Google’s Android platform is starting to appear in a wide range of smartphones from several hardware manufacturers. None has embraced it as fully as HTC, though, and the Hero is arguably the best Android based handset the company has produced. Our review sample came from Orange, but it is available widely on contract and SIM-free.
HTC’s Hero has a quirky physical design. The bottom section, which contains the shortcut buttons, is slightly raised, providing a sort of lip. Now, this raises the microphone a little closer to your mouth, and lends a unique look to things. It does not, in our book, negatively affect usability, and doesn’t have any drawbacks when it comes to pocketing the Hero unless your pockets are particularly tight. All in all, we like it.
The Hero is a little narrower than some of its rivals but well in keeping with the size of modern full-frontal touchscreen handsets with overall dimensions of 112 x 56.2 x 14.23mm and 135g. The screen measures 3.2-inches across the diagonal and delivers at 320 x 480 pixels.
You can’t say that the Hero is short of buttons, as there are six on the area beneath the screen. There are Call and End buttons, one which takes you to the home screen, a Menu button which functions in applications to give access to options and settings, a Search button which is context sensitive and a Back button.
The Search button does things like call up a Google search window if you are browsing the Web or on the main screen, or a Contacts search function if you are viewing contacts. The Back button backtracks through all the screens you’ve been in until you get to the home screen.
In addition to this lot there’s a miniature trackball. We rather like using it instead of sweeping the screen for functions like Web browsing and moving between the home screens (see later). And you press it to take a photo with the back-mounted 5-megapixel camera whose output is fairly average.
HTC has toyed with the Android operating system, giving the icons a refreshingly different look; a rather nicer one than they have in vanilla Android incarnations. HTC has also endowed the Hero with no fewer than seven home screens, which you get between by sweeping the screen or using the trackball.
You can personalise all the home screens with shortcuts to applications or settings, and can save sets of home screens as Scenes. You could configure separate groupings for work-time and leisure time, for example.
Much of the software is Google oriented, so Google maps, Gmail, Google Talk and YouTube are pre-installed. HTC provides a reasonable Twitter application and its FootPrints geolocation utility among its pre-installed applications. The Android Market offers thousands of free and charged applications for you to bulk out what’s on-board.
Wi-Fi, GPS and HSDPA support are all built in, and Orange provides a 2GB microSD card to boost the built in memory. That microSD card contains a copy of HTCSync, which allows you to synchronise with Outlook. A 3.5mm headset connector will please music fans, and those who like multi-touch will enjoy pinch-to-zoom in Web browsing.
The on-screen keyboard for entering text is not quite as responsive as some, and we found we got to about 75 percent of our maximum typing speed on a smartphone.
Battery life is quoted by HTC as 470 minutes talk, 440 hours on standby. We found we needed to recharge after about two days of average-to-light use, but the GPS really does thrash the battery so location-based services need to be used with care. Fortunately you can place a GPS shortcut on one of the home screens and easily turn this function on and off as needed.
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