The HTC Legend is probably the most anticipated handset hitting the market in 2010. It's stepping into the shoes of the HTC Hero, a fine handset in itself. We had our hands all over the new model prior to the launch today and here's what we thought.

The HTC Legend is certainly the better dressed when stood next to its big brother the HTC Desire. Just like the Apple MacBook's unibody design, the frame and the body of the Legend are machined from a single block of aluminium. Manufacturing isn't the only likeness to the unibody MacBook – it matches it perfectly and has the same gorgeous strokeable finish. It could almost be more Apple than the iPhone. And that's something that the HTC Desire can't say.

HTC use a concept called "hidden power" in their phone. Okay, it has the ring of marketing bullshit to it, but the idea is that design and function go hand-in-hand. As our man at HTC said: "The frame is the body, the body is the frame", which embodies this hidden power philosophy. Here, the machined single piece body means you don't need a separate frame and cover, so you have more space for the components.

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This immediately trumps the HTC Hero, bringing with it a 3.2-inch AMOLED capacitive touchscreen with HVGA resolution. The screen is vibrant and gorgeous to look at. Okay, the HTC Desire trumps it with a 3.7-inch WVGA display, but the Legend is staggeringly good looking. It softens the look of the Hero, takes that chin down a step and refines many of the details.

The buttons are now more precise, the large plastic volume rocker is now a thin metal bar, the buttons under the screen now fit into the bottom of the display rather than occupying their own space. It's a neater finish overall, with detail around the 3.5mm headphone jack looking more precise and less like a random hole.

The trackball is gone and replaced with an optical navigation key which is also a button. It's a move we've seen happening across the industry with BlackBerry making the same choice. Trackballs are prone to failure and on an 18- or 24-month contract, you don't want it to break, so it's a sensible move. The truth is that you might find you never use it because with such a good touch response from the screen you rarely need to. The HTC Legend runs Android 2.1, the latest version of Google's OS, something that will please the fans.

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Lying on top of Android is HTC's Sense UI. It has the look and feel to Sense that we know and love: it still has the same wow factor as the Hero had at launch and it's still an interface that we really like. HTC haven't stood still though. Sense has been improved, with a host of new features rolling in.

Basically all aspects of Sense have been tweaked, plugging some of the holes that might have been there before, for example giving you a wider range of viewing tabs on your messages, but we'll get into that when we give the handset a full review closer to its launch date.

The biggest change to Sense is a new "helicopter" view known as Leap, which works the same way as Expose on the Mac. You open up a pinch gesture on the homepages and you pop-out to an overview of your Sense pages. You can then tap the one you want and go straight to it, so you don't have to scroll from end to end, you just pinch and snap to it.

There is also a new application called Friend Stream, which acts a bit like MotoBlur, combining Facebook, Twitter and Flickr into one stream, so you don't have to follow people in separate places. You still get separate feeds for your social networks, so you'll still have Peep and still be able to access all those updates through your friend's contact card, but this just means you can see more in one place.

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Around the back of the phone is the customary 5-megapixel camera, joined now by an LED flash. The camera is set in a black surround which contains an external speaker and some bizarre patterning. HTC told us this random detailing was designed to hide the speaker opening, but we can't help feeling it says something cryptic. One for Robert Langdon to get stuck in to.

The black camera surround matches the battery cover on the bottom of the phone which really does have "hidden power". Because the body of the phone dulls the reception, the battery cover is part of the antenna too, containing contacts on the inside to give you a nice clear signal.

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Sitting at the core of the HTC Legend is a Qualcomm MSM7227 processor, running at 600MHz. You get all the connectivity you'd expect from HSDPA, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. You get all those sensors too, so you have the compass, the proximity sensor and GPS.

In the hand it feels even more sensual than the HTC Hero, but the experience is very much the same. There was no sign of lag scrolling between pages and applications opened with a satisfying pop. We gave the onscreen keyboard a run for its money and it was quick and responsive. At first glance there seemed to be little wrong with it, but an in-depth testing may reveal some quirks. We'll have to wait and see on that one.

Price when reviewed:

First Impressions

HTC Sense's refinements mean Legend is a more comprehensive offering, a step forward, but definitely heading in the same direction. Some of the updates will be coming to the Hero too, but it depends on territory, carrier and so on.

Equally, the HTC Legend is slated as a European handset with suspicions that there will be a US version coming under another guise later in the year, as happened with the HTC Hero. You also won't get Google Navigation by default as you'd expect in Android 2.1. Again, regional variations come into play and until the service launches in the UK, you'll miss out.

The biggest challenge facing the HTC Legend, perhaps, is the HTC Desire, which we've also had our hands on. Offering very much the same experience, it looks like HTC is setting out a strong portfolio of handsets for 2010.

The Hero has become a Legend.