HTC Hero

HTC Hero

The HTC Hero is going to be Sprint's first model running Google's Android OS. It will have a tablet shape with an HVGA touchscreen, wireless broadband, and Wi-Fi.

Google Android OSSprint's version is similar in many ways to the European version I reviewed recently, but there are some notable differences/improvements in hardware and software.

It will be available from Sprint on October 11 for $180 after a $100 rebate with a new two-year service agreement.


The European edition of the HTC Hero has a protruding "chin" on the bottom of the device, while the Sprint version is a standard bar-style phone. I must say that I like this version better; it is simply more pocketable and comfortable to hold. It doesn't stand out from the crowd so much in an aesthetic sense, but it's streamlined and modern. It's roughly the same length as my iPod Touch, but much narrower, and it feels good in the hand. It is heavier than the Touch, but not unbearably so, and feels very solid.

The controls are very minimal indeed. On the left side you'll find the volume up and down buttons, and that's it aside from the sync/charge port on the bottom of the phone. There are two very small Call and Disconnect buttons on the front panel, underneath the screen. The first couple of days I had a really hard time with them, because they were just too tiny to hit without really thinking about it, but now I'm not having any issues with them.

The other controls such as Menu, Home, Search, and Back, are pressure sensitive and not actual buttons at all, but I didn't have any problems with them.

The trackball is larger than the European Hero, and a little looser. My control wasn't quite as tight and precise as on the other version, but this one is a bit faster to use since there's more "play" before you have to reposition your finger to keep rolling.

The microSD slot is underneath the back cover of the phone, but thankfully it isn't hidden under the battery so you can change it out on the go if necessary.

The headphone jack does accept standard headphones, which is great -- I really don't like being forced to purchase a special headset or an adapter just to listen to my music.

The HVGA screen really is the star of the show here, and it's gorgeous. At 3.2 inches, there's plenty of real estate to play with here, and the colors are bright and vivid. Video looks great too, without any ghosting issues.

I found it to be very responsive to my touch, requiring only a light press of the fingers instead of heavy duty mashing. It also supports some multi-touch gestures, such as a pinch to make the text larger or smaller when you're browsing the web.

The virtual keyboard is the one aspect of the HTC Hero that I can't praise unconditionally. It works, and I like the feedback I get when I touch each key, but I wish that the keys were larger and easier to use. Even after practicing quite a bit, I still need to look at the screen when I'm entering text to make sure that the input is accurate.

I'm sure that if I had more time with the device that would improve, but right now the text entry experience just isn't as good on the Hero as it is for me on the iPod Touch. It's better than the virtual keyboard on many other devices, but not a perfect experience.


The HTC Hero comes with Android 1.5, but it has some special enhancements exclusive to this device. For starters it has seven panels on the start screen instead of just three, which means that you can set up different panels for all of your most-used functions, from the calendar and music player to Twitter, e-mail, web browsing and weather. You can access each one with a flick of your finger, and if you give it a little thought when you first set everything up, you may find that you never need to look at the application list in order to launch a program.

Another special addition is Scenes, which allows you to customize various layouts for your device such as Social, Work, etc. The Work scene customizes everything at the press of a button, putting your calendar and a world clock front and center, with the next panel containing a small weather widget in addition to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi settings, then your corporate Exchange account, and then the stock report. Choose the Play scene and you'll see your music player, photo album, Twitter account and web bookmarks. You can create your own scenes, starting from one of the pre-built versions or from a Clean Slate that allows you to start from scratch.

Wireless/Call Quality
This can sometimes be a sticking point for me; many smartphones are fabulous at keeping you connected and online, but don't do so well when you actually need to place a phone call. This is one area in which Sprint's version of the HTC Hero truly shines: the voice quality is phenomenal.

Even in my office, which is virtually a black hole as far as cell signals are concerned, my test callers said that they could barely tell that I was using a mobile phone. On both sides of the conversation, everything came through loud and clear. Results outside in noisier environments were almost as good, with very little interference from background noise and wind.

Other wireless options include both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and both of those functions worked perfectly during my testing.

The HTC Hero has full support for Microsoft Exchange, and it works perfectly. When you first set it up you can choose to sync email, calendar, and contacts. Attachments work just great, though you do have to go through the extra step of tapping on them and downloading them -- it doesn't happen automatically, even if they're just 1-2K in size. Some non-supported attachment types, such as HTML files, can only be saved to an SD card, while supported types such as Word and Excel documents can be opened from within the mail application or saved to your SD card.

QuickOffice is included with this device, and it's a great document viewer You can't edit Excel files, but you're probably not planning to do any heavy duty work on a smartphone anyway, so it's not a great loss. There's also a PDF viewer, so no matter what type of attachments you get on you Exchange accounts, you'll have the basics covered when you're on the road with the Sprint Hero.

The web browser is a joy to use, and very intelligent -- the text of the page appears quickly, so that you can get right into finding what you need/reading articles even before all of the graphics finish loading. I'm sure the Hero's EV-DO mobile broadband help out here. Scrolling is smooth as silk and very fast. You can use the trackball to jump from link to link if you like, and it serves as a quick guide that helps you quickly move through the content on busy pages.

Sprint Navigation is another winner, with clear maps, easy-to-use directions, and very quick location. Some GPS navigation apps seem to take forever to locate you, or don't do so very accurately, but I was very pleased with the performance of this device and application.

The Hero's music player works well, and I really like the cover flow-like view that shows off album art nicely for the track that's currently playing as well as the previous and next tracks. The controls are larger and easy to hit with your finger, and the sound quality, while better with headphones, is adequate with the external speaker, and plenty loud.

The Amazon MP3 store deserves special mention here as well. One thing I really appreciate with my iPod touch is just how easy it is to shop for new music on the go, and no other device has come anywhere near duplicating that experience... until now. You can browse the top 100 albums or tracks, browse by genre, or search for specific songs or artists. Tap a song title to hear a 30 second preview, or purchase it with just one click once you've entered your account information. It's easy and quick and a nice alternative to the iTunes store.

I spent quite a bit of time playing around with NFL Mobile, and I really got a lot out of the application, even though I'm not a football fan. It's well organized, offering quick access to news and highlights, and there's even a ticker running at the bottom of the screen for the latest headlines. When you first start the application you're asked to pick your favorite team, which then becomes a tab for quick access. NFL Mobile doesn't have a great depth of content, but if you want to keep up with basic scores and highlights on the go it does a good job of keeping you informed.

Other entertainment options include Sprint NASCAR Mobile (which is similar in many ways to NFL Mobile), Sprint TV, and a YouTube viewer, all of which work flawlessly. Video quality is very good, and everything works exactly as you would expect.

The 5-megapixel camera takes nice shots, but the quality isn't absolutely earth shattering. Photos come through crisp and clear, but the colors don't seem to be very well saturated. I should note that I took my sample photos on a relatively cloudy day, so it could be that the problem is more with the conditions than with the camera itself.

I really appreciate the zoom function, which is much better than what is typically found on mobile phones these days, though I did have to bump up to ISO 800 in order to get clear shots when using the zoom.

The sample photo included with this review was taken from the street of a house that was set very far back from the road -- the shot wouldn't have been possible without the good quality zoom feature.

Battery Life
Battery life is quite good; even with a lot of web surfing and network access I was only down about halfway by the end of the day, with some of that usage in an area with poor signal strength.

The Sprint version of the HTC Hero has a larger 1500 mAh battery than its European cousin, which is great for road warriors and heavy users. The device also charges up wicked fast, in just over an hour from a roughly 25% charge when I plugged it into the charger.

The power brick is relatively large, but extremely light, and it has folding prongs for simple storage in your travel bag. It works in conjunction with the USB cable that comes with your phone, so if you're traveling with a laptop you could leave it at home and just take the cable for use with your computer.


It will be hard not to gush here, because I really have enjoyed using the HTC Hero over the past couple of weeks. Everything just works, and is highly customizable, which is a real plus.

It may sound like a small thing, but the customizable panels on the start screen have really streamlined my user experience. Instead of trying to squint at a menu full of applications, I can pull out the ones that matter most and have instant access to them with a minimum of fuss. Depending on the widget styles you choose, you can see your latest emails and Twitter updates right there on the screen, since they regularly update. When you consider how often you check those sorts of things, that can save you a lot of time.

I know that there are many folks who are very attached to their iPhones, but there are some great alternatives out there. The HTC Hero is one of them, and if you want a great user experience in a sleek, durable device with great battery life and superior voice quality, take a close look at the Sprint HTC Hero.


* Superior voice quality
* Microsoft Exchange support
* 5-megapixel camera


* Virtual keyboard somewhat finicky at first, but practice makes perfect

Editor's Rating: Excellent


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