smartphones are hot on Apple’s iPhone trail
Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business
July 20-26, 2010 issue #1082
High Tech Office column
Lately the tech press has been awash with articles about Apple’s latest
iPhone version: lineups for its June U.S. release, then accounts of
problems if users held it in a way that interfered with its antennas.
The phone is due in Canada at the end of July. I haven’t seen it yet.
Instead, I’ve been testing an HTC Legend, courtesy of Virgin Mobile.
It’s the first to have the Android-powered smartphone in North America.
Google-made Android is a smartphone operating system competing with
Apple’s iPhone iOS. Apple controls the hardware that can use iOS and
maintains strict controls over apps available in its App Store.
Android, in contrast, powers phones from a variety of manufacturers.
We’ve looked at several Motorola models in recent columns, and the
Android Market, its App Store equivalent, is relatively wide open. The
HTC Legend ($79 with contract) has a sleek unibody aluminum body – a
bit smaller than an iPhone. (Not a bad thing, in my opinion. Easier to
hold or to carry in purse or pocket, while still providing a
reasonable-sized – and very bright – touch-screen.)
It’s got a five-megapixel camera with flash, replaceable battery and
user-upgradable micro-SD memory. Virgin includes a two-gigabyte memory
card; you’ll probably want more storage.
Unlike some other available Android models (Motorola Motoblur models –
I mean you!), the Legend runs Google’s Android 2.1 version. Unlike
iPhones and many other smartphones, the Legend’s excellent web browser
includes support for Adobe Flash video content. (It works, but not
always very well.)
Nice design feature: turning the phone face-down instantly mutes the
ringer. Also nice: the mini-USB charger/connector, which supports an
emerging, multi-manufacturer standard. Imagine one day being able to
use a single cable and charger for multiple devices!
Perhaps less nice – the battery cover is part of the antenna. Removing
it while the phone is on knocks you off the network. There’s a tiny
optical trackpad. It replaces the mini-trackball of earlier HTC models,
but I never used it. It’s easy enough to navigate the touchscreen
The phone features HTC’s Sense UI overlay to Android, an attractive set
of seven user-customizable panels for displaying apps, widgets and
more. Flick to move between panels or double-press the home button to
display thumbnails of them all.
A FriendStream feature combines Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and other
social networks into a single “stream” that’s similar to Motorola’s
Motoblur, though less in your face – and more to my liking.
Also built-in: GPS with geo-tagging for photos, turn-by-turn navigation
in the very good Maps app and a nice weather widget that knows where
you are, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and an FM radio. The camera for photo and
video (standard definition) is adequate – especially in strong sunlight
– but not great. Battery life seemed pretty good in my tests. I could
leave it on standby for a couple of days between charges.
Call quality seemed good, and with Virgin piggybacking on top of Bell’s
network, coverage should meet most people’s needs. Unlike many Android
phones, which come with a slide-down physical keyboard (at the expense
of size and weight), the Legend is pure touch-screen, but the virtual
keyboard works well. Extra-smart prediction makes sure that you type
the right words even if you fumble with the virtual keys.
Quick Office is installed for basic Microsoft Office file viewing, and
office-style Exchange servers are supported.
Google’s Android Market remains smaller than Apple’s App Store, but
it’s growing and includes a wide range of interesting apps – both free
and for sale. For instance, I enjoyed trying out the free Talk to Me,
which translates English into spoken and written equivalents in a wide
range of languages.
iOS versus Android is reminiscent of Apple versus Microsoft in the ’80s
and ’90s: Apple’s tight control over hardware and software going up
against an Google’s Android emerging with multiple versions on multiple
vendors’ hardware. While Apple’s iPhone has the most mind-share,
Android models like Virgin’s HTC Legend are coming on strong and are
worthy of your attention.