HTC Hero Review

10
Introduction and Design
If you are interested in purchasing this device, please check our partners from Clove.co.uk

This is a global GSM phone
. It can be used with AT&T and T-Mobile USA but without 3G.

Introduction and design:

Once upon a time… That´s how fairy tales start, isn’t it? So, once upon a time there was a company, called Google that one day decided to embark on a valorous feat and develop an open source operating system that was to become known as Android. Seeing the opportunity it presented, several other players rushed in joining forces and things went well at last. Years slipped by when the G1 was finally released in 2008, the first handset to ever run the new operating system. The world patted the companies on the shoulder, muttered several words of approval, nicknamed the device “the ugly duckling” and went on waiting for the next mobile revolution to come to pass, because, even if the ugly duckling turns into a beautiful swan in the end, people tend to stick to superheroes, all powerful and invincible, coming to save the day. It’s… nature.

Now, the superhero has finally arrived. The HTC Hero doesn’t wear the Google´s logo on its head and features an interface that has been changed past recognition. The Hero supports multitouch and comes equipped with a browser that plays flash content. Another feature that caused a lot of stir at its official announcement is the Teflon coating that protects the phone from dirt and scratches. Actually, only the white color version comes covered with the material and fortunately, that´s exactly what we have in our hands.

The HTC Hero comes in a bag with the company’s logo, and in it there is an elongated, compact, white box of high quality and everything inside is neatly arranged. All the box lettering has been made using soy ink, which makes it eco-friendly and easier to recycle. Aside from the phone, what you also get is user guide, stereo headset, 2GB microSD card, USB and charger cable with socket adapter that varies depending on the region. You will immediately notice that all accessories are in showy white and we couldn’t help involuntarily associating it with Apple and their products.

The Cupertino-based company is famous for its ability to innovate and the unique view they have on the world in general. The roots of the Taiwanese-descended HTC are half the planet away, but the company also leaves its unique mark on every device they manufacture. The design of the HTC Hero makes for an illustrative example.

The handset looks quite dissimilar from the Palm Pre and iPhone that both stick to round, smooth shapes and much like the HTC Touch Diamond2 and its sharp edges. This doesn’t mean it´s not exceptionally good-looking to bits. The blend of a slanting back, chin jutted out in determination, overall size and weight makes the device comfortable to carry around and it fits your hand perfectly, because the phone is not as wide as the iPhone, coming at the expense of a smaller screen.



You can compare the HTC Hero with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The HTC Hero sports a 3.2-inch TFT screen that utilizes capacitive technology (you can read more about it here). Like all other Android-based cell phones to date, the display delivers HVGA native resolution (320x480 pixels) and awesome sensitivity, definitely at par with the iPhone. Although the overall image quality is above the average, it simply cannot compare to the AMOLED displays of Samsung-manufactured devices like the Galaxy, OMNIA HD and OmniaPRO B7610. Colors are less saturated and image not as sharp. It remains usable in direct sunlight, provided it´s not all covered in fingerprints. Similarly to the iPhone 3GS, the Hero features a special oleophobic coating that on one hand, contributes to curbing its affinity for finger marks and on the other, helps toward their easier removal.

Come to coatings, let´s talk about Teflon. This is something that we normally see on kitchen utensils like frying pans and it´s supposed to protect these from scratches and stains. We make bold to say it performs admirably here. During our tests, the HTC Hero had to endure a long travel by train, side to side with a silvery iPod Nano 2G. While the Apple´s product eventually ended up covered with black, unsightly blots and fingerprints, the smartphone retained it impeccably showy white appearance. Moreover, the coating provides nice cohesion, so the device won´t slip out of your hand even if it´s sweaty.

The back panel is easy to remove, without the ominous creaking and bending that´s so characteristic of the G1. This is good news indeed, because this is the only way to reach the microSD slot or the SIM card holder located under the 1,350 mAh battery.



Almost all hardware keys are located on the slightly protruding lower part of the handset, except for the volume rocker that´s on the left. Aside from send and end keys, you also have buttons to call up the home screen, the phone menu, back and search keys and a trackball. They all have small travel and size, but feel easy to press. Our only gripe regards the back and search buttons that are positioned a bit above where your index finger would normally fall and in our case, we had to bend our forefingers at an odd and slightly painful angle to be able to press them when holding the phone in the right hand. You won´t have any troubles if you´re used to operating your handset with your left hand though plus the jutting design element means the microphone gets closer to your mouth when you speak, which feels like using a normal phone receiver.

The miniUSB port is on bottom and the 3.5 mm jack on the top side of the phone. The latter is something that Android fans have wanted ever since the G1 rolled out, although it´s a bit odd that the opening is slightly at an angle, so the earphones jack doesn’t fit tightly to the phone body when plugged in. Well, it doesn’t seem to affect the functionality, so we won´t complain.



As a whole, the HTC Hero sports a different design and we like it quite a lot. The handset looks appealing and feels comfy to use plus it offers a decent solution to the problem that stains and fingerprints can sometimes be. We hope to see Teflon coatings become more widespread, because we do like devices in light colors, except when they get dirty after being used for several minutes.

HTC Hero 360 Degrees View:




Interface:

Actually, interface is the most attractive feature of the HTC Hero. Being the world´s first personalized Android device, its major task is to showcase how the flexibility and comfort the system offers. The level of personalization is quite deep indeed. Why? How come? Read on and you will find out.

One of the first things you will face is the standyby screen. Unlocking the handset is as easy as sliding a finger downwards, although you can do it with the menu button below the screen. The music player can be controlled from here if it´s running, which is quite nice an option.



The home screen… or rather, the home screens are what the interface, called Sense, is all about. There are seven and they are customizable beyond recognition through a variety of widgets - we do think the HTC Hero offers the best set of these to date. Aside from the standard active applications characteristic of Android like analog clock, calendar, search, shortcuts and folders, there are quite a few novelty apps developed by HTC. They are 20 in total with quite many coming in several varieties. Say, the clock has 12 different versions and some of them are quite eye-catchy indeed. Apart from lending variety to the interface, they might come in handy in certain situations due to their varying size on the screen, i.e. more widgets can be placed there at the same time.



The available themes make for another cool extra feature. They are called “Scenes” here and the phone comes preloaded with several, named HTC, Social (for social networks and contacts), Work (business related), Play (music and entertainment), Travel, Clean Slate (not tampered with, so you can customize everything) and Custom 1, plus you can save your own personalized versions. Unfortunately, there is no fast switching between modes like on the latest Nokia E-Series models or the Samsung OmniaPRO B7610. Also, you are not allowed to save a theme if system settings have been altered (say volume off and Wi-Fi on)



As a whole, the great diversity of widgets, along with the many home screens means you will probably forget about entering the programs menu. Handling the device is as easy as ABC and even people who have never touched an Android-powered smartphone before will feel at home in several minutes. Actually, the Sense interface to Android is like TouchFLO to Windows Mobile – it adds a wide variety of functions and makes them directly accessible via the home screen.

It is only good words that we can say about the software. It gets on quite well with the built-in accelerometer and the screen switches orientation with but a short delay. The manufacturer has added a lot of animated effects (can be turned off) that play smoothly and look great. Unfortunately, we´ve got a single, major gripe here, concerning the overall speed. With or without the animations on, there are considerable delays on opening certain applications. For an instance, loading the calendar for a first time after a hardware restart takes about 5-6 seconds and another 2 seconds when started for a second time before finally getting almost instantaneous at the third attempt. If you´re used to simpler Windows Mobile smartphones or LG devices running S-CLASS 3D, well, the delays might even go unnoticed, but alongside of the iPhone 3GS, Palm Pre and the greatest WM handsets, the lagging is far from that. We hope this is due to a software optimization issue that will be fixed by HTC with an update soon.

Another nice extra feature of the HTC Hero is its socially-related capabilities that are most evident in the…

Phonebook and Organizer:

Like any other Android-based device, the Hero stakes on flawless synchronization with Google. Should you happen to have a tidy Google account, you will be able to transfer all contacts and related details in seconds. Creating an entry on your phone feels very easy as well and aside from the mandatory data you need to fill in, like phone number, email, ringtone and group, you can also add date of birth, anniversary, IM account, postal address etc. There is also the option to redirect calls from certain contacts directly to your voice mail in case you don’t feel like talking to particular people at the time. Contact entries can be added to your favorites and assigned a quick dial number.



Have you noticed the two info boxes that you´re supposed to add Facebook and Flickr profile information? That´s the social network services functionality we were talking about. Basically, all it takes to transform your phonebook from a slightly boring app flecked with occasional pictures into a vibrant place that reflects your social experience on the Internet is some dedication and reasonable amount of effort. This will make phone contacts appear with the photos associated to their relevant social network accounts and they get altered the minute people change them. Of course, you can assign pictures of your own choice to any contact and see the online status of your buddies. In case the updates are too many, a small digit notifying you of the accurate count will pop up. Entering any contact, you can follow the call history, all emails and messages exchanged to date as well as all relevant contact updates and albums on Facebook and Flickr. It is really hard to describe how pleasing using the socially oriented phonebook feels.



Searching in it can be performed through either the dialing menu (by name or number) or the dedicated search button. Similarly to all self-respecting smartphones, the Hero filters results by both first and family names. Actually, the above mentioned button switches between functions depending on what menu you are in, say, you search in Google from the home screen, within your entries when in the phone contacts and in events and meetings from the calendar. Still, we would have liked to see a universal search function like on the iPhone or even better, similarly to the way it´s implemented on the Palm Pre.




The phone calendar is your major weapon to fight the confusing daily grind. It can be synchronized with Google and Outlook and blends information acquired from different sources. It allows daily, monthly and agenda views, with the latter showing only upcoming events. Creating an entry is easy and you have the option to mark it as a whole day event and set a recurrence pattern, plus the cool feature that add the weather forecast for the specific day.



The world clock, alarms, chronometer and timer are unified into a single, personalized menu that is accessible via the widget-based clock. Unfortunately, the nicely-looking globe where you can pick different cities available on Samsung models is missing here, but the overall functionality is pretty much the same. Setting specific times is done through as of late, all the rage rollers and there is no option to use an on-screen keyboard for that, although we need to say the latter is actually the faster and comfier of the two. Generally, Android suffers from an affliction called lack of integrated tasks application, but there are quite a few available on Android Market. We gave TooDo a go and found it great.



The list of organizer functions is complemented by a voice recording app that visualizes the sound strength on an eye-catchy scale and offers good functionality. The integrated calculator offers several complex things like finding square roots and calculating trigonometric functions.

Both weather forecast and Yahoo! Finance make for cool extra features and allow you to properly prepare for tomorrow, letting you know whether to bring along an umbrella if it´s going to rain or a rope if you´ve gone bust.






Messages:

An HTC device that´s not handy when it comes to messages and emails? There´s no such thing under the Sun and the Hero is no exception to the rule. SMS and MMS content is visualized in threaded style and creating a new message is just a click away. Email accounts are easy to deploy and you have automated settings for major service providers. Your inbox filters letters by different criteria, showing them in threaded style, by file attachments, alphabetically etc.



The only chat client that came preinstalled on our unit is Google Talk, but fortunately, Android Market is brimming with free, well-made applications like this, so we´ve lucked out. We are really happy to see that a Twitter client has been integrated and is showed as a separate widget. Micro blogging, along with Facebook, have been by far a superior source of information to CNN lately.


The screen keyboard of the HTC Hero is quite similar to the one that the Magic sports, with the major difference being all special symbols are visible all the time here and can be activated by touching and keeping your finger pressed against them for a while. All told, the overall implementation is pretty close to what the iPhone delivers, which currently constitutes the standard for screen keyboards, although due to the smaller display size, the Hero feels less comfy.

Touching the QWERTY keyboard buttons produces a mild vibration feedback, which makes for an easier text entry plus the entered letter shows above your finger, so you can see if you´ve made a mistake. If you need another letter, just keep you finger pressed against the screen for a while, then move it to the one of your choice. If you type in with the T9 turned on, a row of word suggestions appears above the keyboard and all it takes to correct mistakes or add words to the dictionary is a simple touch with your finger.

Typing away using landscape and portrait mode keyboard feels really easy. The first allows for more space and is handier for two-handed entry, although the small size of the letters limits your speed. The situation is actually better than with the Crystal GD900, but still, typing feels pretty much the same. There are three different portrait modes available – a full and compact QWERTY keyboards plus standard phone keypad. Letters on the second are arranged in pretty much the same way as on the full QWERTY, but each key is assigned two letters and this is your best option when it comes to typing away with one hand.



Connectivity:

The HTC Hero is a quad-band GSM, working at 7.2Mbps download and 2Mbps upload speeds. Our test unit is European version and runs on 900 and 2100MHz 3G networks. The rumor has it that a CDMA version is coming out on Sprint in the US. Moreover, the phone supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0.

Well, you must be burning with desire to find out how the browser stacks up against the competition and whether or not it´s the one and only to finally bring the all-mighty iPhone to its knees in terms of internet surfing. We, however, feel are being bad guys today and will first tell you about the last fishing trip of the uncle of one of our colleagues. All right, no more torturing, it´s time to get down to the browser implementation.

Wow, the browser… In reality, it´s not that dissimilar from the standard WebKit-based Android browser. HTC has just integrated multitouch functionality and Flash support. The end result is  a browser that is controlled by spanning and pinching, loads and visualizes pages perfectly, works pretty fast (although slower than the iPhone) and plays animations. There is this insignificant, tiny thing about it though.

Unfortunately, we´ve come by a large number of devices laying claims to deliver full Flash support lately. This is nice in general, but all of them proved to deliver limited functionality and the HTC Hero is not an exception. Flash content is quite a bite to chew for modern hardware. Videos stutter on the Hero and therefore the device is unable to deliver proper experience. What´s more, popular web sites like Vimeo fail to load and the music Flash player on MySpace just won´t work, which basically means the functionality is limited to YouTube browsing.


Despite the shortcoming, the HTC Hero deserves an A plus with that respect, because the app represents an evolutionary development, even if it´s slightly below par when compared to the iPhone browser, because it runs slower and tends to stutter at times.
 
Aside from Google, the Hero can be synced with Microsoft Exchange Server and normal PCs (via Outlook) with dedicated software, called HTC Sync. Unfortunately, it simply cannot synchronize multimedia content like iTunes.


Camera:

We do like the people at HTC and their penchant for innovative solutions when it comes to imaginative software and hardware design, but we would recommend that they attend a class or two on how to build proper cameras at Samsung. Can you see what we are driving at? Yes, the 5-megapixel camera of the HTC Hero is a major disappointment, from the lack of something as simple as flash, through the unhandy way of taking pictures with the trackball to the sluggish focusing that takes about 3 seconds and is the main reason behind the fact that half the snapshots come out blurry even in perfect lighting conditions. What a shame!

The available settings are decent, you can set the resolution, white balance, brightness, self-portrait, image quality, add geotagging and different effects. Modern features like face-detection and macro mode are missing.


Taking a passable picture is possible, erm, in good lighting conditions (best outdoors), if you have the steady hand of a seasoned sniper trooper and stationary object. If you are about to take a picture of your family and your young nephew darts off, shoot him… erm, we mean with the camera after politely insisting that he stands still if at all possible. Even in perfect conditions like these, the overall image quality is far from impressive – colors are worn out and fine details are somewhere else and not in the picture. As a whole, the result is pretty identical to what the HTC Touch Diamond2 delivers, which is quite logical really, since both devices utilize one and the same camera. The good thing is that after taking a picture, you can instantly share it via Facebook, Tweeter, Picasa, Google Mail, Flickr or a message/e-mail. Captured videos can be uploaded directly to YouTube.


Speaking of videos, the HTC Hero allows capturing videos with CIF resolution and not at QVGA like the Magic and G1 (after the Cupcake update). The overall quality is mediocre.

HTC Hero sample video at 352x288 pixels

Camera is certainly not among the most important aspects of a smartphone like the Hero, but we would have liked it much better if the phone had a decent one. The utmost attention to details is something we quite value with modern devices. The phone gallery of the Hero makes for an illustrative example. It allows access to the snapshots and pictures available on your device as well as those, uploaded by your online buddies on Facebook and Flickr, browsing feels comfortable plus handling the phone is really easy with the multitouch support. You can also share your images via a message/e-mail, as well as the popular social services (Facebook, Picasa, Flickr, Tweeter and Google Mail) directly from here. An option for uploading videos to YouTube is also present. Naturally, the feature needs an active internet connection.


“Footprints” is another option that makes use of the camera and along with the built-in GPS allows storing of information about specific places that you are impressed with, classified under different categories like restaurants, sight-seeing spots, shops etc.

Multimedia:

The HTC Hero sports a 3.5 mm jack and comes equipped with… Jeez, dude, take a look at these stunningly beautiful earphones… Wait, I´m taking the phone, I want to try them out. Sorry, but that was the reaction of one of our colleagues on seeing the snowy white headset with integrated remote control for the first time. While he´s preoccupied with them, we will tell you about the music player.


If you have ever seen the player that HTC provides with their Windows Mobile handsets, then you will get used to this one fairly easy. Audio content is filtered by relevant artist, album, genre, composer and whether or not the audio has been purchased. You can create your own playlists and handling all controls is easy. Album art is large and nicely visualized, but there are no effects or equalizer presets to fiddle with. The only complex option available is the built-in audio clipping to create ringtones easily. Quite cool, really.


Since the HTC Hero doesn’t sport an FM Radio, we had to use third party software for streaming audio. We highly recommend iMeem, because it features an option to search for similar artists and then plays the content you choose. The app works perfectly with all the rage bands, but is not as capable with audio that is less dominant in the charts. Still, there´s a free version and it comes pretty handy if you happen to be close to a Wi-Fi hotspot.


Now, let´s get back to the strikingly beautiful earphones. They are only for decoration. Sound through them is too sharp and you will have to turn down the volume to make things sound bearable, in which case however, you will end up being able to hear all environmental noises around you. A prolonged use may be hazardous to your health indeed, leading to conditions like severe headache or nose bleeding. Plugging in a pair with average quality improved our audio experience significantly and we could even relish some nice basses. Just remember, the sound going at full blast might damage your hearing in general, but this is a realistic option with the HTC Hero. By the way, similarly to the iPod, playback stops automatically when you remove the headset. The built-in loudspeaker is a bit weak, but delivers sound with passable quality.

Come to video playback, the capabilities of the HTC Hero are below par in terms of modern standards. The device supports MPEG4/H.264 and H.263 videos with maximum width of 640 pixels. The overall quality is quite good, but content tends to stutter at maximum resolution and we recommend that you stick to lower ones, say 320x480 pixels. The player itself is way too dated and you can´t even see the title of the file that´s being played. We tried Meridian Player and found out it brought some order the chaos, but failed to expand the video support to DivX and Xvid content. Fingers crossed the much anticipated version of Core Player for Android rolls out soon.



Software and GPS:

Even though the HTC Hero is not branded as a Google device, the only software for navigation that comes preloaded is Google Maps. The Android version of the app has been recently revamped and now features nice functions like “Latitude”. Keep in mind that you better get the Hero on a monthly plan with the maximum download allowance available, so as to minimize the financial impact of the traffic that app generates. The initial start-up takes about 3 minutes and less than 30 seconds after that.


As for the additional software, the supply of apps for Android is still rather thin when compared to what´s available for the iPhone, but really useful programs have already begun to appear. There is still an irritating shortage of software in certain areas like proper DivX/Xvid players, but the community is picking up speed really fast.

The lack of enough entertainment-related apps for Android is one of the major reasons why many young people still don’t feel like getting handsets running it. Having tested Armadillo Roll, we can say the platform has a lot to offer on the 3D front, but most of the stuff is still logic games that look rather bad really.




Performance:

As we said, one of the major drawbacks of the HTC Hero is that it tends to get sluggish. Although we think the problem can be fixed with a software update, we cannot help wondering why the manufacturer hasn’t integrated a more powerful processor. The device is equipped with 528MHz Qualcomm CPU, 288MB RAM and 512MB ROM.

The proper design contributes to the better performance of the phone during talks. The microphone that gets close to your mouth when you speak is the key factor behind the good feedback, provided by people we spoke with. The overall quality was excellent on our end as well. We would have liked it better if the handset delivered more powerful sound, but as a whole, in-call quality is among the best we have ever experienced.

According to the manufacturer, the battery of the HTC Hero provides about 7.83 hours of continuous talk time and 440 hours in standby and it would have been great indeed if this was the case. During our tests we were connected to the Internet almost constantly and ultimately, we had to charge device on a daily basis.

Conclusion:

So, what do you think? Is the HTC Hero the much anticipated fairytale hero? The smartphone of the future? The best Android cell phone to date?

It´s only the last statement that holds true, at least in our own lights. Still, the HTC Hero demonstrates the good things about getting a device that fits well into your social routine. We do like the option of the phonebook being linked to Facebook and Flickr, and the gallery being linked to almost all of the popular social services. It would be nice to see support for MySpace and Friendster on board too.

As a whole, we are impressed by the Sense interface indeed. It goes to show that Android can be heavily personalized and allows turning the HTC Hero into a veritable reflection of your personality. The changes are easy to make and the interface itself takes minutes to get used to, even if it´s the first time you´ve seen it.

The more serious shortcomings of the device relate to its multimedia capabilities. While the camera is mediocre and there´s nothing to do about it, the expanded video codec support is in the hands of HTC programmers. Finally, the sluggish performance of the phone will surely dissuade many people on the search for a powerful smartphone from getting one.

All told, we can say the HTC Hero is definitely the device that all Android fans have eagerly anticipated and the phone that makes throwing away your old G1 worth the effort. It will undoubtedly overshadow the Magic and attract new followers of the path of Android. Ultimately, the handset deserves your consideration and will most probably become available through all major carriers, which will make it more affordable to consumers.

If you are interested in purchasing this device, please check our partners from Clove.co.uk

HTC Hero Video Review:




Pros

  • Different, but ergonomic design
  • Teflon coating that protects the device from scratches and fingerprints
  • Customizable and intuitive Sense interface
  • Excellent browser
  • Facebook and Flickr connectivity and functionality
  • Handy screen keyboards
  • Awesome in-call quality

Cons

  • Gets rather sluggish at times
  • Mediocre camera
  • Feeble video playback functionality
  • Bad sound quality through the boxed earphones
  • Teflon coating only available on the white version

PhoneArena Rating:

9.0

User Rating:

8.5
11 Reviews

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