Feb, 20 2015

Welcome to our complete review of the Sprint HTC Hero. I totally, 100% agree – as most sources have already noted – that Sprint’s version of the HTC Hero is for the most part the exact same phone as the original HTC Hero that launched in Europe a couple months ago. We did an extensive HTC Hero Review for that device and we’ll be referring to it throughout this review as well. But still, we aim to provide you with the most comprehensive coverage possible.

Shall we dive in?


Sprint HTC Hero – Hardware Review
Before we get into comparisons, we should just talk for a minute about what the HTC Hero hardware is about in and of itself. The build quality feels great and while clearly housed in a plastic casing, it has a solid feel yet isn’t too heavy. Combine that with the metallic look and you’ve got a very corporate looking phone that seems rugged enough to take some abuse.

The specs are impressive and boast a nice set of features. The display is a 3.2-inch capacitive touchscreen with 320 x 480 resolution. The 5MP camera with auto-focus (but no flash) and video recording does a decent job and the 3.5mm headset jack is an awesome touch that really should be standard on ALL smartphones. Glad to see HTC and Sprint include it in this rendition of the Hero. Combine that with 32GB of extendable memory via MicroSD and you’re good to go for your multimedia needs – note that it comes with a 2GB MicroSD card in the box.

You’ve also got 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR and a 1500 mAh battery. You’ll notice the battery size is different than the original HTC Hero which leads us nicely into a comparison that I’m sure many of you are eagerly awaiting.

Sprint Hero  vs European Hero vs Palm Pre
The obvious first topic of conversation in regards to the Sprint HTC Hero hardware comparison is the chin… or lack thereof. Some people like the chin. Some people hate the chin. I’ve always said that its just like the existence of a physical vs. touchscreen QWERTY – a complete matter of opinion. There really isn’t much to debate as you’re going to think what you think. I happen to like both versions but let’s put the stylistic differences behind us and get into the meatier stuff.

Larger Trackball (Improvement)
One big difference between the original Hero and the Sprint version is the hardware buttons and trackball. The trackball is noticeably larger and definitely provides a nice alternative for browsing, selecting and clicking. Without the chin, you’ll notice the Sprint Hero rests on the trackball when you lay it face down and I’m wondering if the increased size is for increased sturdiness? Either way – great trackball.

Hardware Buttons (Improvement)
Surrounding the trackball you’ve got 6 hardware buttons with an interesting twist: the Call and End key are “normal” keys that pop out with some bezel while the Home, Menu, Search and Back button are all just images on the brushed metallic mouthpiece. But they still “click” when you push them. I prefer the button layout on the Sprint HTC Hero to the buttons on the European Hero – it’s more of a definitive feeling that you’ve pressed a button. So +1 to this phone.

Larger Battery (But worse?)
Another big difference is the battery size as we alluded to above. The Sprint HTC Hero has a 1500 mAh battery while the European HTC  Hero only has a 1350 mAh battery. That being said, Sprint only lists talk time for the device at 4 hours while the GSM version enjoys a longer battery life. This is likely because the CDMA network is more resource intensive but this is just what I’ve heard and shouldn’t be taken as cold hard fact. I’d love to hear some official response about the battery life/difference and I’ll reach out to HTC for an answer. Even with a fairly large battery I found it to be average battery life at best.

Speaker Style (Me Likey)
Lastly the speaker on the rear of the Sprint HTC Hero appears to take up more surface area as the “grill” surrounds the camera encasing. I blasted some music on both and there wasn’t a huge noticeable difference but I feel like the Sprint HTC Hero had a little bit better audio quality as a result. Again, hardly noticeable and it could just be the whole “perception is reality” anecdote because it LOOKS more like a speaker. I think this is a nice touch style wise even if it doesn’t improve the audio.

HTC Hero or Palm Pre?
As for the Palm Pre: there are a TON of Sprint customers out there who are probably wondering what they should get, the Sprint HTC Hero or the Palm Pre. Obviously I’m going to have some bias – this being an Android site and all – but I’m completely confident in recommending the HTC Hero over the Palm Pre. From a hardware perspective the Palm Pre has a few advantages, most notably its size/feel, QWERTY keyboard (if you’re into that kind of thing), flash for the camera, polished/nifty UI and PRICE. But you get what you pay for… the price of the Pre has dropped for a reason and I’m sure you don’t want to spend 2 years figuring out what those reasons are.

The HTC Hero has some advantages of its own over the Palm Pre. With the Hero you can expand your memory to 32GB with a MicroSD card while you’re stuck with 8GB internal with the Pre. The Hero’s camera is 5MP as opposed to the 3MP camera of the Pre. And while the build quality of the Pre feels plasticky and has received a lot of complaints and problems, the Hero seems sturdy and solid. But make no mistake about it… the biggest advantages are with Android OS and HTC Sense.

WebOS is a young platform that has faltered early. The App Catalog is moving as slow as molasses while Android Market is moving at a pace I would call Oregon-Trail-like… grueling with large portions to eat (10,000+ buffalo aka apps). The initial buzz of WebOS has warn off, portions of applications are meager and while they may not die of a snake bite in the near future, Android is clearly the more robust, feature filled operating system. Palm has potential with WebOS but when you’re choosing between it or Android you’ve gotta go with the robot.

The one advantage WebOS has over Android is visual appeal and graphical UI. Unfortunately for Palm, HTC recently launched their HTC Sense software that not only skins Android with a brilliant look and feel, it also extends the functionality of the device in a way that competes with the highly praised management of social features on the Palm Pre. The bottom line is that the Sprint HTC Hero is the better phone and the Palm Pre is the more affordable phone… if you can afford the Hero, go for it.

Now that we’ve been talking about software, Sense, etc… shall we?

Sprint HTC Hero – Software Review
While the hardware discussion was centered around chins, the software discussion has been all about lag. When the initial reviews of the European Hero came out the consensus seemed to be that HTC Sense was powerful… but too powerful for the HTC Hero processor. As smartphones grow more capable and feature-filled, manufacturers need a larger battery and more powerful processors to fuel the enhanced performance. This was the Hero’s Achilles Heel.

But rumor had it that HTC fixed the lag problem with a firmware update and the new, snappier software would come packaged in the Sprint HTC Hero. So did it? After comparing the two side by side we concluded yes, definitely:

In the video I say something about the original Hero’s lag not being a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I’d like to take that back. Consider the screen lag an indicator of a larger problem. If the screen lags when you’re not running ANYTHING in the background, think of the potential issues when you’ve got a few things going on, syncing, updating, etc… luckily the Sprint HTC Hero at least offers some sort of UI speed improvement.

Now lets talk about the bigger picture of Android running HTC Sense. For all intents and purposes the software is THE EXACT SAME as what you’ll find on the initial HTC Hero. For that reason we suggest you check out the original HTC Hero review.

HTC Sense is pretty sweet – no debating that. If you’re looking for more in depth coverage, check out these YouTube videos we did in our first review of the Hero:

Sprint HTC Hero – Exclusive Sprint Applications
Android is a powerful operating system but manufacturers and carriers aren’t relying on the OS alone. They want to differentiate their products and help them stand out from the crowd. HTC did this by creating a great device design with solid specs and custom software with HTC Sense. Now it is Sprint’s turn to put a little extra mojo into their first Android.

I was incredibly excited to test out the 4 exclusive Sprint applications on the HTC Hero: NFL Live, Sprint TV, Nascar and Sprint Navigation. I thought they had an awesome opportunity to separate themselves from the pack, bringing an additional offering to their Android phones that other carriers couldn’t provide. Unfortunately, I was absolutely disappointed with their performance and it all started with NFL Live.

I’m a big football fan, so when the Indianapolis Colts took on the Arizona Cardinals, I thought it would be the perfect time to showcase the application’s awesomeness right there while watching the game. It didn’t exactly go as planned:

Great concept but severely lacking performance. I’m not sure if the underlying problem was:

  • The application itself
  • The wireless connection
  • My location (downtown Baltimore City)
  • The HTC Hero processor/hardware
  • Something else…

So in an effort to provide a better review, I changed locations (Columbia, MD – where FCC testing is done) and connected my phone to Wi-Fi to try to eliminate some of the question marks. I then put NFL Live, Sprint TV, Nascar and Sprint Navigation to the test under these new circumstances with almost no improvement:

I was really looking forward to giving these Sprint applications a great review – I was excited for them, especially NFL Live. Unfortunately I have to say it was the most disappointing part of the Sprint HTC Hero package. I used the service for several days with consistent problems, mostly in regard to streaming video. So I stopped trying to access video altogether over the next couple days and did one last minute review showing that text, images and audio could all be loaded with less difficulty:

And wow! Video even worked this time around… except for on Sprint TV which is kind of ironic. The bottom line is that the NFL and NASCAR apps are nice additions to your Android Phone and they’ll provide some great information – but I wouldn’t rely on them and certainly wouldn’t expect a very good video experience.

Sprint Navigation was the one bright spot of the 4 apps and it really is just Telenav with a different name. I used Telenav when it first appeared on Android Market with mixed results but this time around it performed fantastically. It’s pretty good navigation software that I can recommend. I would say its the best navigation software on Android Market right now…  whether its worth the price and whether you’re willing to spend it? That’s a different question/story.

I was unable to provide a full video review of Sprint Navigation/Telenav in a timely fashion but found a review and video that perfectly apply. Check out the PC Mag review of Telenav and watch the company provide a demo using the MyTouch 3G… yeah I know, ignore the fact that it’s T-Mobile and not the Hero – its essentially the same service:

Final Thoughts
The Sprint HTC Hero immediately becomes the best phone the carrier offers – that is the bottom line. The specs don’t blow you away but they MORE than get the job done. The build and design are solid and classy – not a masterpiece but visually appealing for sure. Android alone is awesome but HTC Sense takes it to the next level and the “lag” is gone. If Sprint could improve the performance of their exclusive applications I’d kick this a notch above the GSM Hero… for now it is just equal.

And “equal” isn’t a bad place to be when you’re talking about the best phone on the market. But for how long? There is lots of Android competition coming… but HTC has definitely set a solid bar. Regardless of what else launches, the HTC Hero comes highly recommended. Phones with bigger and badder specs might be in the pipeline, but given the price tag this phone will be hard to beat.

A few helpful links:

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