HTC Hero £399
1st Jan 2009 | 11:00
Is the latest Android phone the best yet?
HTC's Hero is the third smartphone we've seen to use Google's Android operating system and, in many ways, it is the best yet.
It's the smallest, for a start, with a thin 14mm casing and compact dimensions. It looks stunning from the front, with a bright 3.2-inch screen and a brushed aluminium surround, but look a little closer and the rest of the handset is made from the same white plastic as the HTC Magic.
The mix-and-match approach for the materials looks slightly cheap, and the design isn't quite as cohesive as the Magic. The touchscreen display is the same as its sibling, but adds a shiny, oil-resistant coating that results in excellent colour reproduction. It's also sharp, with a resolution of 320 x 480 pixels that makes it a great device for media use, such as watching video clips or browsing the web.
All text is entered by an onscreen keyboard and, while it's one of the best we've seen, it lags behind Apple's iPhone – the smaller screen resulting in more typing errors. Correction software helps, but it's not as fast as a proper hardware keypad.
Owners of existing Android handsets will recognise the operating system, but HTC has also added its Sense user interface to increase usability – in much the same way as its TouchFLO software for Windows Mobile handsets. The new software brings with it more home pages – up to seven from the usual three - letting you keep different pages for different types of applications and shortcuts. The menus also differ depending on the applications you have running, thus speeding up navigation.
As with previous HTC handsets, weather information is displayed prominently, and social networking plays a big part, with Facebook, Twitter and Flickr integrated.
It's all incredibly easy to use, the responsive screen letting you flit between pages with a swipe of your finger. Setting up an email account is also easy, with support for POP3 emails and Microsoft's Exchange.
There's a wizard in place that lets first-time users simply enter their email address and password, automatically filling in the other details. Fans of Microsoft Outlook will find it a little trickier to set up their calendar, but it's easy to export all of the details to Google's Calendar.
Connectivity includes 3G/HSDPA, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, with GPS and Google Maps built-in for navigation. With Google's StreetView also supported, it's a great device when lost in an unfamiliar city. The 5-megapixel camera takes reasonable photographs, but there's no flash for night-time use.
Everyday performance is good, with the menus moving smoothly and quickly. Some of the applications can take a little time to load, but it's much faster than Windows Mobile-based handsets. We found battery life – at around three days under moderate use – to also be very good.
With the benefit of HTC's Sense software alongside the intuitive OS, the Hero is an excellent product. The small onscreen keyboard won't suit all users, but it's still very easy to recommend this highly compact smartphone.
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