If you’re a Sprint customer tired of listening to your rapturous iPhone-owning buds rave about the device while waiting for a decent smartphone alternative to arrive on the network, rejoice – your wait is over. Sprint’s Android-powered Hero, made by HTC, isn’t perfect – in fact, the cellular handset’s often really sluggish – but it does offer several compelling reasons to buy. Think multi-touch pinch in/out resizing of photos and Web pages, plus Outlook sync – just like the iPhone. In addition, the device actually improves on Apple’s offering in several noteworthy ways, including a sharper 5MP camera, haptic feedback on its QWERTY keyboard and a microSD slot for expandable storage.
Features and Design
Coming across as super-sleek with its silver gray and black exterior and both smooth and rounded aesthetic, the Hero looks as cool and sophisticated as James Bond in a tux. As noted, it’s got a 5MP camera but no flash, WiFi connectivity and the usual spate of touchscreen Android/HTC endowments – including, finally, a 3.5mm headphone jack. Instead of all buttons being located under the screen, the usual Android Menu, Home, Search and Back controls are flat rocker panels surrounding the trackball. HTC has also added an enhanced Android-plus interface called HTC Sense, which adds a passel of personalization preferences as well as four extra home screen panels – plenty of room to display all manner of apps. But what you’ll really be excited to learn: The Hero’s touchscreen finger scrolling is every bit as smooth and fluid as that found on the iPhone.
Ports & Connectors
HTC insists on having a mini USB instead of the industry standard microUSB jack. But the manufacturer does offer a standard USB jack at the other end of the cable that connects to the AC transformer, an arrangement we applaud. Once connected to a Mac or PC, though, you have to tell the Hero that you want to “mount” the SD card to sync contacts or transfer media. We’ve encountered this with other so-called smartphones and can’t understand why an intelligent device doesn’t know when it’s connected. That said, the 3.5mm jack is found on the top, but the microSD card is located underneath the battery cover.
Both the music player and the Hero’s video capabilities are top-notch, and, in some ways, better than those found on the iPod. For instance, to browse your music queue forward or back, you simply swipe through albums while the song is playing. We couldn’t find any EQ choices, however. Nonetheless, the HTC Hero’s 3.2-inch screen is crisp and colorful and plays videos without a hitch or hiccup.
Call quality at both ends was fine, if a mite noisy. But HTC has cleverly combined the dialpad with your contact list and you can easily toggle from the scrollable list to the dialpad and back again. Importing your Outlook contacts and calendar is easy, although it put all of our Outlook 2003 contacts in alphabetical order by first name.
The Hero’s HTML browser always seem to frame articles in readable type within the borders of the screen, a trick not accomplished often enough by other phones. When you’re within range of 3G coverage, pages snap into view in three-to-five seconds.
Even though the 5MP imager gives you lots of quantity, the quality lacks. Parts of photos are sharp and other parts are fuzzy and out of focus, and tones seem to shift from shot to shot (see the two shots of the apartment building on the cliff). With no flash, it was nearly impossible to get a clear shot indoors.
When it goes on sale on Oct. 11, the HTC Hero could rescue Sprint – this is easily the best iPhone-like handset the carrier has ever had. But the handset’s biggest drawback is its sluggishness – it doesn’t react as instantaneously as other phones. Still, there are a treasure trove of enhanced operational gems buried inside just waiting to be joyfully discovered.
- HTC Sense Android OS
- Multi-touch interface
- Outlook contact/calendar sync
- Visual voicemail
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- 5MP photos often out of focus
- No flash
- Sluggish operation
- Confusing USB connectivity
- Short battery life (4 hrs. talk)