OK I managed to get me a Hero through on Orange on Wednesday and it was delivered 24 hours ago, since then I have put it through its paces before writing this review.

First Thoughts:

Having used and loved the G1 for a number of months now I was expecting to be disappointed in the Hero due to its lack of physical QWERTY, perhaps just cushioning myself for what lay ahead. As the courier handed me the parcel I could hardly believe the size of the box within the bag, It is literally half the size of the G1 box and there isn’t a magnetic catch in sight!

Bundled in the box is the new type HTC charger which utilises the data cable to charge the phone, a set of 3.5mm headphones with built in mic, play/pause, forward and backward controls and a quick start guide, oh and obviously the phone itself.

There is no manual bundled or a CD containing software, the later not being surprising seeing as Android devices don’t sync with the PC (or do they) and applications are installed over the air through the market.

Sadly the Hero doesn’t come with a slip case as the G1 did.

So I gently lifted the Hero out of the box and turned it on, the familiar vibration went off in my hand and it started to come to life, the Hero feels a lot better in the hand over the G1, it doesn’t creak for starters which means it feels a lot more solid and more expensive as the device has a rubberised feel to it, with a nice cold brushed steel bezel around the screen and housing the four oval evenly spaced buttons, Call Home Menu & Call End (power on/off) , below that with have the centrally placed trackball and a single switch containing Search to the left and Back to the right, I have yet to mistakenly press one for the other and if pressing the Back key causes spasms in your thumb then you are holding the device wrong and yes, I am right handed!

Above the not so smudge proof screen lie what appears to be two leds separated by a nice piece of mesh covering the internal speaker, to the left are the only other two buttons and that is the Volume rocker switch, yep the Hero is devoid of a dedicated camera button (more about that later) to the top we have a not so familiar looking hole on a HTC device and that would be the 3.5mm headphone socket, oh joy of joy’s at last I can listen to music whilst the device is being charged, i.e when in bed! The battery cover covers the whole back nothing new there, and it has four holes, one for the camera (just a hole no glass!) and oval slot for the speaker and another smaller oval for a lanyard and the hole at the top for the 3.5mm socket. The only Orange branding externally is the logo to the back, which means it will be easily replaced as soon as new covers are available.

So initially I like this device over the G1 it feels more solid, smaller, looks more expensive and has a 3.5mm headphone socket, BUT it does lack the physical QWERTY and a dedicated camera button! how will I cope??

The Device Boots:

And so it begins, set up on the Hero is a little more than just giving the device your Gmail account, the Hero wants more, it wants your FaceBook details, your Flickr details and your Twitter details I’ll go into that in more detail later, in order to really test the device I want to use it just as I did the G1 although that will be limited due to the fact I was running the G1 as a Dev phone which was rooted and I ran the apps from the SD this option isn’t open to me yet with the Hero. Realising that the Hero comes bundled with a paltry 2GB micro SD I will need the 8GB card out of the G1, which will need formatting before being used, I also don’t want to lose the bundled items from the supplied 2GB card so I will have to copy them across too.

On the supplied 2GB card is HTC Sync a piece of software to install on your PC which will allow synchronisation with Outlook on the PC something I haven’t used since Google came along and I can sync, contacts & calendar OTA to both the Hero and the Bold so I haven’t installed HTC sync yet, though I will if only to see what it is all about. As well as the sync software the full Hero manual can be found in PDF format, and a few sample images, a video and quite a bit of music.

Setting up the home screen is far better with all the HTC niceness that comes bundled with the Hero there are far more widgets to choose from including the original Google widgets which to be honest would look out of place if you were to implement any of these. From HTC we have the Bookmarks widget with a choice of 2 styles, the Calendar widget again with 2 styles, the Clock widget with 12 styles to choose from, Footprints with 2 styles, Mail & Messages widgets with 1 style each, the Music widget with 2 styles, People, Photo Album & Photo Frame widgets with 1 style each, HTC’s own search widget, Settings widgets including Airplane Mode, Bluetooth, GPS, Mobile Network & WiFi, there is a lot a choice of 3 styles of Stock widgets, 2 styles of Tweeter widgets and 3 styles of Weather widgets.

With all that choice it is very quick to get the 7 screens set-up to run just how you want it to, but what if you choose the larger widgets which occupy the 1 whole screen, you can quickly find yourself running out of space, this is where scenes comes into play to start with HTC gives you 5 scenes HTC, Social, Work, Play & Travel there is then a clean slate option and you can create and save scenes of your own as well as making changes to one of HTC’s pre built scenes and saving your changes! So really the choices are endless.

I also had a list of Apps I wanted to bring over to the Hero, a few apps were crossed off the list immediately, as the Hero comes bundled with a Twitter client “Peep” which is suspiciously like Twidroid I will no longer need that, “Peep” also has it’s own Twitter widget so I will no longer need Twidgit, I would still like to use Twidgit but I don’t think HTC want me too as it doesn’t appear on the market on the Hero yet it does on the G1! As the Hero also links to your Flickr account I won’t need any of the 2 Flickr apps I have previously paid for, another app is weather I had a few running on the G1 but the Hero’s weather widget kicks ass so I no longer need any of those! I can no longer use any of the apps that required root so they can go! Although the messaging app on the Hero is quite nice and has it’s own widget I have grown to like Handcent SMS which brings a lot of good options to the device, such as a pop up for new SMS, text to speech, bubble style chat, and repeat notifications to name a few. Unfortunately I don’t have a choice to link the messages widget to to handcent app which is a shame, it also shows HTC is flexing it’s muscles over what you can and can’t do but I am sure the Dev’s will get around that little problem in time. Another app I really like is a simple app, Scrobble Droid which basically scrobbles your played music to last.fm but it doesn’t work with HTC’s music app, though the developer of Scrobble Droid assures me he is looking into this.

So with all the apps I want now installed and running I have noticed none of the sluggishness I had on the G1, though to be fair HTC has taken over the jobs I had previously used apps for so I should imagine the memory management will now be better.

Time to test the keyboard:

I have had HTC’s keyboard on the G1 for a while so that was nothing new to me, the responsiveness on the other hand was, using the onscreen keyboard on the G1 could be frustrating at times yet on the Hero it is a breeze using a similar correction system as the iPhone it works really well, in fact it’s very impressive, one thing fixed over the G1 is the edge of screen responsiveness has been tweaked which means pressing the keys closer to the edge now works! Whichever way you use the keyboard whether it be with one finger in portrait or both thumbs in landscape it is a joy to use. Sure I’ll miss the G1’s qwerty but I certainly don’t need it and if not having it gives me a sturdier device and shaves a few mm off it’s bulk then so be it!

No Camera key???

So there is no dedicated camera key, hmmmm so I can’t start the camera by pressing a physical key? but I can place numerous icons on the screen! using the trackball is surprisingly comfy and having the ability to zoom in and out with the same thumb is just genius, again those reporting using the trackball as awkward and nearly dropping the device you are holding it wrong and you have 2 hands don’t you? use them!!!

The camera itself is pretty good, no LED is a bit of a let down but lets remember this is a phone if I want to take shots in the dark I have a few digital cameras for that! as I mentioned before the zoom and shoot key are handled by the trackball which works well, if it doesn’t now give it a short while and it will my thumb hasn’t slipped using the trackball for well over a year now as it is the same unit used in BlackBerry Smartphones I have had a bit of practice! In fact the same zoom/shoot setup using the trackball is used on BlackBerry though they have the camera key as well.

So we got a 3.5mm socket:

This means I can use my Shure’s with the device which can only be a good thing as the bundled headphones are pretty poor, no volume control to be found just forward/back & play/pause yeah that is more than the Shure’s have but I’d rather have no remote and proper sound!

Hopefully HTC will bring out a nice set of headphones with an in-line remote and a 3.5mm socket just after. The location of the socket works well for me too I prefer to have the socket at the top as it feels better in the pocket.

Final word (for now)

So is the Hero an iPhone killer? No it isn’t!

Why oh why do we have to have that question asked all the time?? why does the iPhone need to be killed off?? surely that would be for the worse!

What we have is a bloody good device in it’s own rights, sure it shares similarities with the iPhone but people seem to forget we had touchscreen phones long before the iPhone!

The Hero is a good alternative for those who want to use an up and coming OS, for those who don’t want to sign away their soul to O2 for an iPhone, for those who are sick of Nokia feeding them S60 which they have done for a good few years now, for those who are fed up of the archaic Windows Mobile which is still essentially the same OS I was using nearly 10 years ago on my Hewlett Packard Jornada.

I certainly don’t regret getting the Hero and doubt I will, OK there will be newer and better devices out, some using the new Snap Dragon processor but for now I’m a happy chappy!

I will be adding more to the Blog as I individually test out apps on the Hero so keep tuned!