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.
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 Amazon.com 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.
All of the typical photo options such as white balance, self timer, etc. are available, as well as a camcorder mode.
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.