Sprint passed up the HTC G1 and also allowed T-Mobile sole status with the myTouch 3G. Not so with the HTC Hero, complete with the HTC Sense UI overlay on top of Google’s constantly improving Android OS. I’ve had the Sprint HTC Hero in hand for a week now and it’s time for a detailed review.
The HTC Hero will be released on the Sprint Network on October 11th and will be Sprint’s first Android offering to its customers. Since the Hero isn’t a Google-branded device, HTC was able to add its sophisticated and simply beautiful Sense user interface on top of the Android OS to add personalization options galore to an already highly customizable device.
Others may complain the device is designed for “techies” and hard for Joe Six Pack to get used to; but in my opinion, the Sprint Hero, like the UK HTC Hero, doesn’t take a degree in rocket science (nay any degree at all) to figure out how to “make it yours” as HTC says. The beauty of HTC Sense, besides the aesthetic beauty of the overlay, is the intuitive nature that lets the user navigate the device with ease. Just play with the HTC Hero for a few hours and I’m betting even the smartphone beginner will be able to customize many options and screens on the handset. The best feature of HTC Sense, as said in my Sense UI review, is that no one has to teach you how to use it. Just pick up the handset and play with it. You’ll easily figure it out as you go. Did anyone teach you how to play with Transformers as a kid? Nope. You just played and it was fun. Same with the HTC Hero; pick it up and play and you’ll get the hang of it.
HTC Sense offers up 7 customizable home screen panels so you can access different HTC or Android widgets and place them right on any of the home screens, organized how you prefer. Included on the Sprint version of the HTC Hero like on the UK version is HTC Footprints, an app that allows you to add favorite locations and geotag photos so that the app can help you remember places you liked visiting; whether it’s a store you shopped at or a restaurant you enjoyed eating at. It’s a neat feature once you get started with it, especially if you’re a super mobile kind of person, always traveling hither and thither.
In addition to your many home screens and options for customizing those screens, you’ve even got HTC Scenes, which lets you alter the theme of the phone for different situations. For instance, you could set up a work theme or “scene” with work contacts, appointments, stock quotes, etc. You could then set up a home scene with a picture of your baby (or cat, in my case) as your wallpaper and personal Facebook and Twitter apps on the front page, along with your hometown’s weather. If you’re like me, you like to go camping often to get away from it all, so I’d have a Lake Tahoe scene on my Hero with no social networking apps whatsoever, Lake Tahoe weather, and a beautiful picture of the lake as my wallpaper. Imagine the freedom. To do this, hit the menu button and select Scenes from the options. It’s really easy. I’m sure I didn’t even have to tell you how to do that, so I’ll stop there. Just remember, when in doubt, hit the menu button to find out what you can do in each screen.
Beneath the HTC Sense is Google’s Android 1.5 Cupcake, complete with a host of Google offerings like Google Maps, Mail and Calendar, along with a clock, calculator, PDF viewer, Facebook and Twitter widget (called Peep). You also get access to the Android Market complete with 8,000 apps to choose from. One downside is that you won’t have the ability to save apps to a microSD memory card, so be choosy with your downloads.
Along with the HTC and Android apps included on the Hero, Sprint serves up some of their usual fare including NFL Mobile Live, Nascar Sprint Cup Mobile, and Sprint Navigation, all in the Simply Everything plan.
The Sprint HTC Hero measures 4.5” x 2.2” x .5” and weighs in at 4.5 ounces. It’s equipped with a 3.2-inch 320x480 pixel resolution capacitive touchscreen displaying 65K colors. Running on Google Android 1.5 Cupcake and Qualcomm processor 528 MHz MSM7201A with 288MB RAM and 512 ROM, the Hero is speedy enough that we found it difficult to complain. Storage-wise, you can use up to a 16GB microSD card. Talk-time is listed as up to 4 hours with 440 hours of standby time. The camera on the Hero is a 5MP with autofocus and there is a welcomed 3.5mm jack for your audio pleasure.
Taking a look at the HTC Hero from Sprint, it’s decidedly different-looking than the original HTC Hero. It’s smaller and chin-less, and a matte gunmetal grey instead of the recognizable white of the original Hero. Even those who claim to hate the new design are probably exaggerating that point, however. Sprint shaved off the chin and rounded the edges, but once you start it up it’s definitely a Hero. The phone fits nicely in your hand and has a smooth, not slippery backing. It’s lightweight and besides the hTC and Sprint logos on the front of the phone, there is very little else to look at but the sweet display and the buttons at the bottom are roomy but pretty flush. There isn’t anything in the design that makes you scream “why?!”, so color and angular preferences aside, it’s a very well designed phone.
On the front of the phone the 3.2-inch screen is surrounded by black with the hTC and Sprint logos up top. Just above that is the speaker with an LED light for signaling missed calls, messages and charging status. Tilt the device to view the top of the phone and you’ll see the 3.5mm audio jack. Below the black rectangular ring are the usual Android buttons, but on the Sprint Hero these buttons blend into the device more than on the original. Starting at the left, there’s a call answer/send button, then a menu button above the Home button. In the center is a bigger trackball than on the first Hero, which makes it easier to scroll around the screen as needed. Below the trackball is the microphone. To the right of the trackball is a search button above a back button and at the far right is a call end/reject button that doubles as the power button. Tilt the device to look at the bottom of the phone and you’ll see the extUSB charging jack. On the left side of the device is a nearly flush volume rocker and the right side is bare, but you will notice a slender chrome ring running 2/3 of the way around the device, missing the top of the device, but meeting the charging jack. On the back of the device is the 5.0MP camera lens with a speaker to the left of the lens.
Removing the back cover is a snap and it isn’t flimsy at all. You’ll see the 1500 mAh Li-Ion battery and at the bottom right of the battery slot is the microSD card. So, you’ll have to remove the back cover to reach the memory card slot, but you won’t have to remove the battery itself which is good. You’ll notice the back cover is also very easy to snap back into place and you’re confident that it’s on securely thanks to a definitive snapping sound.
If you had a chance to use the first HTC Hero, you’ll be well prepared for the keyboard. I admit, it took me a few days of use to be completely used to the first Hero’s keyboard; but like I said, this new Hero is really a cinch since I’m already used to it. Portrait mode is a bit small, but I had no trouble with it. Landscape seems even roomy after playing with the first Hero and myTouch 3G back to back. The keyboard may not be designed for Shaq’s hands, but I’m guessing that you’ll do just fine. You can turn off the haptic feedback if you’d like, though I much prefer it. If you really have trouble typing on the Hero, you’ll be glad to know that the word prediction and auto correction features are both very nicely done.
The display screen on the HTC Hero is a 480x320 capacative touchscreen with a built-in light sensor that works automatically to adjust the brightness and even in bright sunlight I was able to at least see what I was doing on the phone enough to make a call, which isn’t true with some phones. The accelerometer functions very nicely, without much lag-time when working in the web browser. It also works for photos and email. It’s a capacitive screen so it will respond to your finger’s touch and not your nail or a normal stylus. We found the screen very responsive to the touch and swipe of a finger. The Hero also comes with multitouch which works very well in the web browser to zoom in and out. Another note about the browser is the rendering, which is really great. I scrolled through pages as fast as I could to see if I’d get boxes or lag, to no avail. The browser kept up with me the whole time and the display was simply gorgeous.
We tested the phone’s performance looking for lag and sluggishness and didn’t find much fault. Screens are quickly loaded and the browser gave us no trouble except for a few times when Flash content wouldn’t load properly. Overall, performance is better than the original Hero and we didn’t notice any lag to write home about.
The Android web browser performs nicely as well on Wi-Fi and Sprint’s EV-DO Rev. A network. We loaded HTCPedia in 6 seconds and were able to open multiple windows. You can copy/paste and save visual bookmarks as well. It’s nice that you can share sites via email, Facebook, Twitter or text message.
Call quality on the HTC Hero was good, though not perfect. I actually think the first Hero’s chin may have helped block out some background noise so your callers don’t hear the wind around you if you’re outdoors. Since that is gone, my callers complained of noise in windy situations as well as loud situations. Indoor calls were handled nicely, with our voices sounding “normal” and our callers sounding rich and natural. The speaker also gave up some sound quality with background noise on both ends of calls when outdoors in windy situations, however; with no wind around the speaker performed quite nicely outdoors.
I paired the HTC Hero with the Nokia BH-904 and Discovery 975 easily and experienced good call quality on both ends, but again in windy or loud situations I noticed a bit lower performance from phone to headset than I did when testing the headsets with the T-Mobile Touch Pro2 or the Verizon HTC Ozone.
We played music via headphones at the 3.5mm jack with great sound coming through the earbuds. The speaker was loud and not too tinny or bassy for hours of listening pleasure.
The HTC Hero has great messaging capabilities, able to sync with your Outlook email, contacts and calendar and you can even view attachments right from your Outlook. Special consideration is given to Gmail of course, however; you can also set up Yahoo, Windows or AOL mail and Instant messaging clients as well.
The camera performed only on a mediocre level, especially with a 5 megapixel camera with autofocus. Pictures still came out blurry and color-drained for the most part. The lag on the shutter was frustrating, especially when taking pictures of children or other things that move, even a rosebush on a breezy day was difficult to photograph.
GPS was quite nice on the Sprint HTC Hero and was able to find me in Fremont, California in no time – a few minutes, really. It tracked me as I moved about town easily.
The Hero comes with a 1500mAh LI-Ion battery and is rated with a talk time of just 4 hours. On a full charge, I tested this at 5 hours and 35 minutes. You can turn GPS off unless you are in a situation where you’ll be needing it to increase battery life. During testing, I got nearly a day’s charge, though checking email, Twitter and Facebook often will drain your battery more quickly.
Included in the box are the phone itself, the standard Lithium Ion Battery, AC phone charger, USB sync cable, microSD memory card, get started guide, features guide, basics guide, terms & conditions of services, and a wireless recycling envelope.
Overall, the Sprint HTC Hero is an excellent addition to the Sprint line up. Another carrier in America to offer an Android phone is a big deal, especially when it’s currently the best Android smartphone on the market. With the changes to performance and the beautiful HTC Sense UI on top of the already highly customizable Google Android OS, the Sprint Hero would certainly be a phone I’d recommend to someone interested in trying out Android.
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