HTC Hero

HTC Hero

I feel dirty in a way, and I’ll tell you why. This is and always has
been a Windows Mobile site. To be given a HTC Hero to play with for a
couple of weeks? No.. we don’t want it. Why? Because it’s powered by
Google Android – a new competitor for Windows Mobile to deal with.
Sure, there’s been HTC-built Google phones before, but this one has a
new experience called “HTC Sense” which promises to let you make the
phone your own. It’s available right now on Orange
and unlocked on devicewire.com. You can also get
it under the name “G2
Touch” on T-Mobile.
Here we’ve got the unlocked one in white, although each network has a
different shade.

Now, at this point other sites and press people will be scrolling to
the bottom of this review to see what our overall thoughts were. I
thought I’d save you the bother this time, because this phone is ruddy
brilliant. There. I’ve admitted it. I feel like someone at an
alcoholics anonymous. I’ll stand up, I’ll say it. I’m a Windows Mobile
user and I like the HTC Hero.


This revelation is best placed at the start just to prove that I, as a
Windows Mobile fan and webmaster of coolsmartphone.com, can admit when
a phone really is good – no matter who makes it or what OS it
runs. 

First the techy stuff. Inside the Hero is the Qualcomm MSM7200A CPU
running at 528Mhz. There’s 512MB of ROM with 288MB of RAM. The display
is a 3.2″ TFT-LCD touch-screen with 320×480 HVGA. You connect with
quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and dual-band HSPA/CDMA, WiFi 802.11b/g and
Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR and A2DP. Other specs include a 3.5mm audio
jack, GPS, G-sensor, compass, microSD expansion (SD 2.0 compatible), 5
megapixel camera and a 1350mAh battery.

We’ve had the Hero for some time now and you may have already seen the
videos we’ve recorded. We initially got to spend time with a demo unit
just hours after the launch, so we did “a week with the HTC Hero”. In
these videos we answered a lot of your questions and, whilst some
videos are a little wobbly, we definitely made the most of our short
time with the device. Strangely, after we returned the device, we
received another one, so we put the whole lot together in a huge video
below. If you want to skip around to certain vids, just click here to see each one
individually or use the right and left arrows on the video window below…



The Hero was given the full fanfare by HTC. A massive launch down in
London. The phone has a rather interesting design, with a bend on the
bottom which is designed to bring the microphone and stuff close to
your mouth. At least, that’s what we assume. In reality I think it’s
just been designed this way to look a little bit different.

HTC Hero

At the bottom, on that angled section, there’s six buttons and a
trackball. Six buttons you say? Yes, it may seem like a lot for a
touch-screen device but they all become very familiar very quickly
indeed. The call answer key is first up, that’s pretty self
explanatory. The home key will take you back to the central screen on
the HTC TouchFLO interface. If you hold this in it’ll give you a list of
recently used programs. The menu button is something that you’ll be
using in both the Sense interface and various programs to access
additional options that may not be readily available from the main
touch-screen. The call drop key acts as just that, plus you can power
up or stick the device into standby mode by holding it down.

HTC Hero

Below the main row of keys and to the right is the search and back
keys. Again, these take on different functionality in different
programs. In Google Maps, for example, the Search key will let you
search for a location. In other programs it’ll let you search for
different types of data – appointments in the calendar etc.

HTC Hero

The trackball, for me, welcomed. I love the trackball navigation and it
comes into it’s own when surfing the internet. If you can’t quite “get”
something on the screen, use the trackball and press it in to select
something. It’ll glow, flash and change colour to indicate different
alerts. Texts, voice messages etc.

HTC Hero

To the left is the volume up / down key which is self explanatory. :)
Tweaking the volume produces an onscreen volume slider which is
overlayed on to your current screen.

HTC Hero

The earpiece at the top has LED’s either side. Our first review unit
had these flashing for communication activity, however the second unit
didn’t show anything – strange. During the launch of the Hero we were
told about the screen, which should resist fingerprints. In practice it
does get a few fingerprints on it after a while, but having to wipe it
every now and then really isn’t a big deal. On the bottom there’s the
miniUSB port and a small hole for the microphone..

HTC Hero

Whilst at the top there’s the angled 3.5 mm audio port – this is
sculpted nicely into the top of the handset. Yes,a standard 3.5mm port
for any headphones you care to throw at it. Splendid stuff! You can
just see the small indent where your nail goes when prising the battery
panel off.

HTC Hero

Pop the battery cover off and you
reveal the microSD slot – this is on the upper left with the screen
down. The SIM and battery are here too.

HTC Hero

The 5 megapixel camera is at the back – there’s a nice hole to poke
through – no plastic cover in the back
and good clear pictures as a result. To the left is the external
speaker but alas no flash.

HTC Hero

The phone itself fits well in the hand and is a good size. There’s been
a definite rise in larger touch-screen devices of late and sometimes
it’s in an effort to make the interface more usable. Here though
there’s really no need to make it any bigger – the device works very
well with the device it’s got and the HTC Sense experience is a brilliant
achievement. Ahh, but more on that in a moment.

HTC Hero

Inside

So the big news. This is an Android device and that’s been done before
by HTC. What is different is the graphical user interface and how it ties together with the phone and other apps. It’s called
“HTC Sense” and HTC have made a big noise about how you can “make it
your own”. What does this mean though, really? Well, I’ll show you. See
these screenshots below? The big ones are the original resolution from
the phone – 320×480 pixels and I’m guessing that you’re thinking,
“Sure, that looks pretty”. It does yes, but this isn’t how the device
has to stay. Everything is customizable, and I mean everything.
It’s full drag and drop stuff. Don’t like something ? Click and hold to
select it, then drag it to the “Remove” bar that appears. Want
something else? Click that “+” key and choose something. It’s that
simple. It’s so simple. Within a few minutes you can have a device that
is totally your own. It’s just like dragging icons around your Windows
XP or Windows Vista machine, then changing the backdrop. Boom, you’re
done.

HTC Hero HTC Hero

Above you ‘ll see the main home screen that HTC have constructed for
you. Again, all of this is changeable and you can alter everything
you’re seeing. On the right you can see that I’m currenly moving part
of the screen around. We’ll go into more detail on that in a moment but
let’s have a looksie at the default bits on this
scene. I should explain that there’s a certain set of “scenes” provided
with the phone. HTC have given us a “HTC” scene (this one), “Social”
scene, “Work” scene, “Play” scene and more – plus you can save your
scene and create more. This is great if you’re happy with one layout
and want to dabble with something else.

This main home screen has a big clock – it’s a widget. You can choose
more widgets from a selection of HTC, Android widgets and more. There’s
a selection to choose from on-board ..

HTC Hero HTC Hero

….or download them through the on-board store as shown below. There’s
a
wide selection to choose from in the store but a few of the ones I
tried seemed to upset the device and said things like “The (widget) has
stopped responding”. The one I tried here (a Daily Dilbert comic
widget) did this but the error message was friendly enough and the
phone didn’t freak out. This I liked. Even when things went wrong – due
to a third-party widget I’d downloaded – the device told me in a calm,
subdued manner and it carried on operating.

HTC Hero

The clock includes information from the GPS and network transmitters,
so the weather goes with you. The temperature, sky conditions and date
are all updated on the main clock widget but you can also change to a
different clock or slide sideways to get a full weather widget and
further widgets besides.

The main TouchFLO interface is a little like having 5 monitors on your
desk at home. Imagine the main clock screen as your central monitor
with two
monitors either side of it. To move to the right you simply swipe your
finger across the screen in the direction you’d like to view. For
example, to look to the screen on your right you’ll take your finger,
press the right-side of the screen and drag left. You’ll notice a small
marker towards the bottom of the screen that shows which screen you’re
looking at too – if it’s tilting right a bit then you’re on the first
right-hand screen. If it’s tilting more, then the second one. Below you
can see that I’ve moved to a different screen and revealed two new
pages which again are fully customizable. This gallery widget on the
left here lets me flick up and down to glide through all the pictures
I’ve taken and on the right is the weather widget with forecasts and
several destinations to choose from.

HTC Hero
HTC HeroHTC Hero

You can see above that I’ve got a new backdrop – this is
because I’ve altered to a different HTC “Scene” and you can switch
between them depending on your mood or whether your at work or home.
Below there’s the “Social” mode which includes stuff liek Twitter etc,
and “Work” which includes calendars, emails and more. Once you’ve
created your own personalised scene you can save it and try another –
nothing is every lost so you’re free to meddle as much as you want.

HTC Hero

Along with the glowing trackball there’s also the
notification window which is tucked away at the top of the screen. This
is dragged down by pressing, holding and dragging from the top. This is
something I really appreciated. In today’s society we’re so used to
getting updates – texts, emails, Facebook updates, Tweets, answer-phone
messages, calls and much more. You can’t expect to have a phone just
ping you every time something happens – it’d annoy and sometimes
interupt what you’re doing. You want to know about
everything, but you don’t want it in your face. It’ll show you on the
top left what’s new by way of a small icon. Drag it down and it’ll tell
you what’s happening in more detail. Click it to get into the detail,
or clear out the notifications completely.

HTC Hero

Other widgets are available of course, including this HTC mail widget,
which has a couple of buttons to allow for composing and reading email.
If you want to do more advanced stuff, the general rule is to click
inside the widget in question to open up the full application and then
carry on from there. If you want to go even further, whack the “Menu”
button and you can usually access even more detailed parts of the
application in question. This is a little bit like the way information
is delivered through the notification system and I really appreciate
what HTC have done here – only deliver the stuff you need
in the first instance. If you want more then ask
for it. If you want even more then ask again. It’s
a simple rule of thumb and it keeps the whole device clutter-free.

HTC Hero

A quick point before we go on – this is the recent programs list. You
press and hold the “home” key to get this and it’s a great way to hop
between apps you’re or have recently used. A lot of us may want to hop
out of a program, check something else, then hop back in. Check out how
it’s blurred and darkened the background. Little things like this
really do impress.

HTC Hero 

I’m going to scroll to the left now a little more and take a look at
the texting widget. Again, it’s a smooth experience with texts building
up behind each other in this preview panel. You can reply, compose and
delete messages and click them to get more message detail. On these
next screen you’ll seen how messages arrive – they’re grouped together
depending on the sender and it shows you small previews for MMS
messages too. Again, click on the MMS preview and you’ll see it on the
main screen.

HTC HeroHTC Hero

Flick the device around so that the trackball is under your right thumb
and you can see the widescreen effect..

HTC Hero

Tap the compose field at the bottom to reveal the on-screen keyboard.
I’ll show you that on the next widget, which is the Twitter app.

HTC Hero

Here’s my Twitter widget. It tells me when it last updated, what my
Twitter friends are doing and more. You can scroll your finger up and
down to gently scroll through everyone or use the trackball – up to
you. Click in the “What are you doing?” field and you’ll have..

HTC Hero HTC Hero

.. this screen.. Instantly you can see the camera icon – whack this to
take a snap on your camera or choose one from your gallery. The picture
you take or choose will automatically be uploaded and linked to within
your Tweet. You can also add your GPS location in, but be careful with
that just in case you’re telling everyone where you’re located and you
don’t want them to know :)

The on-screen keyboard is a joy to use. It guesses words well and
you’re free to make mistakes as the on-board brains guess what you meant
to put in. In my tests it got around 95% of my badly-typed words right.
You can also teach it new words – once you’ve typed a word in and
clicked space (which accepts the suggestion usually – another nice
touch and very intelligent) – it remembers it and will insert it next
time you type something. On the bottom-left you can press the small
keyboard button to drop the keys out the way, or you can choose the
“12#” button to enter numbers.

Oh, and let’s not forget that you can go widescreen merely by rotating
the device and type even easier. This doesn’t seem to be maintained
througout the device, with certain apps doing the screen-switch and
others not.

Let’s have a look at the calendar app. Here you can see the month
display. You can switch this around and change views, but you can see
that today I have an appointment.

HTC Hero
HTC HeroHTC Hero

Let’s have a look at how I added that appointment. I merely clicked the
“+” and then I was given the option to address the appointment to
someone. I choose a time, a location and some detail. Here the keyboard
pops up again and you can see it suggesting words as I type. I simply
need to press space at the end of this to select the “meet” word.

HTC Hero HTC Hero

The web browser is again very slick. The Adobe Flash functionality
makes a lot of sites more viewable and a lot of online Flash is
displayed within the browser itself. In testing not all of the Flash video I threw at it worked, but the majority did. The ones
that failed were generally the streaming video on random video
animation sites etc. When Flash did work it was sometimes a little slow and perhaps not as glossy and fluid as the rest of the device. It’s not a total loss if you just want to browse, but if you’re buying this device exclusively for the Flash-viewing in the browser then you may have to rethink. There’s other ways around this sometimes – like the BBC iPlayer – even if you can’t get it working reliably then you may just find something in the Android store (I did).


Here’s some more full-screen snaps from the device. Here you can see
the address at the top – just click in there and punch an address in
with your on screen keyboard. The multi-touch iPhone-esque “pinch”
method lets you zoom in and out on the pages and nearly all the pages I
tested rendered extremely well with almost no difference between this
and the desktop browser. On the right you can see how windows are
handled. The main one is out site, whilst on the right we’ve got the
HTC site. Just drag them around, add new windows and browse away or
close them one by one. Yet again it’s glorious to look at.

HTC Hero HTC Hero HTC Hero

The extra menu options will let you share pages, copy text, find text,
fiddle with settings and more. Here you can see how the other programs
and apps integrate together. I’ve can mail, text or Tweet (Peep) that
text or web-page. Also below you can see the settings which help to
tweak your browsing experience.

I’ve got nothing but good comments on the browsing experience. It’s the
same if not better than the iPhone experience, and that’s a great
browsing experience in itself. OK, I’ve got one gripe – entering web addresses on the keyboard can be a pain. This on-screen keyboard works fantastically well when you rely on it to auto-correct, but if you’re typing in web addresses it simply doesn’t know what word you mean, so you have to put the address in yourself. Whilst cached pages are remembered and historical pages are brought up automatically, I’d have loved to see some sort of Firefox-esque auto-guesser here. Sure, you can flip the screen around to make typing addresses easier, but sometimes it’s just easier to mash-in part of the address in a Google search (user that magifying glass button).

HTC Hero
 HTC Hero

Google Maps is something I normally brush over in every review and this
is turning in to a monster review because everything just jumps off the
page. The Google Maps experience is stunning.

The in-built compass is something we wanted to try out because we’d
heard about it in other Android devices and it didn’t disappoint. If
you buy this phone and friends say, “Huh, it looks the same as mine.
What’s the big deal?”. Show them the compass functionality, or make
them watch this video..

Don’t forget that soon – very, very
soon – all the streets in the UK and possibly beyond will be covered by
Google Maps. You’ll effectively be able to turn on GPS location, stand
outside your house and hold the phone in the air. You’ll see how your
house looked when the Google Car drove past. It’s like a time machine :)

HTC Hero

GPS and the ultra-fast data connection comes into it’s own here and
it’s a joy to pan around the world, zooming into certain areas and
getting directions to places. The “pinch” system doesn’t work in this
app, so you’ll need to use the on-screen “+” and “-” symbols, but this
is the first mutli-touch Android device we’ve seen and Google Maps
hasn’t been updated to make this bit work yet. I’m guessing it will
pretty soon, as it’d make the experience a bit more complete.

HTC Hero

The music app works very well and very quickly, integrating the music
from your microSD card into a very fluid app which also has a couple of
widgets to integrate it on your GUI. This also integrates
with the lock-screen, showing you what’s being played even when the
phone is effectively locked. The standard 3.5mm audio port lets you use
the supplied white in-the-ear headphones or your own headphones. The
HTC Audio app sorts music into albums, artists or whatever you fancy.
It’ll tell you what’s playing, how long is left etc etc.

The more you use the HTC Hero, the more you find. All of your contacts
are integrated and all the lines of communication are grouped. For
instance, if you click on one person in the contacts list you can see
the texts you’ve send and received, their Facebook pictures, their
flickR pictures, the emails and calls you’ve made and received. It’s
all tidily organised in a sensible and obvious manner and it makes you
wonder why no-one else ever did this before. It makes sense. It’s easy
to understand and it makes you work and play faster.

HTC Hero


Camera and photo manipulation

I wanted to group together all the things you can do with photos under
one heading. Let’s take it right from the top – taking a photo. Here’s
a rather dark room. In our lounge on this shot I’ve only got one 40W
bulb on. You can just see outside that a steer lamp is showing. The
camera is itself is very responsive and shots are taken quickly. The
auto-focus lense does a good job but a xeon flash is badly needed in
low-light conditions. Below you can also see how it’s prompting me to
press the trackball to take a shot – this sort of friendly prompting is
nice to see and you can instantly see what each button does down the
bottom without me even describing it.

HTC Hero

If you want extra functions you can hop into the menu and adjust the
resolution, white balance, brightness and even more setting besides.
You can also tag photos with your GPS location, alter the shutter
sound, tweak the quality and where the pictures are storied plus lots
more besides. The whole experience is maintained from the HTC TouchFLO GUI
and there’s big tick-boxes to push in for selecting stuff.

HTC HeroHTC Hero 

Once you’ve taken your photo you can upload it to various places, email
or simply stick it in the gallery. Viewing it in the gallery is a
fantastic experience, with zooming, panning and rotating happening
quickly and smoothly. The screen orientation switch is intelligent too
– taking just the right amount of tilt to switch the screen around and
going “dark” for a brief second so you know it’s working.

HTC Hero HTC Hero

There’s a slideshow mode, you can set the picture as your backdrop on
the main screen (it’ll spread it across your virtual “screens” too, and
you get to see the picture moving to the right or left as you navigate
your phone). You can also rotate the picture, bin it, crop it and do a
lot more t’boot.

HTC HeroHTC HeroHTC HeroHTC Hero

Here for example you can see me in the photo application. In the videos
you may have noticed it took a few seconds to load everything off my
microSD card but, upon checking, I did find that I had nearly 3000
images on the card so I’ll allow it a few seconds to do that ;) The
gallery system isn’t just restricted to your on-device photos though.
You can view flickR albums and Facebook albums as a gallery with
similar style.

HTC Hero

Another feature I loved was the ability to share your images with
social networks right out of the box. Press the circular icon with two
arrows and choose the destination – flickR, Facebook, Twitter, Google
Mail, HTC mail, text (MMS), Picasa and more. You’re then free to add a
description, title and hit upload. The interface to do all this is
clean and beautiful to look at and use, although we couldn’t use the
widescreen option to make use of the larger on-screen keyboard.

HTC Hero

Here’s some example photos. We found the camera to work well and the
on-screen zoom controls didn’t reduce picture quality too much either.
It needs a flash, but for most pictures you’ll find the results
pleasing enough.
Click on each one for the “direct from phone” image on it’s highest
setting.

Dialing and other tools

Dialing a number is quick thanks to the multi-touch screen and
predictive dialing. As we’ve seen with Windows Mobile this too will
guess what name or number you’re dialing based on the first few keys
you press. For example, if you want to dial “Jack” you’d simply enter
“5225”, although by the third digit you’ll probably already have the
person in question. Each person is given a photo and loads of details
about them. You can hook into their Facebook profiles too.

HTC Hero

Below you can also see a “Favourites” page. See lower down? We’re still
in the contacts system but we’ve moved from individual listings to our
favourites. You can also add contacts directly onto your own HTC Scene
if you want but here you can bunch your most frequently used people
together.

HTC Hero

Groups is next, and it’s another way to handle people that naturally go
together – work colleagues or friends can be placed here and you can
use the “Updates and Events” screen to see what your friends are doing.
Here you can see that some people have updated their Facebook profile
whilst others have added some flickR images. This is the grouping and
filtering of information that we’ve seen throughout the GUI
and it really helps to organise and control the level of information
that screams out of modern phones. Gone are the days when a
cool-looking interface “would have done” – it’s now about customizing
that interface and handling the streams of information in an effective
and controlled manner.

HTC HeroHTC Hero 

Pressing the “up” arrove on the lower-right of the HTC TouchFLO GUI will
drop you into the Android menu. Here you get extra programs such as a
Voice Recorder, Teeter (an excellent game that makes use of your
G-sensor), PDF viewer, Footprints (HTC’s geo-tagging system which also
acts as a holiday album in a way), Google Talk, stock information and
more. You can of course create a shortcut to any of this using the
Widgets from the main screen, but it’s all here too.

HTC HeroHTC Hero

The YouTube app is pleasing enough and gives you an interface into the
huge quantity of vids available on the internet site. The rating
system, search facility and recommended videos are all shown and the
viewing experience itself is excellent.

HTC Hero

The intelligence that HTC have injected into this phone is also
appreciated. The phone will lock itself and this lock screen appears –
just drag down on the screen from the centre to unlock it. Simple,
clean, easy.

HTC Hero

Conclusion

As my first ever Android handset this has shocked me, and it’s shocked
me for all the right reasons. The HTC Sense system gels together
with the Android OS extremely well and the user experience is fluid,
understandable and polished. Sure, there’s a few gripes – I still can’t
figure a way to send files over Bluetooth, I’d love to see more widgets
on-board, I’d love to have the ability to add more and more screens to either
side of my home screen, video recording quality wasn’t great and for some reason GPS was turned off as
default when the handset arrived. But hey, these are fairly small
gripes when you see how the HTC Hero and HTC GUI works together,
It’s seamless, complete and a joy to poke at.

I never thought I’d say this, and you’ll hear people say this all too
often across the web, but believe me, this really is the closest thing I’ve
seen to beating the iPhone. The browsing is excellent. The photo
management, manipulation and sharing is stunning. The GUI is amazing.
The way it delivers data is precise and filtered in a controlled
manner. The widgets system is great and I never seem to tire of
removing and adding new ones.

I’ve read other reviews and many have mentioned speed issues. Whilst I did have the odd wait here and there I personally don’t feel that it’s a show stopper. Sure, it could do with a slightly quicker CPU but other than that the phone operated well and didn’t annoy or frustrate me in the least. Battery life is good with a day or more usage even with GPS / WiFi and browsing across the mobile network. The fact it talks to Microsoft Exchange is good. Audio quality on calls is good with big, deep audio quality. To put it bluntly, the HTC Hero is simply the best Android handset out there and it’s well worth sticking in your pocket.

Update – There’s now an update for the Hero which speeds up the phone greatly. Check out the unlocked update and the Orange one, plus keep an eye on the main site to see update for the T-Mobile version (G2 Touch). These updates make the phone a LOT quicker and add touch-screen focus. This update pretty much puts any criticisms to bed. Sure, the battery life can be a little short if you do lots of WiFi / GPS action but still, this is an utterly amazing handset. I cannot recommend this enough.

Available now from free on contracts with either Orange
and T-Mobile
(as the “G2 Touch”) and also unlocked from devicewire.com.

HTC Hero
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