Featuring a full aluminium chassis and high-res OLED screen, as well as the latest version of Android from Google, HTC is clearly looking to jostle its way to the front of the best-selling phone queue with the HTC Legend and Desire.
The HTC Legend features a sumptuous unibody aluminium chassis – taking more than a few visual cues from the MacBook range, and refining the lines of the HTC Hero to produce a sleek and very aesthetically pleasing phone.
Despite being one of the first mobile phone releases of the year, the HTC Legend is likely to end 2010 as one of the best looking devices, with the silver aluminium frame sitting very well in the hand.
However, there is one slight problem with aluminium chassis – if you leave it in your pocket with keys or coins, it scratches up pretty easily. We’re not overly looking forward to having to mention this when we return the review unit…
If you’re one of those that like to put a phone in a protective pouch, then there’s definitely a case for doing so with the HTC Legend.
The 3.2-inch screen has been beefed up as well – while it’s the same size and resolution (HVGA) as the one used on the HTC Hero, the bezel has been reduced to give the impression of a wider screen.
And the display itself is now an OLED, rather than LCD, screen. This not only gives incredible colour reproduction, but also displays stunning contrast ratio thanks to not needing a backlight.
After some reports of the Google Nexus One performing poorly in direct sunlight, that’s not the case with the HTC Legend.
As long as you don’t have the screen brightness turned down to the lowest setting, it’s perfectly easy to use the phone even in sunny climes.
The frame and display aren’t the only aesthetic improvements either – the overall layout has been upgraded to make this phone stand out to those browsing prospective handsets in shops.
The trackball has been replaced with an optical trackpad, which looks kind of futuristic . This makes HTC Legend look a lot more refined, and also reduces the risk of the trackball failure, which is a common problem.
As reception enthusiasts will know, a metallic unibody design isn’t the best for getting mobile signal, which is why HTC has crafted a little slide-out panel to get the battery and SIM card in to the unibody design.
A little rubberised segment sits behind the lip, and using a cute little hinge mechanism, the battery slides nicely into the phone, with the SIM and MicroSD cards following it in with a little click.
While we’re loathe to constantly draw a comparison, this kind of attention to design is something we haven’t seen from anyone bar Apple – we challenge you to not enjoy slotting the battery in this way rather than wedging it under the battery cover.
Every port on the HTC Legend is designed to add to the overall look of the phone, and this has been achieved well.
The headphone slot is flush to the chassis at the top of the phone, next to the power/lock button, and the phone speaker has been crafted with an appealing grill, which also houses a small LED light that gives notifications of new messages and low battery.
Another bit of good news – the HTC Legend finally comes with a miniUSB connection.
The right-hand side of the phone is devoid of buttons and the lower part of the chassis is taken up with the rubberised section we mentioned earlier.
The left-hand side of the phone holds the up/down buttons, with nothing else in sight – sleek is the only real way to describe it.
The front of the phone is minimal too – the silver and black combo is nice, and the four buttons (Home, Menu, Back and Search) are crafted in shiny black plastic and melt into the chassis.
The optical trackpad (which is clickable) is the only other element on the front, and again, it still scares us with the Terminator style look to it.
But the main thing to say about the HTC Legend is that this phone sits nicely in the hand, and just looks sublime – we’re sure it will be bought by a few people based on the looks alone.
In the box
HTC is as minimal as ever with the bits and pieces it’s thrown in the box – there’s a phone cable, a converter to turn it into a wall-plug charger and some simple headphones.
We’re not fans of the latter, as they’re quite basic for headphones – but they do also function as an adequate hands-free kit, which is good to see included in the box.
HTC has been low key in its packaging again, offering the HTC Legend in a small case rather than swathes of cardboard and packaging – we’re fans, and not just for environmental reasons.
The HTC Legend ‘only’ has a 600MHz processor, but still manages to zip through a huge amount of tasks without any hint of slowdown.
For those uninitiated in the ways of HTC’s Android/Windows Mobile interface, the main thing this offers is a large range of home screens and a large number of widgets to dump on them.
The Sense UI on the HTC Legend offers seven home screens to play with, and when you first turn on the phone a few are already installed – the large clock with location-based weather (worked out from your mobile phone signal) is the first one you’ll see.
Exchange email is presented in an easy to read way, with a scrollable list of all your messages, and Friendstream is also plonked on another home screen.
Friendstream is new, as it allows you to log into Flickr, Facebook and Twitter and see all the updates in one long stream.
This is a new addition from HTC, and apes the idea from Motorola’s MOTOBlur, although with Friendstream it feels a little easier to see all your friends in one place thanks to the customisation options.
‘Favourites’ is also included by default – this allows you to put your favourite buddies as little icons in a grid and assign an automatic function to them – if they’re on Facebook and linked in to their contact profile then their profile picture will also update.
The home screen is more than just detailing which widgets are already present on it though – it’s about customisation. Whether you are simply long-pressing on a widget and dragging it into a bin to remove it, or the fact that the screen will get cloudy if the weather is overcast – this UI just works.
We’ve long been evangelists of HTC’s method of laying things out, and this new Sense UI takes things up a notch – HTC has clearly noted the success Apple has had with its products, and followed the same ‘form is as important as function’ ideology.
Another cool addition to the overlay is HTC Leap – pinch the screen in and all seven home screens will be displayed at once.
The HTC Legend also has a top notch capacitive screen – the 3.2-inch display wasn’t too small, and the capacitive sensitivity is amazing – easily as good as anything out there, if not better. It registers the slightest touch, and performs just how you’d expect a touchscreen to.
And lest we forget – this is all built on top of Android as well, which already has a pretty good interface as it is.
Elements like being able to pull the notifications tab down from the top of the screen to see message previews or interact with your music is awesome, and the menu is accessed by tapping a small button at the bottom – with applications and icons listed in an easy-to-view grid.
We’re sure that this might not suit every mobile phone owner, as some prefer the simplicity of a menu with all the icons in one place – if that’s you, then you should probably think about getting an iPhone.
But if you want to play with widgets and be able to customise your experience as much as possible, then Android, and more importantly the HTC Legend, should be your first port of call.
Part of the Android 2.0 upgrade was a stronger focus on social networking within the contacts menu – but HTC has been doing that for months now, and the HTC Legend is no different.
The main thing about the contacts menu with the HTC Legend is that we’re seeing an integrated view – it doesn’t add in your Twitter friends as well, but the upshot of that is you’re not left with loads of contacts in your phonebook.
We would have perhaps preferred to see something like Motorola does with MOTOBlur, where you can choose to pop in your Twitter friends if you want to, but don’t have to see all of them – it makes it easier to see their updates that way.
There are five different distinct contacts you can have in the phone book – those from the SIM, Google, on the phone, Exchange and from your Facebook list.
While we appreciate Google asking you to download your contacts from Gmail when you use the phone for the first time, we don’t recommend you do unless you’ve spent some time organising them, as you’ll end up with reams of single email address entries with no name. There is an option to only see those names with phone numbers, but that’s only apparent afterwards and the sheer number of entries might confuse some people. But if you want to make use of the phonebook options from Google and Facebook, then prepare to spend a good amount of time with the phone – you’ll need to first of all merge all your phone numbers, names and email addresses together online, and then once those are downloaded to the phone, link them to the relevant Facebook account. In fairness to HTC, it has spent a long time working out how to make Facebook integration as simple as possible – wherever someone has a phone number on their online profile, and that matches an entry on the phone, the HTC Legend will automatically merge them together. And after that, it will make accurate suggestions based on email addresses too, so as you go through the phone linking up the profiles, you’ll be able to simply press ‘Link’ to get the suggestions and tie the two together. Where there is no email address listed, you’ll have to do it manually, which takes some time, but when you’ve sorted out Google and Facebook then the integrated approach really comes to the fore – status updates, emails, text conversations, call history – even your friend’s Facebook and Flickr photos are visible from the phonebook entry. The Facebook link will also update the person’s profile picture on the phone based on their online profile – which we mentioned earlier. The list of friends is for some reason divided into two – we think it’s those with emails and without, but it’s annoying that we can just see our friends all in one easy-to-see list, alphabetically. It would take a very long time to list all the features packed into the HTC Legend’s phone book – but the Taiwanese firm has made it very, very easy to see everything from one contact in a variety of ways, something that has come from its heritage in Windows Mobile. Call quality is also good on the HTC Legend – although we’re not sure the design of the phone is right for pushing against your ear. The fact the phone is made from aluminium means it has some fairly sharp edges – if you’re ever trying to listen hard to someone, then it can be painful. The speaker is loud and audible though, with a nice design as mentioned. Call coverage is pretty good as well – the 3G signal is on a par with most. It’s not going to offer you reception in places you’ve struggled with in the past, but it rarely dropped and we didn’t have any instances of randomly dropped calls, which is always a plus. The HTC Legend also supports smart dialling – bash the virtual numbers as if you were writing in predictive text, and the list of corresponding names comes up. This feature is on a number of high-end smartphones, and we’re surprised that more don’t include it – it’s actually now irritating when they don’t.
We’d much prefer a brand to spend time making a phone work well with the basic things like calling, texting or browsing the web – 30fps HD recording isn’t necessary, and this smooth-ish VGA capture option on the HTC Legend is more than enough to take the video you want to share with your friends (in MP4 or H.263 formats).
Under average use, this do-it-all phone will last a day, but it’s certainly not industry-leading – the iPhone is probably just a little bit worse, and that’s nowhere near a compliment.
But on the other hand, this is a phone that you want to keep playing with – you buy it based on that fact, and we challenge you to find a phone that you’ll want to play with this much with a much longer battery life.
The HTC Legend comes with a few other neat features that we like – the calendar is brilliant for instance.
It synchronises with both your Google and Exchange calendars as soon as you tell it to, and any upcoming meetings will come up as notifications on the phone – with the alarm for this lowering dramatically in volume when you pick up the phone, recognising that you’re probably with company and embarrassed.
Quick Office is also included in the package, giving easy access to Word, Excel and Powerpoint files – however, we couldn’t see an option to edit these, so we’d imagine hardcore business users might want to download something a little more powerful.
A PDF viewer is also included in the menu as well, with an easy-to-use interface allowing you to quickly zoom in and out.
Perhaps a hot-swappable microSD card would be nice (you have to open the battery cover to get to it, and this turns off the phone) but that’s about all we can think of.
The connectivity options on the HTC Legend are the same as on any other Android phone – this means the usual suspects of Wi-Fi, 7.2Mbps HSPDA fast download speeds, Bluetooth and GPS.
Wi-Fi is a little suspect on the Legend – when in direct sight of the router, we still didn’t have full signal, and there have been some anecdotal reports of Wi-Fi dropping out at times when moving further away.
Similarly Bluetooth was also pretty poor – listening to music over the A2DP stereo connection using Jabra Halo headphones was a very, very patchy affair.
This meant that audio constantly stopped and stuttered – it was listenable, but only just… we wouldn’t recommend the HTC Legend as a Bluetooth headphones device to anyone.
GPS, as we mentioned just now, is pretty good though – it’s capable of quickly locating you, even with trees or buildings around.
The a-GPS, used to give your weather location on the home screen, is less effective though – often taking time to refresh where you are, and therefore making the updated weather information hard to come by.
But the 3G signal was good and strong, with files downloading quickly and maintaining a couple of bars throughout long train journeys, which is always a good sign.
The PC Sync options were nice as well – you could either charge the phone, use it as a modem to access the internet, connect it as a mass storage device or use HTC Sync.
The HTC Legend is the Taiwanese firm’s latest effort at making a high-end smartphone – the sheer number of features and care taken with the interface should prove that.
Where do we start? The design is lovely – the unibody chassis is going to win a fair few fans, we bet.
The screen is clear and responsive; the Sense UI overlay adds a huge amount of functionality to the Android OS, and the 600MHz processor whips along.
The web browser is among the fastest out there, the touchscreen keyboard is industry-leading, and the ability to merge contacts and see elements like Facebook photos from your phonebook is superb.
Nearly every single aspect of the HTC Legend was either class-leading or rubbing shoulders with the leaders – it’s so clear that a lot of thought has gone into its construction.
However, there are a few niggles. We managed to crash the weather widget a couple of times, and the Friendstream application took a while to update at times.
The battery life is pushing right on the limits as well – we’re not sure anyone will ever be able to use it up completely in day-to-day use, but it will irritate some people that the meter drains quicker than most.
The screen could be a little bigger, and pack a higher resolution too – but that’s very much a subjective opinion, as many won’t be upset about that.
We had a really, really long think about the mark to give this phone, as it’s so good in so many ways that we felt it deserved five stars.
But to give it that would mean recommending it over the iPhone – and while we believe it to be a better phone, it doesn’t have the weight of the App Store behind it – and that’s going to put a lot of people off.
If you’re someone that doesn’t really care massively about apps or gets irritated by a day-long battery life, we couldn’t recommend this phone more.
And as a standalone device, we get a really strong feeling this is going to be our phone of the year – and if not, 2010 is going to be a really, really good year for smartphones.
Hands-on video with the HTC Legend