The HTC Legend takes everything that was great about the HTC Hero and makes it even better. With the Hero having won CNET UK's coveted Editors' Choice award in July last year, that's no mean feat. But this smart phone isn't just a refresh of the Hero -- good-looking, speedy and fun to use, it's a legend in its own right.
We're still waiting for contract prices for the Legend, but you can pre-order it SIM-free for around £380.
We don't mean to be shallow, but let's start with the phone's looks. The Legend is a stone-cold fox. We're way past being bothered by the slightly angled chin that's evolved from ugly on the T-Mobile G1 to handsome on the Hero. The Legend's chin is very subtle anyway, and it has its benefits -- it makes the phone feel more comfortable when you're making calls, and HTC says it makes the antenna work better too.
The metal case of the Legend is made from a single piece of aluminium, which, according to HTC, makes the phone tougher that its plastic peers. The case is also a visual treat, reminding us of the first-generation iPhone -- the most attractive version so far. HTC has also replaced the trackball that's often found on other Android phones with a round, metal-trimmed, touch-sensitive trackpad, which we found a pleasure both to use and gaze upon. We still think that such a feature is largely redundant on a touchscreen phone -- perhaps with the exception of when you need to navigate text or tiny Web links, for example -- but at least it looks good.
Blinded by the light
The Legend's 81mm (3.2-inch) screen is the same size as the Hero's, but it's been given an AMOLED boost. That means it's stunningly bright, with very saturated colours. Recent comparisons between the iPhone and Google Nexus One have shown that AMOLED screens don't necessarily improve on the colour reproduction of LCD displays, but the Legend's screen definitely has a certain wow factor.
The display's 320x480-pixel resolution is far lower than the 480x800-pixel resolution offered by the Google Nexus One or HTC's upcoming top-of-the-line phone, the Desire. Nevertheless, it's the same resolution as that offered by the iPhone 3GS, and there are sufficient pixels to read tiny text on a fully-zoomed out Web page, for example.
The smaller screen also makes the Legend more pocket-friendly than the Nexus One and Desire. It's almost the same size as the Hero, except that it shaves 3mm off the thickness of its older sibling.
Our biggest complaint about the Hero was that it could occasionally be sluggish, although that issue has been improved via firmware updates. But you won't have to wait around for updates to the Legend -- it's smoking-fast, right out of the box. The Legend has a 600MHz processor, compared to the Hero's 528MHz processor, with 384MB of RAM, compared to 288MB.
Menu transitions are smooth, applications open quickly and the screen responds beautifully to every touch. Note, however, that Android phones can slow down significantly once you've got loads of apps running on them -- it's the curse of multi-tasking -- but we had no complaints with our box-fresh Legend.
The Web browser was also a speed demon, rendering complex pages like those of CNET UK almost twice as quickly as the Hero's browser over the same Wi-Fi network. The browser offers quite a few improvements over the standard browser found on other phones running Android 2.1, such as the Nexus One. For example, holding your finger on a page reveals a magnifying glass that helps you select and copy text, which is a handy feature cribbed from the iPhone.
Multi-touch zoom is supported, so you can quickly hone in on small links with a pinch of your fingers. The Flash support isn't good enough for playing games in the browser, but it does ensure that Flash-based Web sites look right. Combined with the Legend's HSPA and Wi-Fi connectivity, it all adds up to a great handset for surfing the mobile Web.
Email is equally well implemented on the Legend, with more little tweaks from HTC smartening up the Android operating system even further. For example, with bog-standard Android, you can view your Outlook folders, but not move mail into them. With the Legend, that handy feature has been added. But that's not all -- the email program also has a slick user interface that makes it easy to view threaded conversations and filter your mail.
Fidget with widgets
The email app is part of HTC's custom user interface, which it calls 'Sense'. It also includes several fun home-screen widgets, including a new 'Friend Stream' widget that brings together Facebook updates and tweets into one live stream. It's a good idea, but it didn't stay up-to-date during our tests, and tapping a tweet opens the Twitter app without jumping to that particular message.
These are small issues, but many of the widgets suffer from similar problems. For example, there's a weather widget that seems to think it's night-time in the middle of the morning. HTC's widgets look great, but we think they need some fine-tuning before they can be called truly solid. Still, you can always download more widgets and apps from the Android Market. It's not as well-organised as the iPhone's App Store, but at least plenty of the best stuff is free.
Despite these small complaints, Sense is better than ever on the Legend, and it remains one of the best-looking and slickest user interfaces you can find. Its seven home screens can host a heap of shortcuts and widgets, and a new feature allows you to view all your home screens at once as thumbnails, so you can quickly jump to the one you want. All you have to do is pinch your fingers on the screen.
Features that we loved on previous HTC phones seem more polished, such as the address book that pulls in contacts from Facebook and Gmail. Unlike with the Hero, we had no trouble with duplicate contacts being created, and peeps from different services seemed to be matched up smoothly and automatically. This may be down to our increasingly tidy contact lists, however.
HTC's on-screen keyboard also remains our favourite touchscreen keyboard out there, with excellent predictive text and handy shortcuts to numbers and punctuation.
The Legend's got a decent 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash. In our tests, its photos were about average for a phone, but the LED light did a very good job of brightening up dark situations. We also liked the fact that there are plenty of camera options to help you get the photo you want. You can manually control the exposure, for example.
There's a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and it's easy to sync photos and music onto your phone using a USB cable or a microSD card. The Legend can even make a decent phone call -- in our tests, the call quality was fine. But, as with many smart phones, the Legend's battery life is diabolical, so expect to charge it every day, especially if you frequently use the live widgets and Web-surfing features.
The HTC Legend is our favourite Android phone so far. Android is still clunkier and geekier than the iPhone operating system but, if you can't live without features like Flash support, the Legend is a fantastic alternative to Apple's handset.
The Legend is fast, its metal body is gorgeous, and it's plenty of fun to use, thanks to HTC's slick-looking user interface. It may not have the huge screen of the HTC Desire, but we expect it to be less expensive, and its smaller size could make it more practical for pocketing purposes. Overall, the Legend lives up to its name.
Edited by Charles Kloet