I’ve observed that people’s choice of mobile phones is largely associated with what they intend to use it for. My wife, for example, prefers the simple Nokia phones – she has four of them over the years. For her, its the ability to make calls and send SMS or text messages. My daughter is into SMS herself but wants the option to have a camera nearby. So she tends to favor her BlackBerry Curve.
However, the nature of consumer electronics is such that we don’t necessarily know what we are getting until we’ve made the purchase. Take my brother who bought a Samsung Omnia i800 last year. Today he uses it mostly to play Solitaire (an expensive toy if you ask me). As for me, I want a device that can (1) make reasonably good calls; (2) keep all my 2,300+ contacts on Outlook; (3) send SMS; (4) I don’t have to charge every day; (5) easily syncs with my Google calendar; and (6) browse the web (for those occasions when I want to check something quickly.
Arguably, Taiwan’s greatest contribution to the world is its engineering prowess. One company that exemplifies this is HTC. In my opinion, HTC has managed to successfully corner the OEM market for windows-based smartphones. In this review I will give my impression of the HTC Hero – one of HTC’s first ventures into the Android operating system. The Hero is not a new phone. It was first reviewed way back in October 2009. I’ve posted the comments of other reviewers at the end of this blog should you desire to read other people’s thoughts.
The Hero is not my first HTC phone. I bought a HTC Touch years ago and have tried my hand on the HTC Diamond as well. The Touch is my first failure in identifying a good phone for my personal use. Its best attribute was being slim. Its worst attributes were everything else.
Likewise I wasn’t too happy with the HTC Diamond. In fact I was pleased that when Diamond 2 came out, HTC did away with the uneven back plate of the previous model. It was just way too uncomfortable to hold and also annoying when stored in your pant pocket. While both phones were endowed with TouchFlo as a way of introducing us to an iPhone like experience, I found TouchFlo to be a pain in the neck to use. Together with the Windows mobile operating system TouchFlo simply made navigating the phone cumbersome. I attributed this to the choice of underpowered processors used in both models.
To say that the Hero comes from the same family as the Touch and Diamond is a sign that HTC is maturing as a manufacturer. Despite what I think is its mistake of using a less then powerful processor, the combination of Android 1.5 and HTC Sense gives consumers a near iPhone-like experience without the proprietary technology and design that is the hallmark of most Apple produced devices.
A consumer device is one that doesn’t require an engineering degree to make it work. This is the secret to the Apple iPhone’s success.
The first time I switched on the Hero, I thought I’d try my hand at learning how to use it without reading the manual. Make no mistake I do try and read the manual of most electronic devices I purchase if only to make sure I don’t accidentally break it the first time I take it out for a spin. With the Hero it didn’t take long before I realized that I do need the manual if only to find out how to put the phone to silent mode. I was also baffled why the screen would turn off and certainly I had a hard time figuring out the difference between the ‘home’ and the ‘menu’ buttons.
Thank goodness HTC elected not to use one of those shiny, onyx-black back panels. Product designers seem to think that consumers collect fingerprints for a past time. Do you know how many times I have to keep wiping my iPod’s shiny glass screen just so I can watch my favorite videos? The hero uses a plastic back plate coated with a pseudo-leather paint. This gives the phone a nice feel to the touch.
The Hero’s user interface called HTC Sense is responsive most times. Its a welcome improvement to the TouchFlo. I found most of the features easy to find. HTC Sense is the first customization of the Google Android OS.
WHAT I LIKE
The Hero form factor is great for people like me with small hands and even smaller pockets. Its a little shorter than the Google Nexus One so its great for those tight jeans that have small jean pockets.
I like the fact that the company use the stereo mini jack for the earpiece allowing you to use your favorite headsets for listening to music. Syncing with a bluetooth headset is a cinch. The phone comes with custom widgits from HTC and from Google. And if you aren’t happy with these, find a WiFi hotspot, get online and browse through the 10,000 apps for the phone, most of it being free.
The Hero can multitask relatively well as long as you keep the number of applications open to a handful. Still this is better than on the iPhone or iPad which doesn’t support multi-tasking at all.
I found it very easy to link to my google and hotmail accounts. Once linked and the phone senses a WiFi connection (I don’t have a GPRS service contract), my emails are automatically downloaded to the Hero and I get a notification that I’ve got mail. The speaker can be loud for such a small device. I love the rocker switch for the volumne control. I do find it annoying that it took me awhile to figure out how to mute the speaker.
The user interface has seven (7) pages which can be customized. This is great compared to the Nexus’ five (5).
With all the scare around security, HTC put the ability to use a 9-points pattern – stronger than the 4-digit codes that most phones have.
Browsing the web on the Hero is reasonably good even comparable to that of the iPhone. I read somewhere that the HTC supports Flash but I could not find a way to install Flash so I can actually watch some Flash-based animation.
Photos come out nicely on the screen. Unfortunately flicking through photos can be a slow process.
If you like the iPhone because its multi-touch, the HTC Hero supports two-finger multi-touch.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
For some reason, the 320×480 HVGA resolution isn’t sufficient to produce good quality video playback. In fact when you watch a video on youtube, pixels are obvious.
If I use the WiFi and listen to music, the drain on the battery is noticeable. I literally have to charge the phone everyday assuming a 10-hour operation.
The HTC has an auto-focus camera. To be honest I can’t believe this is a 5-MP camera. I tried taken photos in mildly lit areas and the camera was all but useless. If that is bad, the video is not even worth using.
I said that this is a multi-tasking device. But like all computers, its got limited memory – 512MB ROM and 288MB RAM to be precised. So there has to be an option to close programs. Unfortunately the is no simple button or combination of buttons like in Windows XP (CTRL-ALT-DEL) to close programs. It is: All Programs>Settings>Applications>Manage Applications. The option is to install a free app like “Task Killer”.
One of Apple’s best quality is that it offers customers the ability to upgrade the operating system on their iPhones and iPod Touch (of course for a fee, but its still possible). With HTC, this remains an illusive dream. There is rumor that HTC will allow Hero customres to upgrade the Android OS from 1.5 to 2.x. So far, HTC has not confirmed or denied this. So the verdict is still out on this.
If there is one thing that surprised me in the HTC Hero is the use of the trackball. My first experience with the tiny trackball is on the BlackBerry 8900 and later the BlackBerry flips. If there is ever any achilles heal, it is this. I’ve had the trackball lock up on my 8900 several times already. I was told that dirt can eventually get through and cause the thing to stop working. I’d expect the same to happen on the Hero. I just hope it happens to you while the phone is still on warranty.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
The HTC Hero’s choice of Android OS means this phone is designed for Web addicts. When connected, you can Tweet to your heart’s content. If you are more of a FaceBook afionado, the HTC Hero doesn’t disappoint. Synching to your Google calendar, contacts and mail is as easy. The ease of setting up is nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
Google is possibly the first serious contender to the iPhone in terms of applications. The good news is that the Android SDK is free. The bad news is Google has been less than proactive in marketing the Nexus and as such the Android OS. Perhaps Google doesn’t want to alienate handset manufacturers that want to get off the Windows or Symbian bandwagon. But then again, someone has to push the development of the Android App community if the OS is to become a truly serious contender to Apple.
Apple knows this too well. Why do you think they erased the word “Android” off the iTunes description? In another sign of Apple paranoia (and dare I say anti-competition), Apple dropped Google Voice from the its App Store.
An ongoing observation I’ve had with HTC is that it produces phones that appear to be underpowered. You got a phone that on spec should deliver great experience but when you start using it, the mediocre performance is disappointing at best. The Hero dispells that observation most of the time.
I was hesitant to test the Hero the first time the idea was raised. I had these pre-built assumptions about the Hero from my history with Touch and Diamond. I am pleased to say that the HTC Hero has dispelled most of my concerns about the phone and its manufacturers. It would still be nice though to offer customers the chance to upgrade the OS – afterall, its not a proprietary OS like previous generations of HTC phones. So why force customers to buy new phones just to get an upgrade on the OS.
Learn from Apple. If the next iteration of the HTC Hero is reasonably good, people will upgrade.
Processor Qualcomm® MSM7200A™, 528 MHz
Operating System Android™
Memory ROM: 512 MB
RAM: 288 MB
Dimensions (LxWxT) 112 x 56.2 x 14.35 mm ( 4.41 x 2.21 x 0.57 inches)
Weight 135 grams ( 4.76 ounces) with battery
Display 3.2-inch TFT-LCD touch-sensitive screen with 320×480 HVGA resolution
Network HSPA/WCDMA: 900/2100 MHz
Up to 2 Mbps up-link and 7.2 Mbps down-link speeds
Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
(Band frequency and data speed are operator dependent.)
Device Control Trackball with Enter button
GPS Internal GPS antenna
Connectivity Bluetooth® 2.0 with Enhanced Data Rate and A2DP for wireless stereo headsets
Wi-Fi®: IEEE 802.11 b/g
HTC ExtUSB™ (11-pin mini-USB 2.0 and audio jack in one)
3.5 mm audio jack
Camera 5.0 megapixel color camera with auto focus
Audio supported formats MP3, AAC(AAC, AAC+, AAC-LC), AMR-NB, WAV, MIDI and Windows Media®
Video supported formats MPEG-4, H.263, H.264 and Windows Media® Video 9
Battery Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery
Capacity: 1350 mAh
Up to 420 minutes for WCDMA
Up to 470 minutes for GSM
Up to 750 hours for WCDMA
Up to 440 hours for GSM
(The above are subject to network and phone usage.)
Expansion Slot microSD™ memory card (SD 2.0 compatible)
AC Adapter Voltage range/frequency: 100 ~ 240V AC, 50/60 Hz
DC output: 5V and 1A
Special Features G-sensor