Jul, 23 2009

We’ve been using the HTC Hero for several days now and its time to put it through the Phandroid gauntlet to determine if it is truly the best Android Phone out there… or maybe even the best mobile phone on the planet. For starters, I think anyone picking this phone up for the first time should do a few housekeeping things that will make your first few days experiencing the Hero much more enjoyable:

In addition to customizing some of the default settings right off the bat and calibrating the keyboard, many people just want to jump right in and play with the phone for hours and hours until they get the hang of it. You may or may not be familiar with Android but either way you are new to HTC Sense so it is worth doing a little bit of reading beforehand to learn about some of the features and settings. After all, isn’t that why you’re here right now?

There is an on-device HTC Hero How To Help Guide that is really just a mobile optimized series of webpages… I ninjaed out the links for your viewing pleasure:

Alright now that we’ve got that squared away lets take a look at what makes the HTC Hero so unique…

HTC Sense:

HTC has taken the “stock” Android OS and customized it out the wazoo. If I had to boil down HTC Sense to a few things I would say:

  • The “Canvas” of screen real estate is expanded from 3 screens to 7 screens, more than doubling your surface area for putting your favorite stuff
  • A set of these 7-screens is called a “Scene” and you can switch between scenes, allowing you to make and customize different scenes for different uses (work, daytime fun, weekend, night, etc…)
  • HTC has loaded HTC Sense with widgets, allowing you to extend the functionality of the phone without having to “open” anything… the information you want is right there on your desktop with widgets like weather, people, twitter, music, stocks, etc…
  • HTC Sense helps to consolidate your communication. Instead of separating all the sites and mediums you contact people and fragmenting the dialogue, it integrates your favorite communication tools with your “contacts”, displaying conversation as a flow through numerous mediums. Great job here.

HTC Sense isn’t perfect… for example I’ve heard people complaining about the clock widgets and their failure to update in the background:

Its a small complaint – for the most part HTC Sense does a bang up job at not only drastically improving the look and feel of the base Android OS, but also extending functionality through scenes, widgets, communication tools and much more. And remember, since these aren’t “Google Experience” phones you’ve also got access to things like Microsoft Office Document Viewers, Microsoft Exchange Support and a bunch of other goodies.

Often times it is the polish that makes or breaks the phone and in this case it could just use a few touch-ups. Some of the widgets could load quicker, in some places auto-rotating to landscape QWERTY is impossible and sometimes when IN landscape QWERTY there is no enter/go/submit key until you return to portrait mode. Mostly nit-picky things but things that add up. In this case they don’t amount to much of an issue or problem and will likely be fixed at some point with an OTA update. And perhaps that’s the thing: most of my complaints are simple and there aren’t any fundamental flaws.

These “small things” are also what makes HTC Sense great. For example, when you start typing a phone number or name it auto-suggests/completes, allowing you to call or contact someone with far fewer keystrokes. The HTC Hero is the first device with HTC Sense and there are plenty to come. You can be sure the company wants to upgrade and improve this new experience as time goes on and these improvements could certainly be available through OTA updates. Glaring issues are absent from HTC Sense and the entire new UI is a thing of beauty. Cosmetically and functionally speaking, HTC Sense is a home run… and the ball hasn’t yet landed.

HTC Hero Music Player & Multimedia
The first HTC Android Phone with a 3.5mm headset jack is reason enough to make music lovers drool, but combine the HTC Sense Music Player & Widget and you’ve suddenly got a sensational music device. The implementation of the music player is pretty much flawless and I have to say THIS is one of the main reasons I’m craving a Hero of my own:

There isn’t much to say except that the combination of hardware and software make this an ideal device for music lovers. Awesome, awesome, awesome. My only gripe comes from the inability to sync your music library – you’ll have to drag and drop what you want. I can’t blame HTC for that though…. Palm tried to sync the Pre with iTunes and Apple later removed that capability by updating iTunes. Apple should at least allow you to buy a “pro” version of iTunes that would allow you to sync with whatever device you want – ridiculous if you ask me.

HTC Hero Communication and Social Networking
The standard Android method of handling Emails, TXT messages, Facebook Status Updates, Tweets and all that good stuff is more or less separate systems pieced together. HTC Sense integrates them into one clean system that streamlines your communication with contacts. Its hard to show this type of stuff without revealing personal information of friends and family so you’ll have to trust me on this but I would break it down into a few core elements:

  • All your communication with a given contact, regardless of the medium, are consolidated into one area for easy viewing. A+
  • Facebook integration is cumbersome at best, but the HTC Sense system of associating your contacts with your Facebook friends is amazingly helpful to say the least. Most of the legwork is done for you… now all we need is some better API Facebook work (lil help Facebook?)
  • Twitter integration is simple, easy to use and effective. This kind of makes me wish I twittered and who knows… maybe HTC Sense will give me that final push into the Tweeterific world.

The HTC Hero far surpasses Android when it comes to basic communication and more advanced social networking, proving that the concept of “customizing android” is something manufacturers and carriers can effectively embrace, passing value on to their customers in the process.

Testing Flash In The Browser (Pinch & Zoom As Well)
The addition of Flash makes the HTC Hero’s web browsing experience far better than existing Android Phones. If it weren’t for a pinch and zoom that is a bit too sensitive, I would say the HTC Hero has the best web browsing experience of any phone available. In fact, even considering that, it still might be the best:

The flash integration isn’t perfect…as you can see, the Hero is able to render flash the majority of the time but interacting with Flash is a somewhat different story. For complex sites built solely on flash or for games using flash you’re likely to have problems but for the first go? Excellent and awesome.

A good example of the capabilities and limitations could be done by playing a simple and popular game called Curveball through your browser:
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The game renders flawlessly and is completely playable – the only problem is you can’t “drag” your paddle around the screen you have to press the screen and your paddle merely appears where you pressed. This is why I concluded that the BlackBerry Storm technology might actually be good for something! The problem could be solved quite easily if you were able to use the trackball as a cursor of sorts, pressing it in to click. Otherwise, without a D-Pad of any kind, gaming and more advanced flash web browsing could prove difficult.

I should also say that loading non-YouTube flash videos is a godsend. Try http://revision3.com for example and videos will load just as if viewing native YouTube videos on your G1 or Magic.

Digital Camera and Camcorder
The 5 megapixel camera on the HTC Hero is a huge improvement from a spec standpoint on the T-Mobile G1 and HTC Magic. Unfortunately, it isn’t in the quality of pictures taken that you’ll see the biggest improvements but in the actual camera and camcorder software:

I was going to convert some video I took with the HTC Hero camcorder but in addition to having trouble converting it, the output was so small and quality was so poor that it just wasn’t worth it. So keep in mind that the video capture leaves A LOT to be desired.

Below are some pictures that I snapped with the digital camera (click to enlarge):

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Those last 3 pictures are of India Arie, John Legend and Stone Temple Pilots respectively. To be honest, the upgrade to a 5MP isn’t what sells me on the HTC Hero camera…here are final thoughts on that:

  • Picture quality is decent but not an amazing improvement over the 3.2MP camera of previous HTC Androids
  • Lack of a Flash is disappointing… half of fun things you want to take pictures of happen at night, for example the concerts! I should note that even my girlfriend’s digital camera didn’t take very good pictures because of the severe and harsh lighting from our seats.
  • Video quality is disappointing… couldn’t they have bumped up the maximum dimensions of videos a little bit?
  • I love that there are separate icons for Camera and Camcorder – simple but will help ensure you capture that impromptu picture before the moment passes
  • Overall: very capable camera but not a huge bragging point when comparing to other phones

Hardware Design & Styling
Enough has been said about the hardware/design/style that I don’t feel the need to regurgitate – not to mention much of it is pure preference. That is why you’re finding me here at the bottom! I think the phone is dead sexy and I like the chin both from a unique design perspective and an ergonomic feel-in-your-hand perspective. Does it feel weird in your pocket? Not at all… it feels great, but then again I’m not the type to wear tight pants.

I’d give the hardware design and styling two thumbs up…

HTC Hero: Touchscreen Keyboard  & Final Thoughts
I’m the type of guy that loves a good hardware keyboard and this is why I INSIST that the T-Mobile G1 is hands down the best phone in the world… for me. The HTC Hero is forcing me to seriously question that convention. At first I found using the portrait QWERTY a pain in the butt and the landscape QWERTY merely doable, but after calibrating the keyboard and spending a day with the device I found the portrait QWERTY adequate and the landscape QWERTY enjoyable and accurate.

Am I ready to ditch my G1 just yet? Probably not… because I’m admittedly still a bit caught up on hardware keyboards. A few more spec improvements and treats here and there and I could definitely be convinced. But if you’re down with touchscreen only devices I can confidently recommend the HTC Hero as a device you’ll absolutely love.

The main concern I’ve heard about the HTC Hero is that the screen lags and sure, maybe sometimes it does. But not enough to drag down an otherwise awesome phone and anyone with a G1 or Magic knows that OTA updates have continually aided the OS speed. Bottom line – it is only going to get better.

Is the HTC Hero the best phone in the world? In my opinion Android is the greatest platform in the world and the HTC Hero is the best touchscreen only Android phone in the world… so connect the dots if you can. It will surely be joined by some stiff competition over the next 6 months, but with continual improvements to HTC Sense, the HTC Hero is going to be a favorite well beyond the arrival of suitable Android competitors, especially considering they’ll seem like newbs walking onto HTC’s turf.

There you have it folks…. The HTC Hero in all its glory:

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local_offer    HTC  HTC Hero