Sprint HTC Hero review

We started our last HTC Hero review with talk of the chin, so it seems logical to start this one at the same point. That's right, it might have quickly become HTC's signature for it's Android devices, but Sprint clearly doesn't agree.

Instead from Sprint you get a flatter phone. Cosmetically this means that the button configuration at the bottom underneath the screen has changed, and overall the phone has become more rounded.

It comes down to personal preference (well for us, Sprint customers won't have a choice over this or the original European model), but rather than find the buttons in a straight line with the trackball beneath, the buttons are now arranged in more of a cluster with call and hang up getting more prominent buttons.

The menu, home key, search and back arrow get placement on a single flat panel - they aren't touch sensitive before you ask - just buttons behind a single plate of metal. Still that trackball is very responsive, not that you'll find yourself using it that much.

Why? The touchscreen above.

The screen remains the same at 3.2-inches, the same as the original model. Compared to other smartphones on the market it is slightly larger than the Palm Pre's 3.1-inch screen and slightly smaller than the iPhone's 3.5-inch screen. Either way the smaller hyptic-enabled screen means a more compact phone that won't take up as much real estate in your pocket, but one that is still very usable.

Elsewhere the design is fairly straightforward. The rounded edges at the bottom continue to the top, buttons are kept to a minimum and the 5-megapixel camera takes centre stage on the back of the device. There is HTC's slight odd Mini-USB charging socket, and 3.5mm hole for your headphones. Like the original Hero the phone comes with a polytetrafluoroethylene coating giving it a slightly rubberised feel and certainly different from the usual slippery, shiny, smudged handsets you normally find. Slip the case off and you'll find a microSD slot.

Keeping on the technology front, you'll get wireless and Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity as well as GPS so you can find your way home. This being the Sprint variant it's geared towards the Sprint Ev network. If you're a Sprint customer this isn't really going to make much difference.

We took the phone on a road trip from Hoboken, New Jersey, down to the Outer Banks in North Carolina and had no trouble with connection on any part of the journey. All east coast admittedly, but you know from either being a Sprint customer or having friends on Sprint whether or not you are going to get good coverage.

Running Google's Android OS, the HTC Hero is Sprint's first Android handset. Android as you probably know is an open source operating system created by Google that allows you to multitask, download additional apps and run a fully-fledged smartphone complete with mail, browser and all the usual apps you would expect.

Taking the Android OS as a starting point, HTC have, like they have previously with Windows Mobile, put their own special sheen on the operating system. Called the Sense UI it basically gives you a graphical skin over the Android OS giving it a more grown-up experience.

In reality you'll mostly experience this through a series of customised screens giving you quick access to a number of the key features. Whether it's work, play, social networking or all of the above, the screens are incredible easy to use, stylish and the key to the phone's simplicity.

Thanks to a ROM update from HTC released in September and automatically installed here, the phone is zippy and is an improved experience over the original HTC Hero, which we originally thought could be improved from a software point of view. We are happy to report that the Sprint HTC Hero really is worthy of the Sprint in the name.

It's fast enough that you won't find yourself struggling with whether or not you've press the button or flipped a screen. And as flipping through screens is something that you'll find yourself doing a lot, it only fair to expect good performance. Basically we weren't disappointed.

Elsewhere specific to the Sprint version you get a Nascar application, which is, it has to be said pretty dull and a GPS application, which is fairly helpful and saves you having to invest in a satnav app from the get go.

Of course there is plenty more to the phone than above. The handset is expected to ship with Android version 1.6 "Donut" however our model, which was retail-ready was only sporting version 1.5 so we weren't able to test out the new features ahead of the launch.

Software-wise it is also fair to say that social networking like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr are at the core of this device, with deep integration into contacts. Of course you have to manually set all this up for it to work to its full advantage, but still it's a nice addition to have and certainly makes the iPhone and its contact system rather outdated.

It's just one of the niceties that can be found on the phone, whether it's the weather updates automatically changing as you change your location, or the different "scenes" that allow you to gear your home screens to what you are in to, the HTC Hero is a very good handset.

Verdict

Software wise there is very little different between the HTC Hero released in Europe and the HTC bound for American soil (check out our Euro HTC Hero review for more on the UI). Where the difference appears is in the hardware and cosmetic design of the handset.

The lack of chin will be off-putting to some, but you'll get over. For some the button configuration may even be better.

Yes, the Sprint version "sans" chin does lose some of its character making it look like just an "a n other" smartphone. However with the customisable open Android OS and a user interface that is in no way " Apple" this, like the original version, is a great handset.

Where it succeeds is in its ability to zip through menu systems, run applications simultaneously and offer a smartphone experience that still has plenty of growth, including that Android 1.6 update expected soon.

For the non Apple or Palm believers, this is one to strongly consider.