Remember a couple of months back when I branded the HTC Hero ugly? Well I’m going to make a rare admission of error and tell you how much I love mine.
For the past few months I’ve been using an iPhone for my personal line and flipping between a Blackberry 8900 and the lamentably poor G1 for work.
With a contract up for renewal I looked at getting an iPhone for work but decided that ultimately it can’t natively and reliably do a couple of the things I need a work phone to and that as I’d never being using it as an iPod or games platform it wasn’t worth the hassle of switching networks.
Plus, T-Mobile’s business team have always treated me well and I was loathe to ditch years of good relations for a leap into the unknown waters of O2’s business support teams.
One thing I need a work phone to do is store web passwords, not just for forms in webpages but also those htaccess popup login boxes which, unless I’m doing something very wrong, the iPhone can’t cope with. One of the very few good things I can say about the G1 is that it reliably stores these and also has the pretty unexciting but sometimes important ability of allowing me to store and browse for files on the SD card.
These limited plus points led me to toy with the idea of the HTC Hero (Or G2 Touch if you’re T-Mobile) but I wavered after remembering how ugly the handset seemed when I’d seen a dummy model in store.Then I saw a real-life, working example and my resistance to the melted away.
The first thing to say is that the handset actually looks pretty swish ‘in the flesh’, I’m not sure why the dummy I’d seen looked so much less impressive, maybe the non-working screen detracted from the overall look? Also some kind of optical illusion must be at work because the angled ‘chin’ is nowhere near as pronounced in real life as photos make it appear.
HTC say the screen has been coated to resist fingermarks, in practice it seems to attract less marks than my iPhone 3G but it’s not entirely resistant and still needs a bit of a wipe every couple of days.
As just about every favourable review of the Hero seems to agree, the most impressive thing about it is HTC’s Sense UI. It takes the disappointing look of the Android operating system and covers it in a layer of stylish, sharp design which gives any other phone a serious challenge in the looks department.
The polished finish of the Sense UI is what I’d expected of Android when the G1 launched, finally here’s an Android phone lacking the dull icons, the near-industrial interface for adding and managing calender events and contacts and the paltry three ‘home screens’. The Hero boasts no less than seven ‘home screens’ which can be customised with a range of exclusive HTC widgets as well as the default Android offerings though frankly I can’t see many wanting to waste time with them.
The most impressive two HTC widgets are a mail option which allows you to swipe through the contents of your inbox without opening the full mail app, and a fully featured Twitter client which shows a live feed of updates on the homepage with an optional fullscreen view.
My praise for the mail app is slightly blunted by HTC’s decision to limit it to one mail account which means if you have a number of mail accounts you’ll have to pick one account to use in this fashion. Hopefully HTC will tweak this and allow you to browse all accounts from a single instance of the app.
The mail client is more robust and reliable that the G1’s version which often seemed to forget to check for new messages. There’s now MS Exchange support as well as standard POP3 plus the ability to sort, move and mass delete messages so you can get rid of all those spam messages in a single go.
Contacts can be pulled in from the SIM, your Google account or the phone’s own contact list and there’s a handy option to hide duplicate listings for people who appear in more than one of the lists. People can be linked to their Facebook and Flickr accounts, though oddly not Twitter, allowing you to view all their social media, email and SMS updates in one place.
The browser now boasts multi-touch so you can pinch to zoom as on the iPhone and the Hero is the first Android phone to feature Flash support. Putting this to the test it was possible to view Flash content on a number of sites including the BBC news site but not iPlayer content, so it may not be ideal to buy this just on the promise of Flash support.
The bundled Quickoffice and PDF Viewer applications ensure most common attachments can be read on the phone and there’s an ok-ish media player which does the job but isn’t perhaps quite as exciting as the rest of HTC’s enhancement.
And there’s more including the ability to set different versions of the homepages for different uses such as work and social, a decent enough 5MP camera which can also be used to shoot videos which in turn can upload to YouTube, access to the Android market, handy homepage widgets to toggle Bluetooth, mobile network and WiFi connections and the annoyingly addictive Teeter game.
The phone also has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack but, as seems obligatory, some pretty poorly designed headphones which help to make the pretty limited contents of the box seem underwhelming. For some reason HTC aren’t including a case in the box so you’re going to need to shell out for one if you want to keep the glossy 3.2” touchscreen looking nice.
In what can’t be an innocent coincidence, the Hero tells you there’s new messages or missed calls via an intermittent white light under the trackball. Yes, just like how Mac computers wink when they’re put into sleep.
In summary the Hero is a great phone which deserves a look and far more media attention, there are enough innovations to make this a worthy alternative to the iPhone and HTC’s visual enhancements should make the Hero the default choice for anyone planning on an Android-powered phone.
(PS, thanks to the wonders of Spanning Sync I can even sync the Hero with my Mac.)