Sprint HTC Hero Review

Before I start the review, I thought it would be beneficial to provide some brief background regarding my experience with smart phones. Doing so will level set the review for those of you who don’t know me.

Background Information
The Hero is the first smart phone I’ve ever owned. I was formally with Verizon Wireless and used a “normal” mobile phone. I liked Verizon’s great network coverage. However, their customer service left a lot to be desired and their data phone plans were more expensive than what I wanted to pay.

The majority of my co-owners and some of my family have been avid smart phone users for some time so I tinkered with a variety of devices ranging such as full keypad BlackBerries, the BlackBerry Storm, and iPhones. Based on using other people’s phones, I knew I wanted either the Hero or an iPhone. I’m not saying the BlackBerry isn’t a good device, it is just more business focused than I desired and has an unattractive yet mostly functional user interface (UI). I say this so you know that I at least have some prior exposure to smart phones to help me in my assessment of the Hero.

Why not iPhone?
Major Deciding Factors
So why did I decide to go with the Hero rather than the iPhone? Ultimately, it came down to two deciding factors.

  • The quality of the Sprint network exceeded that of AT&T’s.
    • Faster 3G network with 4G network already being deployed; and
    • “Free” roaming to Verizon’s network when available*
  • Sprint plans provided more features for less money
    • free text, picture, and video messages;
    • twice as many minutes;
    • free nights and weekends last longer; and
    • Any Mobile, Anytime

*Free roaming means you can use Verizon’s network without any fees from Sprint when you don’t have a Sprint signal. However, the usage time does use your minutes. The data speed is slower while roaming and there amount of bandwidth you can use while roaming is much lower than Sprint’s monthly bandwidth cap.

Other Factors
Openness
With the Android platform, I don’t have to worry if Apple/AT&T will approve an app I want or not. If I want a Google Voice application, I can go download it from the Android marketplace. I can also get apps from outside of the marketplace. Admittedly, the iPhone has more apps available.

Development
One of my personal goals is to become a better programmer. Android applications can be written in Java while iPhone applications must be written in Objective C. Java is more appealing for me to learn than Objective C is because Java is more widely deployed and isn’t Apple centric. One potential downside to the Android’s openness when it comes to development is the lack of standardization. With the iPhone Apple controls the OS and Hardware so developers know everything about the device.

Review Time
By now you’re probably saying enough already, get on with the review! In short, I like the Hero but recognize it has short-comings. So what I plan on doing is breaking this review down into different sections. Knowing most people like to hit the highlights, I will provide pros/cons for each section. Following the pros/cons, I will provide additional details for anyone who is interested.

Application Choices
Pros

  • Great Google integration
  • Ever increasing application selection

Cons

  • Less Apps
  • Lack of game selection

As we all know, Google makes some great applications. As the Android Operation System (OS) is backed by Google, Google naturally provides some very nice applications. The Gmail application works beautifully and has native push notification. Other great Google Apps include Google Maps and Google Sky Map. Outside of Google, there are other nice apps such as MyTracks, Astrid, AK Notepad, etc. Amazon even has an app that lets you scan a barcode at a bricks-and-mortar store and see if Amazon offers a better price. Because the marketplace is open and because more and more wireless providers are offering Android based phones, the application selection will continue to grow which helps mitigate the con of having fewer applications to choose from than the iPhone does. Another thing I’ve noticed is there is not a huge selection of high quality games, especially of the 3D nature.

The Android Market is not easy to browse online and doesn’t show the full list of available apps. You have to go to third party sites to find and search for applications. However, the Market place browser on the phone works great.

Hardware
Pros

  • Solid build-construction
  • Easy to hold
  • Attractive design
  • Removal storage
  • User replaceable battery

Cons

  • Underpowered processor
  • Less memory (RAM) than desired
  • Fewer screen colors than comparable devices
  • Camera quality
  • Online Market place

The Hero feels and looks to be a well built phone. The materials feel solid and the seams and gaps fit precisely together. The size of the phone comfortably fits in my hand and the buttons are easy to reach though sometimes it’s easy accidentally hit volume button while holding the phone in landscape mode. Moreover, I like the unobtrusive, simple design of the Hero. I also like the ability to easily replace the battery if need be or to simply a spare battery. Lastly, having removal storage allows me to expand storage on an as need basis.

Unfortunately, not everything on the hardware side is positive. Because Android allows multiple applications to run at once, having a state of the art mobile processor would be great to have but the Hero has a last generation processor rather than a Snapdragon processor. As with all electronics, more memory never hurts.

How bad is the slow processor? Not as bad as you would think but it is still noticeable. You can notice the slowness when booting the phone and performing processing intensive actions. Every now and then, the keyboard switch from portrait to landscape mode will hesitate.

I’ve heard the Hero has less screen colors than the iPhone but I couldn’t find the technical specs to back this up. Looking at the phone, this is something I would not have noticed if someone had not pointed it out to me. The only time I’ve really seen a difference is when someone showed me a non-stock image which contained a gradient. Lines of color in the fade from black to dark gray were visible rather than being completely smooth color transition.

Although the camera is 5 mega-pixels, it does not have a flash (for what it’s worth, the iPhone doesn’t either) so it doesn’t perform great in low light. The time from pressing the snapshot button to the time the picture takes is much slower than what I like (I’m used to using a DSLR). The video quality is also not as good as the iPhone (based on videos I’ve watched on YouTube). On a positive note and as far as I can tell, the videos are recorded in the more friendly MPEG-4 format than Apple’s .mov format.

One of the biggest cons is the battery life. I can usually make it all day on one charge. I always leave Bluetooth off, I rarely turn Wi-Fi on, and rarely turn GPS on. As the device is new to me, I do take quite a few pictures, shoot some video, and check and send a number of emails. I’ve also browsing the marketplace quite a bit. Recently, HTC provided a firmware update to fix a few bugs and from what I can tell, it has improved battery life a little.

Concluding Remarks
I’ve attempted to provide an honest, through review. The Sprint network has been fine though the coverage is not as good as Verizon’s was. Nonetheless, the free roaming to Verizon’s networks is a huge plus. All in all, I really like the phone and don’t regret the purchase. Thankfully, HTC has announced they will upgrade the Hero to Android 2.0 so I won’t be left behind wanting a 2.0 phone. For those of in the market, it might be worth waiting a bit longer because I expect newer, better Android phones to become available. If you’re tired of waiting like I was, I recommend the Hero. It’s a fun device.

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