The ballad of the HTC Legend begins with the curious fact that each Legend handset is carved from a single billet of aluminium. Although this is a task surely performed by machines, we prefer to think of it like the birth of Monkey Magic; a lonely block of metal sitting on a mountain top, struck by lightning and filled with a miraculous power. The result of producing the Legend's unique shape in this manner (the machine carving manner, not the lightning on a mountain top manner) is a smooth, seamless phone casing, which feels fantastic to hold. This unibody approach also gives the Legend a very Apple MacBook Pro-like feeling and it makes an excellent complementary accessory for those who never leave home without a MacBook Pro under their arms.
The Apple comparisons stop when the phone is powered on though. The Legend employs HTC's fantastic Sense UI, and while you may liken the smooth, fluid performance of the Sense UI to the iPhone's interface, the two systems couldn't be more different. While Apple's smartphone system centres around home screens full of application shortcuts (like a traditional PC desktop), Sense UI is more about a connected home screen, via the use of internet-active widgets. You can customise the seven active home screens with your choice of widgets, including those for SMS messages, email, calendar appointments, social networking etc and these widgets will update automatically as new information is received, making it easier to stay up-to-date without launching a half-dozen different apps.
Although regular phone users rarely replace their phone's battery or SIM card, HTC's unique approach to the battery cover for the Legend is worth noting. Instead of a removable cover that slides off the back of the phone, the Legend has a black plastic cap at the base of the phone. Under the cap you'll find a swinging door that holds everything in place, which can be flipped open to reveal the battery, SIM card slot and microSD card port. This is an ingenious solution and allows the phone to be without seams in a way that no other phone with a removable battery is.
All things 'droid
Like the excellent HTC Desire, the Legend is powered by version 2.1 of Google's Android smartphone platform. Using this system gives the Legend a distinct advantage over other touchscreen phones you'll find in stores today, which makes it a phone worthy of your consideration if you're in the market for an iPhone. Regardless of how you might consider using your phone, the Legend is probably capable of meeting these needs, whether they include business email via a corporate Exchange server, or if you just want to stay up-to-date with Facebook and Twitter.
HTC does a great job of including custom applications and widgets to cover most usage patterns, though if you can't find what you're looking for pre-installed on the phone, then you'll probably find it on the Android Market. This application store-front is now easily the second largest behind the iPhone, and is fantastic for finding utilities for a business purpose and web-based applications for accessing web services like email, instant messaging and social networking. The one area the Android Market is really lacking in is gaming, so if you're someone who considers gaming a major element of owning a smartphone then you should probably choose an iPhone over the Legend.
We are somewhat cautious in recommending the Android platform to users that aren't prepared to play around with it a bit and discover the ins-and-outs of a new system. Android is a busy and somewhat complex system, which those who are interested in tech will enjoy tinkering with, but may challenge others who just want a simple phone for simple purposes. That said, HTC does a great job of helping newbies find and use the basics with clear menu labels and its colourful symbols. Just make sure you thumb through the quick-start guide in the box so you don't miss out on some really important features of the phone.
Media and the web
In terms of hardware, the Legend ticks a majority of the boxes needed by a smartphone user to get the most of their new phone. It has fast 3G web access (up to 7.2Mbps download speeds), Wi-Fi for cheap web surfing when in the range of a Wi-Fi hotspot, GPS for use with Google Maps, and Bluetooth for connecting to speakers and hands-free headsets. The one area the Legend is found lacking is with regards to internal memory for storing multimedia content, like videos and music. While iPhone customers get to choose between 8, 16 and 32GB models, the Legend makes do with a paltry 512MB of storage, which is shared with some system requirements. If you're thinking of getting the Legend you'll want to budget an extra AU$50 or so to buy a microSD card with at least 8GB of memory.
The experience of both multimedia playback and web browser is first class, especially with the built-in pinch-to-zoom controls in the web browser, photo gallery and Google Maps. The stock Android browser is at least as good as the iPhone's Safari browser, with the added benefit of being able to play Adobe Flash content within the browser. The Legend also comes with a 5-megapixel camera mounted on the back, which takes pretty decent photos. The camera's auto-focus software manages to create sharp images most of the time if you take your photos carefully, though we did find the colour reproduction tends towards being under-saturated. If you're a bit of a photography nut, you might want to think about downloading PicSay Pro off the Android Market, which has a few nifty tools to pump the colour and contrast up.
If you've followed the progress of HTC's Android phones then you may have heard that the Legend features a processor that is roughly half as fast as the HTC Desire, which may lead you to believe that the Legend suffers in the sheer processor grunt department. The good news is that this is not the case, the Legend held up fine during our review period, with only the slightest lag hiccups visible when it performed some more heavy duty tasks. HTC has removed a few elements from the Legend that you will find on the Desire, most notably the Live Wallpaper feature, to save you from bogging down the phone with too many fancy animations.
Call quality and messaging with the Legend is a pleasant experience, though the Legend's smaller screen size compared with the Desire does result in a smaller on-screen keyboard, so those with chunky digits may want to take a look at the Desire before committing to a Legend. Battery life is as good and as bad as we've come to expect from smartphones this year, meaning you will have to charge the Legend daily if you plan to use it as an always-connected push notifications device for email and social networking.
The combination of the Legend's outstanding industrial design and first-rate user experience is a smartphone that is as beautiful to behold as it is fun to play around with. The Android platform gives users access to a range of great ways to customise their phones and thousands of great apps to download and play around with, even if some may find the learning curve a little steep. As a smartphone, the Legend ticks all the important boxes and will suit most users' needs, from a business user that wants a fun, sexy phone, to an online junkie who needs to stay in touch across a number of social-networking platforms.