I’ve been playing around with the unlocked HTC Hero for nearly three weeks and I must say it has been three weeks of heaven. I haven’t had this much fun testing out a device since I bought the PS3 in December 2008. Yes, it really is that much fun to play around with. I haven’t been able to pull myself away from this device. In all fairness, I’ve been testing the phone for the purposes of this review; but, I’m tempted to keep the phone for myself.
Taking a look at the specs on the Hero, it’s reminiscent of the G1 and HTC Magic. The Hero is a small and impossibly thin device, measuring in at 112x56.2x14.35mm and weighing in at 135 grams with the battery inserted. It comes with a 3.2-in 480x320 capacitive touch screen. The Hero feels great in your hands. It’s small enough to cup your hand around, and the Teflon coating provides a nice, smooth grip that prevents the phone from slipping away from you. It fits nicely in pockets, though I carried mine in my purse since baggy pants haven’t been fashionable for women since TLC topped the charts back in the mid-1990s.
It’s got 528MHz CPU, 288MB of RAM and 512MB ROM. It’s packed with WiFi, A-GPS, a digital compass, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR with A2DP support, an accelerometer, a microSD expansion slot (SD 2.0 compatible), 900/2100MHz HSPA/WCDMA, also Quad-band 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS/EDGE; though we haven’t heard the specs for the possible US carriers as of yet. The Hero supports up to 7.2 Mbps downlink and 2Mbps uplink speeds, depending, of course on the network. I was on WiFi during most phone tests and thankfully so, since the unlocked version doesn’t have 3G support in the United States yet.
Audio formats supported by the HTC Hero include MP3, AAC(AAC, AAC+, AAC-LC), AMR-NB, WAV, MIDI, and Windows Media Audio 9. For video, you’ve got MPEG-4, H.263, H.264 and Windows Media Video 9.
Let’s take a trip around the Hero, starting with the front of the device. Up top, you’ve got the speaker grill and two lights on the left and right sides of the speaker. The light on the right is a charging indicator, and it is amber when the device is charging. The light on the left turns green when the Hero is fully charged, which should take about 3 hours to get a full charge on the Hero.
On the very top of the phone is your 3.5mm headphone jack. I’ve been asked on HTCPedia, why the top and not the bottom, next to the ext-USB jack? My thinking is that you’ll put the phone in your pocket with the top facing up, and the chin at the bottom. In that case, it would make sense to have the 3.5mm jack at the top of the device. Also, since I’m a headset nerd, I know that bending your headphone cord is not a good idea. Since the chin is at an angle and you’ll most likely be standing straight up, your headphone cord would be slightly bent all day. If HTC designers thought that far into the design, then kudos to them for keeping your favorite pair of headphones intact by keeping the 3.5mm jack on the top of the device.
The screen is wrapped in a soft, brushed metal and the screen itself is protected by a coating that helps prevent smudges from fingers from building up. I’d have to say it works pretty well for me. Using the phone after 3 weeks and I only cleaned off the phone just before video filming and a couple of other times when I was showing off the phone to my iPhone-using friends (yes, they were jealous).
At the bottom of the phone are the usual Android buttons. There is a line of four silver buttons along the bottom of the metal ring around the phone screen; those being the call start button, home button, menu button, and call end button. Centered below those buttons is the trackball, which performs beautifully with a smooth finish. It’s easy to press with good resistance, and you don’t have to press it far. It doubles as your missed call/email/message light and blinks slowly to let you know someone tried to reach you while you were off doing something else. Another function of the trackball, a third, I suppose, is as your photo capture button. I personally would have preferred a button either on top or on the side of the phone, however; thanks to auto-focus, I was able to make it work pretty well except during self-portraits which always came out a little crooked despite my best efforts.
Tipping the phone back and looking at the bottom of the device, you’ll see the ext-USB port centered in the middle, and the phone’s microphone just to the right of the port. On the left side of the device is a flush volume rocker. Despite being flush, the volume rocker works great and the buttons have enough push-back to let you know you’ve pressed something. Given that the rocker works so well, I’m glad it’s flush and keeps the device small and pretty. On the right side of the device, you have nothing. Again, I would have liked a photo capture button here, but since I’m not sure a photo capture should be flush with the edge of the device, I can appreciate the design decision to keep the trackball as the capture button for photos and video.
The screen on the HTC Hero is beautiful – right up there with the biggest and baddest on the market. It features a crisp display and sharp details. The Sense UI interface also allows color, which shows vibrant on the Hero screen. The icons show up brilliantly and though you can take this with a grain of salt since I’m a self-proclaimed HTC fangirl, I must say I could sit there and watch the clock pages flip themselves. It’s fun to let it go a few minutes, then refresh my screen to watch the pages flip up to the current time. I’ve used the different clocks available on the Sense UI, and I always come back to the Touch FLO 3D-esque flip-design. It’s my favorite.
Many of you are wondering about the on-screen keyboard on the Hero. I must admit, at first, I felt stubby and clumsy maneuvering on the Hero. After a bit though, the Hero and I got used to each other and now I can type full paragraphs with ease, and web addresses without watching to make sure I typed them in correctly. The capacitive screen handles nicely for fingers big or small, and though with a bigger display you could have fatter keys; we appreciate the petite-ness of the Hero and especially the fact that it was a quick task to increase our typing speed. Though not perfect, it’s very nice. Anyone who has incredibly negative feedback should either spend more time with the device or apply for a lumberjack job.
The Android OS operates well on the Hero, and in fact, the Sense UI overlay over Android is all I ever want to use. Well, if HTC and Google want to continue improving, by all means gentlemen, improve. In my opinion, however; for what we have available to us now, it doesn’t get any better than Sense and Android. It’s a match made in, well, heaven. The two work together so seamlessly, I haven’t had to learn how to do anything. Apple and Microsoft may not be showing signs of worry, but let me advise you to try an Android device running Sense. Just for a few weeks. Methinks you won’t want to go back.
HTC developed the Sense UI specifically for HTC Android phones and they really did a smash-up job. With seven screens on the touch-friendly homepage, and fully customizable options on everything you can think of, the Sense UI is as close to perfection as a mobile phone interface can get. Though flicking through the screens has a bit of lag, we presume there will soon be a firmware update to correct this. Beyond that, there really are not any major complaints for the HTC Hero. Sense, well, makes sense. You don’t need any tutorials on how to use it. You can go to one contact and check their latest Facebook updates, Tweets, emails to you, and complete text and call history—all without jumping in and out of programs. You can set one of your 7 home screens to your Twitter feed, another to your email client, and yet another to your Facebook if you’d like. I spent nearly an entire day setting up different scenes for the Hero – one for work, one for play, and one for my upcoming vacation to Colorado. It’s a great overlay and makes Android tick.
The browser works well and flash integration is nice. Pages load a bit slowly, but once loaded, you can switch from portrait to landscape pretty quickly, thanks to a decent accelerometer. Once loaded, pages are already zoomed in. We would prefer if they were zoomed out a bit, however; you can zoom out and in as needed really easily. Also, for longer pages, you won’t get the check boxes if you scroll too quickly. The phone is able to keep up with you nicely, no matter how quickly you read.
So, how about call quality? This is after all, a phone, though we seem to forget since we spend more time emailing, IM’ing, and text-messaging each other these days. You’ll be glad to know the sound is good on both ends of the call. I found myself raising and lowering the volume from call to call sometimes, but that’s also dependent on the phone at the other end of the call. I like the clarity the Hero provides on calls and during testing, I received no complaints whatsoever. Perhaps the chin helps block wind noise from interfering with the microphone, though I’m not positive about that. It seems to make sense though. Testing the phone on a busy and windy street, my callers heard some noise but heard me clearly—a major win for the Hero since, as a mobile communicator, function number one should be as a phone.
The speakerphone works well, though I did receive complaints of fuzzy background noise over-taking my voice when walking down a windy San Francisco street. I felt the speaker was loud enough for me on a busy street if I increased the volume on my end. For playing music, I would recommend using headphones instead of playing music through the speaker as it sounded a bit tinny and distant. Who plays music aloud through the phone anyway? My old LG Voyager played music like a beast, but I’ve yet to find another phone that doubles as a boom box. I much prefer my Bluetooth headphones anyway. I tested with the now discontinued Plantronics Pulsar 590 as well as the Jabra BT8010 with excellent results.
Speaking of Bluetooth, I tested the HTC Hero with both a Jawbone Prime and a Plantronics Discovery 925. The phone pairs up easily and quickly, with no snags to speak of. Sound quality was superb on both Bluetooth headsets.
Though the Hero camera comes without a flash feature, we find the 5MP camera takes great pictures in good light. “Good light” are the operative words in that sentence, and for most of our pictures, it seemed that outdoor light works best for the Hero. Before taking pictures indoors, you may want to open up every curtain and turn on every light in your room. Just a suggestion: HTC engineers, perhaps include a flash on the next 5MP camera you give us?
The camcorder is of the same quality as far as lighting is concerned. It records video in 352x288 resolution, and performed a bit sluggishly, recording video with a choppy lag that almost made me dizzy at times. It works better if you hold the phone completely still, but I’m no steady-hand and that was a bit difficult for me. If you’re an artist or magician, you shouldn’t have any problems taking quality video though.
The battery on the HTC Hero is a rechargeable Lithium-ion with a capacity of 1350 mAh. Talk time is listed as up to 420 minutes (WCDMA) and up to 470 minutes (GSM), with standby time of up to 750 hours (WCDMA) and up to 440 hours (GSM). This, of course, is subject to network and phone usage. We have to say the battery runs pretty well and lasted for a full day’s charge during our testing, though to be sure, we’ll want to test the Hero on a US 3G network.
I’m going to be sad to see this phone off. I may have to come up with some outlandish story of how the FedEx driver kept the phone for himself. If only US carriers would hurry and get the HTC Hero, I wouldn’t be tempted to break the law and keep the Hero all to myself.
Kudos to HTC on designing a wonderful device with an excellent overlay in the Sense UI that pairs up perfectly with Google’s Android OS. Ego and pride may prevent Microsoft and Apple from considering Google a contender in the OS market, but they should probably set aside their bravado and pick up an Android device to steal some ideas from the HTC Hero for their upcoming phone releases. Ah…competition.
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