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HTC Hero Review

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:
curveball

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:

htchero

Continue reading on the HTC Hero forums, see the specs, or find news and reviews.




  • http://androidandme.com Taylor

    Too bad T-Mobile has decided not to pick up this phone.

  • Steve

    Any news on who will pick it up though?

  • Eddie

    Love the review Rob! Im getting my HTC Hero from Orange tomorrow and I can’t wait! Been reading loads and loads of reviews and although loads are slating the hardware, to be frank I don’t mind, at the end of the day, I’ll be getting another improved Droid set in 15months when other manufactures step up to the plate with better hardware, so if there is ever a 1st android handset to lose my ‘cherry’ to, this can’t be a bad one can it? :)

    Questions to you and the rest of the guys here:
    1) I noticed you never mentioned anything about the battery life? At the end of the day, we’ll be using this as a phone to make calls, send txts, take pictures, surf….use google maps to find out where we are after waking up at some randoms house…so whats the battery life like with everyday use? if you listen to at least 2 hours of music on it, does it make a huge dent? or is using wifi for 5mins kills 1 bar of life? :S
    2) will there ever be a divX player for android? got tons of movies i’d like to watch on it but most are in divx and cant be bothered to convert lol
    3) Will the saving apps to SD card ever come around? (or is this already covered?)
    4) ooo yeah, when plugging the phone on to a pc, is transferring files between the phone and pc fast at all? eg how long does moving 400mb of music from pc to phone take?

    err…randoms over, but great site and article btw dude and thanks to all who’ve commented on the various articles on this site! you guys have been great!

  • Briar

    Just wanted to chime in and say thanks for the review :). I think I may buy a hero. I’ve heard that getting a class 6 micro SD card speeds up the device.

    I do have to say I like how the clock doesn’t auto update in the background (saves CPU time at the least, if very minor :P) as I like it when you switch to the “page” with the clock on it and it plays an animation and shows the current time. Might be just me though.

  • Crux

    Yeah but you never know. With as much as they are proclaiming Android handsets to come out the next one they release may be near the holidays and that one may be the next step after the Hero.

    I agree it sucks they didn’t get it to TMO-USA and I don’t even like the look of this phone (I do like the Sense UI though) but it would of been a huge slap to the marketing campaign pushed with the MyTouch3G.

    I will be interested to see how these handsets progress and what will be the next step up.

  • http://twitter.com/rickyrescue Ricky

    I think T-Mobile will release this phone. They said they have no plans to release the HTC Hero. And HTC did say that the US version will be slightly different. So maybe a name change, and some hardware revisions makes T-Mobile consider it a different phone. Carriers always give us BS, why do we listen to what they say in some little press conference??

  • Kristian

    Regarding the organizing of music on the phone, the latest beta of Songbird has reinstated USB mass storage device support, so you can use that to sync music to your Android phone.

    http://blog.songbirdnest.com/2009/07/22/beta-testers-wanted/

  • ruffneck

    Thanks for the review buddy. Great stuff. Just wondering if maybe you could use a faster SD card to see if that helps with the sluggishness.

  • jaan

    @Ricky

    I dunno man, the FCC documents show the phone to be incompatible with T-Mob’s 3G network. I’d love to think the phone might be released on multiple carriers and that a t-mob version is coming, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • grimdeath

    Just a note on the flash from a web designer concerning the issues you had on some sites. There are different versions of flash player but also a “lite” player that is already used in some win-mo phones. Either the version in the Hero is just a lite implementation or perhaps an older version (hence the nvidia site mentioning you needed version 9+). They may have even been able to implement a custom version though the flash player is not open source so I would see this being very difficult.

    Point being, it works but not on everything as you showed. If you want a good quality implementation of flash I would suggest waiting for the official version coming out….whenever google and adobe get that worked out! its in the works as you guys have reported.

    The Hero flash implementation is more along the lines of a bare bones or hack implementation it seems! It does seem useful for simple flash stuff, but others have reported video streaming like youtube and vimeo do not work right now still…look for what works with flash lite and you should be good to go!

  • grimdeath

    sorry, meant to add this to my comment above :)
    http://www.adobe.com/products/flashlite/

  • amolenk

    The clock ‘lag’ isn’t going to be solved. It’s a design thing. The phone knows perfectly well what the current time is, it just subtracts a small value from both the hour and minutes to be able to show a nice ‘flip’ animation to the correct time. That’s why the hour was 8 instead of 9.

  • Rob Jackson

    @amolenk – if they want a nice little animation, fine, have one. But to have the clock go BACK in time so that it can go FORWARD in time is just… pardon the pun…. Senseless.

  • Eric

    Thanks for the nice review!
    I wonder if it’s possible to play music in the music-widget, based on a folder on my MicroSD-card? Not organised by Artist, Album or Playlist. I want to select a folder to play.

  • Kerry

    Hi Rob,

    Great review of the Hero. I was thinking of getting an unlocked version of the UK phone and using it here in the states on T Mobile — like you did on the test. I’m not convinced that HTC will actually release a North American version in 2009 and would like to start using the phone now. I had a couple questions re the lack of 3G on the phone if the UK phone is used in the US. Does it have visual voicemail and does that work on the UK version in the US? What about the Google maps; someone at T Mobile said that may require 3G. Finally, I read that the speed issue was improved if you used a larger memory card. Do you have any thoughts about that? Thanks and again, great review!

    Kerry

  • Jukka

    Thanks for a really good review! This is how all reviews should be! Nice to see all the settings etc.

  • kyle

    Why not use Media Monkey to sync? It does any device and ipods. Good review. Hopefully some things will be updated in the FW updates. I really wish they would throw some serious hardware with the memory and ram in there. Id really like an android that is completely head and shoulders above everything else. Lets get premium baby!!

  • Pete

    Thanks for your very positive and accurate review of the Hero. I have had some good luck in playing flash from some sites. Does anyone know how one plays local FLV files from the Orange Hero. Local FLV files don’t show under Albums. Does this mean local files not supported at this time?

  • http://Leion.net Leion

    Nice detailed review. Hope it comes out soon in Singapore and not with a big price tag!

  • Russell

    i spoke to a tmobile rep today, the HTC Hero “will not come to T-Mobile USA” because they just announced the MyTouch. If they confirmed the Hero, NO ONE would buy the Touch! They’re re-naming it the G2 Touch and it “should be out in the 4th quarter”

    Also HTC Touch Pro2 will be released August 12th, confirmed by T-Mobile rep.

  • uwsteve

    @ Russel

    I hope you’re right, I don’t care what they rename the Hero, I just want it.

  • Stopflipping

    Next time, stop flipping the freaking phone while giving a review!!!!! Specially when the phone is so tightly framed in the camera!!!

  • thomas

    nice review! really looking forward to get my hands on one of those.

    but.. what is it I can’t do it with the hero, since it’s not a “google experience” phone? or is it just the “with google” sign on the back it lacks? :)

  • http://www.rothemund.org Holger

    You must be kidding about missing a flash for the photos of the concert, right?

  • mc

    @Kerry. Have a look at Hullomail, they have an Android client. I am currently awaiting my white Hero to pop in the mail either tomorrow or the day after! Fantastic review – learnt a lot from this.

  • doc

    Sorry, but a flash won’t help improve your photos at concerts. I have always been amused by how many camera flashes I see at concerts & sporting events.

  • Sven

    I talked to a Sprint employee yesterday who confirmed that this phone will be coming to Sprint, although a certain release date could not be provided.
    I’m both relieved and disappointed at this because although it’s a decent phone, it favors flashy appeal over practical functionality. At least compared to the Samsung Galaxy, which I was hoping Sprint would pick up.
    A quick comparison of their differences:
    Screen: Scratch resistance (Galaxy) vs Sumdge resistance (Hero)
    AMOLED (power saving 16 million colors – Galaxy) vs LCD (65,000 colors – Hero)
    Camera: flash (galaxy) vs no flash (Hero)
    Memory: 8 gig internal memory (galaxy) vs 8 gig flash card (Hero)
    UI: 1.5 Android Cupcake (Galaxy) vs Flash-in-the-pants-slows-the-processor-down Sense (Hero)
    Hardware: Fits-in-the-pocket candy bar (Galaxy) vs Jay Leno chin-style denting your leg (Hero)
    The choice was right for Sprint since then need to get ahead in a tough market and the Hero has the press on its side, but the Galaxy is a much better phone, imho. I just wish I had the patience to wait for the Rachel (if Sprint is smart enough to pick it up, that is).

  • Jan

    I planned to buy HTC Magic this week, but now that I have read several reviews for HTC Hero it seems I will be much better with that one. One concern is the bottom – check these images if you dont know what I mean: http://www.nyemobiltelefoner.dk/ny-nyeste/htc-hero-mobiltelefon.html.

    The bottom seems to be very annoying?

  • Navlelo

    Jan

    The bottom of the phone is fine, when i got mine (T-Mobile UK black bersion) i waas surprised how small and funky the phone is and feels. The lip at the bottom is wonderful in aiding you hand when using the phone itself. And for having it in your pockets it just feels like any other phone, and the lip cant be felt at all.

    I can truthfully say hand on my heart, this is the best ever phoned i have held in my hand. It feels so nice compact, no creaks, solid, feels a truly well built device.

    Ignore the doomsayers saying that its slow, Its a very RARE occasion it stutters and its when widgets are updating. Everything flys by, jump in and out of programs, in and out of market, everything is zippy. And call quality is superb as is the speakerphone for music and phone calls. I have now both the iPhone 3gs and HTC Hero and the 3GS is going on eBay tomorrow, as i love the flexability and customisation the hero offers. Just take a look at android market compared to Apple app store, jsut far more interesting and useful apps, tethering apps etc etc file apps etc etc. All without the need for Jailbreaking or Rooting your device.

    Let apple to stick to what they are good at iPods and Macbooks.

  • Wesley Bormann

    @taylor:

    T-mobile has picked up this phone (or at least in the EU)
    I got it here :D

  • GBence

    Hey Rob, awesome review. Quite simply the best I have seen on this phone. Its great to see you back up what you are saying with such indepth video footage – you wont believe how many vid reviews I have seen where they (get paid to say) say stuff like … “this has a great 5 mpix cam, oh but weve not tested it…. this has a whatever else they have not tested” – they suck, you rock!
    Keep up the great work – do work son

  • Thomas

    Quick comment on the audio capabilities of the phone:
    I do not agree that it is good for music lovers. The sound quality is pretty substandard, even when using high quality earphones. The phone really needs a equalizer. Even my oldest Sony ericssons had an equalizer. Too much treble and mid levels right now.

    Also, the volume is too high even on the lowest settings. Especially if using in earphones. Not always fun when you are in a quiet environment and trying to enjoy your music.

    The audio experience needs some polish before it can battle against the Iphones, SE Walkman or Nokias Expressmusic solutions.

  • Kabuto

    Someone should make a directory of Android-playable flash games like Curveball.

  • nayanayan

    I’ve just got the hero today on orange… and its a BEAUTY!

    Its such an excellent phone! You can customise it into so many ways it just doesnt feel like a phone. The screen is very responsive and the internet is a breeze to use. I’d highly recommend it!

    Thank god Orange haven’t branded it and changed it to make it there own as they usually do.!

    Excellent phone!

  • david

    Got the unlocked European version while visiting overseas. Riding the tmobile network.. it’s on the Edge network right now.. no 3G.

    However, it’s still a pretty cool phone. Wifi is quick =P

  • Michael

    Agree most of the good n bad points stated in the review, except on the contact or address book which is not very suitable for business uses where not able to show the Company name instead only able to see the contact name.

    Keyboard is not as good compare to iphone!

  • john bailey

    can you do a phone based video conference using the hero only? how?

    eg 1-1 like skype or 1-many like scopia ???

    thanks

  • mick

    hi guy’s can any1 tel me if theyve had a problem connecting to another phone,eg. via bluetooth,my htc hero will pair with any phone,but won’t connect,other words if sme1′s trying to bluetooth me music or anything,it just wn’t connect,av tried everything…..

  • Grant

    I think the “clock problem” is because the clock shown is a ticker clock, the wrong time displayed is just there to show the animation of the time changing to current… You’ll notice both numbers (the 9 and 19) where 1 previous (8 and 18), that way they both tick over once

  • http://deansfolio.blogspot.com Dean

    http://techcrunch.com/2009/12/14/facebook-android/

    The above website shows a new facebook app for Android which would be a good replacement to the HTC app.

  • angela

    y can’t i send pic messages to a non smartphone in other words a regular phone or people without an email address