Thorough Sprint Hero Review

Source: http://www.googleandroidblog.com/phones/thorough-sprint-hero-review

Review summary of the Sprint Hero:

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Sprint Hero The HTC Hero on Sprint is the best Android phone to date, and one of the best smartphones on the market. This isn’t a novice smartphone. The Sprint Hero will take some time to learn, but the device rewards patience. The interface running on top of Google’s Android, HTC’s Sense experience, is thoroughly enjoyable and intelligent. In almost every way, from the intuitive contextual menus to the desktop widgets to the detailed calling screens, HTC gets things right with the Sprint Hero. It’s not an Apple iPhone killer. It handles some functions much better than the iPhone, like integrating and managing social networks. But in other ways, like multimedia playback or even camera performance, the Sprint Hero still comes up short. That said, if your phone is a conduit to your social network, the HTC Hero on Sprint does a great job delivering the information to you, and helping you connect with your online friends. Release: October 2009. Price: $180.

Pros: Fantastic interface design. Great Twitter and Facebook apps and widgets. Solid messaging features. Desktop-grade Web browsing.

Cons: Multimedia playback, especially with pre-recorded videos, was difficult to manage. Camera was disappointing. Design could be more exciting.

Poor Mediocre Good 81%
VERY GOOD
Excellent

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Full Sprint Hero Review:

Design – Very Good

The Sprint version of the HTC Hero loses the square lines and jutting chin of the original, and while the new design may be a bit bland, we found it very welcoming and even original for the tablet phone space. The smooth, gently curved design manages to pack in all the standard Android buttons plus an extra smart button devoted entirely to contextual search. The Sprint Hero is painted a drab greenish-grey, and we wish there were more exciting color options. We’d also like to see a few more external ports and controls around the sides. A shutter button for the camera is a necessity, and we wish the microSD port wasn’t under the battery cover.

Once you turn on the Sprint Hero, you’ll forget all about the boring exterior. The interface design is fantastic. It’s clever and useful, with polished, colorful menus and icons, and an intuitive organization. HTC’s Sense experience is a great improvement over the original Android UI, which wasn’t bad by itself. But Sense doesn’t replace the Android interface. It complements the original design with a more polished, modern look and enhanced features. There are active widgets that make the desktop much more functional and an improved look throughout the phone that makes the interface a joy to use.

Android and Sprint’s HTC Hero excel with the numerous customization options. You can build themes that change not only the look of the phone’s wallpaper and desktop icons, but also change the desktop’s organization to offer exactly the tools you need right up top. No other mobile operating system comes close to offering this level of multi-tasking control over your handheld environment, but these advanced features may come at a price.

The Sprint Hero is not the best phone for first-time smartphone users, since the interface can be complicated. You might forget whether you have to pull down the window pane menu from the top, press the menu key for the pop-up menu from the bottom, or hold your finger for a contextual menu in the middle of the screen, and sometimes the choice isn’t obvious. A phone like the Apple iPhone offers a simpler interface design, but it’s much less powerful and customizable.

Calling – Very Good

Calls on the HTC Hero on Sprint sounded very good. We heard a slight metallic buzz during calls on our end from time to time, especially as reception dipped a bit, but usually reception was strong. We took the phone with us on a trip through Texas and California, and the Sprint Hero regularly had working 3G network reception while our iPhone struggled to complete a call. Battery life on the Sprint Hero was okay, but could have been better. We usually got through a day and a half without charging, but the phone would inevitably need a charge around lunch time the second day, or we wouldn’t be using it the next night. Obviously, in mixed use, features like the camera, continuous Web browsing and GPS navigation will drain the battery quicker. Simply making phone calls, we got a little more than 5 hours out of the HTC Hero on Sprint.

From the very first calls you make, you’ll see how deeply HTC has integrated social networking into the HTC Hero. Your contact list is connected to your Facebook and social network accounts, and the phone even helps you create a separate smart folder on the desktop to collect just your Facebook numbers. When you want to pick a contact from your address book, you can start dialing to search names and numbers, you can search your profiles, or the phone even offers contacts from upcoming scheduled events, which helps when you’re on the way to a meeting and you need to tell them you’ll be late. This is just the tip of the iceberg. In countless ways, the Sprint Hero gathers your information and presents it in ways that are insightful. While some smartphones seem to forget the phone part, HTC has done more than any other company to improve the calling experience.

This extends to more advanced calling features as well. Connecting conference calls couldn’t have been easier. The Sprint Hero gets Visual Voicemail, one of our favorite calling features, as well as speaker-independent voice dialing. Just hold down the “Talk” button and the Hero will dial at your spoken command. Actually, the voice dialing could use some improvement, as it often required us to tap the correct choice anyway, which defeats the purpose, but this is a rare misstep on the Sprint Hero. The speakerphone was pretty good, but could have been louder for our tastes.

Messaging – Very Good

For messaging and social networking fans, the Sprint Hero does a great job keeping up with all your separate accounts and networks. We loaded up our Exchange corporate e-mail account, our personal Gmail, our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and the Sprint Hero comes preloaded with apps for each, and more. There are great desktop widgets that present recent Facebook updates and Twitter tweets, and you can add to your own feed right from the desktop without opening the larger apps. Notifications were a bit buggy, as the phone would often report new mail messages when there were none, but otherwise everything worked very well. Simple text messaging looked good, presented in a threaded, conversational style. Plus, it was always easy to send new messages or e-mails from everywhere, forwarding our pictures, sounds and location data.

The problem is that the Sprint Hero takes a shotgun approach to messaging and social networking. As a result, the various widgets and apps and inbox folders seem a bit scattered. We prefer the approach that RIM takes on their BlackBerry phones, like the BlackBerry Tour. On the BlackBerry, you can see each inbox separately, but the phone also gathers all of your conversations, whether they’re e-mails, SMS messages, Facebook messages or IM conversations, and presents them in a unified inbox. While the Sprint Hero is undeniably powerful in its ability to carry on multiple conversations at once across a range of networks and services, we wish there was more unity to keep us organized.

The onscreen keyboard on the Sprint Hero is HTC’s standard design, and HTC designed the best software keyboard in the business, bar none. The keyboard uses haptic feedback to vibrate when you press a key, and it offers good auto correction to help when you make typos. We love that you can hold a key and get the symbol key above, instead of digging into a separate menu. We wish the widescreen keyboard were a bit larger, but in the end the HTC soft keyboard is the most intelligent design on any tablet phone.

Multimedia – Very Good

We’d have to have very high standards to complain about the multimedia features on the Sprint Hero. After all, the music player is solid, with a desktop widget that looks great, presenting album artwork and playback controls on one of the many desktop window panes. The phone also did a fine job finding and organizing our music from the microSD card. There’s no management software to help load playlists or synchronize music with your desktop, and this is more important than Google and HTC realize. But there is the Amazon MP3 store, which is a great over-the-air download service with low prices and a deep catalogue.

Still, the music experience could be much better. While Apple is chugging along with genius playlists and superior, fine-tuned playback controls, Google and HTC have let the music players linger with more basic features, leaving the community to design a better player. There are interesting 3rd party options available, but nothing on Android comes close to Apple’s iPod experience on the iPhone.

The video experience on Android is even worse. There’s no proper video player, you have to dig through the “Album” app. Once there, you can’t see video titles in any view, you can only browse by thumbnails. Our videos looked great playing on the Sprint Hero’s screen, but they were difficult to manage and control, and these are areas in which the iPhone and iTunes combination excels.

Web browsing – Very Good

The HTC Hero on Sprint uses the standard Android browser, and this is one of the better browsers on the phone market. Pages loaded quickly and looked sharp, exactly like their desktop counterparts. The Sprint Hero also features multi-touch, which works very nicely on Web pages. Though the two-fingered controls weren’t as smooth and accurate on this device as they are on the Apple iPhone, it was still easy to zoom in and out on Web pages (and photos) by pinching and spreading our fingers. The Android browser does a great job resizing and formatting text to fit expanding and contracting frames.

Camera – Good

Pictures taken with the 5-megapixel camera on the Sprint Hero were somewhat disappointing. Image quality was fine for viewing on a desktop, but we wouldn’t print the photos we took with the Hero. Further, that 5-megapixel spec may be a misnomer. In widescreen view, which was a default on our device, the camera is actually taking 4.3-megapixel images. Still, our biggest problem was with image quality itself.

Pictures from the HTC Hero’s camera looked blurry and oversharpened at full crop. Details were gone, replaced by an overexposed fuzz on most shots. On images with sharp reds, the colors were completely blown out, and in complex lighting our images looked hazy or too bright. We also found shooting unnecessarily difficult, since the trackball acts as the shutter button. We’d rather have a real, two-stage shutter button. Check out our image samples below.

  • Palm Trees
  • Lions at the Pool
  • Red Flowers
  • Thermometer Clock
  • Fence
  • Star of India
  • Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Crowd
  • Street Lamp at Sunrise
  • GPS Navigation – Very Good

    The Sprint Hero uses Sprint Navigator for turn-by-turn directions, and its one of the better versions of TeleNav’s custom-built GPS app that we’ve seen. The interface is very clean and easy to read. We especially like the countdown meter that tells us when we’re close to our next turn. In our driving tests, the phone found us quickly in our first GPS fix, and held on throughout our trip, loading maps quickly over Sprint’s EV-DO Rev. A network. Besides Sprint Navigator, though, there are plenty of other location-based apps available for Android devices.

    Productivity and the App Market

    For a device with such a social networking focus, the Sprint Hero can be a surprisingly productive little device. The phone comes with a basic version of QuickOffice that lets you read documents on the go, but you can’t create new documents from your phone. Another nice surprise is the Sprint Hero’s easy tethered modem ability. There’s basically just a checkbox buried in the Wireless Controls settings menu that lets you turn your Hero into a tethered modem, and when you plug it into your Windows laptop, Windows automatically recognizes it and starts the connection. No connection manager software necessary. In our tests, the HTC Hero made a fine modem on Sprint’s EV-DO Rev. A network, achieving occasional download speeds in excess of 1.5Mbps and uploads around 500Kbps.

    The Google App Market, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. The App Market has been slightly redesigned with the new Android 1.6 update, but the HTC Hero needs to wait for updates from HTC instead, since it uses a nonstandard Android interface from HTC. Even so, the Google App Market has never been as easy to use, or as seemingly rich with useful apps and content, as the Apple iPhone App Store. There are plenty of useful location-based apps and silly, fun apps, but hardcore games and the wealth of high-end, commercial apps just aren’t present yet.

    Price and availability

    The Sprint Hero is available now for $180 with a contract agreement and mail-in rebate.

    [via infoSync World]


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