REVIEW

HTC Magic

Price:

$1099 from Vodafone.

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Summary:

The first "Google phone" to hit the local market makes a good impression. Users will either love or hate its Googleness.

Rating:

**** (out of five)New phone impresses as user-friendly, solid - and unnervingly knowledgeable

When I first powered up the HTC Magic - the first smartphone to arrive in New Zealand running Google's Android operating system - I wondered if the search engine giant knew more about me than it should.

I'd just signed up for a Google Gmail web-based email account, something that's recommended to get the most out of an Android phone. But even though I hadn't run a single email through Gmail, there in the Magic's contact list was my wife's email address.

Google has unashamedly stated it wants to be the company that catalogues all of the world's information - much to the disquiet of many a privacy activist and conspiracy theorist - but surely it hadn't yet gone as far as building an international marriage registry?

Then I realised what was going on. Last year I'd been experimenting with another Google innovation called Latitude which taps into the power of GPS-enabled mobile phones to enable you to find the location of friends and family - provided they sign up to have their location disclosed.

So while my Gmail account was new, I was a pre-existing Google registrant through Latitude, and my wife was therefore a known associate. The lesson: Google never forgets.

The Google connection gives the HTC Magic some powerful features.

Most obvious is the ability to search the web on the run.

The Google search page is front-and-centre on the phone's start-up screen. Messages sent to a Gmail account arrive promptly in the phone's inbox and the powerful Google Maps navigation system is easily accessible given the phone's GPS functionality.

Google's StreetView with Compass feature means the popular StreetView application has the added novelty of allowing you to view a picture of any chosen address in a 360-degree panoramic format by just rotating the phone.

And because Google owns YouTube, there is a special function for uploading videos to the site.

The phone feels solid and well built. Even though the keys on the touch-screen's virtual keypad seemed small, typing was relatively easy.

Overall, the Magic impressed as a very user-friendly, full-functioned smartphone. At $1099 from Vodafone it comes at a full smartphone price, so buyers should compare it with other high-end phones to ensure it comes with everything they need.

Android is still developing as a phone-operating system and the Magic's successors will be even better, and - thanks to Google - will no doubt know even more about the people who take them out of the box, even beyond who they're married to.

GOING MOBILE

Almost eight years and several corporate incarnations after the plan was first floated, New Zealand's third mobile network operator, 2degrees, has finally announced a launch date.

It says it will be up and running next Wednesday, and will open for business having distributed 50,000 free SIM cards, each loaded with $5 credit, to eager phone users.

The question is, will 50,000 launch users churning through $250,000 of free call time be enough to give 2degrees some decent market traction - especially considering it's competing against Telecom and Vodafone who each have more than two million subscribers?

I think it's probably not a bad way to kick off. The number of 2degrees SIM cards out in the market will balloon above 50,000 pretty quickly. The company has set up a solid and easily-accessible sales channel, including supermarkets, petrol stations and other retailers such as Dick Smith, so the SIM cards will be easy to find.

The proposition for picking one up is also looking relatively compelling, compared with the Vodafone/Telecom concept of charging new customers around $40 for a SIM card.

Although 2degrees won't release details of its pricing structure until the day before Wednesday's launch, the Dick Smith website has given part of the game away. The site is selling 2degrees SIMs for either $2 (with $2 credit) or $20 (with $20 credit).

So given the newcomer's SIM cards are effectively free, and provided 2degrees plans to undercut its rivals on per-minute pricing - which it clearly does - there will be a strong incentive for pre-paid phone users, who make up the bulk of the subscriber base (71.5 per cent of Vodafone customers, for example), to switch to 2degrees.

But by targeting this price-sensitive market segment, 2degrees is dealing with a very fickle customer base.

There's a huge amount of resentment towards Telecom and Vodafone out there - as illustrated by the fact that 2degrees has more than 8000 Facebook fans who've not held back when it comes to spewing out vitriolic comments about the two incumbent mobile operators.

But, judging by the messages left on Facebook, the new arrival isn't going to get an easy ride either.

Its "fans" have been making it clear the company will need to deliver on both price and performance if it wants to hold their attention - and their mobile spend dollars - and in the process grab a decent share of the market.