This is the first device I’ve tested that is based on Google’s Android operating system, and it has been a great experience.
In all respects the interface is completely clear and understandable, but also attractive and enjoyable to use. Thanks to the hefty 528 MHz processor, I never had to wait for applications to open and everything was super speedy; the only delays were related to the network, when I was waiting for web pages in the browser.
Call quality is very good — there weren’t any problems with background noise at all. I could hear my callers, and they could hear me loud and clear. I won’t say that you can hear a pin drop on the other end of the line, but I don’t have any complaints about clarity.
I am really impressed with the productivity features included with this device. Once you link your Google account, all of your contacts and calendar entries are quickly synced up, saving a lot of time and frustration. If you want to really customize things though, you can edit your contacts into custom groups, pick a particular ringtone for each one, or even set a preference to send their calls directly to voice mail (which would be perfect for an annoying ex who keeps calling).
I also really like how things are organized; tabs at the bottom of the contact card allow you to see your text, email and call histories, and if you’re logged into Facebook and there happen to be friends there, you can see all of the updates relating to a particular contact while viewing their card. The same also applies to Flickr albums as well, which means that it’s much easier to keep up with your closest friends without being overwhelmed by a torrent of information in a generic Facebook application, for example.
Email is of course one of the most important, and setting up both Microsoft Exchange and Pop/IMAP accounts was dead simple, with (almost) flawless results. I say that because sub-folders aren’t supported, which is a major drawback for me. I get an amazing amount of mail, and I make very heavy use of labels and filters in Gmail to keep everything organized. I can see email in my inbox just fine, but I can’t access any of the mail in any sub-folder.
In other ways the overall email experience is better than with my iPod Touch, thanks to the inclusion of QuickOffice. While it takes an extra step to download any email attachments, they open very fast with far superior rendering as compared to Documents to Go on the iPod. A PDF Viewer is also included, with excellent results — the application opens files very quickly, and is gratifyingly responsive to finger scrolling and zooming. Without editing features you won’t be able to change any important documents on the road, but if you just need to view Microsoft Office and PDF files you will most certainly be pleased with the HTC Hero.
When I launch Google Maps, I found that the GPS quickly had my location zeroed in quite accurately, but the real treat is when you start searching for points of interest. Tap in Starbucks and the (several) nearby locations are displayed. When I chose the nearest one, I got the full address, as well as options to show it on the map, get step-by-step directions, place a call, or see the actual street view, just as you could on a PC. Additional details such as business hours, payment methods accepted, and web address are available, provided by SuperPages.com, as well as reviews from Citysearch.com. The overall navigation experience is much better than the typical subscription services offered by the mobile carriers, lacking only voice-guided directions.
The included web browser works beautifully, providing a wonderful near-desktop experience. In my testing it was rather slow, but I lay most of the blame there on the relatively poor wireless coverage in and near my office. When I tried the Hero at home, for example, web pages loaded more quickly, but it still didn’t offer blazing speed.
But you have to keep in mind, the version of the Hero I’m using can’t access 3G networks in the United States. It was designed for Europe, so AT&T’s 3G network wasn’t doing me any good.
Just because this HTC model has a lot of productivity built into it doesn’t mean that it can’t also be a fun device. Out of the box it includes the Peep Twitter client, as well as a YouTube viewer, a music player, and Teeter, a labyrinth-style game. YouTube videos look pretty good, especially in full screen mode, but not spectacular.
The music player is relatively basic, but it works fairly well. You can shuffle songs, create your own playlists, and view your music library by artist, genre, or album title. Sound is far superior through headphones, with the external speaker being just adequate. It’s loud, but the sound quality is rather tinny, so earphones are a must unless you’re just sharing a short clip with your friends. Thankfully the headphone jack on the top of the Hero is the standard 3.5 mm size, so you can use your own set without an adapter.
The camera takes really nice pictures and even more importantly makes it very easy to share them via Facebook, Flickr, Google Mail, Peep, or Picasa.
Basic settings include the ability to set the resolution, white balance, and brightness, or use the optional self-timer. You can geo-tag your photos if you wish, and more advanced photograpers can alter the contrast, saturation, and sharpness properties too. I was also surprised to see that you can crop photos and rename them directly on the device, no computer required.
A camcorder mode is also included for video enthusiasts. You can limit your videos to either one or three minutes or remove the limit entirely if you have a large removable memory card for storage.
This is one of many areas in which the HTC Hero simply shines. I used it quite heavily, with the device set to download new mail every fifteen minutes, and I had a hard time wearing the battery down completely — to the point that I might not bother to take a charger with me if I was just on a two or three day business trip.
I’m not exactly sure how they did it, but I didn’t have that constant nagging fear of a dead battery that I’m used to with other devices, and it’s a nice breath of fresh air.