October 4, 2009 | by Andrew Kameka
Forget the belabored intros. I’ve got a Hero in my hands and you want to know how well it performs. The good folks at Sprint and HTC were kind enough to lend me a phone to toy with, so here are my thoughts on the CDMA version of the HTC Hero set to be released on Sprint Oct. 11th. Feel free to add additional questions to the comments section.
PHYSICAL DESIGN: HERO OR VILLAIN?
Android + HTC = Chin, so why doesn’t the Sprint-branded Hero have a chin? I don’t know but I honestly don’t care. The GSM Hero looks sexier and has much more “personality” than the Sprint version, but the chinless Hero feels fine. The phone is light and fits comfortably in my hand when in-use and in my pockets when stored.
The Hero has a different physical button and trackball setup as well. Aside from having a rather large trackball that nearly doubles the G1, the Call and End buttons are the only protruding buttons. The Menu, Home, Back, and Search “buttons” are icons etched into one faceplate. As you apply pressure to an icon’s area, the faceplate is pressed down and the desired function is entered. The icons and trackball light-up when pressed, which helps make the Hero a breeze to handle.
PERFORMANCE: DOES IT LAG?
Lag? What lag? The most common complaint about the Hero is that it lags and is buggy and hangs on certain screens. In my experience with the phone — granted it’s only been 10 days — lag is a non-issue. I have yet to experience any slowdown in transition or browsing. In fact, my biggest gripe about the phone is the ridiculous amount of force close errors related to HTC Peep, the Twitter app that comes with the phone (HTC says this is a temporary issue with Twitter they are working to resolve).
The speed of the Hero is a step-up from my experience with the G1. Photo ID’s on the contacts page load instantly, widgets on the homescreen responded immediately, and switching between apps is a smooth transition. I have read other comments where people said this was slow but I cannot say I experienced that whatsoever. The only issue of speed is the amount of time it takes to switch between scenes (roughly 10 seconds) which isn’t that bad. It’s actually quite good.
CAMERA: PICTURE PERFECT OR PUNY?
The CDMA Hero comes with a 5.0 megapixel camera. More pixels don’t mean better photo quality, but the Hero camera is no slouch when taking still photos. Picture quality is good when light is present and autofocus takes photos that outperform the typical phone camera. There are options to control image quality, self-timer, resolution, geotagging, sepia/grayscale/negative modes, white balance, shutter speed, and time-stamping. Low-light situations weren’t the greatest because there’s no flash, but even in a poorly-lit nursery, I managed to snap a passable photo. Take a look at some photos I took with the Hero camera. (The first image was taken with a Canon. All other images are from the Hero and resized using Photoshop)
The camcorder features are highly customizable as well. Video quality is decent and can be set to MPEG or H.263 encoding. Users also have the option of adjusting image contrast, saturation, sharpness, white balance, and zoom. Unfortunately those video options are underutilized because the phone does not support sharing videos over 3MB. That is a terrible limit and needs to be fixed. I know most mobile video deals with short clips, but optimal settings can easily make those videos surpass 3MB. The benefits of a higher-quality video without time limits become useless if those files cannot easily be shared through the phone.
I was also disappointed by the audio quality. Indoors, everything went great, but the microphone was sensitive to wind, causing outdoor shots to have a little bit of a muddled sound.
MEDIA POWER: WINNER OR WEAKLING?
Come ye, G1 users sick of the puny speaker during music playback, for thou hath been saved! Ok, I’m overselling it a bit, but there is a noticeable improvement between the G1′s speaker and that of the Hero. Music is louder and distortion-free, no hacks or rooting required. I loved finally being able to clearly hear the lyrics and notes belt from my phone as I washed dishes. The speaker phone function, which actually was never a problem for me on the G1, is crisp and audible as well.
Video is another enjoyable experience. YouTube videos played in-browser were actually better-looking than the same video played in the YouTube app. I was also able to enjoy my downloaded .mp4 files rather easily. One thing I like about the Hero is that the Settings give users more control over settings like Brightness. There’s a noticeable difference in the clarity seen both during video playback, gameplay, and general browsing.
BATTERY LIFE: POWER STRONG OR POWER SUCKER?
When asked what readers wanted to know about the Hero, someone replied, “Put it through the ringer.” I woke up at 8:40 am and went straight to work on trying to drain the battery. I checked my mail, blew up Twitter, jam-packed the screen with widgets, had an hour-long call, and watched a few YouTube videos. The phone still had a little juice left by 1 pm.
On Day 2, I followed a more realistic usage pattern. After some Internet browsing, a few telephone conversations, listening to music, tweeting, and playing games, the Hero lasted the entire day without needing to be recharged. The 1500mAh battery is rock solid, high-five-inducing good.
SENSE UI: HOW IS IT?
Sense is Sense. If you have experienced a GSM Hero or installed one of the custom Hero ROM’s, there’s nothing new you haven’t seen before. This is my first hands-on experience with Sense and it functions as well as I anticipated. The interface looks great and is easy to navigate, the dialer and contact system is much better than the G1, and the widgets and customization options provided by Scenes is a great twist on Android. There are so many subtle parts of Sense that appealed to me. I won’t go into details about them because they’ve been well documented in GSM Hero reviews. When the Hero debuted at a press event, I wondered if I was more impressed by the device or the interface that powered it. I’m now convinced it was Sense.
ADOBE FLASH: WONDERFUL OR WHATEVER?
To be honest, Flash is very underwhelming. Video stutters on several websites I visit while connected to Wi-Fi and is virtually unusable otherwise. The Hero plays crisp audio from non-YouTube videos I attempt to play, but images appear on screen at a heavily delayed or stuttering framerate. There’s no point in watching video with those kinds of weak results. Flash designs fared a little better with smooth and quick animations, but overall, I’m disappointed.
The Sprint Hero is more than just Sense UI stuffed into a new physical design. The Hero also includes special features in NASCAR Sprint Cup, Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV, and NFL Mobile Live.
- NFL Mobile Live – Much like the NASCAR app, NFL Mobile Live is about keeping fans informed. A homescreen widget tells users when their favorite team is playing and updates the score. There’s also a league-wide scoreboard, featured videos from the NFL network, customizable alerts, stats, news from NFL.com and blogs like SB Nation, exclusive video clips, and even tools to track a fantasy football team.
- Sprint Navigation – Sprint Navigation is a GPS program contracted to TeleNav. Voice-guided turn-by-turn direction, points of interest search, traffic updates, sharing locations, and recording location are all supported in the app. Directions are clearly audible and the same benefits that come with TeleNav are available in Sprint Navigation.
- NASCAR – It’s no surprise Sprint would include a NASCAR service given its heavy involvement with the racing league. The Sprint Cup Mobile app lets users keep track of their favorite driver’s position and lap time, read news, see points standings, and watch selective video clips.
- Visual Voicemail - Sprint includes a visual voicemail app that allows users to side-scroll through old and new messages alike. Voicemail messages show the contact, time and date, then plays the recorded message through Speaker or standard mode. There’s also a button with the contact’s phone number to quickly return his/her call. From the voicemail app, users can also record a reply, send a text message reply, or forward to another person.
- Sprint TV – Are you a television junkie? Sprint TV’s on-demand and live video content have you covered. Full episodes from select shows like CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Office are available through the app. Video content (not always full episodes) is available from ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, Disney, NFL Network, Weather Channel, USA, Bravo, Speed, Syfy, and SEE (Sprint exclusive content).
FINAL VERDICT: DO I WANT THIS THING OR NOT?
Yes, you want this phone. The Hero is a comfortable device with a nice form factor and an even better set of software powering it. “You’ve had the thing for a week, Andrew.” Very true. You never really know a phone until you’ve had it for an extended period of time and see if it passes the test of time.
However, that’s not the way you make a purchasing decision. You become attracted by features and weigh the pros-and-cons of how the device performs. From a first impression standpoint, the Hero is the type of phone that amazes enough to sign a contract. If you’re someone impressed by a better-looking version of Android, an intuitive interface, solid device, and don’t need a physical keyboard, the Sprint Hero may be just what you need.