The HTC Incredible. Now that’s a bold name, isn’t it? Should you expect a lot from a smartphone with that kind of name, or just a lot of hype? The Incredible is Verizon’s fourth Android phone, and the third in their “Droid” series. Though most folks refer to that heavy-hitter and serious hit, the Motorola Droid as “The Droid” and ignore the name when it’s tacked to the front of HTC Eris. While the Eris, a lovely Android phone, played a definite second fiddle to Moto’s Droid, the Incredible goes all out to wage war against the Moto. If you liked the Moto Droid but prefer a slate touch screen phone over a slider QWERTY, the Incredible is for you.
On paper, the HTC Incredible looks a lot like the Nexus One and HTC Desire. It shares the same 3.7” AMOLED 480 x 800 pixel capacitive touch screen, Android OS 2.1 Eclair, 1GHz Snapdragon processor, trio of 3G-WiFi-Bluetooth wireless and a GPS that works with Google Maps. The Incredible ups the ante with an 8 megapixel camera vs. 5, and 8 gigs of internal storage vs. approx. 500 megs. Sweet. The look is all HTC and Verizon too with the black casing, slim slab look (a fitting partner to the Moto Droid) and Verizon red accents. It will be interesting to see which becomes dated more quickly; the stylized Incredible or the less exciting but perhaps more timeless Nexus One. Either way, HTC wins since they built them both. One thing to note is that the Incredible is an all-plastic phone without the bits of metal found on the Moto and Nexus.
For now, we like the look of the Incredible. From the front it looks much like every other higher end touch screen phone including the iPhone 3GS. The large glass display dominates and there’s a “belly button” below the screen that’s an optical d-pad vs. the iPhone’s home button or older HTC Android handsets’ trackball. The usual four Android buttons are touch sensitive and these handle home, menu, back and search. The optical d-pad turns into the shutter button when taking a photo but there’s no camera launcher button (use the home screen shortcut to launch the camera).
You can’t miss the earpiece above the display since it’s done up in red mesh, and the large-ish camera lens is rimmed in red. If you pop off the peel-off back, you’ll see lots more red inside. Think of it as your inner Ferrari. The back has a three level waterfall design that looks neat and allows for a decent sized 1300 mAh Lithium Ion battery (also red). The speaker opening on the back is quite large and the speaker underneath (viewed with the cover off) is very large. As you’d expect, the speaker is loud and happily also clear, making it perfect for spoken directions using Google Maps. Sorry there’s no VZ Navigator but you can’t beat Google Maps' price (free) and the directions are generally decent though not as expedient as VZ Navigator and TeleNav when dealing with turn options and shopping centers.
The optical mouse that replaces the old HTC trackball works effectively and caused no problems though I personally prefer the trackball. It works extremely well for changing home screen panels, but takes a bit more care than the trackball when moving between icons in the app screen.
At launch, the HTC Droid Incredible sells for $199 with a 2 year contract after rebate, and that puts it in a strong position against the still not released Nexus One since there’s been no mention of a contract subsidy option with Verizon as there is for T-Mobile (the AT&T version of the Nexus doesn’t have a contract subsidy option either). The other selling point is HTC’s Sense UI, tasteful and useful customizations of Android that improve usability without getting in your face and in the way. The Nexus One runs vanilla Android since Google wanted their experience to dominate. Sense adds HTC’s now famous weather that isn’t as cinematic as their Windows Mobile version but it’s still the darned prettiest weather you’ve ever seen integrated into a phone. The large flip clock on the home screen (HTC’s other trademark Sense item) has the weather graphic and info tucked below. Tap on the sun/clouds/whatever your weather is doing to see the five day forecast whose data comes from Accuweather. You can have multiple cities around the world in your weather and the main weather is determined by your GPS position. If you tap on the flip clock in the home screen you’ll get the desk clock with time, weather, a world clock, alarm clock, timer, stop watch and options to just display the time (good for bedside clock mode).
The HTC Incredible’s 3.7” AMOLED display is the mirror image of the Nexus One but it’s about a 16th of an inch narrower. The Incredible is actually a little smaller than the Nexus One as well but we’d never call it a small phone. Like the iPhone, it’s a big slate phone though HTC has managed to cram a lot of hardware into a not overly large package. The Incredible looks small next to HTC’s 4.3” display HTC HD2 and HTC Evo (funny what a half inch of diagonal screen size can do to a phone’s size). The Incredible is nearly the same width and height as the Motorola Droid but it's thinner since there's no slide-out keyboard.
Indulge your inner Ferrari: the Incredible is bright red under the back cover.
AMOLED displays feature very deep, saturated colors, especially warm colors like red, and so the red and black theme really pops. Videos look colorful as do photos, though they’re no sharper than on non-AMOLED phones like the HD2 and 3.7” Motorola Droid. AMOLED displays use less power but the drawback is that they’re less visible in sunlight and that means it’s hard to see the Incredible’s screen if you’re outdoors in bright sunlight. The capacitive display is pleasingly sensitive to touch and it supports multi-touch so you can pinch zoom in the web browser, photo viewer, maps and more.
Thanks to the 1GHz Snapdragon CPU (the current top processor for smartphones), the Incredible is fast and doesn’t often pause or hiccup. Web pages render quickly, the multi-page home screen moves right along with the swipe of a finger and HTC’s latest feature, a quick view of all home screen pages, renders with good speed. The phone has 8 gigs of internal storage with 6.6 gigs available and 700 megs of phone memory where you’ll install applications (Android doesn’t yet support installing applications on an SD card or secondary internal flash drive). There’s also a microSD card slot under the back cover, but no card is provided since there’s plenty of internal storage.
Call quality is excellent—we’re talking land line clear on both incoming and outgoing ends. The phone handles ambient noise well and when we called from a highway rest stop populated by noisy birds, our call recipient heard only faint white noise. When calling from a quiet environment there’s no white noise at all. Call volume is more than adequate for those with average hearing and the speakerphone is very loud and clear. Reception is just average, and that’s been the case with most recent HTC phones. They aren’t reception demons like the Motorola Droid which could get a signal in a lead-lined box, but they’re fine if you’re in a passable coverage area or better. The phone comes with both Voice Search and Voice Dialing courtesy of Google’s Android 2.1 OS. Both work well with the HTC’s mic and you can initiate voice command by pressing and holding the search button or by using the on screen icons.
HTC hasn’t been known for their wildly good cameras. On paper they look good but the photos looked overly processed or noisy. The T-Mobile version of the HD2 (5MP) marked a turn for the better and the Incredible’s 8 megapixel shooter is also quite decent. While it still can’t compete with Nokia’s Nseries phones or high end Sony Ericsson Cybershot phones for image quality, the Incredible’s photos are generally very pleasing if ambient light is good. Colors are accurate and rich and there’s very little noise in well lit shots. Dim indoor shots are very noisy even with the blinding dual LED flash, though colors are strong. Outdoor shots are very sharp and you won’t notice the processed look unless you zoom in to 100% using your desktop image editor. When viewed at 100%, image details have a painterly look since the software has processed the image to enhance it, and this isn’t something you’d see on the afore mentioned Nokia and Sony Ericsson images or those of a dedicated point and shoot. That said, for a camera phone and particularly a US camera phone (we rarely get high end shooters here), it’s a darned good camera. There are plenty of camera settings for brightness, color effects, sharpness, flash control, flicker control and more.
The camcorder can shoot video up to 800 x 480 resolution at an average of 26fps with lesser options for VGA and MMS sizes. It uses autofocus for video (impressive) and has a variety of exposure and sharpness controls. Video quality is quite good.
There’s plenty of HTC software on board but little from Verizon. The Android Market has a Verizon tab so you can peruse and install recommended Verizon and third party apps, but for now there’s no VZ Navigator or V Cast on the phone. HTC’s software includes Footprints (it keeps a travelogue of your photos with geotagged info), Peep (a Twitter app), HTC Friend Stream (a unified client for Twitter, Facebook and Flikr that also functions as a widget), HTC People (contacts enhancement), HTC Stocks, HTC live wallpapers, HTC’s software keyboard, FM Radio, HTC Calendar widget, HTC Messages widget, HTC Music and Music widget, HTC Photo widget, a PDF viewer and HTC Streaming Media player. Android phones don't support direct syncing to desktops via USB and so HTC provides their own HTC Sync software for Windows PCs to sync calendar and contacts with Outlook. The PC installer software is pre-installed on the 8 gig storage area.
Given Android's so-so media players, HTC's apps are an improvement and the FM radio is sweet too. As always, you must plug in a 3.5mm headset to use the FM radio since it acts as the antenna (sorry, headset not included), but you can play the radio through the speaker. It automatically scans and saves FM stations and the interface is easy to use and attractive.
For business types, there's the free Quickoffice viewer for MS Office files and a PDF viewer. Though Android is sexier and newer than Windows Mobile, Windows Mobile touch screen phones come with Microsoft's own Office suite that can not just view but create and edit documents and has more robust Exchange support.
Android 2.1 is a relatively mature smartphone release with features like voice command, call logs and favorites, Google sync, MS Exchange Sync (via Exchange ActiveSync), Bluetooth stereo and automatic switching between WiFi and EV-DO 3G. But there’s still no native tethering support and so HTC has provided USB tethering software that’s pre-installed on the phone. Install it on your Windows PC and you can use the Incredible as a 3G broadband modem. We’re thrilled that HTC has made this possible but it seems old fashioned to have to use a cable when Windows Mobile and Palm’s new webOS phones like the Pre Plus can do it wirelessly over Bluetooth or WiFi. Alas, that’s an Android shortcoming.
Battery life is better than expected for a 1GHz smartphone that makes frequent data requests to keep all things Google in sync. The 1300 mAh Lithium Ion battery lasted us through the day with sync to Gmail, contacts and Google Calendar enabled.
No doubt, Android is hot these days, as is HTC. The Incredible is a sweet phone thanks to impressive hardware, an attractive physical design and the 1-2 punch of Android 2.1 (the latest greatest OS) and HTC Sense. If you don't want or need a hardware keyboard and are interested in Android, the Incredible is cream of the crop. We see no need to wait for the Verizon version of the Nexus One given the HTC Incredible's even better specs, attractive design and direct carrier support. Not to mention, the subsidized price is worlds more affordable than an unsubsidized Nexus One. We're a bit surprised that there's no VZ Navigator or V Cast multimedia services on board, but with YouTube streaming, an FM radio and Google Maps with spoken navigation on board, we're not feeling much pain.
Pro: Large and very colorful AMOLED multi-touch display, runs latest Android release, HTC Sense is wonderful software, fast thanks to 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, very good camera when lighting is adequate, supports Windows desktop sync to Outlook and USB tethering thanks to HTC Windows software included on the phone, superb call quality.
Con: Display isn't easy to see under bright sunlight. Though it's certainly a top phone, the HTC HD2 and upcoming Sprint HTC Evo 4G with their 4.3" displays show up the Incredible (but the smaller size means it's easier to pocket and operate with one hand).
Display:3.7" AMOLED capacitive touch screen supporting multi-touch. Resolution:
480 x 800, supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer. Has proximity sensor and ambient light sensor.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1300 mAh. 1 amp, 5 volt charger included with micro USB cable.
Performance:1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor (QSD8650). 512 megs RAM and 512 megs megs flash memory (though ours shows 748 megs flash memory with ~700 available) and 8 gigs internal storage (shows as 6.6 gigs free, emmc).
x 2.3 x 0.47 inches. Weight: 4.6 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital with EV-DO Rev. A and fallback to 1xRTT.
Camera:8 megapixel with autofocus lens and dual LED flash. Can shoot video up to 800 x 480 resolution at approx. 26 fps and VGA video at 30 fps. Max photo resolution: 3264 x 1952 pixels. Supports Geotagging and has HTC Footprints.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Google voice search and voice dialing included. Has FM radio.
GPS:Has GPS with aGPS that works with Google Maps. Has digital compass.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.1 supporting A2DP stereo.
Software:Android 2.1 operating system (Eclair) with HTC Sense. Includes the full suite of Google applications including Google Maps, Android Market, Google Talk, YouTube, Gmail and email, Desk Clock, webkit web browser, voice recorder, Voice Dialer and PIM applications. HTC's custom software includes HTC Sense home screen enhancements and widgets, Car Panel, Footprints, Friend Stream, music player, FM radio, HTC People, HTC Stocks, HTC Weather and Peep.
SDHC microSD card slot under back cover.