HTC Hero in review


I’m quite forward with my dislike of Apple. The Hardware itself is good…well most of the time anyway. I have a problems with the rest of the customer experience, I don’t like being wrapped in cotton wool. When the time came to get a new phone I decided to get an HTC, I’ve had three HTC handsets in the past for work and found the hardware to be good but the Windows Mobile operating system to be clunky at best. So this time around I chose an Android based Hero. I’ve long been a fan of open source software so I was intrigued to see how open the phone is.

Phone Hardware

The Phone itself is made with nice tactile materials, the white version has a Teflon coating which has kept my hero generally scratch free and has almost a waxy texture to it. The Champagne colour version has a more rubbery texture to it. The handset fits well in to your hand and the button layout is generally good however it could be said that the Search and Back buttons on the phones chin are best positioned for left handers.

The Hero was somewhat of a rarity for HTC in that it actually has a jack socket on the top for headsets however you can also use the mini USB socket in the bottom for USB headsets and both work in exactly the same in terms of quality.

The capacitative touch screen is bright, accurate and has a good depth of colour. As expected it does become rather smeary from the constant fingering however this wipes clean easily. As with most phone screens it does tend to look a little washed out when viewed in direct sunlight but you would be hard pressed to find a phone that doesn’t have this problem.

The Camera suffers slightly from HTCs normal camera problems in that it generally has quite a poor lens. It does well for general day to day snaps and videos however you wouldn’t want to replace a stand alone camera with it. It doesn’t deal very well with low light levels nor does it have a flash.

The Trackball is well positioned and generally a useful addition. It can be used for general movement and things like moving the cursor when writing messages as often fingers aren’t quite precise enough .

Android

Hero ships out of the factory with Android 1.5 (Cupcake) installed , however you can upgrade it either to a newer official firmware or a customised one. HTC have actually been extremely bad about communicating with their customers about the delays to the offical Android 2.1 (Eclair) update, although it did arrive about 6 months overdue. The original Android Cupcake build isn’t bad however it does get quite stodgy at times, lacked support for things like bluetooth file transfer and wasn’t always compatible with some of the newer applications. Rather than upgrade to the official Android Eclair build I chose to upgrade to a custom one called Chocolate Eclair.

To do this you can download the ROM image itself from
http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=723142

and install it by following this extremely straight forward guide
http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=645253

Thank you to the creators of those two posts and all those devoloping at XDA-developers.com

On HTC phones the standard Android OS has a few added features which nicely round off the phone for the social networking generation and the phone really comes alive when paired with your Google account.
All your contacts can be synced with your Google Account, they can also be tied to the persons facebook account which live syncing of things like Status updates, Contact pictures and even telephone numbers and addresses if the person has them on their facebook profile. In fact most of your Google account features syncronise with your phone in real time including calendars. This information can then be used by other Applications on the phone.

For example I could be on a trip to see my friend Sue , she has her address on her facebook profile (secured to her friends only of course). I don’t know how to get to Sue’s new house however I can open Google Maps on my Hero and use the new Sat Nav feature and just select my destination as Sue and it will workout the best route using the built in GPS whilst pulling in the map information from Google Maps.

The main addition from HTC to the Android OS is Sense UI. This gives you a Home Screen that is 7 screens wide, you can then drop Widgets on to these screens and scroll between the screens by swiping a finger left or right. You have a large amount of freedom to customise these screens to your hearts content. If you download applications from the android market place they may have additional widgets for you to drop on to your desktop. For Example if you download the non-offical BBC news application as well as the full application it also gives you a small ticker bar widget.

Away from your home screens your All Programs list can be set as either a grid or list listed in alphabetical order, there isn’t much customisation here however this can be excused given that you can set links to your favourite applications on the 7 home screens you have.

Following the theme of customisation you can easily import mp3 sound files to the phone to use as ring or message tones, in fact there are also applications for editing and cutting MP3 files directly on the phone. This is one area where Android excels over the iPhone, you have access to tinker about rather than play within the framework Apple allow you.

Conclusion

I’m very happy with my HTC Hero , I do have two complaints about HTC though. The first complaint is the massive amount of time it took for them to release android 2.1 in to the wild, especially the GSM version. The Second complaint is the sear speed at which HTC curn out new Handset Models, since I got my Hero, there has been the Tattoo (slightly lower spec) , Legend (slightly higher spec) , Wildfire (Slightly Higher Spec), Desire (much higher spec) , Nexus One (much higher spec) and soon the Evo (Highest Spec) . So at least 6 Android based phones in just over half a year. This makes Apples business model of a new evolutionary model every year seem slow paced.

So would i recommend the HTC Hero and HTC Android phones in general? Yes greatly so. Would I recommend them to everyone? No, they can be too in depth for many users. You have more flexibility but for many this is too much, they want something that “just works”. Due to this I think they won’t ever be the “iPhone Killer” but that is a good thing in my opinion.

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