HTC delivers smartphone Hero to Android fans with flair

HTC delivers smartphone Hero to Android fans with flair

The name says it all: the Hero is HTC's all-guns-blazing attempt to shoot down the Apple iPhone 3GS to kill the Palm Pre before it even arrives on these shores, and to be a drop-dead gorgeous object of desire.

And in terms of features, it delivers. There's 3G, with support for downloads up to 7.2Mbits/sec and uploads up to 2Mbits/sec, plus GPS, 802.11bg Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an accelerometer and a digital compass. Perhaps best of all, it uses Google's Android OS.

The settings are logically arranged, there's no bizarre trail of menus and submenus to navigate, and it pulls off the iPhone's trick of not needing a stylus. This extends to the web browser, which is beautifully suited to the 3.2in 320 x 480 screen. You can double-tap on the screen to zoom in, or use the familiar multitouch system.

Android is no copycat OS, though, and HTC's implementation includes a number of neat tricks. By rolling the scrollwheel from side to side you can swiftly navigate through seven screens, all of which are customisable.

By default, they're filled with such things as weather, texts and contacts, with one screen left empty; it can be filled with program shortcuts à la the iPhone. At any time you can get a full list of installed programs by clicking the upwards arrow that sits next to the omnipresent Phone button. It's a clever setup, and it works.

But that's not all. Press the context-sensitive Menu key and you'll find six options, the most interesting of which is Scenes. There are a number to start off with - from Social to Work to a blissfully empty Clean Slate - all with different wallpapers and default programs. Naturally, you can also create custom scenes.

We're even more impressed by HTC's People app. This cleverly collates all the information you have about a contact into one place - say, from Outlook, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.

At a glance, you can find out if they're holding events, what their job title and history is, their uploaded photos and any tweets they've posted recently. It's disturbingly clever - it appeared to work out someone's surname and Facebook profile from their phone number, for instance.

There are more nice detail touches. There's a 3.5mm earphone socket at the top of the device, and HTC bundles its own earphones complete with next/previous track controls and a pause button.

To reject a call, you simply turn the Hero over to silence the ring. We also applaud the high-quality results from the 5-megapixel camera; less impressive is the video camera, which takes mediocre, low-detail footage at 320 x 240.

There are other areas where the HTC Hero lags a little too. Its accelerometer will detect if you shift to a landscape view rather than portrait, but you'll have to give it a second to kick into action. You may also find you need to switch to landscape to make the onscreen keyboard work to your satisfaction. There's no hidden hardware Qwerty keyboard to resort to, or number pad.

Far more importantly, the HTC Hero is a good phone. Call quality is right up there with the best, and that could be because of the Hero's odd shape. Instead of the typical straight design its bottom lip sits at a slight angle, which moves the microphone that tiny bit closer to the mouth. It may look a little quirky and retro, but we grew used to it.

The rest of the styling is understated. Whether you buy it in the default black or white, or opt for the gunmetal grey Orange chooses (as shown here), it isn't a phone clamouring for admirers. If anything, that finish looks corporate rather than flashy consumer, but the build quality is high thanks to a metallic chassis.

HTC also claims its Teflon screen coating will reduce the effect of smears, but they're still noticeable, and we'd like to see a protective pouch in the box to guard against scratches.

Unlike the iPhone, the Hero's battery is user-replaceable, although at 1350mAh its capacity is average. The exact life you'll receive will vary hugely depending on your usage, although we can confidently say it will last a hectic 24-hour day.

A bigger hurdle, particularly for power and business users, is the Hero's lack of Windows integration. For example, to access the SD card you have to choose to mount the card when you connect via USB.

Then, when you want to synchronise, you must remember to turn this off. We also miss having mobile versions of Office to carry around.

However, the Hero does allow you to synchronise Outlook contacts and calendar appointments over the air, via Exchange. And if your business relies on Google services, the opposite becomes true: Android is excellent at grabbing data and synchronising with Google Calendar. Bizarrely, though, you can't edit Google Docs yet.

Why then, do we have such a soft spot for the HTC Hero? Partially due to its integration with third-party services such as Flickr and Facebook, partially because Google's Android Market means there are thousands of extras you can buy, but mostly because it's such a pleasure to use.

Once Google irons out the niggles with Google Docs, it could also become a very attractive phone for forward-thinking small businesses.

HTC Hero
5 6
A hugely likeable phone that excels at web browsing and manages to just live up to its ambitious name.
Features & Design
Value for money
• HTC:
This review appeared in the December, 2009 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

Most Read Articles

Head2Head: Apple iPhone X vs Samsung Galaxy S8

Head2Head: Apple iPhone X vs Samsung Galaxy S8

The ACCC investigation into the NBN will be useful...

The ACCC investigation into the NBN will be useful...

Review: HP Spectre x2 (2017)

Review: HP Spectre x2 (2017)

How to: Delete your Google history

How to: Delete your Google history

Would you like to receive

Our Newsletter?