currently lower.
So, what about that iPhone 3GS comparison? Well, the iPhone 3GS does provide a noticeably better user experience, enough to make it my touch phone of choice, for those who can afford it. However, the 3GS total cost of ownership (phone + plan over two years) is hundreds of dollars higher. On the Android front, the HTC Hero is a better phone than the MyTouch 3G (faster, better display, better/more apps included), but again, you’ll have to look at the total cost of ownership. The MyTouch 3G is about value.
With the MyTouch 3G, T-Mobile, Google and HTC have managed to raise the bar for entry-level touch smartphones. My Touch 3G provides an excellent value for the dollars spent. At that price level, any smartphone that is not as good as the MyTouch 3G should simply not exist.
Let’s go back to T-Mobile’s promises about the MyTouch 3G:
“lots of apps” : Yes
“Google integration” : Very good
“100% you” : I like the custom back plates
“Super fast 3G”: If you get a decent reception! T-Mobile’s coverage is certainly not the best one.
“life in one touch and instant sharing”: Marketing stuff that doesn’t mean anything.