(Pocket-lint) - The HTC Hero was undeniably the handset of 2009, winning many industry awards, including Pocket-lint's own. It represented the pinnacle of HTC's Android smartphone assault and the launch handset for the HTC Sense user interface. The HTC Legend supersedes the HTC Hero, but at the same time, steps aside for a new flagship, the HTC Desire. The Desire's elevated status might cast a long shadow, but can the Legend still shine brightly?
It a word yes. It's no surprise to hear that the HTC Legend is everything that the Hero is and more. It is an evolution rather than a revolution and whilst HTC Hero owners might look on through green eyes they really needn't, as the experience is very close.
There is no getting away from the fact, however, that the HTC Legend is staggeringly beautiful. As much as we liked the Hero's design (and still do), the Legend is a step forward. From a design perspective, the HTC Legend takes a huge bite of the Apple: the design and manufacturing story from the Legend reads like the unibody MacBook.
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Machining from a block of aluminium gives the HTC Legend a premium seamless look and feel and we certainly think it looks better than the HTC Desire. The "chin" has been relaxed, but it's still there as a design signature. Perhaps the only thing that doesn't work now, is that in pursuing those aesthetically pleasing lines, HTC has taken another step towards the iPhone: the top edge is a little too hard against the ear when you make a call, which can be uncomfortable.
You don't have to clip on a plastic back; accessing the internals is an adventure in itself. Under that black battery cover on the bottom you see the space-saving lengths that HTC have had to go to. Pull off the cover and you are presented with a fold-out flap that gives you access to the battery bay, the SIM card slot and the microSD card slot. This is by no means hot-swappable, but you'll be able to use cards up to 32GB and you'll need to if you plan to carry around any amount of media content.
The aluminium body gives the Legend dimensions of 112 x 56.3 x 11.5mm, it is compact and perfectly pocketable, with that metal body making it luscious and strokeable in the hand. It weighs 135g.
Sitting on the front of the Legend is the 3.2-inch AMOLED capacitive touchscreen display. With a resolution of 320 x 480 pixels it isn't the sharpest screen around, but the Sense UI and Android make good use of the display, as it looks sensational. The screen is vivid, with colours a touch over-saturated, but with plenty of punch.
Running across the bottom of the screen are four control buttons, offering the usual home, menu, back and search. These buttons have backlit indicators set against the black background to match the bottom of the screen from a design point of view. But the plastic finish perhaps doesn't have the same elegance as the rest of the handset. A rapid press on one of the end buttons (home/search) will see it rock slightly to the side, not giving the clear press you might expect: this is us being extremely picky, but it's otherwise difficult to find fault with the Legend's build quality.
The trackball from the Hero (and the Google Nexus One) is gone, replaced with a clickable optical trackpad. The chances are you'll rarely use it as the touch response from the screen is so good.
Sitting at the core of the HTC Legend is a 600MHz processor, a small bump over the 528MHz of the Hero, but nothing drastic: compare this to the 1GHz processor in the HTC Desire and you see the real difference between these handsets. But with Android continuing to receive refinements, and an update to HTC Sense, you find that there is little sign of lag as you move around normal operations in the Legend.
Moving around the homepages is swift, swiping with real purpose. Aspect switching is rapid and opening and closing applications is rapid, but with a slight delay on some more demanding applications. As a multi-tasking device you need to keep in mind what you have running in the background and we'd recommend using some sort of application killer to manage the load your applications are putting on the device.
Running Android 2.1, you get the latest version of Google's operating system, but no sign of the free navigation that some users benefit from. You get access to a world of applications from the boring to the sublime, via the ridiculous, from the Android Market. It doesn't quite reach the heady heights achieved by Apple's App Store, but with a growing community of users and developers, and handsets from most of the big manufacturers, it's the next best thing.
Sense gets some tweaks, with HTC telling us that they made minor alterations to practically every aspect of the user interface. It is still ultra-friendly, making it easy to leverage the integration that Android gives with Google services (Gmail, calendar, contacts) with wider social networks. Facebook, Twitter and Flickr get a good look-in, with a beautifully rich contact book giving you access to updates and photo albums online with consummate ease.
One of the new elements is Friend Stream, a new integrated application that compiles updates into one stream, a little like Happenings on Motorola's MotoBlur. For those that actively follow Facebook and Twitter, it means you can see everything in one place, but we found that Twitter drowned out everything, which is going to happen if you follow a lot of people.
HTC Peep is still a blast to use as a Twitter client and if you don't like it then you have plenty of options to choose from. It's a shame that there is no facility for image previewing right from the application itself as many rivals offer. We're still a little miffed that the updates between the applications and the widgets doesn't seem to have a strong connection; arrive at the Twitter widget and you'll often find it needs to refresh before you can view the latest tweets, by which point you might as well have gone direct to the application.
The new top-down view - known as Leap - replicates Expose on the Mac, letting you zoom out and view all the homepages and then jump right to the page you want. It can get you to one of your homepages in two presses rather than a number of swipes. It only shows you HTC Sense pages though, rather than revealing all your running applications. There probably isn't the screen real estate to do this, but that's a development we'd like to see.
HTC Sense is the icing on the cake here, but it is worth remembering that the cake is Android. Some will like the sweet frosting that HTC have applied, and some just want to get to the cake. We'd still recommend HTC's Sense, it is super friendly, but for those that don't care about social networks, you might find that raw Android suits you just as well.
One of the great aspects of Sense, however, is the keyboard. This has a number of changes from the basic Android and it is one of the strongest touchscreen keyboard experiences you'll find. As you type you get intelligent suggestions that correct your errors (in most text entry places). It means you can type at speed, hit a few wrong keys, but still get the words you were after. It's intuitive, it's fast and plenty responsive.
The landscape QWERTY gives you the most space - ideal for using two thumbs - but we've found that bashing out messages on the portrait QWERTY is just as easy. Not all applications or screens will rotate, but that's not as critical as it is on some other phones because the keyboard experience is so positive.
Besides that accelerometer you have the other sensors you'd expect in the Legend. You have a proximity sensor so it knows it is next to your face and the motion sensor will quieten the ring tone when you pick it up. Turn the phone face down and it silences - so you can easily reject a call without having to even press a button. Of course, that chin still means that face down the screen doesn't touch the surface it is sitting on.
You get all the connectivity that you demand of a high-end smartphone, you get HSDPA, feeding your phone a thick rich stream of data, backed up by Wi-Fi. You get Bluetooth 2.1, GPS and a digital compass, so you'll be able to drill down to Streetview in Google Maps and virtually peer at where you are going.
The browser, as before, offers an excellent internet experience on the move. You get multi-touch zooming, a step ahead of most other Android handsets, as well as double tap zooming and smart text reflowing. Moving around a page is silky-smooth and using HTC Flash Player, you get support for many (but not all) internet videos too. HTC Flash Player is a separate application, however, so you'll jump from your browser to the Flash player, but you do then at least get full-screen playback, and punching Back returns you to the page you were on. Some videos will play in place in the browser (like Pocket-lint's Stuart Miles on Megawhat, pictured above), so you'll have to play around and see what you get.
Around the back of the handset you get the customary 5-megapixel autofocus camera, but this time an LED flash adds to the picture. The autofocusing is fast enough and shutterlag is kept under control. Images generally are a little soft and colours don't seem quite right, but for sharing online this will do well enough: rival phones with a camera bent will give you better results, especially in skin tones. The LED flash has a tendency to give pictures a yellowy-green cast, whilst blowing out close subjects, but that's entirely typical. Low light shots without the flash are prone to lots of noise.
Video capture comes in at a decidedly average 640 x 480 pixels 3GP, falling behind a growing number of phones offering HD video capture, but offering reasonable daylight performance. There is no direct control over the frame rate: we got 26fps in good light outdoors and 10fps in low light. The position of the mic does mean you are likely to pick up any hand movements too. You get easy sharing options for your captured, posting out via YouTube, Facebook, or other routes, with a few presses.
Sitting on top of the Legend is a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you'll be able to use your own headphones to get the most out of the music player, be it from local storage, or from a service like Spotify. We were impressed with the sound quality (with our own headphones) and the integration of the music player is rather good. Widgets (both HTC's and Android) offer up homepage media players, and small details like being able to change the volume whilst the handset is locked, and being able to easily pause music from the standby screen make all the difference. You also get an FM radio.
Whilst music format support is rather rich (AAC, AMR, OGG, M4A, MID, MP3, WAV, WMA), video support is surprisingly sparse: 3GP, 3G2, MP4 and WMV leaves a number of holes, if you plan to dump over a load of video content.
Finally we arrive at the Achilles' Heel of smartphones: battery life. The HTC Legend takes another bite out of the iPhone here, with battery performance that won't last the day if get heavy with it. If you are a heavy caller, you may even need to charge the Legend during the day, certainly this is a handset you'll need to charge every night. Diving into the Settings menu will give you access to battery information, showing you the up time and what has been drawing all that power: Wi-Fi, the display and "Cell standby" (the mobile phone network) will be the likely suspects.
There is a Power Control widget that will let you quickly switch off things like background syncing, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as cycle through display brightness, all of which will let you preserve your battery a little longer.
The HTC Legend has the looks and offers the type of user experience that will turn heads, without a doubt. It takes what the HTC Hero started and continues, offering a compact device with plenty of power and an interactive experience that sets the pace for smartphone manufacturers to follow. A year on and HTC Sense is still great fun, but becoming slightly less unique.
The battery life will raise some eyebrows and you need to be aware of this limitation. For some it will never be a problem, but for power users, you'll need to look at having a charger at your desk, in your car, and perhaps a backup battery. At least, unlike Apple's iPhone, you can change the battery in a matter of seconds, should you need to. On the camera and video front it is beaten by a number of rivals.
But in other areas the Legend shines like a star. The keyboard is excellent, the browser is fantastic, it multi-tasks, delivering the flexibility of Android and the deep integration of HTC Sense. Tweakings have made Sense a better interface, but they are mostly minor -they don't change the fundamental experience that Sense users already have.
Overall the HTC Legend offers a user experience that is an absolute joy. From set-up to everyday use, it is intuitive, fun and engaging, making the Legend a serious contender for your hard-earned cash.