HTC Hero - First Look

HTC's new handset strikes off a lot of firsts for Android. It's the first Android phone with a 3.5mm headphone jack. It's the first Android phone with multitouch. It's the first Android phone to support Adobe's Flash format for the web. Slightly bizarrely, it's the first mobile phone to be coated in Teflon.

But the smartphone market is getting increasingly crowded, and although Android is unquestionably a great OS, does the HTC Hero have the hardware to do Google's operating system justice? We got our hands on the new device at the launch and here are our first impressions.

First things first - this device is pretty. Although it's got the 15 degree "chin" that the G1 was mocked for, on the Hero it seems more refined, more ergonomic. Although the photos make it look a tad jutty, in person it looks right, in a way that the G1 never quite managed.

The 3.2-inch capacitive touchscreen isn't an OLED, but still looks good. The 320 x 480 resolution might not be the sharpest on the block, but it suits Android with no problems. A black bezel surrounds the screen, and a white bezel surrounds that, making the screen appear bigger than it actually is.

The onscreen keyboard works nicely, in the same way that it works nicely on the HTC Magic. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack, making this a good choice for media consumption; Bluetooth, HSDPA, Wi-Fi, AGPS and an accelerometer are all present and correct.

We only got the briefest of looks at the camera, but it's a 5-megapixel, autofocusing monster compared to the 3.2 megapixels of its predecessors. Still no flash, though, making the N97 the only high-end smartphone that isn't primarily focused on photography to have one.

Memory expansion is available in the form of a microSD slot, but there's only 512MB onboard. We'd immediately advise pumping that up a bit if you want to use the handset for listening to music.

The processor is the weak point. A Qualcomm MSM7200A running at 528MHz isn't quite punchy enough to push through HTC's "Sense" Android add-ons, and left the experience feeling occasionally sluggish. It's not a horrible experience, but it doesn't match the iPhone in responsiveness, particularly when it comes to screen rotations.

Speaking of Sense, the customisation possibilities it offers are excellent. It's got 12 different clocks - 12 clocks! Widgets and homescreen apps are available in multitudes, and they're not just shortcuts to the application, like on some handsets. There's obviously the Android Marketplace too, which is slowly gaining traction.

Sense's contact management works well, too. Select a friend, and you'll see their latest Facebook updates, Twitter statuses, Flickr uploads, and all sorts of other useful info. The geolocation features will automatically update your time zone, meetings schedule and weather display to match where you are. It all makes sense, and does what you expect it to.

Lastly, the handset also mimics the functionality offered by some Nokia enterprise handsets, where you can set a "profile" of applications for different times of the day. A work profile might include your calendar and email on the homescreen, whereas a weekend one might add Twitter and a big photo of your cat instead.

At the time of writing, Orange says that it'll be selling the Hero free on £39.15 /month, 24-month contract. T-Mobile is calling the Hero the "G1 Touch", bizarrely, and will be offering an 18-month £40 deal.

Verdict

HTC's Hero is better than the Magic, and better than the G1. It takes the best bits of other phones, and crams them all into one handset. We'd like more onboard storage and a meatier processor but even without them, this looks to be a solid contender.

We're looking forward to getting it in for a full review in the coming weeks to see how the phone stacks up against the competition.



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