Some Thoughts On the HTC Hero After a Few Days

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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.

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

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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

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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

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.