Hello there! – a calendar and weather widget welcome you to the home screen and an all new virtual keyboard offers better visual (and buzzy-haptic) feedback and a neat achievement of Shift characters by a simple press and hold. A suite of themes called “scenes” allow cookie-cutter or customisable wallpapers and environments. The idea is to switch between work and leisure or home and travel, devising different environments for your week and weekend for example. HTC calls this new system “Sense” and while it will last no longer in the world than “Flow” or any of their previous graphic user interfaces, it does very well for this phone, which is (aside from the camera and audio-jack) identical under the hood to the Magic and (under) powered by the same 528 MHz processor and (under) equipped with the same 288MB of RAM.
HTC have essentially taken over the Android stage and redressed it with their own sets, props and costumes, in much the same way they did two years back with the horror that was Windows Mobile. Android needs less disguising than WinMob did, but nonetheless you have to applaud HTC, they have gone all out to rethink every detail of the user experience. The superb standard Android notifications blind that pulls down from the top of the screen has wisely been kept, but HTC offer their own Mail client for the Magic, one which finally allows Exchange and all the flavours if IMAP and POP that you need if you don’t have a Gmail account, and they have a tweaked version of the webkit browser, which is now Flash enabled, though don’t expect to be able to play YouTube or Vimeo footage, in fact I could barely find anything other than a few website splashscreens that could show this implementation off. The browser also now offers true iPhone style multitouch spreading and pinching instead of tedious + and – zoom buttons. Twitter and Facebook have been integrated into HTC’s new environment too, should you want it both services can be now always on and just a swiped screen away.
Naturally, all this threaded function and all these fancy widgets and themes come at the cost of overtaxing the engine. If the Hero were faster and smoother you could call it a real pretender to the iThrone, but the continued sluggishness and ongoing difficulties with syncing media to and from PC or Mac do hold it back. At least so I thought until this afternoon when I downloaded the new 2.73 ROM upgrade which is available from the HTC site – my thanks to readers who alerted me to this. It makes a real difference to the three crucial S’s in this arena — smoothness, speed and stability.
It’s an impressive device, really really impressive. One is bound to ask why Vodafone UK, in seeking to offer an Android phone, chose the Magic over this clearly superior version. Perhaps the Magic is cheaper, perhaps HTC demand a premium for all the work they have put into their beautifully pimped Hero.
Android has done well in its first year. Its staunchest advocate cannot pretend that it is a success story on a par with that of the Apple iPhone, but 10,000 apps in the Android Market (to Apple’s 85,000) shows that there is a solid and committed developer community catering for a satisfied and enthusiastic user base. The Hero will make sure both groups will continue to grow.
Around the corner lurk the launches of the Motorola Cliq and rumoured Android phones from Samsung and LG: these can only help ensure that Google’s Open Source OS is here to stay.
Early autumn is BlackBerry picking time…