Wednesday, June 24, 2009

HTC Hero

We're going to need some real time with the device to make a final opinion, but we're cautiously optimistic that HTC has a winner with its new Hero. Here's what we've got from our first looks at the phone in London and NY:
  • The beveled edges along the back makes the handset sit comfortably in the hand, and while the teflon coat doesn't necessarily feelrevolutionary, it's going to make a world of difference after a couple of months riding in our grubby pockets. It's certainly solid, but much more so than other "brick" phones.
  • The Sense UI (or as HTC terms it, "user experience") riding a capacitive touchscreen offers a people-centric approach to managing your information that is absolutely dreamy at first blush -- though it shares a lot of TouchFLO heritage. In fact, HTC promises to have a very similar Sense-branded experience for Windows Mobile.
  • The on-screen keyboard also seems quite useable with a nice simulated haptic forced-feedback bounce when you strike each key in either landscape or portrait mode (which can naturally be deactivated). HTC has built its own touch keyboard from the ground up, and in our brief couple of tests we'd say it's probably the best touchscreen typing experience we've ever felt. It never lags behind, and has great colorful visual cues for its auto-corrected words -- green means it's suggesting a correctly spelled word, red means we've gone off the beaten path, and the T9-style multiple suggestions are heavenly.
  • This intuitive one-hander isn't shy with the specs either as we've already seen in the official press release. Our only concern is possible sluggishness from the Qualcomm processor that cause the graphic transitions to stutter a bit and results in screen rotations that feel dangerously uncomfortable.
  • We were told that the device we saw was running pre-production firmware so there's still time to tweak -- though not much with a July European launch.
  • The Hero is not a "Google Experience" device. As such, you won't find the Google logo anywhere (no big deal) but you also won't be downloading any firmware updates over the air -- sideloading only kids. Not a deal breaker but an annoying and seemingly arbitrary limitation nonetheless. There's still a small lack of clarity of how updates will work with HTC's "mods" living on top of basic Android -- even if they're able to port in new Android versions seamlessly, we imagine there will be some breakage.
  • For a device without a physical keyboard, the Hero seems a little thick up against its HTC Magic, Nokia N97, and iPhone 3G counterparts, but not overly so.
  • HTC has confirmed that whichever (unspecified) carrier gets the phone in the US will have a modified version, both in software (carrier-specific services) and in hardware chassis tweaks. Just don't take our teflon away, ok HTC?
  • Battery is the same larger slab that's in the myTouch, and HTC also claims to have done some vague, unspecified things OS-side to improve battery life as well. "Heavy users will be able to get through a day."
  • The camera is responsive and seems to do a fine job at autofocus, but wasn't astonishingly great at first glance.
  • The phone will be available for free on T-Mobile UK -- if only we could be so subsidy lucky in the US.
Read the entire Engadget coverage here.