Hands-on review: HTC Hero from Sprint is truly super
T-Mobile no longer has the exclusive market for Android devices in the United States with Sprint coming out with a real winner in the HTC Hero that passes up both of T-Mobile's offerings. The HTC Hero from Sprint is the US CDMA version of the Hero that launched on GSM networks overseas in a form factor more like the T-Mobile myTouch 3G. I've spent over a week with the Hero and can say it is the best Android device I have used yet and my statement about the Hero meeting both user interface and functionality needs in a single device looks to be quite accurate.
T-Mobile no longer has the exclusive market for Android devices in the United States with Sprint coming out with a real winner in the HTC Hero that passes up both of T-Mobile's offerings. The HTC Hero from Sprint is the US CDMA version of the Hero that launched on GSM networks overseas in a form factor more like the T-Mobile myTouch 3G. Andrew had a chance to check out the Hero when it first launched and posted his first impressions. I've now spent over a week with the Hero and can say it is the best Android device I have used yet and my statement about the Hero meeting both user interface and functionality needs in a single device looks to be quite accurate. Check out my image gallery that shows the hardware and some screenshots, along with my video below. Unfortunately, one weakness of the Android platform is that screenshots are not easily captured on the device so my video shows more of the device in action than the screenshots.
Image Gallery:A look at the upcoming Sprint HTC Hero launching on the 11th of October.
The T-Mobile G1 was launched over a year ago and Google Android devices and updates have been very slow to roll out. I was expecting more from the platform and a device like the HTC Hero was what I have been expecting for a while. The customization provided by HTC and the services provided by Sprint combine to make the Hero an extremely compelling device. Sprint now has the most compelling lineup of smartphones out of the four major US wireless carriers with the HTC Hero, Palm Pre, HTC Touch Pro2, BlackBerry Tour, HTC Snap, and more. I wish I had better Sprint coverage where I live, work, and play because I would be all over a Sprint device with their outstanding EVERYTHING data plans.
Here is a rundown of the specifications of the Sprint HTC Hero:
3.2 inch 320x480 pixels capacitive touchscreen display
EV-DO Rev. A support for 3G data
528 MHz Qualcomm processor
288 MB RAM and 512 MB ROM
Google Android OS 1.5
2 GB microSD card included
Integrated Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP stereo support
Integrated 802.11 b/g WiFi
5.0 megapixel auto focus camera
Integrated GPS receiver
HTC extUSB/mini USB port for charging and PC connectivity
3.5mm headset jack
1500 mAh Lithium ion battery
Weight of 4.5 ounces
Size of 4.46 x 2.22 x 0.54 inches
Looking through the list of specs you will see that the HTC Hero has almost the same as the T-Mobile myTouch 3G, except for the 5 megapixel camera and 3.5mm headset jack. However, as you will read below HTC added quite a bit on the software side to make the HTC Hero even more attractive than the myTouch 3G in a few respects. The inclusion alone of the 3.5mm headset jack is big in my eyes and I just haven't been able to embrace using a device that requires and adapter to use my favorite headphones.
In the box
Unlike the slick packaging of the T-Mobile myTouch 3G, the Sprint HTC Hero comes in a fairly standard Sprint retail box. Inside you will find the Hero, battery, USB cable, wired stereo headset, and Getting Started Guide.
The HTC Hero is one of the most solid, attractive, and caressable pieces of hardware I have ever held. The casing is soft touch silver with brushed silver highlights around the hardware buttons and digital camera lens. A smooth oleophobic display takes up most of the front and like the iPhone 3GS it is tough to stop sliding your finger around the display. These oleophobic screens minimize the effort to clean off grease streaks and fingerprints and provide for a smoother surface that works very well with capitative displays. Above the display is the headset speaker and logos for HTC and Sprint. Below the display, which is quite bright and stunning, you will find a brushed silver panel with a couple of buttons and a large backlit trackball. Unlike the GSM version of the HTC Hero, there is no lower chin in the area where the hardware buttons can be found and the rounded form factor is much more like the myTouch 3G. The trackball is much improved over the one found on my T-Mobile G1, the same as the myTouch 3G, with a bigger size and more responsive reaction. There are send and end buttons on the panel that are small rounded corner squares. The menu, search, home, and back buttons are not buttons, but areas of the panel that depress when you press them in. They are highlighted with bright white backlighting.
I was extremely pleased to see the standard 3.5mm headset jack on the top of the Hero and think the placement is perfect. It stands alone on the top while we see the HTC extUSB (miniUSB) port on the bottom integrated into the glossy silver/mirror trim that circles the device. I love that HTC uses a standard miniUSB port for charging all of their devices so we never have to worry about finding a proprietary cable to top of the battery. There is absolutely nothing on the right side while we find just the volume rocker button on the left side. I would preferred to have seen a small camera button the left side and also still prefer to have a wireless manager button on my phones too. There is a thick brushed silver piece of metal around the camera lens on the back along with speaker grill openings on either side of this metal protrusion. There is only a mono speaker under the cover though. There is a lanyard opening down at the bottom of the Hero's back, but I personally never use these.
The HTC Hero has a great width for a smartphone and feels excellent in your hand. It is not a complicated piece of hardware and I like the fact that it has a few hardware buttons and a trackball for navigation. As good as capitative touchscreen are, I still like using a physical controller for navigation.
The myTouch 3G is loaded with the Android 1.5 operating system. It is important to also understand that there are three "flavors" of the Google Android operating system; generic Android, Google-optimized version, and HTC-focused version. The T-Mobile G1 and myTouch 3G are Google-optimized versions while the HTC Hero is an HTC-focused device with HTC Sense.
HTC Sense is the name for the overall optimization of the Hero for the end user and includes utilities discussed below such as Scenes, People, Footprints, the 7 home screens, and more.
HTC wants you to make the Hero an optimal experience for you in any situation so you can create customized home screen layouts using their Scenes utility. From the home screen you simply press the Menu button to access the Scenes utility. You can create custom Scenes or use the HTC, social, work, play, travel, and clean slate ones provided by default. These are nice to have for multimedia focused tasks or maybe a full gaming Scene for fun as you wait in line. Changing a Scene changes all of the widgets, folder, application shortcuts, wallpaper, and other customizations you have made to the HTC Hero homescreens. The default HTC ones help you see examples or quickly get to what they have setup, but you can always start with them and create customized Scenes to your liking. BTW, there are seven full displays available for you as you move around on the home screen so you can quickly access and perform actions from home. Some apps, like Peep, take up the entire display so having seven available is a nice capability compared to the standard 3 screens seen on other Google Android devices.
HTC also includes customized home screen widgets, including ones for bookmarks, calendar, Clock, Footprints, mail, messages, music, People, photo album, photo frame, search, settings, stocks, Twitter, and Weather. After selecting many of these HTC widgets you will be presented with optional layouts to choose from since some of these can be small icons, large icons, or even full display widgets. After you select a widget you then need to place it on a home screen panel by tapping and dragging, as needed to find a space. The highlight area appears red when there is no room for it and changes to green when you have found a compatible area to place the widget.
There is an Email application on the Hero like on other Android phones, but similar to the T-Mobile myTouch 3G (has a separate application called Work Email) this application supports Microsoft Exchange. I do like how HTC also uses this same application for POP and IMAP email accounts. HTC also took this application further than just the email you see on the myTouch 3G and has support for syncing your Exchange Calendar and Contacts. As I detailed in my HTC Hero Exchange post a couple of days ago HTC did a very good job integrating Exchange into the native apps on the device.
HTC brings their People application that we see on the T-Mobile HTC Touch Pro2 to the HTC Hero. After you launch People you will find bottom toolbar icons for all your contacts, favorites, groups, updates and events, and call history. The updates and events tab is where HTC lets you synchronize with your Facebook friends and view and post status updates. It is even better on the Hero though as you can then perform several functions after selecting a contact. You will find bottom toolbar icons that allow you to view your friend's contact details (set custom ringtone for them too), view your text message history, view their email history, view their events, view their albums (including Flickr albums), and view your call history with that friend. If you are a Facebook user you will enjoy the integration on the Hero. I like that the smart dialing functionality I have come to love on Windows Mobile is included on the Hero so you can simply start entering a person's name to quickly filter through your contacts.
In addition to amazing Facebook integration, HTC also embraces Twitter on the HTC Hero with their included Peep application. Peep is a Twitter client that lets you post Tweets and direct messages while also viewing Tweets, replies, direct messages, and favorites. You can use the GPS receiver to include location data in your Tweets. Posting photos in your Tweets, via the Twitpic or Twitgoo services (your choice), are also supported. URL shortening services (tr.im, is.gd, Short.to and TinyURL) are included. Smileys and quick text can be used to make your posts unique as well. You can use the settings to manage how many Tweets (50 to 250) are shown, how often Twitter is checked, how you are notified of updates, and much more. One Twitter account is supported, which is fine for most everyone except those of us who also have an account for site updates and such. Peep is quite a functional Twitter client and the best I have seen on a Google Android device.
HTC includes their Footprints application lets you manage your favorite locations. You can use the integrated camera and GPS receiver to capture Footprints as you travel. Footprints are parts of a database that lets you include a photo, website URL, GPS position, map, and notes about locations you visit. You can establish favorite footprints and file them in shopping, dining, leisure, and other categories for quick access later.
HTC includes their Teeter game found on Windows Mobile devices, along with a version of their slick Weather application. Weather was first seen on Windows Mobile devices with Touch FLO integration and has nice animations showing your weather forecasts for cities you select. Another utility brought over from their Touch FLO customization is Stocks. Stocks is a stock ticker application that lets you manage and view your favorite stocks with cool charts for 1 day, 5 days, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year history. Stock data is provided by Yahoo!. I am not much of a stocks follower, but apps that look this nice have me checking out a few companies. I have been using my iPhone for the stopwatch functionality to manage my soccer games and was pleased to see HTC bring their Clock utility to the Hero. With Clock you can manage a world clock, set and manage alarms, use a large number stopwatch, and use a cool timer that has a slot machine look and feel with support for hours, minutes, and seconds to countdown from.
The Camera utility is more full featured than what I have seen on other Android devices with support for effects (grayscale, sepia, and negative), image properties management (contrast, saturation, and sharpness), metering modes, timer, flicker adjustment, geotagging, ISO levels, and more. Video capturing is also supported, including encoding type (H.263 or MPEG4), recording length limits, audio on or off, auto focus toggle, effects, and more. It is nice to see HTC finally focusing some efforts on the integrated camera and I was pleased with its capability. There is no flash, but I rarely find any phone camera flash to work well enough to even warrant having one on there anyways. HTC also added Flickr and Facebook integration to the Albums utility so you can view photos taken on your device or those uploaded to these services.
As you use the HTC Hero over time you will find even more customizations by HTC in utilities and applications that you think are standard Google Android fare and this discovery is an enjoyable experience on the Hero.
All the Google and Android services you expect (Gmail, web browser, Google Search, Google Maps, YouTube, Amazon MP3, Android Market, Google Talk, IM, and more) are included on the Hero. The QuickOffice viewer is provided for viewing Office documents and you can always purchase the full version (see my review) if you need to create documents. An Adobe PDF viewer is provided since the native Android OS does not provide this capability.
One aspect of the Android platform that I prefer over every other mobile operating system is their notification method and this is fully supported on the HTC Hero.
One thing I cannot stand about AT&T subsidized phones is the heavy carrier branding and bloatware that is rampant throughout the device. In the case of the AT&T phones I have tried almost all of the bloatware on the device is permanent and consists of priced games, apps, and services that will nickel and dime you to death if you actually use them. Thankfully, Sprint has only placed a few select services on the HTC Hero that are designed to give you a better experience and none of them costs you extra. I have no problem with a carrier providing services on subsidized devices that are useful and free.
If I had Sprint coverage available I would be all over switching my family plan to Sprint since they have very attractive voice and data offerings. To go along with their EVERYTHING unlimited data plans they include applications on the HTC Hero to take advantage of their data network. The included Sprint services on the HTC Hero are NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile, NFL Mobile Live, Sprint Navigation, and Sprint TV.
I don't regularly follow or watch NASCAR, but I used to be watched by Kasey Kahne's aunt in Enumclaw after school while my mom worked and know the Kahne family so I find the application useful to follow Kasey's races and standings. With the application you can select a primary driver to follow and then view
As a fan of the NFL I love that Sprint includes the NFL Mobile Live application on the HTC Hero. I am a die hard hometown fan and even though my Seahawks always seem to be in rebuilding years I still like to watch them every week and follow the latest news. NFL Mobile Live gives you the ability to
There is no better subscription GPS navigation solution than TeleNav and they power the Sprint Navigation client found on the Hero. It performs the same on the Hero like it does on other mobile phones and that familiar interface was nice to see on the Hero. As I have said in my previous reviews of the TeleNav client I love that I can enter a full month of soccer game destinations on the web and have them all sent to my mobile phone for quick destination selection. Even if you know where you are going, Sprint Navigation is valuable for the daily commuter because it gives you live traffic updates to help you optimize your route and avoid accidents and construction delays as you drive. Sprint Navigation is priced at $10/month for unlimited usage, but with an EVERYTHING data plan they throw this in for FREE!
Sprint TV is Sprint's mobile television application and service that gives you the ability to view… As a father of three daughters, service such as Sprint TV can be valuable for entertaining them on road trips. I commute daily on the train and Sprint TV is a nice way to spend some of that 2 hour ride when I don't feel like working, reading, or sleeping. Again, with an EVERYTHING data plan Sprint throws this in for free. There are actually a few pieces of premium content available that do have an additional cost too, but this is clearly shown on the service and I found more than enough available free content to pass the time.
Sprint also includes Visual Voicemail on the Hero so you can listen to just those message you want to without having to dial into a voicemail service.
When I first pulled the Sprint HTC Hero out of the box I immediately fell in love with the look and feel of the hardware. After turning it on I thought it was just another Google Android device that was nice, but nothing special. After spending more and more time with the HTC Hero I think I found the perfect mobile device for me and can't tell you how bad I wish I had better Sprint coverage to be able to buy this device. The more time I spent with the Hero, the more integration and advanced capabilities I discovered that HTC included into the very heart and soul of the device. I am a big fan of QWERTY keyboards, but given all of the amazing functionality of the HTC Hero I think I could give up a QWERTY to use such a device.
HTC also provides a very good QWERTY keyboard in both portrait and landscape orientations that has a predictive text engine that does very well. The haptic feedback support makes the text entry even better and I find the predictive functionality to be more useful than the iPhone since it gives me choices as I enter text.
The capacitive display is very finger friendly and like the iPhone everything seems to flow on the Hero. You will find multi-touch pinch and zoom support in the web browser and in the photo gallery too. I especially like the visual bookmarks in the web browser that are reminiscent of the visual history found in the S60 web browser on Nokia devices.
I think if there is one area where the HTC Hero could be improved I would say that would be on the processor. It has the fairly standard 528 MHZ Qualcomm chip in it and if you push it with lots of applications and utilities running you will find times when things lag a bit. I would love to see this same device with a Snapdragon processor in it so it could scream. I don't mind that there is no large flash drive in the Hero since microSD cards are quite cheap and you can always increase your storage memory without worrying about integrated drive problems.
You will also find the ability to use the HTC Hero as a wireless modem in the Settings.
Phone calls have been great on the Hero and even though I don't get a great signal on Sprint phones at my home I actually saw a bar or two on the Hero so it looks like reception is top notch on the Hero. I would like to have seen a proximity sensor used as well so the display would turn off during phone calls, but I have yet to see this on an Android device.
Pricing, service options, and availability
The Sprint HTC Hero will be available to new subscribers for $179.99 on the 11th of October after a $100 mail-in rebate. You will be able to purchase the Hero with the different EVERYTHING plans and as you may have heard Sprint now gives you free unlimited calls to and from mobile phones so the only time you will expend plan minutes is when you call or receive calls from landlines.
I've spent quite a bit of time with Google Android devices in the past with the T-Mobile G1 (see my full review) and myTouch 3G (see my review) so I was expecting this same kind of experience. Thanks to the major customizations by HTC and powerful integrated Sprint services, the HTC Hero is the most compelling Google Android device available and if you are a Sprint customer I would be jumping all over this device. I plan to hold onto and use the evaluation unit all the way up until my trial period expires and even then HTC may have a tough time prying it out of my hands :) I now plan to try to get my hands on a GSM version of the Hero to test out with my T-Mobile SIM card and see if that could be my new Android device.