What's hot: Great enhanced Android UI that's fun, fast and powerful. Capacitive display.
What's not: Needs a reboot every 3 days to keep things speedy.
Reviewed September 17, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
I love it! I don't get to say that very often, but the Sprint version of the HTC Hero really stands out as one of the best smartphones of 2009 and so it's won our Editor's Choice award. Google's Android itself is very compelling and both HTC and Sprint's customizations send it over the top. Thanks to the Hero, HTC Touch Pro2, BlackBerry Tour and Palm Pre, Sprint has the best smartphone lineup on the market among US carriers so far this fall. The HTC Hero features a 3.2" capacitive multi-touch display, Android OS 1.5 (Cupcake) with HTC Sense software, a 5 megapixel camera, WiFi, Bluetooth, 3.5mm stereo headset jack and a microSD card slot (2 gig card included). It has EVDO Rev. A (Sprint's version of 3.5G) for fast data, a GPS with Sprint Navigation and Google Maps as well as Sprint TV.
The HTC Hero was first released in Europe in a more angular form reminiscent of the Windows Mobile HTC Touch Diamond2. Sprint's version takes its design cues from the T-Mobile myTouch 3G (also running Android and also made by HTC). It's curvy and relatively small, but it loses HTC's signature Android "chin". We like the brushed metal front face that gives it a classier look than the plasticky HTC Magic (that's the code name for the myTouch 3G and the marketing name for that phone overseas). Front buttons are the same as the Magic, but they're in different locations. These are the home button, menu button, back, search, call send and call end/power button. There's also a very useable trackball in the center of the button cluster. The volume controls are on the left side, the mini-USB port is on the bottom and the 3.5mm stereo jack is up top. The microSD card slot is under the back cover but you need not remove the battery to access it. The phone's curves and non-slippery back make it feel good in hand and the size is manageable-- it's much smaller than the HTC Touch Pro2 and smaller and lighter than the iPhone 3GS.
This is the first Android phone to ship with multi-touch enabled, and needless to say we love pinch zooming web pages, just like the iPhone. And the Android web browser is as lovely as ever and we'd put it on even footing with Apple's Safari on the iPhone.
What makes the Hero stand out are HTC's software customizations that don't merely dress up Android but add useful functionality such as the 7 page vs. 3 page home screen, HTC's own widgets for the desktop, a launcher bar, weather, stock reports and more. Even better, HTC has answered our prayers with expanded syncing: now you can sync to all Google cloud services (standard on Android) and MS Exchange and Outlook on the desktop via cable. That gives the Hero a much wider audience. The only drawback is that firmware and OS updates must come from HTC rather than being a part of Google's OS update cycle (so far, HTC has already released one firmware upgrade for the overseas Hero, so that may not be an issue).
Standard Android phones sync only with their maker. That means all things Google: Google contacts, Google calendar and Gmail. In fact when you turn on an Android phone for the first time you must log into your Gmail account or create one before you can use all the of the phone's features. The iPhone does something similar, but there you must create or enter an existing iTunes account. While we love Android's cloud syncing, it's just not nice to have to create or enter account information if you want to do anything more than call 911. HTC's customizations in HTC Sense take care of this pet peeve: you turn on the phone, you use the phone-- all apps work except the Android Market and Gmail, and you can call anyone, not just the folks at the 911 call center. That does mean that you won't have any PIM data or email on the phone until you select your sync source(s) and initiate a sync. Under settings you can select sync sources and these are Google (Google's Gmail, contacts and calendar), MS Exchange using Exchange ActiveSync (email, contacts and calendar) and USB cable sync to Windows (contacts and calendar). Sorry Microsoft Outlook and Exchange users, there's no tasks and notes sync and no email sync with the desktop.
Exchange ActiveSync works much the same as it does with the many other phones and smartphones that support this feature. HTC's cable sync requires PC installation and a few steps. Here's how that works...
HTC Sync handles syncing via USB with Outlook in Windows. If you connect the phone using the included cable it should show up as a mass storage device and the included 2 gig microSD card has the HTC Sync installer. That said, our Hero's drivers loaded and Windows Vista thought the microSD card mounted as a volume but we couldn't access it. So we used a card reader to do the job instead. Once we did install the software, Windows loaded new drivers, but still the Hero didn't mount correctly. The installer warns you to disable your anti-virus software before running the installer (not always the easiest thing to do since many anti-virus programs do their best to avoid being turned off), but we had no problems installing when we left AVG running. Once we got HTC Sync installed and running (plug in the phone and then use the taskbar sync notification on your Hero to get things started rather than the sync section under settings) it worked fine. Note that HTC Sync supports Outlook versions 2000 through 2007 along with Windows Calendar and Windows Contacts, and it syncs only contacts and calendar items. The desktop sync application has options to repair synchronized data and it has an application installer-- an unexpected feature since apps are usually gotten from the Android Market application on the phone itself.
Sense UI has quite a few features, chief among them the 7 page home screen (swipe sideways to move back and forth between them), HTC Scenes, which are 5 different home screen layouts each with different widgets and HTC's Social Networking (integration with Facebook, Twitter and Flickr and HTC Footprints for keeping a log of favorite places you've visited using geo-location and the camera), A video tells a thousand words, so here's our video review of the HTC Hero for Sprint, with a focus on Sense UI and Sprint's TV and Navigation services. You'll also get a walk around the phone and see how responsive the phone is. If you're completely new to Android and don't know what the standard Android user interface looks like, check out our review of the T-Mobile myTouch 3G and its video review.
Sure it does a lot, but does it work as a phone?
There are lots of smartphones on the market, and not all excel at voice service and voice quality. It seems that we sometimes forget that the phone is still a phone. Happily, the Hero has excellent voice quality, good volume and strong reception on Sprint's voice and 3G EVDO Rev. A network. While it's not horribly difficult to make a call on an Android phone, the feature doesn't exactly jump out at you (the same can be said of the iPhone which beckons with everything except dialing). Instead of pressing the call send button and then switching to the dialer tab or hunting for the Dialer icon on the home screen, just tap the big "Phone" in the center of the launcher bar at the bottom of the screen. You'll be greeted with a large on-screen dial pad that has a list of the 3 most recent calls above and shortcuts to call history and favorites below. This is a smartphone even my mother could use for calls. The phone works well with Bluetooth headsets, has voice command and dialing (reasonably accurate) and Visual Voicemail.
The HTC Hero for Sprint is a dual band digital CDMA phone that's locked to Sprint. It has EV-DO Rev. A for data with fallback to 1xRTT. Data transfer speeds and web page download times were excellent. Likewise applications downloaded quickly over Sprint 3G via the Android Market.
The myTouch 3G and the HTC Hero.
Like most Windows Mobile and Android smartphones, the HTC Hero runs on a 528MHz Qualcomm CPU. It has 288 megs of RAM and 512 megs of flash memory with approximately 125 megs free for your use. That internal storage is important since Android currently only supports installing applications to internal storage (you can put photos, documents and everything else on a microSD card). When the Hero first came out in Europe several months ago, everyone loved HTC's enhancements but they did slow down the phone. HTC recently released a firmware update for the overseas versions and that fixed speed issues. Good things come to those who wait, and the Sprint version has those fixes in place, so the Sprint Hero is a peppy phone. The touch screen is responsive with no lag when scrolling or dragging, applications open quickly and widgets update fine. Our only complaint is that after 3 days of use the Hero does slow down, and a reboot fixes that. The demands of Sense UI and Android's memory management (or seeming lack of it at times) are likely to blame. Android doesn't exit applications by default; it just puts them in the background. That means they'll open very quickly the next time you need them but it also means memory can get full.
Sprint TV, GPS Navigation and Android Market Apps
Sprint TV plays like a dream on the HTC Hero, using the full screen and showing less digital breakup and sync loss than we've seen on many other Sprint phones. The UI has been customized to work easily with the touch screen and we found ourselves spending way too much time enjoying this feature. It's interesting to see video playback beyond YouTube on an Android phone, since Android itself lacks a video player (there is a free basic one available for download on the Market). Now that we've seen Sprint TV, clearly the platform is capable of some good multimedia fun. The Hero has a custom HTC music player that has album art, playlists and all the usual sorts (artist, song title, genre, album). The phone is compatible with cards up to 32 gigs so you can carry a very large library of tunes.
Sprint Navigation works well on the Hero and it got a fix indoors near a window and outdoors in our suburban location. This TeleNav-based service provides spoken turn-by-turn directions, on-screen directions, maps and POIs. Since this is a Google OS, Google Maps is on board with driving and walking directions, maps in standard view, satellite view and traffic view and support for their Latitude service. We downloaded Google's free Google Sky Map which makes use of the Hero's digital compass, GPS and tower triangulation to show you the night sky on screen complete with constellations and stars mapped out. Point the phone at Ursa Major or the Big Dipper and it will show you those constellations on-screen along with a view of the surrounding night sky and it's stars. Very cool!
There are currently over 8,000 applications in the Market and many of them are free. Though that number pales compared to the iPhone ecosystem, there are plenty of useful applications and some decent games, though nothing that competes with the advanced 3G games for the iPhone. HTC includes one of the 2 major Office suites for Android: QuickOffice (Documents To Go is the other). QuickOffice displays MS Office files up to Office 2007 but it can't edit them.
The HTC Hero for Sprint ships with a 1500 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's swappable. For a very full-featured smartphone with 4 wireless radios and push email, the Hero did surprisingly well, lasting us about 2 days with moderate use, just over a day with very heavy use and 3 to 4 days with light use. Sprint claims 4 hours of talk time which was on target in our tests. The GPS and Sprint TV will drain the battery more quickly, so expect shorter runtimes if you use those services heavily.
It's hard not to love a Hero, the HTC Hero on Sprint in this case. It's replete with features and those features work well. HTC's customized Android is a joy to use: it's fun, efficient, full-featured and highly customizable. The phone is responsive (though it needs a reboot every 3 days or so to keep things moving quickly) and it has one of the best web browsers on a smartphone. The capacitive 3.2" display is sharp and we love the multi-touch feature when zooming in on web pages. Though it lacks the serious business clout of the HTC Touch Pro2 with its full MS Exchange support, very complete Outlook syncing and an Office suite that both reads and writes MS Office files, the Hero should do for those who don't need Windows in their pocket. Well done, Google, HTC and Sprint.
Display:Capacitive multi-touch color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 3.2". Resolution:
HVGA 480x 320, supports both portrait and landscape modes. Has accelerometer, light sensor for auto-brightness (can also use manual brightness) and a digital compass.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1500 mAh. Claimed talk time: up to 4 hours.
Performance:Qualcomm 528MHz CPU, 288 megs RAM, 512 megs flash ROM with ~ 125 megs free.
x 2.22 x 0.54 inches. Weight: 4.5 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital with EVDO Rev. A for fast data.
Camera:5 megapixel camera with autofocus lens, no flash. Can shoot video.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder included.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR.
Software:Android OS 1.5 with HTC Sense UI and HTC Footprints. Standard Google Android apps including email, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Talk, calendar, contacts, web browser, camera, clock, Market, Amazon MP3 store and YouTube player. HTC's Sense adds user interface customizations and multiple email/PIM sync sources, HTC Weather, HTC Stocks, music player and QuickOffice (MS Office file viewer). Sprint software: Sprint TV, Sprint Navigation, Visual Voicemail, NASCAR and NFL Mobile Live.
SDHC microSD card slot, compatible with cards up to 32 gigs. 2 gig card included.