HTC Magic – Android Review

htc-magic-vodafoneI’ve been using an Android phone, the HTC Magic, for about two weeks and I think it’s time to report back.

Build Quality: The phone feels very good, it look slick (at first you’re surprised by how quickly it picks up fingerprints but that isn’t an issue after day 1). It isn’t as solid as an iPhone, but it doesn’t feel like it’ll break easily either.

Voice Quality: Better than my Nokia E61i, better or equal to all the phones I’ve had.

Screen: The screen is nice. The same resolution as the iPhone, just smaller (because the phone is smaller). It certainly is bright enough, I usually have the brightness set to 50%. The image quality is great, better than the iPhone IMHO.

On Screen Keyboard: This is the question most of my nerd friends ask first. When you first get the phone you feel like it’s going to be hard. Coming from the full qwerty on the E61i I was struggling to get up to pace. But it gets better, a lot better. After a while your brain figures out how to thumb the right keys and the Android’s brain figures out what you meant to type. This is like predictive text on steroids… if you’re typing a word but along the way hit a few wrong keys, the phone works out what words you could have meant to type with keys near the ones you pressed. It’s hard to explain but in practice it really does feel a little like magic. So overall the on screen keyboard is actually awesome.

Signal: So far I haven’t had any situations where I’d lost signal while others had signal. The wifi is MUCH better than my E61i.

Connections: The Magic just has one port, a mini usb port. Actually it’s slightly different to mini usb since mini usb fits it but it can also accommodate HTC’s proprietary connector for the headset. I would have loved a regular headphone jack, but they’re trying to keep it minimal. You can get an adaptor. The good news is that the phone charges over usb with a standard mini-usb cable. That in itself is f-ing awesome.

Battery Life: Okay, not great. Look, lets be honest, if you get one of these phones you’re always playing with it… that sucks power. I need to charge this phone every night in order to keep it happy, sometimes more regularly. Happily I usually just plug in into whichever computer I happen to be sitting at and let it charge that way. I’m sure that future androids and future OS improvements will have much better battery life.

General Experience: This phone KILLS anything I’ve ever used before because of the general experience. When you first boot the phone it asks you for a google profile and then from that moment on your phone is perfectly synced with Google Mail, Google Talk, Google Calendars etc. Mail arrives on your phone in seconds and an “@” sign is placed on the notifications bar. From any application you can drag the notification bar down and get a preview of the email and decide whether to read it then of come back to it later. SMS’s, Calendar events, App notifications, like Twitroid saying there are new tweets, etc are all handled by the notification bar.

Evolution: The most awesome thing about this phone is its position in the software evolution. Things are changing all the time. I’m currently running release 1.5 of the Android base system. Since I have already ROM’d and ROOTed my phone I will be trying out the HERO (HTC’s latest Android Phone) ROM, which, while still Android 1.5, comes with a bunch of interface improvements from HTC. Later on this year Google will release the Android Version 2 which no doubt come with a whole whack of ui improvements, stability, batter life etc. The key to me is survival of the fittest. Because the Android development team is far more open than anything else out there, there is a constant source of feedback into the community. I have a long list of suggested improvements that I’m collecting and will publish. It’s not unrealistic to think that the Android devs will read that list and maybe even comment on it.

Openness: Android lets you replace any part of the OS with a replacement part. What that means in general terms is that if I want to phone someone I use the Android default dialer app that ships with the phone. I can replace that app with one that queries an LDAP database over wifi to get all our staff phone numbers. Even the Home application (the one you see when you press the home button) is replaceable.

Just a little teaser... I've subsequently installed the Hero ROM... and it is beautiful.
Just a little teaser... I've subsequently installed the Hero ROM... and it is beautiful.

My Top 11 Android Apps

  1. Android Market – The marketplace has all the apps. Sure you can get a lot of the files in other places, but not as easily as using market
  2. Skymap – Using the compas and the tilt sensor this shows you the stars where the phone is “looking”. It really is quite amazing to see in action.
  3. Timeriffic – A very simple app but amazingly useful. It allows me to change the phone’s volume, brightness, ringtone etc based on certain times. This means my phone automatically gets louder at 8am and softer at 11pm.
  4. ACast – A podcast client in your phone. Can be configured to only download over wifi.
  5. TaskKiller Light – Simple app, lets you kill other apps.
  6. GPS Status – Shows you all the info it can get from the GPS, compass and tilt/motion sensors. ie. Gradient, G forces, GPS Accuracy, How many sattelites it’s using.
  7. CellFinder – Nerdy app, but cool. Shows you where the GSM tower is in relation to your GPS position and shows you how far away etc.
  8. Transdroid – Control your Bittorrent client from your phone.
  9. AndFTP – FTP and SFTP (ssh) client, on your phone. Awesome for grabbing stuff of the network. (Astro is a file browser that supports SMB too)
  10. Twitroid – Fully featured twitter client for your phone.
  11. Google Maps – While it doesn’t have turn based navigation for South Africa yet, it does have all the roads now and can show you your exact location with GPS. This is very cool.

Overall, this phone is amazing, mostly because of Android… I can’t wait to see where Android world goes next.

Rooting a Vodacom HTC Magic and upgrading the firmware in South Africa to get Android Market and more.

If you’re in South Africa and you own an HTC Magic Android phone you’ll soon realise that it’s missing Android Market, which to be honest, is pretty much what makes Android so damn amazing in the first place. In its place is the Leaf Open Market. Leaf are the South African HTC importers. Open Market is about as awesome as getting stabbed in the eye with a pencil, repeatedly. The application works okay, but the selection of applications is incredibly dismal.

Update 30/06/09: There are rumblings that Leaf is going to “release” Market in “two weeks”. Supposedly they’re going to be sending out instructions on how to ROM your phone or allowing you to take it into a vodacom store and getting it ROM’d there (most likely they’ll need to send it away). I have no idea how true these claims are. Maybe someone wants to phone Leaf and ask them?

Update 23/07/09: A really good resource for anyone looking to hack their Magic is the XDA-Developers Forum. Some kind souls have also recently added a Wiki specifically put together for hacking the Magic (Sapphire) which every one of you should read from start to finish.

Anyway, the primary reason I love Android is because it’s hackable. Commence hacking. Warning: Yes, this probably will void your warranty. Yes, it’s possible that the real Android Market will eventually be released in SA, but I’m not holding my breath.

Basically what we’re doing here is updating the phone’s firmware to the version HTC originally intended the Magic to ship with… There are stacks of other firmwares (called ROM’s in the ‘community’) floating around, I’m just pointing to one that definitely works. Using the wrong ROM can put your phone in a state where it refuses to boot… Never fear, see below ‘Recovering from a bricked Magic‘.

General Steps

I’m going to explain the general steps you go through first… This will help you understand what it is you’re about to do so that you aren’t just blindly following instructions.

  1. We get the Android SDK and Fastboot applications installed on our computer
  2. We copy the ROM we want to install onto the SD Card and rename it ‘update.zip’
  3. We boot the phone into FASTBOOT mode.
  4. Using the FASTBOOT program we temporarily upload and ‘install’ the daldroid-recovery.img ROM over USB. (This is a special boot loader app that lets us do cool stuff like made Nandroid backups and install that update.zip ROM from the SD Card.)
  5. The phone boots into the daldroid-recovery mode.
  6. We backup our original ROM to the SD Card using Nandoid, clear some settings and then install the new ROM.
  7. Congratulations, you have a rooted, real android phone 😉

Step by Step Instructions

Okay, now that you know the basic steps, here are the details.

  1. Enable USB debugging on the device in Settings->Applications->Development->”USB Debugging”
  2. Ensure you have the Android SDK downloaded, and the included USB driver installed correctly on your desktop.
  3. Download Fastboot. Since I use linux I just copied the ‘fastboot’ binary to the Android SDK’s tools directory and made it executable.
  4. Open up a terminal/dos prompt and “cd” to the tools directory in your Android SDK folder.
  5. Plug in your USB Cable.
  6. Run the following command:
    adb devices

    Linux users will need to run:

    sudo ./adb devices
  7. You should see your Android phone’s serial in the list. If you get an empty list, you need to sort out your USB driver.
  8. Download Daldroid’s Rooted (adb shell) Original HTC ROM for Magic and Daldroid’s Recovery Image
  9. Unzip the daldroid-recovery.zip file and put it in the Android SDK’s tools directory.
  10. Connect the phone with the USB cable and from the notifications bar, mount the SD card. Rename daldroid-htcmagic1-signed.zip to update.zip and copy it to the phone’s SD card.
  11. On your device, enter the bootloader FASTBOOT mode by turning off the phone and then, while it is off, pressing the volume down button while pressing the power button.
  12. You should get a screen with some androids on skateboards at the bottom…Give it a second to run whatever tests it runs.
  13. Pressing the back button will get you into FASTBOOT MODE and you should see the screen change to say ‘FASTBOOT USB’
  14. Type the following commands on your computer (not on the device):
    fastboot boot daldroid-recovery.img

    Again, Linux users will need to run:

    sudo ./fastboot boot daldroid-recovery.img
  15. This will upload (over usb) a mini recovery image and reboot your phone… It’ll take a few seconds and you’ll be prompted with the recovery interface.
  16. Select ‘Nandroid Backup 2.1’ from the menu. This will write a backup of your existing system to the SD card… useful in case something goes wrong.
  17. Select ‘Wipe Data/factory reset’. This erases settings etc that might not be compatible with the new firmware
  18. Select ‘Apply sdcard:update.zip’. This essentially installs the system image from the update.zip file.
  19. Select ‘reboot system now’.
  20. Wait a long time for the first initialization. Congratulations, you have a real, rooted, Android phone with Android Market and thousands of quality apps to install.

The really nice thing about the Daldroid image is that it comes with all the APN settings etc required for Vodacom so your HSDPA will work straight away.

Recovering from a ‘Bricked’ Magic

I promised earlier I would tell you how to recover from a ‘Bricked’ Android phone… I’ve put ‘bricked’ in quotes because a lot of people seem to be thinking they’ve bricked their phones when in reality it’s quite easy to recover.

  1. Check if you can get to into Fastboot Mode:
    1. Remove the battery.
    2. Wait 10 seconds (or more)
    3. While pressing the volume down button, pop the battery back in.
    4. If it doesn’t turn on by itself, keep pressing the volume down button and press the power button.
    5. You should get the Fastboot menu.
    6. If you don’t get into Fastboot mode, try a few more times and then panic. I don’t know how to help you. Try Google.
  2. You now need to copy the right update.zip (see step 8 above) onto your SD Card. There are two ways:
    1. Get a usb card reader or use another cell phone that will allow you to mount the SD Card over USB and just copy it.
    2. or, the slightly fancier way, while your phone is in Fastboot mode run the following command on your computer (first put the new update.zip in your Android SDK tools directory):
      adb push update.zip /sdcard/update.zip

      Again, Linux users will need to run:

      sudo ./adb push update.zip /sdcard/update.zip

      This uploads the file directly onto the SD Card via USB. It takes a minute or two so do be patient.

  3. Now you just need to follow steps 11 though 20 from the instructions above and you should be golden.

Updated (21 June 2009) – Putting the original Vodacom ROM back

If for some or other reason you want to go back to the old version of the Vodacom ROM, you can do so quite easily.

Nandroid writes a selection of files to the SD Card:

2.5M  boot.img
339K  cache.img
60M   data.img
256K  misc.img
265    nandroid.md5
5.0M  recovery.img
78M   system.img

You should really make a copy of them on your local machine just in case. Once you’ve got those files on your local machine you can restore your phone using fastboot like so:

  1. Copy the nandroid files (*.img) from your backup into your SDK Tools Directory.
  2. Boot your phone into Fastboot mode (Steps 11, 12, 13) from the Step by Step guide above.
  3. Run the following commands from your computer:
    fastboot erase system -w
    fastboot erase boot
    fastboot flash system system.img
    fastboot flash userdata data.img
    fastboot flash boot boot.img
    fastboot reboot
  4. Congratulations, you now have your old Vodacom phone back. :/

Hope this helps, feel free to ask questions.