HTC Hero Mini Review
I've been using a HTC Hero as my main phone for a few days and ahead of my promised iPhone/Pre/Android/WinMo comparison I wanted to share my first impressions.
The phone came in white but there are black ones available which I think look better. It is similar in size to the iPhone but with a strange "chin" at the bottom which I can't decide it I like. The chin makes it nice to hold when making a call but a bit awkward in a pocket. The case of the phone has some kind of anti-fingerprint coating and the screen also seems to avoid the worst of fingerprints.
There's a regular headphone jack and my Apple in-ear headphones with remote control worked perfectly even in Spotify allowing me to pause, forward and rewind the music without the annoyance of jailbreaking and installing third party software.
But all things considered the iPhone is better looking and just nicer.
When I got the phone it was shipped with Android 1.5 and I knew there was an update to 1.6 about. Well I knew this from reading lots of tech blogs but if I wasn't geek I wouldn't have known. The updating process was painful, pretty much the same as a WinMo phone, needs dedicated sync software and it wouldn't even install on my Win7 64 bit desktop....I had to find an old XP box, download sync software and drivers then download and install the actual update. A million miles from the ease of use of teh iPhone in this respet
I really like the Hero's approach to set up. It first prompts you to set up email account or accounts. Here the Hero supports Exchange accounts and Google (as as well as pretty much anything else via POP/IMAP). Then it prompts you for Facebook, Twitter and Flickr account detail and uses these in a very clever and integrated way so that for example browsing to a contact you see the person's Facebook status and photo albums (as well as also using the photo and date of birth from Facebook).
The iPhone can do all of this stuff but needs more set up and dedicated apps although in fairness these do generally offer more functionality.
Email is a little strange though as there are two email apps, one HTC app that I setup for my work Exchange email and another dedicated Android Gmail app that I used for my personal Google apps account. There is one benefit though as you get different notification icons for the different accounts!
The Hero runs Android 1.6 with HTC's own Sense interface which clearly has quite a bit in common with their TouchFlo from WinMo. However its a much better combination than WinMo.
Touch Sense has 7 "screens" that you can dock widgets and shortcuts on and this works really well. The multitasking means these widgets run in the background so, for example, Twitter is updated with your latest tweets without having to wait for them to load.
You can have multiple sets of these screens (called Scenes) for say work and play and they are easy to configure and move things around. Particularly liked the live updating Tube Status widget that comes with the London Tube Status app.
Widgets are particularly nice and something the iPhone really lacks having very limited badges by comparison. I love the way the weather app tracks your current location and displays it (and the weather) on the front screen - really helpful for knowing where you are on a dark train journey!
The interface seems reasonably quick and I only ran into lag when I had Spotify and a load of apps running.
Notifications are a particular strength and much better than the annoying popups of the iPhone. They use a line at the top of the screen that you can drag down for more info and they stay there but don't get in the way.
One thing that is a little different to the iPhone is the use of hardware buttons (like Home, Back and Menu) rather than just the touchscreen. Not sure about this yet but it did make it a bit easier to use one handed.
The Android Marketplace has a reasonable range of apps notably Co-pilot sat nav software and Spotify which works better on Android as it has a home screen (like the desktop app), allows sync over 3G and runs in the background.
I found pretty easily tube map, tube status and rail times apps and whilst there is still not anything like as much choice as for iPhone at least it isn't as overwhelming!
Some apps lacked the polish of iPhone apps and the twitter and Facebook apps certainly aren't as good but the iPhone apps are into second and third generations now so that isn't that surprising.
There is a lot to like about the Hero and some aspects of the interface are a real move forward from the iPhone - multitasking, widgets, notifications and setup in particular.
The iPhone is still more polished and has a much better and more functional choice of applications but the Hero shows that the iPhone now has real competition from Android devices. I think this is a good thing all round and the competition will give more choice and also keep some pressure on Apple to develop the iPhone and hopefully keep their more controlling aspects in check!