Some Thoughts On the HTC Hero After a Few Days


I have become increasingly disenchanted due to the nonsense being pulled by Apple and AT&T with regard to the iPhone and applications for it. Time and again they have actively limited the device reaching its potential by intentionally crippling or rejecting apps that make it more useful. When the Google Voice apps were pulled from the App Store — and Google’s own app rejected — I started looking around to see what other device options might be available. Ultimately, the HTC Hero seemed to be the best option. Sure, it lacks the US 3G but then again, I spend the majority of my time in one of three locations and each has high-speed Internet. In addition, since it has the ability to render most flash it meant it could very well allow access of many sites and services that are currently inaccessible to the iPhone and iPod touch.

I received the HTC Hero Thursday. It is a nice smartphone and clearly the best Android device yet. I’ve been impressed with how far Android devices have come since I took a look at the G1 last year. The hardware looks great. The device is well built. The special SenseUI HTC has developed looks remarkable. The additional widgets that ship with it mean you rarely need to actually launch an application. Yup, most of the time everything you need is right there on the screen.

Why then, is it boxed up and on the way back to the retailer from whom I purchased it?

Before you rip me apart in the comments for not using it long enough to fully evaluate it, let me put this out there– Normally I would agree. 2-3 days is not long enough to really know if a device is for you. There’s something different here though, at least for me. You see, my frustration with the iPhone has everything to do with Apple and AT&T and very little to do with the iPhone itself.

On the other hand, after just 24 hours with the Hero I was already having serious frustrations with the device itself. And they only grew the next day. It quickly became clear that if this was ALREADY the case, then this isn’t the device for me. And with a device as expensive as this, the last thing I want to do is run the risk of damaging it and not recouping 80% of my initial purchase price. (Expansys charges a 20% restocking fee.)

So let me go into a few aspects of the device that I think are worth noting.

We’ll start with the positives.

There is a lot to really like about the device. The UI is awesome.


On many levels it is a far more “user-friendly” interface than the iPhone’s. HTC did a phenomenal job expanding the available widgets.


The device has seven”panels”, and you can load them up with all the widgets and shortcuts you might need. In addition they added a variety of “scenes”,  or collections of different widget panels for use during different periods of time. It is brilliant and means the phone can be set up one way for work, another for home and still another when you do some other activity. Let me say again that it is brilliant and it works beautifully. It makes the Hero a far more flexible device than the iPhone. Add to that gorgeous hardware that fits well in hand, and you have a nice combination. HTC did a great job here. Mostly.

So what are my frustrations?

Number 1 — 3G or the lack thereof

I was out and about today for a little while attending some meetings. It was immediately abundantly clear to me that I was kidding myself to think it wasn’t a big deal to give up having 3G speeds. Truth is, once you go 3G you never go back.

Still, even if the device came to AT&T with US 3G I would not get it. Why? Because of the issues that follow.

Number 2– Oomph or the lack thereof

The Hero combines nice hardware, a superb UI, but last generation’s internals. There just isn’t enough power to make the device run smoothly on a consistent basis. Wayne was right on the money in his assessment that the idea of running applications in the background sounds better than the reality is. I found the Hero slowing down and locking up, much the way earlier versions of Windows mobile did. In fact, it took restarting the device to get it back up to speed more than a few times.

Overall, the speed feels roughly equivalent to what you might experience running iPhone OS 3.0 on the original iPhone; it’s usable but not enjoyable. When compared to the iPhone 3GS however, there’s just no comparison. It is seriously like night and day, and when I went back to the iPhone it was like a breath of fresh air. Sure, I wish Apple would allow one or two applications to run in the background at any given time, but I now understand and appreciate the decision they made.

To put it another way, if I had never used the iPhone 3 GS, the Hero might be more than usable for me. But I HAVE used the iPhone 3 GS, and there is no going back to a less powerful device now.

Number 3 — the keyboard

photo 5

I love the Haptic feedback. I had tried the Samsung Epix and found the “buzz” to come a bit too late after tapping the screen to be of much help. On the Hero it is fast enough and just forceful enough to be a real help; it works very well. Unfortunately, although the screen on the Hero is only slightly smaller than that of the iPhone, the difference during actual usage is huge. While I am extremely comfortable typing on the iPhone, I found using the Hero to be a lesson in frustration. While I would still prefer the Hero’s on-screen keyboard to a physical one, the larger iPhone screen blows it away when it comes to creating e-mails or documents.

Number 4– Apps

There is so much garbage in the Apple App Store, that it has become laughable. At the same time there are some superb apps as well. The selection of applications for an Android phone has been growing, but there is still a tremendous amount of catch-up to do if it going to compete with the iTunes App Store. As it currently stands, the Android Market is missing some of my key productivity applications including Evernote, and reQall. While both can be accessed through the web, I realized that I have become dependent on having them right on my device and quickly accessible. Yes, I suspect both will be available for Android phones soon, but they aren’t yet.

The bottom line is this — had I never used an iPhone, this would likely be an ideal device for me. It feels good, it’s well-built, and it has an OS that I believe has a very good possibility of challenging the iPhone’s current market domination in the not-too-distant future. But I have used an iPhone. I enjoy using the iPhone. I enjoy its speed, its power, its huge storage, and the abundance of applications available for it.

Yes, an Android device will be on par with the iPhone and offer serious competition in the near future. I even suspect that, due to my reliance on so many of Google’s products, unless Apple loosens up a little and allows Google back in, I will eventually be using an Android phone full time. But that hasn’t happened yet, and, as a result, this isn’t the device for me

Now Larry, can I have my fan boy card back?

All images taken with my recently re-unboxed iPhone 3GS

Categories: Gear Bits

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7 replies

  1. I’m on vacation this week and to my total amazement the only carrier that has decent service (aside from Verizon) is T-Mobile. I have my new myTouch3G and will be giving it a pretty thorough workout all week.

    So far my biggest problems with the myTouch3G:

    – Laggy – not as fluid in scroll or keyboard
    – Multi-apps – as you point out when you have several running they eventually come back to bit you in the ass

    But I have to say that the battery on this bad boy is partying like a rock star.

    In June when I was here I had the Palm Pre which crapped the bed regularly at about 11:30 (that’s AM) and I was terrified of taking it anywhere for fear of having a lead weight in my pocket after a few hours.

    The myTouch3G was 35% battery life at 11 yesterday (that’s PM).

    Granted I was on native T-Mo signal (albeit GPRS) while the Pre was on Verizon (roaming).

    Still I’m relatively happy with myTouch 3g so long as I still can have my iPhone 3GS.

    Worth noting that on a new contract the iPhone 3GS is the same as a myTouch3G so I’d still be buying the iPhone despite there being a slight difference in monthly service.

  2. Dan, thanks for feeling my pain and going through what I was considering. Fact is, as much as we complain, the iPhone 3GS is still the best game in town. Trouble is, Apple knows that as well. Having worked for 2 Fortune 500 companies, I know they get caught up in their own red tape much too often. It’s especially frustrating when you see a company like Apple which could take the advantage that they have with the App Store and use it to crush the competition, instead of just taunting them. Well, at least we have something to talk about!


  3. A honest overview Dan. I like the G1 and I am sure I would like the Hero, but lack of 3G kills me. The big reason is I did not have it for the first 6 months and Edge is too slow. I use it all of the time on the bus and I love it.

    You have valid points on the lagginess. It’s not too bad but it appears the garbage collection isn’t that great. We deal with this on the web server level too at work. Java is java no matter where it runs. It can be a bear.

    I did find a app that is extremely useful and that is Task Killer. It’s primarily a widget on the desktop that let’s me kill an app at a time or a bunch of apps. Works well.

    The prime problem that Android has is that it only stores apps on the internal storage. It should be possible to run apps of the SD Card. If you did that, it would free up internal storage. I find that if I keep my app load manageable, then it runs pretty well. If I start getting out of hand with the apps, then well, it bogs down. My least favorite apps are ones that are in the 4-5 MB. That is TOO large for running on only the 256 MB of storage that the G1 has. The additional storage that the mytouch 3g and the Hero have is still not enough.

    The CPU power is there….it’s just needs a little more tweaking to be less resource intensive.


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