HTC Hero review
We review the HTC Hero, packed with social networking features
Verdict: A great-looking device with loads of potential and lots of wizzy social networking apps integrated into it. It's just a pity it's so sloooow…
Price: From free with contract or £370 SIM-free
Pros: HTC Sense user interface, 5-megapixel camera, social networking integration, WiFi, a-GPS
Cons: Slow processor, camera not as good as others
Design: Slim and sleek, it's the best-looking Android device yet.
Operating System: Google Android
More Info: HTC website
The Hero is HTC's third Android phone (after the G1 and the Magic) and it's got a few new tricks, including a new user interface, multi-touch screen, 5-megapixel camera and improved social networking functions, as well as the usual WiFi, a-GPS and the Android Market app shop.
The 3.2in, 480 x 320-pixel touchscreen dominates the front with a row of hard buttons – call start and stop, menu and home – beneath and two additional buttons for search and back crammed into the right of the trackball just below that.
On the sides there's just a large volume rocker/cursor control, with a 3.5mm headphone jack on top and the mini USB power/sync port on the bottom. The slot for the microSD card (up to 32GB) is under the back cover.
It feels a bit heavier and sturdier than the Magic (135g to the Magic's 116g), though the size is much the same at 112mm x 56mm x14mm.
Switching it on, you're confronted with the new Sense user interface, the first big change in the appearance of Google's Android operating system. Where there were three home screens, now there are seven (three on either side of the main one). They're all fully customisable – just press and hold a blank bit of screen to get the widgets menu, then drag and drop where you like.
Social networking is a focus of the Hero and it has Facebook, Twitter and Flickr elements incorporated into it. Each of your contacts for instance includes an option to slide across for updates from Facebook, and it will even suggest Facebook friends too.
A scroll bar along the bottom of your contacts allows you to search for Facebook updates and you can download pics from their Flickr account (if they've made it available to you). There's also a favourites bar on one of the home pages that allows you to flick through your main contacts.
HTC's Peep app offers Twitter and you can choose how many Tweets you want to be able to view (up to the last 250) and how often you check for updates.
The new UI looks great, but it's also very busy and therefore needs a lot of processing power. Sadly, the Hero doesn't quite deliver here with its 528MHz processor and often slows down when you're trying to fly between applications and menus.
Browsing the Internet is painless enough. The accelerometer flips the screen into landscape mode when you turn it on its side and the screen now echoes the iPhone with multi-touch capability, allowing you to pinch to zoom. Bookmarks are shown as full pages which you can scroll through, and there's a dedicated Youtube app.
The Android Market may not yet be as big as Apple's App Store, but it's just as easy to use, and there's enough stuff there to keep you busy. You won't need it for QuickOffice though, since it's already on board, allowing you to view but not edit Word, Excel or PowerPoint docs. There's a PDF viewer too.
The Hero has a 5-megapixel camera, better than the 3.2 version on the Magic or G1. Picture resolution goes up to 2560 x 1712 pixels and you can switch between 4:3 and 3:2 widescreen modes, but colours tend to look washed out and detail isn't really what it should be.
The small line-up of extras includes a timer (up to ten seconds, geotagging, colour effects and a 4x digital zoom, plus there are options in the gallery to upload directly to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter or Picasa.
The music player sounds once you've replaced the tinny headphones it comes with via the 3.5mm jack and it will play MP3, AAC and WMA tracks. For video it will play MPEG-4, H.263, H.264 and WMV formats, all of which looked great on the sharp 3.2in screen, though we had to put up with black bars top and bottom for widescreen film trailers.
It's got all the usual smart phone connections, with quad-band GMS, WiFi and stereo Bluetooth. It has a-GPS on board too backed by Google Maps and includes Street View and Latitude, which lets you track your friends in real time.
The battery gave us around a day and a half of moderate use, which isn't bad, though HTC promises up to 470mins of talk time and 750hrs of standby.
We loved the HTC Hero's multi-touch screen, easy-to-use social networking apps and Google's new-look Android OS, which HTC has customised very effectively, though we got frustrated with the processor's inability to run consistently smoothly. The camera's the best you'll find on an Android phone so far, though it's not as good as other 5-megapixel numbers from Nokia, Sony Ericsson and LG. Otherwise though, it's a fun machine with lots of possibilities.