HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE (Verizon)
20th Jul 2012 | 16:00
HTC continues their trend of making mid-range cell phones that are packed with features at an affordable price
Introduction and Design
HTC continues their trend of making their Incredible line of mid-range cell phones that are also packed with features at an affordable price. What this means is a phone that feels fairly chunky and functional, but won't give you the whistles and bells of a razor-thin, cutting edge piece of tech in your pocket.
But, chances are you're eyeing the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE (Verizon) for the $149.99 contract price and features, not because you want a phone that looks like a samurai sword.
You don't get a huge screen here either, since this Incredible only has a four-inch screen, despite having an extremely long name. With a 1700 mAh battery inside, the phone could be fairly thin, but with the Beats Audio feature wrapped around the back and top of the phone, the first thing you'll be aware of is its relative thickness. Not that it's extremely bulky or distracting; you'll just feel it in your hand. It's actually a bit reassuring, as that nearly five ounces of heft makes it feel like a fairly solid piece of tech.
The back of the phone itself is molded plastic with a texture on it that makes it easy to grip, and you can easily see the rear speaker on the upper right, with the red-ringed camera and flash on the upper left. It's also relatively logo free, with a muted 4G LTE logo at top right, the red Beats logo at lower right.
In fact, the only real obtrusive branding is the Verizon logo on the front of the phone above the screen. The only real reason that can be a distraction is because the blinking LED light on the front is set right above the stylized V, almost as though it's a punctuation.
The rest of the front side contains the four-inch touchscreen, the front camera, and the three always present buttons at the bottom: back, home, and recent apps. The left side is fairly bare except for the charging port, and the right side is equally as bare with only the volume rocker switch, which is almost mounted too flush with the housing, making it difficult to find with your fingers. Rounding out the minimal sides is the bottom with only a microphone hole, while the top is the busiest of all with the power/lock switch and 3.5mm headphone jack set just above the red grill earpiece.
You'll have to pop the rear cover off via the provided notch at the bottom of the phone to access the micro-SIM and the microSD slot. While we appreciate the extra storage, it's not that much fun to pop the back cover off every time you need to get to it, although we do like the fact that this also means a user-replaceable battery that is easy to get in and out.
Overall, the case design is pleasant, and better looking than the average cookie-cutter devices you see everywhere. The extra splashes of red are a nice touch, and the curved, textured backside feels good in the palm of your hand. The only drawback is the plastic housing, which tends to feel a bit flimsy, especially when popping the back cover off.
Under the hood, the HTC Incredible 4G LTE (Verizon) sports a 1.2GHz dual–core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor with 1GB RAM, and 8GB of internal memory, some of which is used by the system, although with the microSD slot supporting up to 32GB of memory, this isn't really an issue. On the plus side, the phone runs Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.3, and the dual-core processor also handles the HTC Sense 4.0 interface.
This allows most tasks on the phone to speed along at a good clip, and it's powerful enough to handle animated wallpapers and multiple running apps like the weather widget, which can take over your whole screen with animated clouds and forked lightning.
Scrolling between panels on the home screen or visiting text and image intensive websites are no problem, and the only time we encountered any stutter was when using Flash-intensive sites.
The HTC Sense interface, which lies on top of the Ice Cream Sandwich interface, has improved in this fourth iteration, although it still leaves a few things to be desired. The notification panel up top is meant to save you from popup banners and other notices, but it frequently becomes far too packed with icons as it handles both notifications and system icons, and you'll visit it several times over the course of the day if for no other reason but to delete notifications.
Of course, you can turn notifications off, but that sort of defeats the purpose. There's also a customizable LED on the front of the screen that can denote unread emails, messages, and so on.
One of more interesting functions is the Face Unlock feature, which you'll find in the security settings. Using a reference image of your face that you need to take in a fairly well lit room, the screen can unlock via your face. Of course you still have to click the lock button and slide the ring up on the main screen, which takes up nearly as much time as tapping in a password or drawing a pattern on the screen (another security option), but it's a nifty feature.
The HTC "virtual keyboard" (as they like to call their onscreen keyboard) hasn't changed much, and the taller, narrow keys lend themselves easily to typos. Spelling suggestions will pop up, but it won't insert what it thinks is the correct word automatically. Instead, you have to tap on the word and keep typing. Luckily, you can easily add new words, but having to stop to tap the right word slows down your texting.
Where the Sense interface gets it right is in the amount of customization options. You can have up to seven panels on your home screen, filled with your choice of apps and widgets. If you hold down your finger on the home screen for a moment, you'll pull up a menu that allows you to drag and drop widgets, apps, and shortcuts to your panels.
The only issue is that some widgets only come in certain sizes, and while they can be resized somewhat, due to the small size of the HTC Droid Incredible's screen you can't pack many onto one panel.
The best part about the interface is the ability to customize your lock screen. You can turn on a "productivity" mode that displays emails, calendar events, social media streams and more directly from the lock screen.
You can also choose to show your launch bar shortcuts, which can be activated by dragging the icon into the unlock ring. These can easily be turned on or off, but it's a nice option to have if you use certain apps often.
Contacts, Calling and Messaging
The Contacts feature on this phone is a bit of a mixed bag. It's amazingly deep, pulling content from your Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and more accounts, and it will display someone's update status and/or recent Tweet next to their name.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to merge contacts, which can be a real problem as most people have friends on multiple accounts, and it would be a real boon to be able to drag a contact onto another contact to merge it.
Also, putting in all of your account information will quickly choke up your Contact list, but thankfully in the Settings menu there is an option to only display contacts with phone numbers, cutting out all of the Twitter and Facebook clutter at the touch of a button.
You can also use Contacts to initiate a number of different ways to contact someone, such as a phone call, text message, email, Google Talk session, and so on.
Once you've initiated a call, you can access the full range of apps and widgets on your phone, and a swipe down on the screen opens up the notifications panel, where you'll have the option to hang up the call.
You can also conference people in, a fairly standard feature, and one of the niftiest innovations on the phone is the ability to flip the phone over onto its screen to automatically turn on the speakerphone. You can also use that same move to silence incoming calls, and it's nice to see the accelerometer being applied to phone applications.
Calls themselves using the earpiece or the speakerphone are very clear, thanks to the Beats Audio, although visual voicemail requires a $2.99 monthly charge, which feels a bit gouging, provided the simple function it offers.
On the freebie side, the phone does include a ton of phone and notification sounds, but we would appreciate free visual voicemail considering what data plans cost these days.
Another real puzzler is the fact that voicemail isn't located inside the Phone app: it's actually a separate app called Voicemail. These should be integrated together, which is admittedly a small gripe, but if you shortcut these in the launch bar, they'll take up two slots instead of one.
The voicemail app itself offers some nice features, like the ability to forward voicemails to other phones as an audio attachment, or as a direct voicemail to other Verizon numbers.
Messaging on the Droid Incredible 4G LTE is fairly straightforward, although the same keyboard is present in the Messages app and presents the same typing issues. You can opt to install a different keyboard via a third party download, but it would be nice to have a less crowded keyboard. In landscape mode, thumbing your way through messages is easy, but in portrait mode it's another story.
The Messages app handles both text and voicemail messages, if you've activated visual voicemail, and there are options galore to save, forward, add to contacts, copy to SIM, save as Task, and more.
Our favorite was the "View Slideshow" option that plays back images from an SMS thread in slideshow form. Very useful if someone is sending you several images from a vacation or a birthday party, etc.
Going the email route, the phone offers Mail and Gmail apps, with Gmail being the preferred app if that's your primary email provider, and either can handle several different email account options.
The built-in Android browser supplied with the phone does a fine job of browsing, loading sites quickly and handling both mobile and full versions of websites like the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times nicely.
The only real issue is with the predictive zoom, and double tapping on an article or image in the browser will zoom in off center, and then pop to the item you've tapped on. It's a bit jarring, but doesn't really affect the browsing experience.
The worst thing about the browser is that if you are trying to access the address bar by tapping the top of the screen frequently just reloads the page you're on, and you have to tap to the left that menu bar, providing a significant speed bump to browsing.
However, installing Chrome is your best bet. It doesn't exhibit the same zoom issues, and handles tabs in a much more elegant manner than the built-in browser.
Additionally it can sync with your Google account, saving your tabs across a range of devices, and accessing the address bar is much easier in Chrome.
It just feels like a much more solid browsing experience, and if you're already tied into the Google ecosphere, it makes a nice fit.
Oddly enough, the built-in browser supports Flash via an optional install, but not Chrome. Java is supposed to be supported in Chrome, but we couldn't get it to work either and frankly it wasn't worth the fuss to try and figure out what the issue is, beyond it not being an easy implementation on the phone.
As far as connectivity goes, the phone offers 3G/4G LTE options for data on the go, and can connect to Wi-Fi networks of all flavors. Over Wi-Fi, the phone averaged about 6.5 Mbps upload / 2.5 Mbps download over a standard cable connection, and over 3G speeds were 1.22 up and .5 down.
Verizon's 4G network is spotty where we tended to use the phone most, not connecting to the network at all. We did take the unit to San Diego early for Comic-Con, and before the show started it handled 4G very well and easily worked as a hotspot for a tablet and a laptop. That is until the crush of fanboys and fangirls invaded town, grinding the 4G network into a fine, powdery dust, and slowing 3G to a snail's pace.
Camera, Video and Multimedia
For an inexpensive smartphone, the HTC Incredible 4G LTE packs a decent onboard rear eight-megapixel camera. It offers a lot of functions ranging from HDR to panorama photos, and a bunch of built-in Instagram-style filters.
The controls are snappy and responsive, and you can take great looking photos in low light or bright sunshine. You'll find a multitude of options in the settings menu for the camera, ranging from white balance to ISO, and you can even set it to auto capture photos when smiles are detected.
For the pocket Spielberg, the phone can capture video all the way up to full HD 1920 x 1080, and the supplied Movie Editor program can output very slick but simple videos with soundtracks and transitions. You can also shoot video in slow motion via a menu choice, but be prepared for it to chew up your free space, especially if you're shooting in full HD.
The front-facing camera is very low resolution, and should only be used for video conferencing, or taking self-portraits without the "Here I am standing in the bathroom mirror" reflection effect.
Cameras have always been a point of pride for HTC phones, and this one is definitely no slouch. You can eliminate a point and shoot camera from your pocket entirely with this camera, and the impressive video is a nice touch.
If you need to take photos quickly, you can access it immediately from the lock screen if you have the camera in your launch bar and that option turned out. Automatic geotagging and uploading just add to the feature set here.
Music and Movies
There are multiple options on the Droid Incredible 4G LTE for playing back music or video right out of the box, which is where Verizon falls into the bloatware trap. As soon as you boot up for the first time you can launch Music, Play Movies & TV, Play Music, Slacker Radio, Slingbox, TuneIn Radio, Verizon Video, Watch, and YouTube. It's a lot of options, and it pulls you in 12 different directions.
Thankfully, the Music app seems to just congregate your onboard music options, we just wish there was also a video equivalent as a hub to launch from. Especially if you start installing apps like Netflix and Hulu to run in tandem with these other services.
You can build your own folder to keep these in, but we like the way that Music is handled, and not building a Video equivalent feels like an oversight.
Playing music from any of the myriad of choices is a pleasant experience, thanks to Beats Audio option that can pump out a surprising level of audio. If you crank it all the way up, there can be a bit of speaker buzz, but at comfortable levels you'll be pleased with how well the audio can sound without earbuds.
Videos are where the device has taken a drubbing recently, as the included four-inch Super LCD screen is "only 960x540 pixels." But with a screen that size, will you really be able to tell the difference between this screen and Apple's 960x640 iPhone 4S? Probably not. Obviously with the Galaxy S III offering 1,280x720, that's a huge leap forward in graphical fidelity, but the Droid Incredible 4G LTE's screen is just fine for watching video.
We put on Michael Bay's eyeball-molesting Transformers: Dark of the Moon via Google Play (yes, we enjoy torturing ourselves) and it looked very sharp, and sounded even better. There are HD video purists who will decry the screen size, but if you're looking for a smaller form factor, don't let them steer you away. This is a sharp screen that you'll enjoy video on.
While reading eBooks on a cell phone is still a struggle in screen real estate, the phone includes Google's Play Books app and Amazon's Kindle app. Both programs provide a surprisingly decent reading experience on the device, although you'll want to dial down your screen brightness so you don't blast your retinas while reading. The screen area definitely felt too small when trying to read electronic versions of print magazines, and required too much zooming in and out.
The included Gallery app displays both video and photos nicely, and has the ability to connect to Facebook, Flickr, and other services. You can display rudimentary slideshows of your own images, with or without music.
Battery Life and Connectivity
Despite the Droid Incredible 4G LTE's 1700 mAh battery, we managed to average five hours of solid usage out of it every day before needing to recharge it.
That's constantly watching videos, using 4G or Wi-Fi, taking photos, streaming music, downloading apps, talking on the phone and surfing the web at a steady pace. Not too bad for a battery that small.
Thankfully you can pick up an extra battery for longer hauls, because our unit died halfway through day one of Comic-Con, and if it was our sole device we would have been out of luck when that Klingon on a pogo stick bounced by.
You'll definitely want to plug the device in every night (or even more often if you're a daily busy user) for constant smartphone usage, but if you're a casual phone talker and photo taker, you can expect more mileage out of your juice.
This phone offers a wealth of connection options, ranging from Wi-Fi in the a/g/b/n ranges to Verizon's 4G LTE network. It also packs in Satellite GPS, Bluetooth, and Near Field Communication.
On the wired side, you can use the micro USB charging port to connect to your computer. It's worth noting that the HTC Sync Manager software is PC only, so Mac will have to dock the phone in disk drive mode when connected.
What makes that easier is that a menu pops up when you connect the phone to your computer, giving you a wealth of options.
You can charge only via USB, activate disk drive mode, share your internet connection with your PC or vice versa, or opt to sync files.
It's great to be presented with so many choices, although you can tell it not to ask again if you don't need any of those options.
Maps and Apps
Being an Android device, Google's Maps app comes standard on this phone, as does their Navigation directions app, and their Latitude and Local social map apps.
We plugged in several addresses, ranging from near to far, and the Navigation app performs admirably, although if you map something and leave the device sitting on say, your desk, it will constantly prompt to via voice to "Turn left ahead." You can disable voice in the settings, but a "pause" or "start route now" option would be nice.
What's very impressive is that the Navigation is good enough to replace a Garmin or TomTom unit, eliminating yet another gadget from your techno diet. While it isn't that easy or safe to adjust your route or search a new destination (thankfully there's a voice option), setting something up beforehand and then following the turn by turn instructions is very easy and works as you would expect a GPS nav unit to function.
Providing a redundant feature is Verizon's own VZ Navigator app, which adds a few whistles and bells to the experience with the ability to look up restaurants and gas stations.
It also utilizes a voice search function, and can also display the weather, movie times, gas prices, and more. You might have to force yourself out of your Google cocoon to use it, but it's a nice app and well worth trying out.
Verizon packages a ton of software with the Droid Incredible 4G LTE right out of the box. While this isn't a comprehensive list, this is direct from the features section of their website, offering a list of some of the included apps: Backup Assistant Plus, V Cast (Verizon) Tones, Verizon Video, Verizon Apps, VZ Navigator, My Verizon Mobile, NFL Mobile, Amazon Kindle, Amazon MP3, Let's Golf 3 HD, Real Racing 2, Slacker, Slingbox, Full suite of Google Apps including: Play Store, Google Maps Navigation, Play Books, Gmail, Google Search, Google+, Latitude, Messenger, Play Music, Local, Voice Search, YouTube, HTML Web Browser
Yes, that's a lot of stuff. It feels like overkill in some areas (music, video), while anemic in others (office applications, photo editing). While not a deal killer, it does mean that you'll need to spend a bit of time organizing these into the ones you want vs. the ones you'll never use, and sorting/foldering/organizing accordingly. Your first order of business should be to download Chrome and then jump into Settings -> App Associations and change the Web URLS from Internet to Chrome.
While we couldn't really fault any of the pre-installed software for being on the phone, it just felt like a bombardment of options on first power-up. As with any device, you'll have to chart your own path, but the largest omission here was anything to help Enterprise users, especially on the document viewing side.
Both the Ice Cream Sandwich operating system and Sense 4.0 user interface combine to give you a user experience that feels fast and very responsive, and the phone never felt laggy or slow. Switching applications on the fly and multitasking was easy, and the phone seemed to be able to handle anything we threw at it, thanks to the dual-core processor.
We must have changed the look and feel of the phone more than a dozen times while we had it, trying out live wallpapers, different themes, changing the home screen panels and launch bar items multiple times. There is a deep amount of customization here, from configuring what your lock screen does, to adding widgets for the programs you need in the arrangement you want.
Despite it's four-inch size, the Super LCD screen impressed with it's crisp colors and clarity, and if you don't own a tablet, you won't mind pulling this out of your pocket to keep you entertained for a five-hour flight. Once you arrive, you can use the very effective Maps or VZ Navigator apps to get where you're going.
The plastic housing contributes to keeping the cost down somewhat, but it still felt very flimsy in our hands. For a phone that has some features hidden under the back panel, we'd like a more solid experience. It would be a shame to damage your phone while you're slipping in a microSD card, which feels like a possibility.
The screen itself works well inside a media experience like an e-book or watching a movie, but with a portion of the top of the screen dedicated to the notification and system bar, and the three, permanent buttons at the bottom of the phone on the bezel, it feels like there could be more screen real estate offered to the user. Especially during those claustrophobic moments when that top bar is full an you're using the onscreen keyboard in portrait mode.
The price is meant to attract mid-range phone buyers, but it's still too high. With a $149.99 cost on a two-year contract, the phone is only $50 less than a Samsung Galaxy S III, which offers more onboard storage and a 4.8" 1280x720 HD Super AMOLED display. That's a huge screen difference for that much money.
Although the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE is zippy with decent features, it feels like a sub-$100 price would have been the sweet spot here. Particularly given the cost of the Samsung Galaxy S III, and rumors of a quickly approaching iPhone 5.
This phone proves that you can still pack a lot of punch into a smaller form factor and still deliver a true smartphone experience. While we were initially skeptical of the smaller screen, it delivered well. Combine the Beats Audio experience with that screen, and an empty room or seatmates who don't mind noise, and you have a pocket-sized entertainment package.
It was also nice to have one gadget be able to replace a camera, navigation system, and e-book reader, which frees you slightly from the electro-tether. We do wish the battery had a bit more oomph to it, but it looks like you can pick up additional batteries for under $20, so you can extend your powered life as much as you need to.
While the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE admirably continues HTC's Incredible line, we still feel stung by the sticker price, especially when compared with what you can get for a few dollars more. But if you're looking for a smaller phone packed with impressive features, this will make your pocket extremely happy.