Glenn Le Santo’s Mobile handset review: The HTC Legend

Posted on September 17, 2010 by

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I can’t write a review on the HTC Legend as my experience has been polluted by several years using an iPhone. It might be difficult for me to be impartial here. This is despite being no Apple fanboy – I am interested in facts and genuine experience, not fashion, hype or groundless emotion.

Luckily, a friend from outer space, who’s never even seen an iPhone, was on hand to test the unit for me. Here’s his review:

Hi, my name is Zorch. I’ve just landed from Mars and have been handed an HTC Legend on loan by my earthling friend Glenn Le Santo. He gets them from those very nice people at Vodafone UK.

Apparently, the HTC Legend is a type of mobile communicator that is very popular on the planet Earth. We’ve long dispensed with such devices on Mars because they are now built in to all of us on birth and are completely mind controlled. Nonetheless, I agreed to play along for a week or two just to give a complete outsider’s view of the device.

The HTC Legend is made from aluminium making it feel robust, and yet light and portable. The relatively diminutive dimensions enable it to fit easily into a pocket or handbag. The solid feel is let down by the all-too-easily detached rubberised plastic panel on the back that allows access to the battery, the SIM and microSD expansion card. This detached itself several times in my bag or pocket and you could end up losing this before long. That would be a big loss as the cover doubles up as part of the phone’s antenna! This also means that if it slips off in your pocket or bag, your phone can’t be contacted. That needs sorting.

On the front of the device there’s a row of keys. I’m not sure why these are here as, on Mars, we’d have all these as soft keys on the screen because we’ve found that mechanical keys and buttons always eventually wear out and fail. But it seems there are many humans who still feel the need for ‘real’ keys and, as you all change your phones almost as often as your underwear, I guess you’ll have binned it before those keys wear out. The four keys are, from the left; home, menu, back and search. Initially I found the presence of a home and menu button confusing. But I soon realised ‘home’ takes you back to, yes, the home screen whereas ‘menu’ accesses menus within the particular app you are currently using. Meanwhile the ‘back’ button takes you back to the previous screen and ‘search’ does just what it says, allows you to search the phone itself. It sounds confusing and frankly, at first at least, it was. But I soon got used to it. A key on top of the phone switches it on, or wakes it up from sleep, or even turns it off. Again, so many functions in one button but as they are all related you soon get the hang of it. That’s not quite all the buttons, there’s a rocker switch on the left side to control both ring and sound volume. There’s also an optical trackpad on the front of the handset. I couldn’t work out why you needed this as the HTC is a touch screen phone. Actually, I couldn’t really understand why a touch screen phone needed many of these buttons. Le Santo told me that some humans like all these buttons. Being a sensible martian I worry that it just means there are more mechanical parts to go wrong.

Ok, enough of the buttons. Fire up the HTC Legend and you find it is running a mobile OS you humans call Android. How funny, the logo looks just like my brother Wibbler! I asked my human host Le Santo about the OS and he explained that here on Earth you have several different mobile operating systems competing for dominance. By the rings of Saturn! That does sound messy and it’s bound to end in tears. I would hate to do my job here on Earth because I’m a Martian mobile application developer. I do hope you can work out how to combine or just make compatible systems so the poor app developers don’t have to make four or five different versions. Having multiple mobile operating systems is very inefficient. I was told that Android is open source and so lightly regulated. This worried me slightly from a security angle but my human geek friends assured me it was a good thing. However, my non-geek human friends didn’t seem to know what this meant and didn’t care either. They seemed to be much more concerned with having a handset that just did whatever they wanted, whenever and wherever they wanted it done – and FAST!

In use Android seems pretty good by Earth technology standards. Things moved quite quickly on the HTC, without much detectable lag or delay. There’s all the stuff there that we used have in physical devices back on Mars, like drag and drop or tap and pinch. Even though my hands are quite similar to a human’s, I found the touch was sometimes a little hard to control. When using Google Maps, for instance, it was quite difficult to zoom out of a small area without accidentally revealing the whole of a place you call Europe. A little more subtlety is needed here. Another problem with the OS was the constant barrage of error messages. Usually they were to inform me that this or that app had shut down. They were often quite cryptic and many ordinary humans struggled to understand them. I’m not really sure why this Android fellow didn’t just quietly reopen or fix the problem in the background, that’s certainly the way we design our operating systems on Mars. After all what ordinary Martian, or human for that matter, wants to be told all this stuff? Of course, we have access to error logs for the technically minded and debuggers to read. I couldn’t find any of these on the HTC, but I didn’t look very hard so don’t take my word for it – they may be in there somewhere. There were too many places where the OS demanded two or even three clicks where I could only see the need for one. Some of the menu paths need to be shortened for a better user experience (UX). A good example of this comes again in Google Maps (which we Martians have been using in our education system for a while now). When I loaded the maps and wanted to know where I was I had to use the menu button to access the menu, and then I had to click on a soft button to tell me where I was. Surely an icon in the corner of the map itself would be a better way of doing this? Why have two steps where one will do? The Android OS is somewhat clunky and not always intuative enough. Android needs some more work on the UX.

Talking of apps a quick visit to the Market, the place where Android apps can be downloaded, revealed lots of choice. There are loads to choose from, despite those poor app designers having to write several different versions and Android’s relative newness in the mobile world. Being a Martian I tend to be very businesslike and looked for apps that could genuinely improve my productivity. It seems most Android users prefer to play as the Market is stuffed with games and, without actually counting them all up, it did seem there was far more of these available than there were productivity apps.

Humans, as we Martians all know, are very sociable animals. You lot have even been trying to talk to anyone who’ll listen in the rest of the Solar System – and even the Galaxy. We would tell you all to be quiet as you never know who’ll turn up if you shout too much. But instead we’ve decided to lay low just in case you lead those horrible Thraagians to us, and we wouldn’t want that now would we? Pandering to this desire to communicate with others means the HTC and Android OS combine to deliver what you humans call social media. The pre-loaded Peep and Friend Stream apps left me very underwhelmed and I soon stopped using them altogether. You can load Facebook and a host of Twitter apps on Android. I enjoyed using Twitter although, even after two weeks of use, I couldn’t found one Twitter app that did everything I wanted the way I wanted it done. Maybe I’ll write a Twitter client for Android myself if I ever get posted to Earth again. Facebook worked well on Android, managing to mimic the Facebook web experience fairly well. The address book, or contacts function, on the Android pulls details from my Facebook contacts – but only where such details were left open by the individual Facebook account holders.

Typing those social media updates leaves little to be desired on the HTC. The virtual keys are reasonably good, quite responsive and the predictive text helps iron out the inevitable errors. Turning the phone to landscape helps to spread out the keys. There’s even a little vibration to provide feedback each time a key is hit. I’ve heard that some humans are still addicted to physical keys. But I would urge them to try a good virtual keyboard as I know from our own Martian experience that this is the future of input – at least until you get your embedded thought-propelled input systems properly sorted that is.

I used the Android Gmail client to regularly download my spam – I mean email. This worked just as you’d expect and will definitely help you stay in touch while on the move. Those of you not using Gmail can either use the pre-loaded mail client or download something like K-9 for push e-mail capability. I didn’t try either of these as Gmail does all I need and has the most excellent spam filter I’ve ever seen on Earth.

Talking of communicating, I’d almost forgotten that this device is also meant to be used as a phone. It did this job very well. Whenever there was a good 3g connection it performed excellently. Again, you earthlings have a crazy amount of service providers and it seems you can’t hop from one to another if your signal is poor. How dumb is that? I do think it is a shame that there’s no voice dialling function on the Legend though.

The HTC Legend picks up wi-fi signals which is great for browsing the web, without using up your 3G data allowance. That’s another strange Earth custom, I can’t believe you are moving away from eat-as-much-as-you-like data plans. It seems very backward thinking to a sensible Martian like me. The wi-fi performance was fair, but there were times when the reception was quite weak. I noticed on more than one occasion that Le Santo was able to pick up wi-fi when I couldn’t. I have no idea what handset he was using as whenever I tried to look he just told me to stick with the HTC or it would ruin this review. What’s that all about then? On several occasions, even when a wi-fi router was clearly in reach and the signal strength was good, the HTC failed to connect and gave an error message. We’ve had the same sort of problems back in the labs on Mars when testing Earth PCs running Windows XP, but I was very surprised to experience this behaviour on a what is one of the latest mobile handsets available on Earth.

We Martians have been listening to your music for a very long time and we all rather like it, except of course the stuff that comes from the place you call France. This love of Earth music meant I was very pleased to find both an FM radio and music player on the device. Sound quality was great, although I can’t get those stupid bud earphones in my ears so I borrowed Le Santo’s DT150s and was rewarded with a surprisingly warm sound with ample bass. I’m not sure if the FM radio would have worked properly with Le Santo’s DTs as the radio uses wired headphones as the antenna – and I forgot to test this feature. This means bluetooth headsets won’t work at all with the FM radio. That’s worth remembering. Still on the subject of entertainment, HTC Legend runs flash, so in theory you can watch online videos and play games. I say in theory, as I was unable to get any of them to perform well at all and gave up. Videos on YouTube worked fine though, as long as I had a decent wi-fi connection.

The Legend ships with a 3.2-inch hi-res OLED screen that’s HVGA (320 x 480 pixels) with 16-million colours. Despite having a fine trio of eyes I found the screen sometimes difficult to read in very bright sunlight. Humans confirmed this was a problem on many mobile devices and so it was nothing to do with my eyes. Turning up the screen brightness helped but it also meant the battery would drain even faster. This was a weak point on the Legend as I was already struggling to make it through a full earth day on one charge. I was only using the handset for music, web browsing and calls – I imagine if you download lots of games and play constantly them the battery’s going to take an early bath.

On the subject of screens, the HTC Legend combines well with Android to offer you no less than seven customisable home screens that are easy to flick between. This allows you to set up different screens for various purposes. For instance, I set one up with all my email and social networking stuff on it in one place. I guess you’d use others for games and, er, well five other areas to suit your lifestyle (I have no idea what that means, but I read it somewhere on HTC’s website). A feature called HTC Leap allows you to pinch the screen in to reveal all seven home screens at once – in miniature of course. Pressing the home button twice does the same trick. You then select the screen you want to see. You can also just swipe from screen to screen.

Earth weather is extremely unpredictable which is probably why the main screen comes equipped with an animated weather forecast widget. This even features a virtual windscreen wiper to wipe away virtual rain. It’s a pure gimmick of course but I’m sure it’ll entertain certain apes lower down on the evolutionary scale. For a short while at least.

I took lots of photos on the Legend’s 5 megapixel camera and even a few videos. There’s no shutter button on the side of the device so picture taking becomes a two handed affair (unless like a Martian you have eight very long fingers on each hand). You have to use the on-screen virtual shutter button or the optical track pad to fire the shutter. Neither method is ideal and I think a few Legends might get dropped in the process of taking pictures. The photos were sharp if taken in good light but on occasions I wasn’t completely happy with the colour accuracy. I’m being rather critical though, this is after all a camera phone and not an SLR. Having the LCD flash did help with night photography, although results were often over exposed. This is not good as some of you humans are pasty-faced enough as it is, even without being burned out by a flash! I admit to being a bit lazy here, as the camera does have functions like manual exposure. But hey, this is a camera phone and I’m not a professional photographer. I’d rather it worked out all this stuff for me. Those of you ready to do a little fiddling, and I don’t mean of the sort done in chior stalls, may enjoy the extra control over the camera’s functions. Once you’ve taken the photos getting them onto your PC is easy, or at least it is if the phone is set up properly. This involves changing the setting of the internal SD card via the HTC Sync menu. It’s easy if you know how but I bet it would stump a fair few technophobic humans. Surely this should all be completely automatic. Luckily, once done, you don’t have to do it again and the phone then shows up on your PC’s file system allowing you to easily drag them off to wherever you’d like them. Video performance, at 30 fps in VGA wasn’t so hot. The results were somewhat jerky. At night video was next to useless.

In conclusion the HTC Legend is a good effort at making a communicator but I’m sure that even Earthlings have the ability to do better. The OS still needs work, it’s much less perfect than the handset itself. Android is rather clunky and not nearly as smooth as it could, and frankly, should be. The choice and customisability it offers is all very well for geeks and power users but it tends to place barriers in the way of those who simply want to use the device rather than play around with the guts of the OS. I understand that the HTC Legend is not the most expensive phone on the Earth market, it’s not even HTC’s top of the range model. With this in mind I’ll give it the thumbs up. And that’s big Martian thumbs – all four of them!

Thanks to Vodafone UK and Paratus Communications for supplying the handset on loans.

About the author:

Zorch is a Martian and, contrary to popular belief, he isn’t green.

On the other hand:
Glenn Le Santo is a writer of twenty years experience and a content, live-event-blogging and engagement specialist.

To read more from Glenn, take a look at his site: lesanto.com