18 months ago, I moved to using an iPhone, prior to that I had been a Motorola; as a Windows Mobile user, the difference between the two platforms was like chalk and cheese.
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With the iPhone you had touch, big buttons for a keypad and a host of applications, let alone easy access to a single billing system when buying movies or music from the iTunes store.
And in the 18 months that I have been using the iPhone, I not seen a phone that has come remotely close to delivering a similar customer experience.
That was until last week when we were given a new HTC Hero phone running the Google Android operating system.
Only available via retail stores like Harvey Norman, the new HTC Hero definitely has the pedigree to take on the iPhone. It’s sleek, has a great display screen, and the Google Android OS delivers a lot of capability.
The first thing you notice is the design, and the matt mocha black casing, which easily fits into the palm of a hand. Also impressive is the raised design at the base of the casing that allows one to get easy access to the control buttons. It is also less prone to scratch than an iPhone.
Right now HTC designers are working hard to deliver a customer experience that will take on the iPhone and, if the Hero is an example of what HTC can deliver, Apple should start worrying, because HTC is fast latching onto what it takes to win customers over.
At first I thought the buttons that are located along the bottom of the phone were too small, but they are not, and when one has grown used to them, they actually deliver a lot of functionality. For example, when you are in camera mode, a simple press of the menu button brings up a host of capabilities that you won’t find on an iPhone.
The screen has a new oleophobic screen treatment similar to the iPhone 3GS and, when one activates the screen with a downward flick of the wrist, the images are bright and sharp.
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The display is designed to resist oil, though you’ll still find yourself wiping marks off the 3.2-inch screen, which delivers 420 X 320 resolution. A neat feature is the automatic dimming sensor, which works well in low light, bright light conditions.
If anything, this phone could do with a little more processing grunt. Currently it has a 528MHz CPU, 288MB of RAM, and 512MB ROM. This is not enough; however, it does not restrict the phone’s capability.
The Hero has Wifi, GPS, Bluetooth, and a 5-megapixel camera that was really impressive. Not only are the images sharp when compared to other mobile phone cameras, but the whole camera function has its own set of menus for resolution, white balance, brightness and time stamping.
It also has near-macro focus length; however I am not a fan of the trackball located in the base of the phone. I prefer a button on the side.
Also included with the Hero is a camcorder for video recording. Unfortunately the resolution is only 352 x 288, and even at that resolution the quality is limited.
Adding contacts is not as easy as with an iPhone, where the save function is on the top of the screen, not the bottom, which can only be accessed after scrolling through two pages of additional capability. However, the speakerphone is excellent with loud clear audio even when driving in a motor vehicle.
The Hero also has staying power and in a direct comparison with the iPhone the Hero came out on top. I got a full-day use with a single charge and this was on a day when I was constantly on the phone.
One thing that became abundantly clear with the HTC Hero was the limitations of Windows Mobile from Microsoft. When the Google Android system was compared with an HTC Windows Mobile phone, I found that I had to step down to several layers to functions, which with the Google offering was a simple click away.
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When it came to email connection, I was able to quickly establish a connection with both a POP 3 and Microsoft Exchange server. This is a big improvement.
The Hero is also social-network friendly, with easy connections to Twitter and Flickr. Users can also pull up Facebook from a variety of locations on the phone’s menu.
Another important improvement is the work that HTC has done with the touch element of the phone. Past models were rough, whereas this version is smooth and very close to what Apple is delivering. For me, I prefer to scroll sideways, not up and down.
The keyboard is very usable and responsive to touch strokes, though it is not as good as the iPhone.
Overall this is a massive improvement. The phone is well worth buying. What HTC has done is deliver an excellent consumer experience and bucket loads of functionality, from Google Maps to camcorder to easy access to applications.
A lot of work needs to be done in the setting up of contacts and, while messaging is easy, a lot more work needs to be done with the application icons and the way in which one can set the phone up to a personal configuration.
This is where the Apple iPhone still has an edge. As a brand, HTC is fast becoming a major force in the Smartphone market at the expense of offerings from Nokia and Sony Ericsson. It is getting the design right and above all the core functionality that delivers the difference between a good smartphone and a brilliant smartphone. If I was Apple I would be concerned.