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First Look: File Magic 2.0

If there's a genre of iPhone app that's even more prevalent than fart apps, it's file transfer and viewing apps.

File Magic 2.0 (click opens iTunes) is the newest entry into this market from SplashData, an app development firm with years of history in the mobile space. As with the other apps of this type, File Magic provides a way to send files from a Mac or PC to an iPhone or iPod touch, then view those files on the handheld.

For those of you who are using Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac, you'll be happy to know that File Magic supports the XML-based .xlsx, .docx, and .pptx file formats for viewing, as well as a number of other document, sound, image, and video file formats. Like Quickoffice, File Magic does not support any of the iWork file formats.
One feature that I felt was a bit of a throwback is the use of a dedicated application on the desktop for transferring files back and forth. While the software, File Magic Desktop, is available for free for both Windows and Mac, you need to download and install the desktop software on any Mac or PC you're going to use File Magic with. Other apps now use Bonjour or web browsers as a way to transfer files without a dedicated desktop app. The last thing I want to have to do is remember to load software onto a computer in order to move data; I'd prefer to just use the tools that are already part of the operating system or default software.

File Magic 2.0 differentiates itself from many of the other file viewing / transfer apps in that it can send files to and receive files from other iPhones on the same Wi-Fi network that are also running File Magic. Those files, of course, can only be those that are actually stored by File Magic; you can't send photos, address cards, or other such iPhone-specific items to other users.

I'm not sure why, but File Magic 2.0 was slower in terms of performing file transfers than similar apps. For example, the large files and folders that I sent to my iPhone with Quickoffice moved very quickly. With File Magic, the same transfers were relatively slow, and several times I had the app actually lock up during a transfer, forcing me to restart the app and try the transfer again.

Depending on your personal preference, you may be thrilled or dismayed by the user interface on the iPhone. The app uses a large, bold-face font to label different folders for different types of files. Those who are app design purists will be appalled, while those who are tired of squinting at tiny type in iPhone apps might rejoice. For me, it's a mixed blessing because I think it's easier to read, but it isn't as nice looking as some of the other apps of this genre.

While using File Magic 2.0, I experienced several bugs. First, importing a PowerPoint file never worked properly for me. My test files are all about 100 slides in length and contain graphics, and when opened on the iPhone, I only saw three slides in each file with none of the graphics appearing. Second, if a file was large (13 MB for one Word document), an error message was displayed telling me that I shouldn't continue to try to open the document, and then File Magic crashed. For small files, File Magic 2.0 worked fine.

As for the pricing of File Magic, US$4.99 is about average for this type of app. Quickoffice Files (click opens iTunes) is less than half the price at US$1.99, Files (click opens iTunes) is more expensive at US$6.99. At the same price is the much more capable Air Sharing (click opens iTunes), which uses WebDAV and Bonjour on the PC or Mac instead of a proprietary desktop application, and which also has the ability to view those pesky iWork documents.

Personally, I think that file transfer and viewing functionality should be built into the iPhone. Most other smartphone platforms have done this for years, and it seems odd that it isn't already in the iPhone. Perhaps we'll see this as a surprise addition to iPhone 3.0? Who knows...

What's your favorite file transfer and viewing app on the iPhone? Leave your comments below, and be sure to check out the gallery for images of File Magic at work.

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