HTC Hero: First impressions

Following on from the detailed photo-story we've published about the HTC Hero, I thought I'd give a slightly more subjective opinion, based on the limited time I've spent with the handset.It seems well-proportioned and looks better in the flesh than it did in those many leaked shots on the interwebs.

Following on from the detailed photo-story we've published about the HTC Hero, I thought I'd give a slightly more subjective opinion, based on the limited time I've spent with the handset.

It seems well-proportioned and looks better in the flesh than it did in those many leaked shots on the interwebs. The screen is bright and well-sized, and the now-familiar HTC-Android 'chin' has been given an angular, slightly futuristic makeover.

There is, however, a small but noticeable lag in the interface's responsiveness, possibly caused by the Sense user interface skin (we've been here before somewhat with TouchFlo 3D, but the lag in this case is nowhere near as bad as it was on the Touch Diamond).

Worse, the UI went wonky at one point during hands-on demonstration, introducing a strange red bar that wouldn't go away and necessitating a restart – this was a software problem, not a screen issue. Another hack at the event said he also saw a full-scale crash, but I missed that one.

Sense may need a touch of tweaking in the last week or two before launch (we've been told it'll be available sometime in July).

We'll have to get a review unit in to see how good the camera is – photography has not traditionally been HTC's strong point, though, and the 5MP camera on the Hero does not come with a flash.

Anyway, another little-known handset called the iPhone 3GS is the clear point of comparison for the Hero, so how do they stack up?

The handsets weigh the same. The Hero is slightly smaller when viewed from the front, but it is also slightly thicker. Its camera shoots more megapixels. It also comes in non-Appley colours like brown, in addition to the traditional white and black.

Both take normal headphones, and both lack a flash. The iPhone has a slightly snappier interface, but then again it can't handle Flash – unlike the Hero. The iPhone App Store is fuller than the Android Marketplace, but the latter is rapidly growing and HTC has also developed its own apps, such as a preinstalled Twitter client.

Both phones are, in the now well-worn touchscreen phone review cliché, fingerprint magnets. Both phones have digital compasses and accelerometers, and do video, cut and paste and so on. Both have Exchange support. Both are stylish, but perhaps to different tastes.

The iPhone's user interface remains unparalleled for its slickness and consistent experience. However, HTC has done some very clever work integrating social networking into Sense, and the Hero and other future HTC Android devices should get a serious following on that basis alone.

I suppose the iPhone wins in the UI-coherence stakes and the Hero wins in the opennness, cheapness (TBC) and geekiness stakes, but there's really not much in it. In terms of functionality, the two handsets are almost identical.