There’s no question that the HTC Hero has been the most anticipated Android device in Android’s short lifetime. Though the T-Mobile G1 and myTouch 3G are both wonderful devices that will still be relevant years from today, the G1 had a (undeserved) “beta” rep it couldn’t shake and the myTouch 3G had such a delayed release in the US, it couldn’t maintain the initial hype (deserved).

 

On the flip side, the HTC Hero is on a brand new carrier, with a brand new custom UI built by HTC, and an all around, brand new feel. Launching on Sprint on October 11th for $179.99, it’s priced competitively and offers a clear alternative to competing smartphones.

We guess you could say that the HTC Hero is Android re-imagined or even re-defined--we like to call it Android all grown up. So how does the HTC Hero perform? Can it live up to the hype? Read on to find out!

Read on for Android Central’s hardware review of the HTC Hero!

*we've decided to split our HTC Hero Review in two--one review for the hardware and one review for the software. The hardware review is today and the review of the software (HTC Sense, Sprint apps) will come tomorrow!*

Design

If you remember correctly, when we first saw the HTC Hero, well, it looked nothing like it currently does. The European (GSM) version of the Hero looked like this:

A pretty far cry from the Sprint HTC Hero, which as you may know, looks like this:

The European HTC Hero was daringly designed, with the sharpest and biggest chin we’ve seen this side of 10 o’clock on NBC. All reports had pointed the build quality to be top-of-the-line, it even used a Teflon coating that had us in a tizzy when we first heard about it. So how’s the move from those sharp lines to the softer contours of the Sprint version?  Good, actually. It’s not a reach to say that we like it and might even prefer the Sprint version. *gasp*

Make no mistake, the European Hero was cutting edge and designed with Android in mind but the chin on the GSM Hero was borderline unwieldy. Imagine that in your pocket—would it ever be comfortable? The Sprint HTC Hero is generically designed, we’ll give you that, but the design makes sense.

 

Though one won’t be able to tell its ‘Android-ness’ on first glance, the design looks professional and high-end. The soft matte finish on the back cover offers a grippiness to the device that isn’t found in today’s ‘let’s add glossy’ mindset. The steel design of the front face offers a contemporary look without over-compensating. It’s a wee bit bigger than the myTouch 3G but it makes the myTouch feel downright adolescent. This is truly a grown up’s phone.

Sure we understand why some people are nonplussed about the look of the device (it looks like a WinMob device in some angles) but this isn't some ragtag design put together in the last minute to replace the European Hero. Instead, it's a thoughtful approach that combines high functionality, style, and design. The details and little touches matter--from the speaker grilles to the volume rocker, to the camera and curves of the Hero--it all works.

 

Buttons & Trackball

 

And though the controversial Android ‘chin’ is gone from the Sprint Hero, the base portion of the phone adds an ever so slight bump, it’s really unnoticeable on first take and even harder to capture in pictures but trust us, it’s there. So though the Sprint version doesn’t have a chin, this Hero makes it up with curves.

Our biggest problem with the design is that the four Android hardware buttons: Menu, Search, Home, and Back are a little too easy to press. Because there’s no cutout for those specific buttons (only for end and send call)—it’s just one plate for four different actions. So combine that single plate with the curve of the Sprint Hero's face, and it makes for some occasional accidental clicks. In hand, it looks great and even works fine for functionality, but put away, you’ll be surprised what your Hero does when unsupervised.

The four Android hardware buttons have a good springiness to them that make them fun to click. But the end and send call are just a teensy bit too small for our taste--we accidentally hit the bordering buttons a few times. The trackball is about the same size as the myTouch 3G and loads bigger than the T-Mobile G1, but to put it simply, it’s the best trackball that an Android device has shipped with. It combines great size with good texture, and most importantly, rolls smoothly.

 

Screen, Camera, Battery Life & Specs

The specs of the Sprint HTC Hero are also solid:

  • 3.2 inch, 480x320 capacitive touchscreen
  • 5-megapixel camera with autofocus and video recording
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • microSD
  • 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth
  • 1500 mAh battery

The typical Android screen is already wonderful but combining it with the elegance of HTC Sense, the Hero’s screen is improved two-fold. Colors pop, fonts look great, and the animation becomes stunning. It was like seeing a big screen on a mobile device for the first time, all over again.

The camera is really wonderful to use and in fact, probably one of the best cameraphones we’ve ever used. The 5 megapixel, autofocus really shines through and it can easily take pictures better than both the myTouch 3g and T-mobile G1.

The battery life of the Hero is fine on our end. At 1500 mAh, it’s bigger than previous Android phones and it shows. We put the Hero under some heavy testing and it didn’t tap out like the G1 would have (though is that even saying anything?). It’s not going to win any marathon races but I nearly got away with charging it every other day (it was more like every day and a half).

And praise the powers that be for the 3.5mm headphone jack. We’re glad HTC didn’t force ExtUSB down our throat again. And everything else is typical Android—microSD, connectivity, etc. (the microSD slot is accessible by simply removing the battery cover).

 

Hardware Final Thoughts

Honestly, Sprint really did a good job with the design of the HTC Hero. They played it safe, to be sure, but we excuse them for choosing the new design because though it would’ve been amazing to see the ambitious European HTC Hero here in the States, the Sprint Hero still shines—it offers a clearly professional design that feels great in your hand.

Remember, the Sprint HTC Hero will probably introduce many people to the Android platform and the first impression is very important. We think the Hero made a great decision in choosing this Hero design because packaged in this form-factor, the Hero is infinitely more approachable and functional. There's no polarizing design or questionable style--this Hero looks good and if it existed on its own, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees.

We also feel like the Hero is the first Android device to hit that upper echelon of build quality. While the other Android devices, the myTouch 3G and T-Mobile G1, suffered from either 'plasticity' or 'creaky', the Hero is really the first Android device to move past the 'beta' hardware stigma. Put it this way, the HTC Hero sets the bar for build quality in Android devices--we can't help but look at our myTouch's and G1's differently.

There’s absolutely no creakiness nor any hollowness to the Hero, the weight is perfectly managed and dispersed throughout the device, and the build quality and materials are grade A. From the soft contours of the Hero to the pleasant matte backing, we think it’s safe to say that when you pick a Hero up, you won’t be disappointed.

But the real beauty of the Hero lies in its software. Tune in tomorrow for our review of HTC Sense, Sprint apps, and of course, Android!