Digital Devicement: Part Two – Magical Heroes

My Hero

My Hero

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.

The Hero's keyboard (left) is closer to the iPhone's in appearance and an improvement on the Magic's (left).

The Hero's keyboard (left) is closer to the iPhone's in appearance and an improvement on the Magic's (right).

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.

Coming soon

Early autumn is BlackBerry picking time…


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38 comments on “Digital Devicement: Part Two – Magical Heroes”

  1. -Alan- says:

    In regard to the second to last paragraph Apple dosen’t have 50,000 rather 85,000 applications on the App Store. (and 125,000 registered iPhone developers)

    Apple also today announced that its App Store has surpassed two billion downloads. It was also noted that there are now over 50 million iPhone and iPod touch customers.

  2. I must say I’ve had a few near misses with the iPhone auto correct – for example it changed a friend Helen’s name to hymen! I’m now very careful…

  3. trstn says:

    With regard to flash on the Hero, I think it works well – perhaps not flawlessly but it certainly plays YouTube videos (I watched one just now to double check). In fact I’ve only encountered one flash video that won’t play natively on the Hero.

    The virtual keyboard, I guess it’s an acquired taste but I’m still working on it. And yep, it did seem underpowered at first but to be fair, with the recent ROM update a hella lot has been done to speed things up. try and get a Hero with the new firmware, or better still MoDaCo’s custom build if you can.

    The camera is shocking, almost as bad as my sentence structure, but not quite.

  4. devnull says:

    All contenders to the iPhone’s lofty throne must sort out the responsiveness issues. Most leave an unsatisfying time lagged experience sitting on the tips of your fingers.

    I believe this is one reason Apple hasn’t gone for full blown multitasking yet. Hopefully they will provide an elegant low-power solution to that ancient mobile gadget puzzle.


  5. MikeJ says:

    I tried a Hero and prefer the Blackberry keyboard. However, in answer to the under powered comment, there’s a downloadable software update from HTC at . Try it before you write the phone off as slow and unresponsive. The difference is quite noticeable.

  6. EllieK says:

    Am finding it v interesting to read about all these exciting new smartphone doodahs, some of them sound seriously impressive (especially Hero with the better camera) but definitely not regretting the purchase of my iPhone two months ago – still very much in love with it! It took me a while to get used to the VKB, but was amazed at how much easier it is, and the auto-correct thing is fabulous…although sometimes difficult to remember to press “x” when you don’t want the correction!

    Thanks for the info, looking forward to part 3! :-)

  7. essteeyou says:

    I’ve been waiting for an Android phone worthy of an upgrade from my G1 and so far I don’t think there’s one out there.

    I believe LG are releasing a new Android device with a proper keyboard, but I don’t think I particularly want to be associated with LG.

    As for Android 1.5 (Cupcake), it’s not really very new. I’m running a modified version of Android on my phone with some 1.6 (Donut) features. This includes a lovely little app called “Work Email” that connects to an exchange server. Very helpful.

  8. leoshaw79 says:

    As someone already pointed out on twitter, the latest firmware update from HTC for the Hero fixes a lot of the problems you note in the blog.

    However HTC don’t support “branded” mobiles, T-Mobile’s G2 for example. So people are having to wait for T-Mobile to get there collective donkeys in gear and issue a branded version of the Firmware update.

    Just to note their knowledge of the smartphones they’re selling seems seriously lacking and their commitment to supporting them seems equally so.

    As a result a lot of people bombarded the support forums and T-Mobile said we’d have the ROM a mere 3 weeks after HTC released it, if no one had spoken up it would have been at least 2 months before they released it by all accounts. Whereas Orange had theirs done and tested within a week and a half (give or take) and available for their Hero users.

    Sorry for the rant, it’ll hopefully become a moot point when Orange and T-Mobile merge, just thought it worth offering an opinion for people browsing thinking about their next phone purchase.

  9. Foxmeister says:

    I wonder if Stephen’s Hero had the latest 2.73 firmware on it, which is significantly improved over the original shipping version.

  10. MartinSGill says:

    Shame no one lent you the HTC G2 (HTC Hero) from T-Mobile or Orange.

    It’s much better than the Magic, has greatly improved interface (HTC did their own) and the text entry is vastly improved (so much so that there’s downloads on the android market to bring the Hero’s input UI to the Magic and G1.

    All round a much better android phone than the G1 or G2. I have colleagues who own either a G1 or the Vodafone Magic and they are all green with envy.

    The biggest flaw with the G2 is that it’s a bit underpowered for it’s UI. But hopefully the firmware update HTC have just released will address that (speed improvements are a major feature they report).

    Hope to see your take on the HTC Hero soon :)

  11. bluescreenofdeath says:

    I have to agree with trstn. Get the ROM update. It turns the Hero into a whole new machine. So much more responsive, now perhaps 98% as slick as an iPhone (ie you won’t notice unless you’ve got them next to each other) compared to around 80% of the original ROM on patent pending bluescreenofdeath’s slickometer. It also deals with multitasking much better and I’ve only really noticed any noticable issues after monster downloading app/games sessions. Your friend here is the app ‘Advanced Task Manager’ from the marketplace which lets you shut down apps that you’re not using day in/day out. And in any case, to be honest being able to run several apps simulataneously far outweighs the issue of a little sluggishness once in a while.

    The number of apps in App Store or Android Market is pretty irrelvant as 95% of apps in both are just fluff & rubbish. I do however think Android has a better ratio of useful apps over games whereas the iPhone has a better ratio of good games over apps.

    I haven’t enjoyed owning a phone so much in years. There are a few niggles (The camera really is awful in low light conditions) but as a serial tweaker it’s far better than the iPhone with it’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach. I personally find the Hero a better communication device but the iPhone still wins by a fair way on entertainment.

    However, what’s a phone for if it’s not communication? So it’s bye bye old iPhone, hello Hero.

  12. 6tricky9 says:

    @Stephen Fry: “Around the corner lurk the launches of the Motorola Cliq and rumoured Android phones from Samsung and LG”

    I thought that this was an up-to-date review; the Motorola, Samsung, and LG are all currently available at a store near you.

  13. mrloz says:

    I have tha Magic, and love it. I much prefer that to the Hero to be honest. It’s close, but the chin just doesn’t do it for me. I also wanted a purer android experience.

    I think vodafone went with that because it was released earlier, by about 3/4months. I’ve had the magic for a couple before the Hero hit orange and t-mobile.

    As to the keyboard. You don’t need to get too techy to change that, you can install one of many from the android market and then set the keyboard in the input prefs. I quite liked Touch Pal, which did capitals by flicking up on the key, and symbols by flicking down, making general punctuation a bit faster.

    Also on the standard keyboard you can add items to the dictionary by simply long pressing from the suggest list, and it will add that for future..

  14. 6tricky9 says:

    Or what about the forthcoming Sony Ericsson Android with the Rachael UI? You can view it here

  15. Stephen Fry says:

    Thanks to all who have mentioned the ROM upgrade. I’ll try it next time I’m near a PC (it’s Windows only: you’d think Open Source software like Android could be uploaded via Linux/Gnu, wouldn’t you?). As for the LG, Samsung and Motorola Androids -yes they are available in some marketplaces but not as readily as the Hero and Magic. And MartinSGill – I don’t think you read to the end of the post!

    It’s so good to hear all your input. The experience of 10 intelligent users is more than ten times sounder than the opinion of one.

    S x

  16. ArchAsa says:

    Wow – as it happens I just recently came into enough cash to upgrade to a really good phone and happily browsed the wonderweb to see what’s on the menu. I had no definite commitment to Android but on closer reading I became more and more enamoured with the HTC phones. The recent deal struck between android and Spotify practically sealed the deal!!
    However, I got especially interested in the HTC Tattoo which will be released now in October. It will not be as fancy as Hero, but it will have standard ear pieces, FM radio, camera etc and decent battery life. Only problem is I have to cool my heals for another 3-4 weeks and you just added to my angst.

    Nice to know htc has your seal of approval though – it bodes well for our android future.

  17. barton71 says:

    I have, just last month, upgraded my handset to the HTC Magic, and so far i am really impressed with it. However, like Mr Fry says in his review, i am stuck into an 18 month contract, and there are going to be better Android handsets available very soon. Not that i regret upgrading to the Magic, it is still a great handset, and will still be a great a year from now.

    Having said that, there is a handset due out soon, which has gone virtually unnoticed. The Nokia N900 Internet Tablet is coming out in October, and this is the one to watch. It will be the first Internet Tablet with mobile phone capabilities. The iPhone and Android handsets may be getting all the media hype, but the N900 Internet Tablet is going to be the next great thing (for us gadget nerds, at least).

  18. Briantist says:

    There are still things that the Android phones can do that the iPhone can’t such as the excellent Google My Tracks and, of course, Latitude.

    Google Voice search rather makes the Magic’s lack of keyboard less of an issue.

    Personally, I want a keyboard like that of my old Psion 5!

    As for the Android phones not synchronising with a PC, this isn’t really an issue as Android sync via the internet. There is a sync, but you rarely see even the icon.

    There’s some cool stuff coming in 1.6…

    And with it being Android, your phone gets better by itself after you buy it!

  19. wynk says:

    I have to agree with bluescreenofdeath, with regards to my G1. I haven’t enjoyed owning a phone so much…well, ever, really. In fact, with the slow demise of my poor laptop it’s become my main mode of internet access outside of work. But, that’s neither here nor there.

    I have to (sadly) disagree with this idea of “getting used to” an onscreen keyboard, as one “gets used to” a splinted forefinger or Diet Coke. Why should I sacrifice my screen real estate for some raised blood pressure and wasted time retyping anything, even in the name of “getting used to” something? And besides that, on those days where allergies have one eye swollen shut (which are unfortunately frequent as of late), or on the more common days where I wake up and my vision hasn’t cleared, I can still use my phone, thanks to the handy little raised dots on my physical keyboard. I’ve used it enough that it’s not a feature I’m ready to “get used to” living without.

    I used my iPod Touch when out and about for about four months, and the typing didn’t get any better. I flatter myself that I’m not without a certain amount of dexterity, being both an expert typist and a pianist, and besides that I have what is in my acquaintance considered The Smallest Hands Ever. It was, in short, a frustrating experience that never did improve, so it was with great rejoicing that I once again rejoined the world of the physical keyboard-endowed smartphone.

    I really do hope that (as I hear in the rumor mill occasionally) they have not abandoned entirely the idea of making handsets with physical keyboards. Unfortunately I’ll need to upgrade my handset eventually, due to the system memory limitations of the G1, and all I ask is that I have the choice.

  20. fluffy says:

    Regarding Android’s keyboard, there is a wonderful third-party keyboard replacement called “Better Keyboard” which is, as the name would imply, better. It is well worth the US$3 price. I actually find Better Keyboard more usable than the iPhone’s keyboard at this point, and it also has modes for people who are used to T9 input or BlackBerry’s split-key thing, which also work quite well (as long as the words you’re typing are in the dictionary).

    I have an HTC Magic (as a T-Mobile myTouch 3G) and it’s wonderful. The platform is still showing some growing pains but it’s also improving all the time. I switched to it from an iPhone and the only thing I really miss is the availability of a lot of apps – but frankly, most of the apps on iPhone are crap anyway.

  21. trevor says:

    How refreshing to read a tech review written by someone who knows how to write! I can confirm that the ROM update does indeed improve the experience on the Hero somewhat. As other posters have already pointed out, video streaming is very possible from YouTube and other sources, not the least of which being the BBC iPlayer site via a superb little Android app called Beebplayer. Live BBC TV – joy!
    Android gripes? No Google Earth, for one. The absence of Bluetooth file transfer support is another. Here’s hoping that Google don’t take their foot off the gas. Roll on Eclair (Android 2.0)!

  22. Aaron says:

    Is it just me, or do these kinds of things come to the European markets faster than the American markets? I know you can buy a few of these Android phones here, but they only seem to be available for the more underdog service providers, which defeats the whole purpose when you want things like fast, reliable internet. Of course, I could be wrong (or Brits might even have the same problem), but that’s just the way it seems.

    Also, on a completely different note, I was a little mystified by this line: “I am now dining on humble pie (if in England), or on crow (if in America).” I’m familiar with the “humble pie” expression — and and so is the average American, if my personal experience counts for anything. I’ll grant that there are very large sections of American culture that I’ve never come into contact with, but I think I have a fairly strong grasp of the generic American dialect, and I’ve never heard this “crow” thing.

  23. Stephen Fry says:

    Further to the PKB v VKB heated debate, this Gizmodo article and comments are interesting:

    BTW, I’ve successfully uploaded the ROM 2.73 on my Hero, and yes it smooths and speeds things up noticeably. I shall provide an addendum to my article making that point.

  24. inckognito says:

    Stephen, thank you very much for reveiwing HTC smartphones! Very useful and informative for me it was.

    However, as soon as I’m from Russia and we have already got THIS 4G BEAUTY HTC MAX –

    I’d LOVE to hear from you regarding this one BUT you’ll have to come to Moscow or St-Petersburg then because the coverage is only over there.

    HTC MAX 4G Yota is SO damn unbelievably good! I love it. You should definitely try it one day when you’re in Russia (as you promised before ;) )


  25. MTG5150 says:

    Mr. Fry,

    As a Dedicated Android-vocate I took my G1 (Still with T-mob) to it’s current theoretical limits by Rooting it and it has virtually all the functionality of the Hero. Essentially at this point I have a “Developer Phone”

    Of course, I have to manually do updates instead of OTA but running this way not only allows me nifty bits of tech like Multi-touch or wireless network modem/router ability and the like; but moreover, I can load and store apps on the SD instead of the phone itself. Glory be unto the programmer who hacks this stuff out for me. I am no machete-wielding guide of the code jungle. Simply an open source guy who likes open source tech.

    If it won’t get you into too much trouble, perhaps you could talk about the Jailbreaking/Rooting process that you underwent. Not the how you see, but the WHY. There are a good many excellent tutorials online for getting Jailbroke/Rooted (snigger) that cover the topic adequately but the interesting bit, “The Why”, the thumbing of ones nose at “proprietary networks”, the apprehension and then joy of doing something one is told not to, the well, freedom to use your devices as you see fit. I for one, would love, love, love, to hear your take.
    Or would that put you in the manacles?

    Well, if it is to be, then it shall.

    Thanks for all your hard work Mr. Fry
    Michael in Detroit

  26. ChrisWaller says:

    I’m surprised that you’re having problems watching YouTube videos. My Hero came equipped with a really lovely YouTube player straight out of the box. Mine was from Orange though, so I’m not sure whether the software’s the same.

    North Wales

  27. leoshaw79 says:

    You get the YouTube application on the T-Mobile Hero…sorry…G2 Touch. I thought it would be part of the standard Google/Android apps bundle, along with Google Maps and a Google Mail app.

  28. duncanjmurray says:

    To Stephen – thanks for the review – just wondering if you’ve heard about the upcoming N900 – it looks like something you’d approve of!

  29. Mark139 says:

    I’m a developer and gave up on iphone development before I (just)got started. I must say I like Apple products, but I don’t like Apple the company’s Orwelian approach to business. It’s one thing for my government (UK) to want to store all kinds of data on me but a whole different ball game when a foreign business wants that info, including a copy of my passport (uk passport offfice recommends only doing this with trust worthy companies). No thanks. I doubt I’ll see my $99 again.
    Google on the other hand happily let me develop to my hearts content and don’t require me to sign over my first born. I can write apps that amuse myself and my friends no bother. If happen to produce something worthy then I can upload it to the store. Best of all, the source is available so I can see what’s going on if the documentation is a little light.
    I also develop for the Symbian platform and while I can happily code away I can’t as yet see all their source. This is a shame as the documentation was poor 10 years ago and it hasn’t changed too much.

    I feel better now. I get on with the day job – writing apps for Android :)


  30. rebeccajoy says:

    excuse me for appearing and diverging wildly from the topic, but WHERE CAN I WRITE TO STEPHEN FRY?? all i want to do is send the man a letter, i know its rather archaic of me, but must it really go to some london-based agency? is there some system of testing to ensure that the chap doesnt receive his own mail if its from irrelevant commoners?
    someone please direct me towards AN address, even if it is merely that of a secretary/ filter system etc.

  31. Caroline Lodge says:

    Although i am only 13yrs of age, i seem to admire all of your work. i am terribly intreeged by how you have come across all of this information( Please dont say reading- But I have read all of your books i ind them deeply interesting and i long to read for the rest of my life) Please dont take this as a child saying- ‘i am your biggest fan can i have your autograph!i love you, i love you!’ i will not hang on your every whim. its just because you inspire me and my mother always soliloquises about the fact of how much time i speed watching Qi, Blackadder, all of your films etc. ( i am not a stalker or a psycho)
    if this is the real stephen Fry Please Could You Reply And Try To Forget My Age And Judge Me for Who I Am.
    Bye, i am now off to watch anopther reply of blackadder goes forth the final in the series on dave + 1.

  32. Stephen Fry says:

    Caroline: thanks for the comment – exceptionally touched and pleased that you like the things I do and have done… I shall certainly not judge you in any way other than as a kindly and intelligent correspondent.
    I’m not sure how I know what I know – a sticky memory is one explanation, but I think a better one is sheer curiosity. If you picture the kind of a greed a starved warthog might have, or Homer Simpson when confronted with a tray of donuts – think of me having that kind of greed for history, language, science, knowledge generally… I think that’s the secret really. People know as much as they’re hungry to know.
    be well

  33. VincentH says:

    I was watching you on the telly – The One Show- And I do hope you are well. That your loss of weight is by design.
    We in Ireland call that look as being a bit shook.
    Anyway, I hope you are well.

  34. priggy says:

    have to say i don’t find the apple vkb annoying or had any near misses with it. I haven’t used a a practical keyboard on a phone but then never wanted to either because they look ugly and the buttons are way too small for the fingers so have always been a fan of apple’s touch keyboard and i don’t tend to look at another phone which has a pkb coz they don’t look right. The magic and hero phones look interesting but i don’t know if it could beat the iPhone.

  35. priggy says:

    Can i also add, i love the way you express yourself. I’m intrigued as to how you learnt to express yourself in such a way.

  36. digitaldave35 says:

    Hi Steven I have recently been reading your works and I fully agree with your comments on smart phones I’d like to add a few things myself android is an open standards, open source platform like Intel’s backed limo project. I have had the android G1 since launch and I’ve seen it evolve over the past year with the cupcake update and with each update the device improves. But each smart phone has one same weakness that’s the battery life its no diffrent than the old Compaq IPaqs in the late 90’s switch all the radios on at the same time and you drain the battery within a few hours with talk of the next gen smart phones carrying pico projectors and virtualization hypervisors I wonder how the engineers are going to produce batteries for the future when they can’t even design the correct power requirements for now, forget about the next app store battle the talk should really be about usability and building devices with low power requirements maybe a smart phone utilizing OLED Screens and Transmetta Mobile processors could help all feedback is good @digitaldave35

  37. womanfriday says:

    Hi Stephen,
    I’m one of those bereaved Twitterers who’s been blocked by the indiscriminate hand of god from following your treasured pearls of wisdom. Can’st thou maketh me fulfilled once more and unblock me?
    Yours in desolation,

  38. doctorian says:

    Hi Stephen,
    Thought this may tickle you a little – sent today.
    Warmth and light.

    TO: The Editor of Mail on Sunday, C/C Mr P Morgan


    My dearest Piers

    It is with great sadness that I must report having wasted 10 minutes of my previous Sunday, and, quite probably, my life, having read your column in Live. You may recall it; the one stuffed with half a page of venomous, self-satisfied bile about Stephen Fry.

    Yes he did say he had been hurt by personal remarks on Twitter. Stephen suffers from depression occasionally, and personal taunts, when barbed and thrown at one whilst at a low ebb do penetrate much more than if they were they hurled at a self-satisfied, egomaniac crust of a personality – someone like yourself perhaps? But I very much doubt that you’d be aware, or much less care, that Stephen recently took some time to write in to a national newspaper letter page, without fanfare or name-quoting (that probably wouldn’t sound too familiar to you, I’d wager), and offer some personal advice to a woman suffering from the same ill health.

    And so, without giving him a chance to comment, you did your delightfully well-rehearsed and testosterone-laded chest beating routine, like the finest silverback on the mountain, and leapt in. You didn’t even have anything constructive to say other than repeatedly comment about his “overbearing pomposity” and “epically mind-numbing tedium”. Don’t you have a bloody mirror in your office, Mr Morgan?

    Anyhow, I digress, I can visualise you now tap-tap-tapping away at your anonymous keyboard, with just a hint of a vitriolic and rancorous smirk playing on your lips whilst thinking about who’s name to drop next, or which of the worlds finest restaurants had just told Obama they were full because you were going to grace them with your omnipotent presence – and, sadly, they couldn’t quite squeeze him in.

    My mother once said “If you’ve nothing nice to say, then say nothing.” I’m assuming that this also extended to reading – it certainly will do in my case as from now.

    By the way, I’m hardly surprised that your column, somewhat symbolically, takes its place at the rear of the magazine

    Much love

    Ian Sherwin

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