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Other Hardware and Peripherals Other Apple systems and peripherals discussion.

Review: HTC Incredible


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cwa107

 
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I was considering posting this to the Blog, but since a number of you have been asking me how I like it, and since I think there will likely be some desire to discuss my opinions on it, I figured it would be better to put it out as normal thread...

I've been pining for an iPhone for some time now and have watched the developments with Apple's exclusivity contract with AT&T with great interest. As a very satisfied and long time Verizon customer in the US, I have no intention of switching carriers.

In my personal experience with them, GSM-based carriers have call quality issues that aren't evident on CDMA networks. Echoing, garbled and distorted calls as well as noisy handsets that bleed intermittent noise over to nearby speakers, car stereo systems and other land line phones in the vicinity seem to be the norm. Additionally, having used and tested mobile broadband solutions from AT&T and Verizon, I have found EVDO rev.A devices to be faster in general and more reliable than their 3G counterparts in real world scenarios in my area. Again, this is my personal experience and not something I'd be interested in debating in this review of the Incredible. Hopefully LTE will cure many of these issues, but for the time being, I've found CDMA to be the better technology.

When the Motorola Droid was released on Verizon, I had the opportunity to experiment with it. I found the Android OS to provide most of the functionality I had come to expect from an iPhone and thought it might be a viable platform. After seeing positive reviews of the HTC Incredible, including anecdotal comments from users here, I called VZW and decided to see what kind of deal I could work out to renew my long-expired contract.

I ended up upgrading my plan, which increased my minutes as well as adding text messaging and an unlimited data plan. My total mobile bill increased about $35 monthly. Additionally, the Incredible cost me $150 and they sent me a free LG Cosmos for my wife.

The Incredible arrived with a fairly scant user manual (Verizon's usual "Hints, Tips and Shortcuts") as well as a CD with Windows-oriented software that also included the full manual in PDF form. HTC included a USB-to-Micro USB cable, as well as a wall plug that converts 110V AC to a USB port.

Overall, the design of the Incredible mimics the iPhone 3G, albeit with a slightly larger OLED screen and a trackpad in place of the 'Home' button. The rubberized back panel is removable and allows easy access to the MicroSD slot as well as the battery. On-board is 8GB of internal storage, and this can be upgraded to a roomy 40GB via a 32GB MicroSD card. The Incredible also sports a nice 8MP camera and a dual-LED flash.

Set-up is guided and fairly simple. Within minutes, I could access my Gmail, Yahoo and Comcast email accounts. The HTC Sense UI is also pretty slick, allowing for 8 "home screens" that can be dynamically reconfigured by setting up profiles (presumably for different environments like the office, home and vacation). Each home screen can house app shortcuts and widgets and are configured via a drag-and-drop interface. Android's status bar at the top of the screen displays notifications and network status. If you "pull down" on the menu, it displays more in-depth notifications and allow you to quickly access email, voicemail and some other options depending on context.

Where Android is a let down is in its lack of intuitive controls. On an iPhone, it's usually pretty easy to navigate and pick up the general rules for manipulating the GUI. Android relies heavily on standard buttons at the bottom of the screen. Back usually backs you up to where you were last (like the home screen), but sometimes it functions like a browser back button. Menu usually brings up a context-sensitive menu, but sometimes there's more options just by pressing and holding an item on the screen. There's a dedicated search button too and that does an admirable job of looking through the contents of the phone and also suggesting Google searches. Home always brings you back to the home screen - and if you hold it, it will show you some (not always all) of your running apps.

That leads me into multitasking, which is often trumped up by Android fans as an advantage over the iPhone. Quite honestly, I'm not sure that's true as it is VERY poorly implemented. First off, I mentioned that you should be able to see all running apps just by pressing and holding Home. Unfortunately, that doesn't include widgets (which can suck up power like no one's business) and some tasks that simply don't report in. Most Android users will use a "Task Management" app and religiously kill off unneeded apps. And it's easy to accrue those unneeded apps because very seldom do apps close when you "back" out of them. And it's even more unusual to see a button that closes an app. Google claims that it's not necessary to worry about these things because the OS handles memory management so well. But then, it talks out of the other side of its mouth by saying that anyone who needs to recharge their phone within 24 hours of use is probably running 3rd party apps. You can't have it both ways - either you get used to killing off apps, or you charge your phone constantly.

All platforms have their nuisances, so I don’t want to leave you with the impression that all is bad with this phone. It takes some time to get used to and it’s particularly difficult to shift from the iPhone OS (which I had been accustomed to in using my iPod Touch) to Android with HTC Sense. It would help if things were better documented, but I am learning and have come to find the phone pretty easy to use after a few weeks of experimenting. I’m even getting the hang of the Mail client, which I initially hated.

As much as there are idiosyncrasies in the user interface, there are a few little neat touches that I do like. For example, I love how the phone reacts when you plug it into a Mac (or a PC for that matter). You can tell it to ‘charge only’, ‘connect to HTC Sync’ (for use with the Windows-based sync software, which I did not test), Disk drive (which mounts on-board and MicroSD storage as volumes on your Mac), and ‘Mobile Broadband Connect’ (for use with Verizon’s tethering plan). You can switch between these modes at any time using the status bar pull-down.

Liquid and computers don't mix. It might seem simple, but we see an incredible amount of people post here about spills. Keep drinks and other liquids away from your expensive electronics!
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cwa107

 
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When connected in Disk drive mode, you can easily traverse the phone’s internal storage to transfer files and use it as though it were a traditional flash drive. That’s one way to transfer music and video, but an even easier way is to use DoubleTwist, which is a free application that is sort of like iTunes for Android. DoubleTwist synchronizes with iTunes and lets you easily sync your music collection. It will also convert your videos on-the-fly and synchronize them to your Android phone as well.
The HTC Sync software can be used to synchronize your Windows-based PIM software to Android, but as I mentioned previously, it’s not Mac-friendly. Personally, I use Gmail for PIM tasks and Android syncs perfectly with the cloud, negating any need for other tools like MarkSpace’s Missing Sync for Android.

Despite the fact that native tethering for Android isn’t planned to be included until the 2.2 release, Verizon includes their own tethering package with the Incredible. This comes at an added fee of $30/month (and no contract is required). Fortunately, for those that don’t intend to use tethering heavily, there is a package called PDANet that you can use with your Mac for bluetooth and USB tethering and incur no additional charge. The legalities of using this method are debatable according to discussions I’ve seen online, but apparently Verizon only polices third party tethering packages for those that use it heavily. I have tested PDANet and found that it works perfectly with the Mac and transfer rates are pretty decent, easily acceptable for casual browsing and checking email.

Another nice touch is the keyboard. While you have your choice of soft keyboard to use with Android, the built-in HTC version works quite well and I’ve found that I can type every bit as quickly as I can on my iPod Touch. Autocorrect is mostly seamless and there are multiple keyboard ‘pages’ for numbers entry. You can also press and hold keys to use each keys’ alternate function. In this way, I don’t miss the physical keyboard I could have had opted for with a different phone. Copy and paste could be a little less cumbersome, but it’s no more so than it is on the iPhone, which in my opinion can be finicky.

Finally, there’s the Android Marketplace. While not nearly as comprehensive as the App Store, I have yet to find an instance where an app that I needed and was available for the iPhone didn’t have an equivalent on the Android Marketplace. I will say that many of those apps aren’t built to the same quality levels as their iPhone counterparts, but I suspect that as the SDK and OS matures, this will improve. For now, there are plenty of widgets, games and apps to keep you busy - and a good many of them are free. For the apps that are available for sale, you will be prompted to use Google checkout - and this means having your credit card handy. But one of the nice differences is that there is a short “return” window, under which you can remove and be refunded for a bad app. That’s a nice change from the App Store’s policy of sticking you with an app no matter how bad it ends up being.

I have read a lot of griping about how apps need to be individually updated on Android. While this is true, it’s not quite as cumbersome as it is on the iPhone, where you always have to enter your App Store password to kick off the process. Instead, you just click on the update button and the phone does it’s thing. So, while you will have to click to update each app, it’s just a click and certainly not irritating.

Regardless, that’s one of several items that is supposed to be addressed in Android 2.2. I’ll be interested to see how quickly Android 2.2 (which is on the verge of being released) is made available for the Incredible, but I won’t be upset if I’m stuck on 2.1 for awhile as it does work well. There’s only one major deficiency I’m aware of at the moment that 2.2. claims to address - and that’s Bluetooth voice dialing. Although the phone will pair with Bluetooth headsets and car speakerphones, it won’t prompt you to “say a command” at the moment. You can still pick up the phone and start dialing, but it’s not completely handsfree.

All-in-all, I am pleased with the Incredible. It’s a bit rough around the edges, which is a phrase I’ve seen applied to most Android phones since the original G1, but it works and does what it’s supposed to without too much drama. I’ve experienced no crashes, spontaneous reboots or other glitches. The voice quality is excellent, easily matching the best cell phones I’ve had in the past. The battery life can be a little short with GPS, WiFi and lots of apps running, but an HTC-included power management widget makes it breeze to toggle those things off when not needed. In general, I’m getting about 48 hours to a charge in light use. HTC includes a paltry 1300mAH battery, and apparently third parties have already released 1750mAH batteries in the same form-factor, larger capacities are available that require a change to the backplate for those that might need even more capacity.

With all that said, if Verizon ever does get the iPhone and I don’t have a contractual obligation at that time, I’m pretty sure I’d go for it. Until that time, the Incredible is indeed a viable alternative for me.

Liquid and computers don't mix. It might seem simple, but we see an incredible amount of people post here about spills. Keep drinks and other liquids away from your expensive electronics!
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Doug b

 
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First off, the new avatar ? Awesome !

Thanks for the review, it was very balanced and fair sounding and addresses most things which people would ask of a review IMO. I wonder though, if you could expand upon the copy/paste feature. There was an article which someone on here linked to that claimed it was an incomplete and very messy implementation of it, and which is why Apple waited so long (supposedly) before releasing firmware with their version of copy/paste.

Any chance of seeing a video walk through on some of the things you touched upon in your review ?


Doug
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cwa107

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug b View Post
First off, the new avatar ? Awesome !
That would be Beer2D2

Quote:
Thanks for the review, it was very balanced and fair sounding and addresses most things which people would ask of a review IMO. I wonder though, if you could expand upon the copy/paste feature. There was an article which someone on here linked to that claimed it was an incomplete and very messy implementation of it, and which is why Apple waited so long (supposedly) before releasing firmware with their version of copy/paste.
I believe the copy/paste implementation is HTC Sense specific on this phone. But it works pretty much like the iPhone OS. You tap and hold on a word, up pops box that surrounds that word and you can use little green dot tools to drag it to encompass additional words. When you're ready to copy, you click the copy button (which is contained in a little row of buttons near the selection zone). When you want to paste, you pretty much reverse the process and click the paste button.

It's not particularly easy to do, just because I'm a big guy (6'2) and have pretty big hands, but I find it to be pretty much on par with the iPhone OS.

Quote:
Any chance of seeing a video walk through on some of the things you touched upon in your review ?
Hrmmmm... I'll have to think about that. If time allows, I can probably fire up my little Flip camera and try to put something together.

Liquid and computers don't mix. It might seem simple, but we see an incredible amount of people post here about spills. Keep drinks and other liquids away from your expensive electronics!
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Excellent review CWA as always. Also thanks for the URL on your Avatar. I was going to ask you what it was till I saw this post.
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Doug b

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cwa107 View Post
That would be Beer2D2

Hrmmmm... I'll have to think about that. If time allows, I can probably fire up my little Flip camera and try to put something together.
That sir, would be most magnanimous of you !

Doug
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