HTC Legend review

After three iterations of the ground-breaking Hero, HTC is building upon previous successes (even those of other manufacturers) rather than reinventing the wheel with Legend. Sense, Android 2.1, 5MP cam, and a lust-worthy design do make this the Jewel in the Hero crown. The Legend combines the bold, polarizing form of the original European Hero’s distinguished angular design and prominent chin with the aluminum unibody simplicity of Apple’s MacBook Pro. The similarity is impossible to ignore and I don’t think that’s anything HTC should be criticized for. Mac users who like their gadgets to look good next to one another and who aren’t huge fans of the iPhone may find a perfect match in Legend. I would say the phone looks more like a MacBook Pro than an iPhone does. Those of you that don’t care about Mac uniformity will likely find Legend sophisticated, sleek, and modern. It definitely stands out in a room and appears to be just as refined and expensive as it actually is.

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Interfacing with Your Box

Hardware aesthetics are a small piece of the puzzle one must put together when seeking the phone that’s best for them. Finding one that can fit right in with an existing setup can make all the difference in the world, and HTC’s Androids aren’t the most Mac-friendly devices in town. HTC’s Sync – an app that allows you to sync contacts, Outlook and Outlook Express address books, and calendar events between your phone and computer – requires a Windows machine to function. That’s not too ambitious in an age where a good chunk of hardware manufacturers seek the holy trifecta of OS capability: Windows, Mac, and Linux support. Nevertheless, Legend can be synchronized with Mac, thanks to doubleTwist and The Missing Sync. That last program is powerful enough that you won’t even need to bother with HTC’s proprietary app. The Missing Sync allows wireless transfer of contacts, ringtones, music, video, and more. If that isn’t good enough for you, and you have skills beyond those required to hit a “sync now” button, you can always mount the Legend’s SD card as a USB mass storage device while in the phone, via a USB-to-microUSB cable, which is included in the box. A notification will pop up once plugged in, and mounting the device is a matter of pulling down Android’s brilliant notification bar and tapping the “Mount via USB” text.

User Interface

htc-ime-300x180When it comes to interacting with Legend’s software, I have almost no complaints. HTC’s Sense, which is not only visual UI layer on top of Android but an organizer of data that fundamentally changes the way a user sees information from their contacts, always provides me with a pleasant experience. I use Scenes to save different layouts of Sense’s fabulous widgets, standard Android icons, and other profile settings. And there simply isn’t better looking Android out there, in my opinion. Many readers would contest this but it’s all a matter of taste. I know a number of people that will refuse to buy a Sense device simply because they feel it goes against the bedrock of openness that makes Android a movement rather than an operating system. I say, if you don’t like Sense, install an alternative home…though I don’t think a better one exists. If not for the unified glossy look of the widgets and UI, Sense stands among the best of any phone UI for its keyboard. Good grief, that thing is lovely…and functional.

Body

Legend feels like it has to be one of the most well built phones I’ve ever held in my hand. The aluminum unibody is weighty in the best of ways. I don’t like phones that feel too light or plasticky, and I don’t like to feel panels creaking or jiggling in any way when I’m typing or even manhandling a device. Legend is very solid, and I think one area where this is most apparent is in the battery cavity. Popping off that rubbery shell to find a sort of hood protecting the 1,300 mAh battery is satisfying. The SIM and SDcard click into place and must be pressed in to click and release – much like a hard button. There are no goofy straps holding anything in place and nothing sitting in a slot, waiting to jostle out. (cont.)

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The optical joystick is my new favorite feature on Androids. While I’ve grown very fond – and used to – the HTC trackball, I now consider optical the way to go. One less rattling piece of hardware makes the phone feel that much more sophisticated. Although I have to admit that I like seeing the different colors light up my Nexus One’s trackball, that does feel a bit gimmicky. Sidekick anyone? The hardware buttons below Legend’s screen, however – home, menu, back, and search – feel like a step in the wrong direction after using the N1 or Incredible. They work just fine, but those clicky little buggers do tilt a bit from side to side and I found them to be one aspect of the phone that actually felt just a bit cheap. This may have been due to the juxtaposition of the elegance surrounding them, but they did seem out of place to me. (cont.)

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Display

Legend’s screen is at or above the same high quality as all other 320 x 480 HTC Androids. That is to say that the screen is sensitive to the touch and the AMOLED display looks great, despite the inherent disadvantages of AMOLED. I prefer to keep phone screen brightness low in order to preserve battery life and AMOLEDs look best at higher settings. Speaking of battery life, my experience was pretty good. I can’t say great because I did use Google Maps quite a bit – without a car adaptor – and found myself charging midday on more than one occasion. However, I specifically avoided the energy preservation apps that I usually use every day, simply to experience the phone as it operates out of the box. After my testing period, I installed Juice Defender and saw about a day and a half worth of heavy use, including my six or seven hours of sleep. (cont.)

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Camera

Pro-sumer level photographers probably won’t be satisfied with Legend’s camera. Shots suitable for printing require daylight and a still subject, and look a bit noisy even at 4″ x 6″. If you’re a casual snapper, like me, the Legend camera will satisfy for Facebook posting, email sharing, and the like. Night time shots aren’t very clean, but the LED flash is strong enough to capture faces in a dark bar, for example. The 640 x 480 video isn’t good for much beyond a quick “Hello!” MMS or documentation of a faceplant.

The Guts

Legend is powered by a 600 MHz processor, 512 MB ROM and 384MB RAM. The phone is snappy when not being pushed beyond its capabilities and served me well during my week or so of testing. However, it took a bit of effort on my part to look at the Legend as though I were seeing it with fresh eyes, never having laid my hands on a Nexus One. I did limit the speed at which a bounced around apps initiating processes as well as the number of active widgets.

Despite the perceptible difference between the under-the-hood power of Legend and say, the Nexus One, the most difficult adjustment to make was to the size of the display. 3.2″ is plenty for most people. It’s plenty for me. The problem is, that once you’ve moved up to a bigger screen, it’s tough to drop back down. It’s like moving into a big apartment, expanding into that space, and then having to make due in a studio. Again, a studio is plenty of room for most people – including myself – but visual and touch real estate is hard to give up once you’ve grown accustomed to it. (cont.)

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Conclusion

The HTC Legend is a damn nice phone. The design is beautiful, and I would even go as far as to use the word stunning. Android 2.1 gives me just about everything I need n a mobile OS, though there are some integration issues. Take for example, the desperate need for a high end media store solution or the lack of coordination between Google Maps Navigation and Android. (I just told you to navigate from my current location! Can’t you turn on GPS automatically, before I crash?)

The screen and processor feel just a tad last gen, and I don’t think the price accurately reflects this. Legend is a great mobile device, and there certainly is a market for it, but I hope to see a serious markdown before (if) this thing hits shelves in the U.S. The phone definitely has the look to match its current high price tag, but its lacking the high performance experience that could make average folks drool and whip out the pocketbook without question. I am reviewing this gadget as an American. We have some big phones launching here in the States, and I can’t imagine purchasing Legend over Nexus or Incredible. The numbers just don’t make sense. That said, at the right price point, I would recommend Legend wholeheartedly.

Thank you to our friends at eXpansys for providing an HTC Legend to DroidDog for review!

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