Product Type: HTC Smartphone
Newest Review: ... of the past. When you buy your Android phone, I really recommend you take processing power into account. So the HTC Hero. A true Hero ... more
iBeat the iPhone
Member Name: gibbo909
Date: 05/04/10, updated on 05/04/10 (33 review reads)
Advantages: Style, build, features, usability, value
Disadvantages: Battery life, music interface not quite class leading
After TouchFlo, HTC released the Touch Diamond, which ran its new TouchFlo 3d. An immense refinement upon the original software, the phone was quicker, generally easier to use (mostly quite intuitive actually), and brilliantly pretty both in terms of hard ware and software. Armed with its plain girl in a thong, the phone won several awards and was a large success for the company. I didn't buy one. The phone still ran that ghastly Windows operating system beneath its pretty skin. As a result, it was too slow. Parts of the interface were ugly, unintuitive, and sometimes with buttons too small for even Richard Hammond's fingers.
It was still a plain girl in a fancy dress.
Therefore, imagine my joy when HTC announced the Hero, a phone running on the Android platform, an operating system which was faster, more intuitive and better looking than its Windows counterpart. Being honest, I couldn't care less. It was a HTC, a phone make I had come to associate with underwhelming interfaces and pretty exteriors. I thought it would be average. Eleventh place. A C at GCSE.
I was wrong. HTC Sense is fantastic, and the first interface that can take the fight to Silicon Valley. But not only is the Android based interface top notch, the whole phone is.
Appearance and build: 9/10
Love it or hate it, the Hero makes a statement. The bold chin, wide glass area, and skinny body make sure of that. My Dad owns an iPhone 3gs, my Sister a 3g, and I an iPod Touch. The Hero may not look as sexy, buy sweet God it looks special. The soft rubber back, brushed brown metal body and minimalist style make this look and feel like a premium product.
The feeling of quality continues when you pick it up. The warm, grippy rubber contrasts nicely in texture to the cold metal, while the reassuring weight lends the device a durable feel. The screen - made of glass - feels reassuringly hard, and as after many months of unprotected use the phone remains unmarked, it is clearly build to last.
To cut a story short, the phone feels fantastic in terms of materials, and looks just as good. Taking the fight to the iPhone? I think it's already won.
Button and indicator layout: 8/10
Like the iPhone, the Hero is minimalist in design. Unlike the iPhone, which makes do with a volume rocker, a power button, and the famous home button, the Hero has almost all of the buttons you could want or need. More importantly, they're all in the right place. Dedicated accept-ignore call buttons are present (the latter also the on/off button), while a home button rests alongside a back button. Smack in the middle of the "chin" is a roller ball which presses down as a select button. Although I didn't appreciate it at first, the little sphere makes navigation through the home screen much quicker, although beyond that it has little use. On the left hand side of the phone is a nicely integrated, if strangely large, volume rocker. Like all of the buttons, it is nicely tactile to use and is positioned to fall to hand nicely.
The only complaint I have, in terms of controls, is that I would like to see a dedicated shutter button on the right hand side. Instead, the phone uses the roller ball as the shutter; this is uncomfortable and quite simply annoying on such an otherwise well sorted phone.
Apart from the buttons, the phone has two indicator lights:
- The trackballs glows white when a notification (such as a message or an alarm) is triggered. This light is useful, stylish and clearly visible.
- Nicely integrated into the speaker grill is and orange and green LED light. When charging, this flashes orange until completion, in which case it becomes a solid green.
The lights, again, are usefully placed while offering a good dose of style. I think that the intense level of integration into the phone shows the immense attention to detail HTC have taken with the Hero.
The software on the iPhone revolutionised the mobile industry. Touch screen phones, which now dominate the market, owe almost all of their success to the software development techniques employed by the iPhone. However, Apple is the best at this sort of interface; they practically invented it after all. Due to other phone manufacturers trying to improve upon Apple's interface, rather than invent their own, no other phone has quite yet met the standards set by the iPhone.
Until now, that is.
HTC has developed an interface with HTC Sense that, rather than trying to beat Apple at its own game, changes the rules. What I mean is that, while other companies try and copy the Apple software, HTC (and Google with Android) have pretty much invented a new concept of interface.
I'm not going to go into every tiny detail about how to use the phone (use YouTube for that), however I will try and paint you a decent picture of how the interface is used. Upon turning the phone, or the screen on, you are presented with a greatly attractive 'slide down to unlock' bar. Clearly influenced by Apple, when the bar is slid down (with a pretty animation to go with it), you have the option of either going straight to the home screen, or first programming an unlocking pattern to protect your phone. Once you have done this, you will be presented the highly attractive home screen. Using the many widgets, this can be customised however you want. There are actually seven home screens, on which you can put as many apps and short cuts as you desire, while creating a layout you, not HTC, think suitable. So brilliant is the customised homescreen implemented, that in comparison the iPhone's class leading app-based approach feels a little boring, and in use certainly less fun. With the HTC, instead of constantly opening and closing apps, you intuitively flick between screens and widgets using your finger or the trackball. And, unlike the iPhone, which on each screen presents many uniformed app shortcuts, the HTC can be set up however you like, with photo frames, clocks, and beautiful weather animations to name a few. There is almost no lag, certainly no more than the iPhone.
Screen estate can run out fast, but a handy 'Scenes' mode provides even more space by allowing you to save home screens under different names such as 'holiday' and 'work'. Use these effectively, and you'll have plenty of room to play with. I think the limit is something like 52 screens in total, which is so vast I would bet money that is where Osama Bin Laden has been hiding. With so much space and almost unlimited customisation, no one would find him!
Moving beyond the home screen, the interface feels almost as good. The widget-based home screen can get a little crowded, and may not be large enough for all of your apps, so there is an easily accessible grid of apps similar to other touch screen phones. Click into one of these apps, and a slick animation will hopefully lead into a well structured and predictably polished application, although due to the fact that anyone can create apps, this is not always the case. The programme will most likely have been obtained through the Android Application store. Simple to use, the store can be run through WiFi or network. It is structured almost as well as the iPhone's app store, although the quality of the applications is not quite as strong. This is fine by me; unlike Apple's effort, almost all of them are free.
I don't really know what else to comment on regarding the interface. The music software is quite similar to that of the iPhone's, but not quite so good. It is pretty, fairly well organised, and quite polished, but just lacking the vigorous detail of the other more music-focussed device. Putting music on is easy, although I tend to use drag 'n drop. Essentially, the phone works as a portable hard drive, into which media (of any sort) can easily be installed. A wide variety of formats are supported.
Beyond this, the interface is good, and once again up to iPhone standards. Menus are simple and attractive, the camera application is intuitive, and all in all there are no problems and many positives. Throughout the software, it is clear how much attention to detail HTC has taken. For instance, when you look at a contact, you can scroll along using a bar at the bottom of the screen to view all of their information, from their address to their latest Facebook status. Like the entire user experience, I can think of one word to describe this; fantastic. Meanwhile, I must comment that the phone is very fast. Having compared it to my Dad's 3gs, there as almost no apparent difference in speed - if anything, the Taiwanese product is faster in most applications.
How bored I have become recently of talking to iPhone owners. Every time I talk to one, about any subject, about anything, I can pretty much promise I will hear the phrase 'Yes, I have an app for that.' It really is a huge credit to Apple that this is the case - and it's all because of their brilliant App store.
Well structured, easy to use, and very attractive, the store really does have an app for everything. Pizza? No problem, there's an app with all the details you need. Games? If you've seen the Apple propaganda, you will know there are many. On my iPod Touch, I even have a 'Sex Jokes App,' which I must admit does have some pretty funny jokes.
Up until now, there has been nothing to rival the App Store. To an extent, there still isn't. Despite HTC and Google's best efforts, the application store of the Hero can't rival Apple. Not only are there not as many applications, but most of them aren't as good. And as navigation is not quite as good as the iPhone equivalent, finding the good ones takes longer. Still, this is nitpicking a little bit. There are many good apps. Pizza? I have an app for that. Games? There are plenty, many of them good. Sex jokes? Probably, I don't know yet. Therefore, in summary, I would say that the application store on the Hero is good, and will fulfil you absolutely fine, most likely giving you and your friends a good laugh in the process. However, remember one thing; almost all of them are free, which for me makes the Apple and Android app stores equal. The App store is nicely structured - not quite as brilliantly as Apple's efforts, but good all the same.
Beyond the app store, the phone has a completely rubbish five megapixel cameral, albeit one better than the iPhone and a video camera. Both are describable as mediocre at best, and are not even slightly impressive by today's standards. The beautiful, high resolution LCD screen will play videos with no problem, while the music player will happily play music while you browse the web, using the simple and fast browser, via WiFi or 3g. The browser is just as good as Apple's; simple to use, fast, and with the same excellent keyboard you use for texting, the Opera browser is truly exemplary. Unlike the iPhone, the programme also has flash support. Don't get too excited, as this is limited, but many flash websites can indeed be used on the Hero that couldn't on the Apple product.
The phone has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, a must in a phone to compete in this sector. It is also equipped with an SD card slot, but with little built in memory. This is a very different approach to storage than Apple takes, with high built in storage and no external memory, but personally it is one I prefer. The phone comes with a 2gb card, but these day a higher capacity one doesn't cost much.
The phone is equipped with a standard mini usb port, making extra accessories easy to find. An accelerometer - otherwise known as a 'G Sensor' is present for gaming and the interface; it works as well as in any rival. The phone is quad band, and so works where you need it, and it has nicely developed email and messaging applications.
Apart from this, the phone really has every feature I can think of it needing, and each one works well. Like the iPhone, the app store enables almost infinite expansion of its capabilities; I have a working metal detector on mine, such are the possibilities that stem from the store. A GPS is integrated, which can be utilised by many apps, and I have used to good effect in Google Maps and navigation software.
Other thoughts - 9/10
Setting up the phone is easy, partially thanks to the HTC tutorial which is triggered automatically when the phone is started for the first time. While setting up the phone with your details for basic use, along with email and other features, the phone also calibrates the screen and keyboard. This is very easy - a case of hitting a target with your finger and doing some typing on the keyboard, to help the spelling checker/predictive text to understand how you type. This takes only a minute, after which you have a keyboard which is fantastically ergonomic, simple, and with very effective spell checker and predictive text facilities. After many months of ownership, the number of typos I have made on the phone is probably in single digits, while I should comment that, unlike the iPhone, you do not have to switch between screens to do insert minor grammar, such as apostrophes and brackets. This makes texting much faster and easier.
You can probably imagine, with so many features in such a portable package, that battery life is dire. Indeed, this is the case; it's the one bad thing about the phone. However, it's no worse than most of its rivals, and, being honest, it isn't difficult or laborious to plug the device into the wall every couple of days.
Summary and conclusion
You cannot go wrong with this phone. I do not think that HTC have a made a product that beats the phone cockily bearing the famous 'i', but I do think that they have made a phone that's just as good. I actually prefer the interface on the HTC to my iPod Touch - it just feels and looks better. Combine this innate usability with unquestionable style, build, and enough functions to please Captain Kirk, and you have a class leader in your pocket. I forgot to mention that coverage (I'm with Vodafone) is fantastic, and the phone is good value for money. I think that, unlike me, you should pay extra to have internet browsing on your contract.
P.S Please rate me! Also, if you are looking at buying a phone, take a look at www.mobiles.co.uk. They have some excellent deals on contracts - through redemption, I have my phone, with 300 minutes and unlimited texts, for just £12.50 per month! A bargain!
Summary: Not an iPhone beater, but just as good.