December 22, 2014

Sprint HTC Hero Review: HTC Sense is the Icing On Top of the Android Cake

IMG_1965My Background

Being that this is my first piece for AndroidGuy.com, I want to give you, the readers, some insight into my background so that you may interpret this review accordingly.  I’m 23 years old and I’m currently in my second year of law school. I love all kinds of gadgets, and I am, like everyone, biased. I use Apple computers, I think plasma televisions are unquestionably superior to LCDs, I prefer Canon cameras, and I recently have decided that I loathe BlackBerry phones. Oh, and I think that Jay Cutler has been blessed with a golden arm of the Gods. That being said, I am more than willing to admit when a product is, in fact, a good product. For more on my history and past phone experience, you can check that out over here.  What follows is a narration of my love affair with the HTC Hero.

The First Hour

The first thing I noticed when I picked up the phone was how nice it felt in my hand. Actually, the first thing I noticed was that the guy who was setting up my phone at Best Buy had very long fingernails, and I was concerned that he was going to scratch my phone. Nevertheless, the combination of the phone’s weight and soft-touch coating make handling the phone an enjoyable experience. In addition, the size of the phone itself seems perfect. It fits very well in my hand.

The next thing that stood out to me was that the 3.2” screen on the phone is smaller than I thought it would be. It is not small, per se, but it is noticeably smaller than the 3.5” screen on the iPhone/iPod Touch. This is not necessarily a bad thing – just an observation. It also makes me wonder how uncomfortable will it be to hold the HTC HD2 and it’s 4.3″ screen. The screen is gorgeous, just like the screen on the Pre and iPhone. It’s very crisp, and the colors seem to pop out at you. Currently, my screen protector dulls the color a bit, but I am looking into other options.

The backlight behind the buttons is great. I consider it to be a small detail that adds to the overall quality of the phone. Speaking of small details, the backlight on a certain phone doesn’t evenly light all of the keys (cough, BlackBerry Curve 8520, cough), and I think it makes the phone look cheap. Rest assured, the backlight behind the buttons on the Hero work perfectly and is very bright. Consequently, the phone looks beautiful in the dark. There are some other styling cues that I really like; the black menu bar and menu background are a nice touch that aid in further distinguishing the Hero from the G1 and MyTouch 3G. In my opinion, the darker styling the Hero’s version of Android is more aesthetically pleasing than the cartoon-like white menu bar on previous Android devices. When taking into consideration my above-metioned observations, it is easy to see why the Hero made a great first impression.

The Weekend Getaway

Today is Friday, and I am in the process of celebrating my one week anniversary with my HTC Hero (we’re going on a picnic). The battery is great. It should be broken in at this point, and it has peformed admirably thus far. I am generally out the door by 9 a.m. and is used heavily in between classes, but not during. The battery lasts until I connect the phone to the charger at around 10 p.m., so it’s clear that the 1500mAh battery can hold its own. My Pre, on the other hand, would be on empty by 1 p.m.

As the week progressed, I became more familiar with the Hero and the intricacies of Android. I have created WI-Fi and GPS shortcuts on my home screen, which I think is extremely convenient. I love being able to turn Wi-Fi on or off with the flip of a switch. One thing that I always found annoying about the iPhone/iPod Touch is that you have to access the settings submenus to turn Wi-Fi on or off. I have played around a bit with different layouts for my screens and finally settled on what I feel is a good layout. I also discovered that there are two different Google search widgets, one developed by Google, and the other by HTC. Both widgets display three results whenever you enter text into the search box, but the HTC Google search widget doesn’t cut-off the bottom result. Ergo, I’ve decided to replace the standard Google search widget with HTC’s version. I also have a task manager on my main screen. I wish I had “I Dream of Genie” powers and could use them to quit out of applications by folding my arms, closing my eyes, and nodding my head. Regrettably, I don’t have those powers, so I’m hoping one of Google’s all-powerful super geniuses will find a way to make applications stop running when you close out of them. It’s a difficult task, I know, but I have faith.

It’s fairly easy to distinguish the Hero from the two existing Android handsets on T-Mobile. I’ve had some experience with both the G1 and the MyTouch 3G, and it’s clear that the Hero benefits from it 288MB of RAM. What sets the Hero apart from the rest of the pack is the device’s build quality. The MyTouch 3G feels as if it’s made from cheap plastic The Hero benefits from its soft-touch coating and oleophobic (smudge resistant) screen, which is glass, not plastic. Most importantly, and I would really like to emphasize this, the Hero is the first Android device to natively support multi-touch. With multi-touch, web browsing is easier, typing is more accurate and responsive, and viewing photos and other web-based media is a more enjoyable experience. There is simply no arguing that the Hero is the best Android device to date. However, with the looming release of the unsightly, but well-equipped, Samsung Moment, I am beginning to wish the Hero came with an 800MHz ARM 11 processor and not the 528MHz Qualcomm CPU that was considered old a year ago.

Final Thoughts

The HTC Hero is a great device. The build quality is truly impressive. It doesn’t feel cheap and “plasticky” like the MyTouch 3G or BlackBerry phones. As a result, I am not scared to use the phone, which regrettably was the case when I owned the Pre. Now, Pre owners will argue that the “oreo effect” is normal and you shouldn’t concern yourself with it. Respectfully, I disagree; it was a big concern of mine. The Hero, unlike the Pre, doesn’t substantially rely on a single moving part, which is one reason why the iPhone has been so successful and why I was attracted to the Hero in the first place.
Something that I consider to be a design flaw is the placement of the ‘Home’ and ‘Back’ buttons. They sit very low on the device, and I don’t feel very comfortable pressing them while I’m operating the phone with one hand. Maybe it’s just me.

One of the most important realizations I’ve made in the last few days is that I would not necessarily recommend this phone to anyone who does not have a lot of experience with technology; more specifically, I would not recommend any Android device to any individual that isn’t tech savvy. This phone is not a device that the average person can pick up and become completely familiar with after only an hour of using it. Becoming familiar with this phone requires a lot of tinkering, dialing down into menus and submenus, etc. There is a large learning curve. Personally, I enjoy that aspect of it, but as I previously stated, I wouldn’t recommend this phone to everyone. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however. For this very reason, Android is attracting people who think the iPhone is too vanilla and want more customization out of their phone. To each his own. So far, I’m loving Android and the Hero. Hero, you’re my Hero for saving me from the terrible BlackBerry and it’s antiquated OS.

In the end, HTC Sense is incredible. It makes the phone fun to use, and it’s really quite helpful as well. With seven screens, it’s entirely possible that you will never need to enter the programs menu once you set up the phone to your liking. In fact, I’m going to go so far to say that HTC Sense is the reason why I purchased the Hero. Android was never very appealing to me. There was no multi-touch, the phones were bland, and I wasn’t ready to purchase a phone with a relatively new, open-source OS. HTC Sense has single-handedly changed my opinion of Android. I guess that means I’m not a purist, but at least I didn’t purchase an automatic Lamborghini Murcielago for my wife (cough, Kobe, cough).

Feats of Strength

  • The Hero is one of the best devices on the market in terms of its build quality.
  • HTC Sense is equivalent to plastic surgery for Android. Not only is the OS more attractive, but it is more functional as well.
  • The phone comes with Wi-Fi (in your face $199 BlackBerry Tour).
  • The phone doesn’t have a stupid name like the MyTouch 3G (no offense MyTouch 3G owners).
  • The soft-touch coating makes the device a pleasure to hold and, in my opinion, makes a case unnecessary.
  • HTC’s customization of the device goes beyond HTC Sense, i.e. the keyboard is HTC’s creation and it’s easier to use.
  • The addition of multi-touch is a welcome addition that remedies an inherent disadvantage of the G1 and MyTouch 3G.
  • There is more room below the actual screen, which makes finger swipes directed at the bottom of the screen a bit more responsive.

Airing of Grievances

  • When trying to pull down the notification bar, I often end up moving the clock at the top of the screen. This is pretty annoying.
  • I can’t quit out of applications without a task manager. Really?
  • Deleting an email on my phone also results in deletion of said email on my gmail account. I don’t want that to happen, and I’m trying to figure out how to prevent it from happening.
  • Honestly, why do I have to use a task manager to close applications?
  • Why didn’t Sprint just slap their logo on the European Hero? The GSM version looks so good.
  • The Hero does lag a bit from time to time.
  • “HTC Innovation” is missing from the side of the phone. I’m disappointed by that. I thought it was a nice touch.
  • I wish Sprint and HTC would have left one of their decals off the front of the device. It’s too busy. “HTC” on the front above the screen and “Sprint with Google” on the back would have worked well.


  • Kyle

    For all of you Seinfield lovers out there, the Hero is yet another Festivus miracle!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Raphaels Raphaels

    "Deleting an email on my phone also results in deletion of said email on my gmail account. I don’t want that to happen, and I’m trying to figure out how to prevent it from happening."
    Assuming that you are using the (best solution) Google Mail app (not the HTC Mail) for your gmail this is a normal behavior… Using it would be exactly like using gmail from a browser, you delete an email I'll go in the Trash for 30 days.

    • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

      This is normal behavior indeed. I had never really read my email on the Gmail.com website (I've always used Outlook or the like), and I prefer a POP3 setup.

      Seems like "archive" is the solution to my problem.

  • Eric H.

    "Deleting an email on my phone also results in deletion of said email on my gmail account. I don’t want that to happen, and I’m trying to figure out how to prevent it from happening."

    Are your serious? This is the intended functionality and I would in fact be quite bothered if deleting it from my phone did not delete it from my gmail account. If you do not want the email to appear in your inbox so that you don't have to delete it a far better solution would be to select "Archive" instead of "Delete".

  • Roger D

    How in the world is your Pre out the door at 9am and dead by 1pm? You need to return it, as it is obviously defective… Mine lasts all day, in spotty coverage, with the WiFi and Bluetooth recievers on (I'm too lazy to turn them on off as I use them).

    • Kyle

      Rodger,

      I don't know what to tell you. I wasn't an early adopter, per se, as I purchased the Pre at the end of July. After purchasing the phone, I let the battery run all the way down, then charged the phone and ran the battery down again. I repeated that process three times.

      I am a fairly heavy user. I text and email quite a bit, and I use Twitter fairly often. By about 1 p.m., the phone would say I had 10% battery life. In the beginning, I was unsure whether or not that was accurate, but sure enough, if I kept using it, it would be dead within 15 minutes. Therefore, during the last three weeks of owning the Pre, I was careful not to use it, which was very aggravating as it defeated the intrinsic purpose of any cell phone.

      If it is any consolation, I think webOS is an incredible operating system. It was a pleasure to use. Additionally, the Pre is a gorgeous phone. I think it is much better looking than Sprint's version of the Hero. The build quality left something to be desired, however.

    • schlock

      I agree with the author as well. The battery is poor and the build quality of the Pre is horrible. The OS is cool but if the hardware is weak and the battery runs down then that's not good. I have the pre and I on this site exploring my options.

  • Kyle

    "Are your serious? This is the intended functionality and I would in fact be quite bothered if deleting it from my phone did not delete it from my gmail account. If you do not want the email to appear in your inbox so that you don't have to delete it a far better solution would be to select "Archive" instead of "Delete"."

    I wrote this article about a week ago, and discovered "archive" shortly after that.

    My reasoning for the comment was this: I wanted to be able to read/glance at emails on my phone and delete them if I so choose. I never really used the Gmail website, but I have since learned that selecting "archive" is the solution. I guess I was used to having BlackBerry phones operating on BIS. Thanks, Eric.

  • http://twitter.com/brandon @brandon

    yeah I thought you were joking at first.. Gmail archive took a little while to get used to, but now it's great. Out of sight, out of mind (but still searchable). That said, I get waaay more emails that I just want to delete straight away – I bet most of the time I open gmail on my phone it's to delete than anything else.

    Good review. I find a bit of lag sometimes and I feel the same way about having to kill apps. I run advanced task manager and have become accustomed to killing everything that's not in my ignore list every time I exit an app.

    Some other issues I've come across: sense SMS app keeping the dialer from letting the phone sleep and not being able to send MMS while connected to WiFi.

    • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

      Thanks, Brandon!

      I also used Advanced Task Killer. The phone is really snappy when I'm above 50MB of free space (generally, I try to keep it above 80MB), but I agree it's annoying that you have to manage this on your own.

      Regarding the SMS app, I was fortunate and never had that problem. There are, however, are a few fixes out there right now. Check out these links, and if they don't help, let me know:

      http://www.sprintusers.com/forum/showthread.php?t

      http://www.sprintusers.com/forum/showthread.php?t

      • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

        I meant to say "Advanced Task Manager."

        • Chris

          Can you explain the difference between "Advanced Task Manager" and "Advanced Task Killer"?They look like the similar apps except one costs 1 buck and the other costs 5. I'd rather not download both just to "test" it out. Let me know which one I should buy. The two things I want are the ability to auto-kill apps and possibly the ability to switch apps that are already open.

  • Feech

    Hey Kyle you can touch the black above the screen and get the notification shade to pull down, as far up as the Sprint badge and it will register. Hope that helps

    • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

      Thanks Feech.

      In theory, it works, but in practice, I find on occasion that the phone registers my attempt to pull down the notification bar as an attempt to remove the clock widget. I use my thumb mostly, which is obviously wider than my fingers, so that may be why this happens sometimes.

  • http://twitter.com/L2Wireless @L2Wireless
  • http://codeshogun.com/blog lordhong

    I have a Pre, and its battery life is miserable. I'm a light user on the Pre since I have a G1 as my main cellphone. That being said, Pre's battery will drain within 2/3 of the day WITHOUT any heavy use of email, sms, and/or twitter. I have GPS turned off, wifi off, bluetooth off, and no music apps opening. It simply goes dead around 7,8 PM. Very disappointing as I would like to use Pre more often.

    • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

      That is what I experienced, except as a heavy user, my Pre was running out of juice much earlier than that. That's why I felt it was necessary to write about it in my review.

  • http://blogs.myspace.com/mathiasbyproxy MathiasTCK

    Can't you close applications by simply hitting the back button repeatedly?

    • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

      When you do that, it will close out of the window, but the application still runs in the background, and therefore takes up memory.

      Go to the Android Market and search for a Task Manager that you like. I prefer Advanced Task Manager.

      • http://www.myspace.com/mkanninen Matt

        It's Android. A background activity takes very little memory, and that memory is reclaimed as needed.

        It is possible to write bad applications that hog resources when they aren't on the screen, but you probably want to just uninstall those.

  • eecmedarb

    I was going to write my own review and post on my blog. I am similar to you, in that this is a hobby but I have a full time career. However, after reading your review I feel like I would be making the same comments. I am an owner of the iPhone 3GS (plus all other earlier versions) and the Palm Pre. The WebOS was pretty neat but the phone is very similar to the iPhone. It does not allow for the customization like Android and HTC's Hero.

    • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

      We are all the same. Everyone at Engadget, Gizmodo, BoyGenius, AndroidGuys, etc. is opinionated and has a love of all things technology. The main difference between some of the larger blogs and smaller blogs is that, in the former, the writers work for the blog full-time.

      I hope you liked the review!

  • Chris

    Check out TaskPanel for a task manager, I've owned Advanced task Killer which is simple but has less utility then Task Panel

    Pros:

    1) Widget displaying Available Memory and Health
    2) Automatic task killer every 5, 15, or 30 min. Once you have a task running in the background, open Task Panel. Find the program you want to auto kill every 5 min. Long press on that app and click on "Add to Wanted list". This feature can be enabled when your memory is below 70, 50, or 30.
    3) Widget will tell you the next time it will auto kill your apps.

    Cons:

    1) Can easily kill apps by just tapping on the app. I like advanced task panels UI which checks off certain apps before you kill. You can easily kill the "sense" interface by mistake.

    • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

      Chris,

      Thanks for bringing TaskPanel to my attention. I like that you can have a list of tasks that will automatically be killed, but one-tap app-kills is something that will keep me from using the program.

      I think that the latest update of Advanced Task Manager, which is what I use, allows you to create a list of tasks that you can auto-kill. I'll look into the application further and see what other options are available.

      • Chris

        Let me know, I definitely would switch back to Advanced Task Manager if there is auto-kill function. The one thing about TaskPanel that is awesome is the Widget. Its clean and simple.

        • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

          I will.

          That's the other thing that irked me about TaskPanel. Having an extra widget bogs down the phone even more, which is the opposite of what I want a task manager to do. I want it to have as small of a footprint as possible.

  • Chris

    Also, I'd be interested in writing for this blog part time. I'm 23, work full time, database management, and one of my hobbies is reading all of these blogs (Engadget, Gizmodo, BoyGenius, AndroidGuys, Jkontherun). I own a Hero, left the Iphone 3G, and I know way too much about cell phones and technology. I annoy my friends sometimes. Let me know.

  • Chris

    Thanks, I hear about so many of the other blogs having part-time openings but you either have to be on the East Coast or West Coast. Do you write full time on AndroidGuys?

    I'm in Chicago as well, go bearshhh, go cutler.

    • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

      A Chicagoan!? Daaaa Bearsh! Frank Omiyale and I are going to have a problem if he keeps laying down on the field (same goes for Orlando Pace). Forte would have never fumbled on that pitch to the left at the goal line if Omiyale and Pace pulled like they were supposed to and blocked for him! I don't know why we don't put in Beekman and Shaffer.

      And I agree, it's tough that the major tech blogs are on the coasts. I'm also a big movie buff. I have a great contact in the film industry and I've considered moving out to L.A. after law school and working as an agent, but I realized that I don't ever plan on leaving Chicago. I love this city too much, especially the area where I live (Gold Coast). That being said, my goal is to help make this the #1 Android blog on the web.

      No, I am not a full-time writer for AndroidGuys. I am a full-time law student, but I plan on contributing a few times a week to AndroidGuys.com.

      • Chris

        This is definitely off topic… and I should be working….but…

        Sundays game was horrible. Too many mistakes by the O line. We need to invest in receivers and the O line. Forte needs to get his act together, he hasn't shown up this year. The O line might be at fault but his numbers have been horrible compared to last year. Where is the Bears running game? I read ATL gives up 5 yards per carry.

        Good luck with the career, sounds like you have a lot of different interests. I can understand why you don't want to leave chicago, I used to live in the Gold Coast. Chicago is a great city to live in.

        Good luck with AndroidGuys as well, I'll definitely be checking out the site and adding it to my list of blogs to check out.

        • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

          I have trouble placing the blame on Forte. A running back is only as good as his o-line. Take Larry Johnson and LaDanian Tomlinson for example. Both play behind terrible o-lines, and both are having terrible seasons. Denver, on the other hand, perennially has a good o-line, which is why anyone they put back there does well. The Bears o-line is abysmal, which is why Forte is met in the backfield by defenders every time he touches the ball. If he doesn't even have the opportunity to reach the line of scrimmage, how can he be expected to get positive yards?

          Thanks for the well-wishes! Check back often, and I promise to throw in some "I hate the Packers and Vikings" comments every now and then haha!

  • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

    I hope everyone enjoyed the review!

  • http://harp.org Harvey

    Kyle:

    Since you’re in law school, maybe you can tell me how adequately the phone can access legal websites, like leginfo.ca.gov or law.cornell.edu.

    What browsers are available? I’m a FF fan, but I understand Opera is big on phones. What do you use?

    Harvey

    • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

      As far as legal websites go, I only use Westlaw and LexisNexis, and that's only for briefs, memos, etc. Sometimes I use IICLE to find forms, but I can also find them on Westlaw and LexisNexis. I have never attempted to access them on my phone. Generally, I use the internet on my phone for ESPN, to track the bus routes and approximate arrival times, news, etc., but nothing as intensive as accessing the vast databases of Westlaw and the like.

      On my computer, I use Safari 4. It's fast, and works very well. If I used plug-ins, I'm sure I would use Firefox.

      I'll try pulling up the websites you mentioned on my Hero, and I'll post the results.

  • http://www.ubiquitous-software.com/ KCW

    Great Review!!!

  • http://twitter.com/taradinoc @taradinoc

    Android automatically kills old tasks, so don't worry about "quitting" everything when you're done with it. A task manager is a power-user tool for micromanagement, not a necessity.

    The Android philosophy is that starting and stopping tasks is a detail for the OS to worry about. You're using a phone, not a PC, so it presents the illusion that everything is always just a tap away. Shuffling apps in and out of memory to make that happen is the OS's job.

  • http://www.r4-ds-carta.it r4i

    While it could use a boost in the performance department, the HTC Hero is the most feature-packed Google Android device to date, bringing some notable improvements and a highly customizable interface.

  • logan

    love the new hero, can't think of one bad thing about it!! love the feel, the apps, the camera. it's awesome! bought one of gsmallover.com and another one off of ebay and so far it's my favorite phone so far. will definately keep this one and maybe get a touchhd2 as well.

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  • http://www.cyberlawfacts.com Cyber Law Facts

    thank you for the review and post. You have really good taste.

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    The use of android will be very helpful and useful for the majority because its effect is not ordinary and technology that was used is very relevant.

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  • Kyle Pozan

    That’s perfectly fine, Scott. Do what is necessary.