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.
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