What's hot: Compact and comfortable phone, HTC Sense UI.
What's not: Has a GPS but no VZ Navigator, just Google Maps.
Reviewed November 7, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Though the HTC Eris might not conjure up the visceral envy that the Greek goddess Eris was known for, it is a more than worthy partner for the Motorola Droid on Verizon. The Eris, or Droid Eris by HTC as Verizon calls it, offers better portability and more phone-like ergonomics than the pocket computer Moto Droid. If you crossed the HTC Touch with the HTC Hero, you'd have the Eris whose black soft touch finish and curved lines matches the Touch while the software (Android with HTC Sense UI) match the Hero. Not a bad match at that: the Eris has all the great usability and syncing features of the Hero with a more attractive and grippable casing.
At launch, the $99 Eris costs half what the Moto Droid does with a 2 year contract, making it appealing if you want to get into the Android smartphone experience but don't want to shell out the big bucks. If you buy it retail with no contract the prices are closer. If form factor and looks are your main concern, the Eris is smaller, arguably more attractive (looks are subjective) and lighter. You do forego the Droid's hardware keyboard but the Eris' on-screen keyboard and capacitive display with haptic feedback are a passable stand-in. That said, email addicts will likely be better served by a hardware keyboard or the iPhone's impossibly good on-screen keyboard. But the keyboard is more than adequate for entering URLs, composing text messages and the like.
The Eris runs Google's Android OS 1.5 (Cupcake) with HTC's Sense UI and software enhancements on top. It has a 3.2" capacitive touch screen that's bright and sharp, WiFi, a GPS that works with Google Maps, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR and a 5 megapixel camera with autofocus lens. Like most Android phones, the resolution is 320 x 480 (same as the iPhone 3GS) and it runs on a 528MHz Qualcomm CPU. The Moto Droid out-specs it with an unusually high resolution 480 x 854 pixel, 3.7" display and an ARM Cortex A8 CPU that's much faster (though the nominal clock speeds are similar). The Eris has EV-DO Rev. A and it weighs just 4.23 ounces.
The Eris has traditional mechanic call send and end buttons and HTC's excellent trackball that lights up for alerts. The strip of buttons just above are electrostatic touch sensitive buttons with haptic feedback. Sounds cool, right? It is if you're not trying to use the phone while moving: you need to get your finger squarely and flatly on these buttons or they won't register your touch. With an hour of use, we managed to get it right most of the time, but still wished they were easier to trigger.
Android and HTC Sense
If vanilla Android is for power users and thosethat are thrilled to find their own widgets and tweaks to customize the phone, HTC Sense is for those who want a bit more structure and a few creature comforts. It offers a large on-screen analog clock with the weather embedded (it uses the GPS to provide weather wherever you are at the moment as long as you have a data connection). Sense does away with the single drawer handle at the bottom that opens up the programs window (a grid of icons like the iPhone and pre-Windows Mobile 6.5 phones). Instead a trio of controls beckon: the arrow that opens the applications drawer, a larger phone button and a + sign that's your shortcut to adding more Android widgets, HTC widgets, application shortcuts and folder shortcuts to the desktop. Speaking of the desktop, HTC has extended it to 7 screens vs. standard Android's 3 (swipe your finger sideways to move from screen to screen). Since HTC offers a range of their own tempting widgets, the added screens are virtually an absolute necessity to avoid clutter and afford a means of organization. For example, you can have a screen dedicated to email and messaging, another to application shortcuts, another for news and sports and yet another for social networking. HTC provides a few home screen options, but we like their default one best.
Other goodies include weather and stock apps that are dead ringers for the same on HTC's TouchFLO 3D Windows Mobile touch screen phones, Peep (a Twitter client that chirps like a bird when tweets come in), and more robust syncing than Android 1.5 and 1.6 offer. As with the Hero, the Eris can sync to MS Exchange over the air and to Outlook on Windows PCs. Native Exchange sync came to Android 2.0, which so far has only appeared on the Droid and there's no native cable syncing. Overall, the software enhancements and more robust syncing make for a much more polished and turnkey experience-- as always, great going, HTC. To see Sense in action, watch our video review below.
Android comes with attractive PIM applications including a contacts application that supports favorites, the Android Market (that's where you'll get additional applications), SMS/MMS, email and a separate Gmail application, Google Maps, Google Talk, YouTube, a calculator, music player, voice dialing and voice search. HTC and Verizon include the free version of Quickoffice that allows you to view MS Office and PDF documents.
Here's our 8.5 minute video review of the HTC Droid Eris that covers physical design and comparisons with the Moto Droid, MyTouch 3G, the UI, web browser, Google Maps and YouTube playback.
Phone and Data
It's hard to fault Verizon's excellent 3G network and the Eris downloads applications, web pages and email quickly over EV-DO Rev. A. It doesn't render web pages as quickly as the Droid since its CPU isn't as fast, but it's certainly on par with the Hero on Sprint (also EV-DO Rev. A and a 528MHz Qualcomm MSM CPU). YouTube standard quality streams well and HQ video plays decently with occasional loss of audio sync. We could see a difference in video quality when using a WiFi connection instead: HQ video was absolutely crisp and clear with no blockiness or loss of sync. Android's Webkit based web browser is excellent and comparable to the iPhone's-- thanks to HTC's customization that adds pinch to zoom (only the Hero and Eris currently offer this feature).
Voice calls sound natural and full and the volume is good, but I could hear my own voice coming back at me through the earpiece. Since there was no delay it wasn't the usual echo experience and thus is less annoying. Reception is middle of the road: it's not a reception demon like the Droid and BlackBerry Storm2, but it's not among the worst Verizon phones. If you frequent areas with modest to poor coverage, you'll feel it with the Eris.
The Eris works with mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets and it has a 3.5mm stereo jack (no wired headset included-- Hades will freeze over before AT&T and Verizon include one in the box). Android comes with a Voice Dialer that does a good job-- just remember to say your contact's name as entered in the address book (if the sort is last name, first name you'll have to say it that way).
Multimedia and GPS
Here we go again. Since we've reviewed a slew of Android phones in the past few months, we're getting tired of telling you that it's plain old lacking in the multimedia department. The music player isn't bad and does support album art and playlists along with MP3 and AAC (plus AAC variants) formats, but there's no syncing. Get out that USB cable or card reader and drag non-copy protected songs to the card yourself. There's no V Cast Music but there is the usual Android Amazon MP3 store.
Video applications are still oddly lacking on Android, but there's built-in support for MPEG4 encoded in H.264. You can play videos from the microSD card. Verizon kindly includes an 8 gig card that's pre-installed in the phone (remove the back cover to access it). So you can carry a decent library with you-- just stick with MPEG4 and VGA resolution or lower for best results. The phone doesn't have V Cast video support: Sprint's Hero wins on that point since it comes with all the Sprint services from music to video to NFL Mobile.
The 3.5mm stereo jack is up top.
The smartphone has a GPS that works with Google Maps (all Android phones come with Google Maps). We were surprised that Verizon's VZ Navigator wasn't included-- it's rare to see a Verizon phone without it. That means no turn by turn spoken directions until Google adds it (there's a beta version of Google Maps with spoken directions on the Droid). HTC's Footprints is on board for a camera plus GPS combo that you can use to record where you've been, favorite places, restaurants and etc. with photo and location saved.
Speaking of the camera, it's not as good as the specs might lead you to believe. The Eris has a 5 megapixel autofocus camera that can take still photos and video up to a lackluster QVGA resolution at 15fps. Since there's no flash, dim indoor shots yield noisy, overly warm photos. Outdoor shots have very nice color saturation (a pleasing over-saturation) and decent color accuracy. But even at the highest settings, there's obvious software interpolation making up the details-- not just in tree leaves (that kind of fine detail is often a little fudged) but cars, signs and buildings show a level of detail we'd expect from a very good 3 megapixel camera rather than 5. Outdoor images look much better when resized down: this improves the apparent sharpness and the colors look great.
There's no dedicated camera button (boo!) so you'll have to resort to the desktop camera shortcut to launch the application and press the trackball (who thought pressing a rolling part was a good idea, HTC?) to snap the shot. Though a help bubble pops up telling you to press the trackball to take a photo, you can thankfully press and hold the screen to take a shot (though this is slower). When using the trackball to take a shot, the Eris' camera is faster to focus and capture than the Moto Droid. The trackball also functions as the digital zoom control. There are plenty of camera settings to fiddle with and images are saved directly to the card.
The Droid revolution has come to Verizon, starting with the Moto Droid and the HTC Eris. While the Moto Droid captivates us with its seductive display, strangely modern industrial design (where ugly almost merges with sleek) and very fast CPU; the Eris says "I'm a phone and I'm friendly to use and hold". HTC's industrial design has been spot-on lately and the Eris is attractive and ergonomic. And HTC's Sense UI polishes Android's rough edges with user-friendly software customizations, useful widgets, apps for popular things like weather, twitter and stocks and it greatly expands Android's syncing capabilities. This is a smartphone that can almost hold its own against HTC's Imagio-- we say almost because Windows Mobile, despite its slow march forward, is more polished in terms of software features (Android is still a very young platform and it shows) like multimedia playback and syncing. And the Imagio has VZ Navigator while shockingly, the Eris lacks it. In fact, Sprint's HTC Hero is stronger on the multimedia front since it crams in Sprint TV, Sprint Music and every other Sprint service currently available on their phones. But the Eris is a fun phone with a spanking new UI that's fresh and fun. It works well as a phone and clearly is tops for working with Google's myriad services like search, Maps and Google Talk.
Pro: Looks great and feels great in the hand. Fairly easy one-handed operation. Display is quite bright and sharp. Capacitive display is responsive and HTC has added pinch zoom in the web browser. Great web browsing, excellent support for Google services, can sync to MS Exchange and Outlook on the desktop. Very customizable. We still love Android's elegant and unobtrusive notification system.
Con: Media players lacking and there's no media syncing (you'll have to drag files to the microSD card yourself). No corporate grade security features like remote wipe. Android Market is weak in the games department. No VZ Navigator or V Cast services.
Price: $99 with a 2 year contract, $469 with no contract.
Display:262K color capacitive touch screen. Screen size diagonally: 3.2". Resolution:
320 x 480 pixels. Supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer. Has haptic feedback for touch sensitive buttons on bezel and for on-screen keyboard. Has proximity sensor.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1300 mAh. Claimed talk time: up to 300 minutes. Claimed standby: up to 373 hours.
Performance:Qualcomm MSM7600 528MHz processor. 288 MB built-in RAM. 512 MB Flash ROM with 145 megs available for storage.
x 2.19 x 0.51 inches. Weight: 4.23 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital 800/1900MHz with EV-DO Rev. A and fallback to 1xRTT. Has speakerphone and vibrate mode.
Camera:5.0 MP camera with autofocus lens. No flash. Can shoot video with audio up to QVGA resolution at 15fps.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Music player supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC and WMA. Has mono speakerphone and vibrate mode.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR with headset, handsfree, A2DP stereo and phonebook profiles. Tethering not yet supported.
Software:Google Android OS 1.5 (Cupcake) with HTC Sense. Google Webkit based browser with support for Flash Lite, Gmail, email, MS Exchange email, YouTube, Google Maps, PIM applications (contacts and calendar), Peep Twitter client, Facebook client, music player, Amazon MP3 Store, HTC Footprints, Google Talk, PDF viewer, Quickoffice MS Office document viewer, HTC weather and stocks, calculator, photo album, camera application, clock and SMS/MMS messaging application.