Even from the earliest days of leaked hardware shots and blurry demo videos of its UI, smartphone fans seemed to agree that the company had finally achieved what has been missing in the world of Android. Namely, a polished and attractive device -- polished enough to go head-to-head with the iPhone -- that kept its open source heart. So, here we are months later with an actual, bona fide Hero in our midst. Yes the reports were true, it is a beautiful device, both inside and out (though of course opinions differ on that chin). But does being a beautiful device mean Android is about to move to a bigger stage? Is HTC's spit-shine enough to overcome some of the hurdles that have plagued the platform?
In terms of overall design and layout, the Hero is very much a product of evolution. Like its forebears the G1 (or Dream) and MyTouch (or Magic / Ion), the general stats like screen size, technology, and resolution, button placement, unit size and weight, and basic aesthetic are pure HTC. Like those previous devices, the Hero contains a smattering of hardware buttons on the base (or chin as some call it) of the phone, including a home, menu, back, send, end, and dedicated search key. The device also sports a trackball in this area, which shouldn't surprise any Android aficionados.
Where the Hero breaks from convention, however, is in the overall look and feel of the phone. If the Dream and Magic felt plasticky and cheap (they did), the Hero is quite the opposite -- it's like a solid brick in your hand. The casing is made of a soft-touch material (Teflon on the white version to prevent dirt), and the shape of the device takes a much more severe, almost rectangular slant. The buttons along the bottom are small, evenly spaced ovals (save for the search and back key -- we'll get to that), the earpiece is covered in a stylish mesh, and the volume rocker on the side is a smooth, single button. The screen also uses a new oleophobic treatment (similar to the iPhone 3GS), and thankfully HTC has added a 3.5mm headphone jack to the top of the phone.
Overall the appearance is sleek and modern -- it's like the Magic was beamed to the year 3000 for a redesign. Besides the chin (which some people will nitpick, though we don't mind), the Hero is a home run when it comes to looks, though it's not without issues. One of our main gripes with the phone is the layout of the hard buttons. The four across the top don't bother us much, but the placement of the "back" key is a huge pain. It basically forces your hand into a cramp-inviting position -- it's an unnatural move for a key you've got to use a lot. If you're left handed, it'll seem fine (great even), but as a righty, we found it inconvenient and uncomfortable. It's actually perplexing as to why the back button lives where it does on the Hero -- the Magic's placement is much more accessible and a lot more comfortable to use for righties or lefties.
The guts of the Hero should seem familiar to most gadget buffs -- they're essentially identical to HTC's Magic (at least the Rogers version). What does that mean for you, end user? It means you're stuck with the same Qualcomm 528MHz CPU, the same 288MB of RAM, and a paltry 512MB ROM. The onboard radios include WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, and a quad-band HSPA cell chip. The model we tested is the European release of the phone, and as such is only able to access EDGE networks here in America. Luckily for us we don't leave the house much, so most of the time we were on WiFi. So just to be clear, beyond the new screen coating, industrial design, and improved camera, this phone is the HTC Magic inside.
The display on the Hero is gorgeous, no doubt. Using a similar smudge resistant material as the iPhone 3GS, it certainly seems to repel oil, though you'll still find yourself wiping it clean on a regular basis. The 3.2-inch, 480 x 320 capacitive touchscreen works well, but not notably better than its predecessors -- in terms of color and clarity, however, the Hero's LCD is on par with the competition. One nice added feature is a proper light sensor here, so automatic dimming works as it should, whereas neither the Dream nor the Magic can take advantage of the eye- and battery-saving functionality.
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