Close on the heels of HTC’s first Android handset, Magic, released exclusively with Airtel in June ’09 comes their second Android handset, the Hero. HTC’s first phone was a bit of a disappointment to say the least. The Hero has also been launched with Airtel but it’s also available in an Open GSM model for use with any and all other operators.
There’s nothing to dislike about the handset’s design. I particularly like the finish of the handset with its slight rubbery surface that makes it easy to grip. The microphone comes close enough to the mouth. Trackball navigation is not new but it does beat the navigation pad option. The keys are well placed and easy to use. The volume keys are almost invisible as they blend perfectly with the rear portion of the handset. The display size and resolution hasn’t been upped from the Magic’s. It’s still a 3.2-inch capacitive touchscreen with a 320 x 480 pixel resolution and support for 65K colours.
A proprietary styled mini USB port is located at the bottom. It’s also compatible with standard mini USB cables. A 3.5 mm handsfree is located on the top.
If you’re using your own set of earphones and not the bundled handsfree, you’ll have to unplug them to take a call as the mic doesn’t seem to work with third party headphones. The hot-swap slot for the microSD card is located under the rear panel.
The Hero is a comfortable handset to use and with standard connectivity options like the handsfree and USB ports it’s all good.
The Sense UI is a simplistically designed interface. It’s a total of six desktop pages with widgets that can be assigned to each page. Widgets can also be downloaded from the Android Market. The app is available with the handset so you’re free to browse the variety of add-ons that are available for download. The full page widgets are very, very well designed and easy to use.
While the UI does seem smooth it can be a little sluggish at times. Opening the album folders to view images or videos takes a few seconds. I also noticed the transition from portrait to landscape mode is slow and not very seamless. Perhaps the 528 MHz processor is just a little bit underpowered than what one would need. Other than that, it’s a pleasure using this Android UI.
I am impressed with the superb sound quality of the Android music player. Even without EQ settings or other options alike, it delivers clear sound with all frequencies blending perfectly and a brilliant thump in the bass line. The player itself is simple with the option of creating playlists on the go. What I would have liked here is the ability to search or store according to folders. The lack of an FM radio will be a big problem for many in the Indian mobile community. It does come with a voice recorder that actually has pretty good range. DivX and XviD support for video playback would have been ideal for this handset as well. So after you’ve downsized your videos to suit the mobile platform viz. MPEG4 and 3GP formats, videos play without a hitch and you can also opt to change the resolution form widescreen (if the video is in that format) to fullscreen, cutting out the black bars and a little bit of the videos edges.
The gaming experience is nowhere close to that on an iPhone. The games designed for this platform, although entertaining, are still too simplistic in creation, look or feel. HTC’s accelerometer controlled Teeter is preloaded, while the rest can be downloaded from the Android Market (AM).
I can tell you that the HTC Hero is very connectivity ready but that wouldn’t be the whole truth. Yes, it is a 3G ready handset with HSDPA capabilities and thus easily supports basic EDGE and GPRS. Yes it has Wi-Fi as well and supports USB 2.0 for PC connectivity (have to Mount SD card to access) and Bluetooth 2.0. But here’s the glitch. Like the high and mighty iPhone, HTC’s Android handset also offers limited Bluetooth capabilities. I was unable to send or receive any data to or from the handset via BT although I paired the handset with another quite easily.
As usual it was externally easy setting up a Gmail as well as other POP3 and IMAP accounts. The handset is also set to handle Microsoft Exchange accounts if that’s what you use. A widget can be placed on one of the many desktops to give you on the fly updates of your accounts. The Browser is still the best part about the handset. It’s fast and navigation is simple.
The Android handset also handles popular social networking sites well. Facebook has a widget all to itself here, a sync option for your contacts that also stores their profile images. Twitter is next with another helpful widget called Peep for receiving and sending updates. You can set these various functions up with your accounts so transactions between the two will be seamless. Pictures can also be quickly uploaded to all of these networks with a click of a button. You can also upload images to a Picasa album or send them via Gmail. Google has its own little arrangement of goodies from a Gtalk application that also syncs with your contacts. That’s all in addition to Gmail app as well as Google Maps which is certainly a few steps up from what the Magic had to offer. The funniest thing is that although the camera supports Geotagging, I wasn’t able to simply click on a captured image and find the position on Google Maps unless I used the Footprints app.
When it comes to simpler applications like a Calendar, Alarm, Notes, Stopwatch and such, if you can’t find it on the handset already just get it from the AM, it’s all there. The Hero came preloaded with QuickOffice (read only) that reads .TXT and .XLS, files quite easily. PowerPoint files take quite awhile to open and .DOC files that had any images in them refused to read while normal word files were no problem. The PDF reader also took time opening files. Stock Market and Weather apps are also available.
The Hero’s 5 MP shooter was not very good. It’s slow and unsteady, which left all the images with a shaky look. The settings include White Balance, a timer, Effects and even ISO settings up to 800. It allows you to select an area of focus by touching the screen. But that didn’t make it any better. Although the focus bars would turn green and lock, the image still turned out quite blurry.
The camera is not one of the bigger assets of the handset. Image reproduction is average at best. The images appeared dull even in bright conditions.
Depending on how often or how much you like staying connected you can maximise your battery life. With quite a few of the widgets and email being active together with a few calls and messages I squeezed a little over day and a half of usage out of it. You can switch off the Internet and get quite a lot more. Talk time by itself averaged in at about 4 hours. So the Hero’s battery life is better than just average.