HTC DROID Incredible Review

What better way to start my time here than with a review for one of the most anticipated Android phones to date;  The HTC DROID Incredible.  I was fortunate enough to get my grubby hands on one of only two review phones here in Minneapolis.  Although, I have to give it up Tuesday night. Before I do, I hope to capture a bunch of video and will post later.  Stay tuned.

I’m going to focus on what makes this phone stand out from the rest.  There are plenty of reviews out there for Android 2.1 and Sense UI, so I’ll probably skim over some of the features, as they haven’t changed on the Incredible.  If you want to know more about Sense, check out the post on my blog.

Let’s take a walk around the hardware.  For starters, the phone is NOT predominately red, as pictured in the leaked photos.  The back cover is a typical, matte, black, soft-touch cover.  It features slightly rounded, “topographical” (as Verizon calls it) ridges, which you might think would be uncomfortable.  To be honest, I don’t even notice them.  All of the innards, under the cover, are indeed red.  The external speaker opening is in one of the “valleys”.  This helps the sound escape…and it works.  It’s one of the best sounding phone speakers I’ve heard.  The 8MP camera juts out from the back pretty aggressively, but isn’t annoying.  It’s ringed with red and silver accents.  The lens cover isn’t’ part of the back cover.  Rather, it’s part of the inner workings.  It was worried that if you scratched it, you couldn’t replace it.  Don’t fret.  The cover is glued on with a low tack adhesive and can be pried off.  Directly under the camera is the dual LED flash.

Moving to the edges…On the top we find the power/lock button and the 3.5MM headset jack.  I kind of wish these were flipped, as I’ve locked the phone by accident many times.  The bottom hides the mic and a pry slot for the back cover.  The right side is empty (could have used a camera button, IMO).  The volume rocker and Micro USB port are on the left side.  The Micro USB port appears to be an A-B port, which should allow the device to act as a host (which is how “TV Out” may work. No other details on that).  Oh yeah…the bottom also has a charm slot to fulfill all of your dangly Hello Kitty desires.

The front face is of a single-piece design.  The only openings are for the red-tinted earpiece and the optical joystick.  The joystick works pretty well, but I think it’s much more finicky trackball.  I really only use my trackball for navigating through text to make corrections or to select links that are crammed onto webpages.  I think the joystick will work just fine for that.  It’s also the select button.  Right above the joystick are standard, backlit, capacitive-touch buttons for HOME, MENU, BACK, and SEARCH.  Directly above those is the 3.7″ AMOLED capacitive touchscreen (480×800).  I would have to say that indoors, the AMOLED is great.  Outdoors it seems to be less than great, in comparison to my HTC Hero.  Also on the front is the proximity and ambient light sensors.  The notification LED is small and only bi-colored.  You can make it any color you like, as long as it’s green.  It will turn orange when the battery is at 15% or the phone is charging.  You can’t change the blink rate either.  Maybe this is part of the Sense experience, as it’s the same on the Hero…but I’m not a fan.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the guts of the phone.  Inside you’ll find the 1GHz Snapdragon processor.  Rumor has it that it’s been throttled back.  Every benchmark app I’ve used has put it at about 667 MHz.  Although, I’m not an expert on which apps are work well, so take that with a grain of salt.  Also crammed into the phone is a wireless b/g/n radio.  I haven’t been able to test the N portion.  There’s also the standard GPS, g-sensor, and digital compass.  What’s not so standard is the 8GB of internal storage that the phone carries on-board (more on that later).  The battery is 1300 mAh Li-ion.  I seemed to kill it pretty quickly the first day, but I was obviously using the phone pretty heavily.  Since I’ve backed off a bit, the battery seems to last longer.  I may be getting the phone back, after it has made it’s rounds.  If I do, I’ll be able to do a long-term battery test.  The screen is multitouch capable and works throughout the phone.  It even works in apps that it didn’t work on my Hero, like Maps.

Let’s talk about Sense, baby.  Let’s talk about you and me…er….wait.  The Sense experience is what REALLY sets this phone apart from the Nexus One.  Sense has been updated for Android 2.1.  Some of the updates are pretty noticeable, while others are more subtle.  What’s the same? Tons and tons of widgets, updated core apps, scenes, and the “dark” look and feel.  Most of the HTC widgets and apps have been tweaked slightly.  The gradients and shadows have been cleaned up.  The navigation icons, in the apps, now include color and pop a bit more.  Some of the apps HTC apps that make a return are Stocks, Mail, Footprints, Calendar, Weather, Peep and Teeter (and others).  The Google apps also make a comeback.  There isn’t a stock IM app (except for Talk) and the Amazon MP3 store is missing.  Although, there is a “Purchased Music” screen in the Music app.  The lock screen has been updated as well.  There is no separate wallpaper for the lock screen.  It will show the Home wallpaper, including animated Live Wallpapers, under the slider.  The pull-down slider is the same as the original Sense.  Speaking of Live Wallpapers…if you were hoping to get the crazy “Nexus” colored line wallpaper, don’t count on it.  Instead there is a “Sense” live wallpaper.  It’s kinda like the original photo blur wallpaper, but more colorful and the “blurs” move.

One of the coolest tricks that Sense brings is the Mac Exposé-like Home screen viewer.  If you’re on the center Home screen, and you press the HOME button, thumbnails of all seven screens will pop up.  You can tap on nay thumbnail to go directly to it.  I’m a creature of habit, so I haven’t used this that much.  I just end up swiping left and right to get to where I have to go.  One of the drawbacks of this is that you have to be on the middle Home screen.  So if you’re on the far left screen, and want to go to the far right screen, you have to press HOME>HOME>and the appropriate thumbnail.  This isn’t much different than the old way of doing it; HOME>swipe>swipe>swipe.  It’d be nice if you could long-press HOME to bring up the thumbnails.  I’d much rather have this than the “recent apps” function.

Unlike on the Hero and Eris, Sense cannot be turned off by “clearing defaults”.  The stock Home app is not installed on the phone.  You can replace it though.  I was able to install Open Home just fine.  Also the lock screen can be changed.  I tried Lock 2.0 and Flyscreen.  They both worked fine.

FriendStream is probably the most significant new app for Sense.  There’s always been Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr integration in Sense.  Now it has its own app.  FriendStream let’s you keep up to date with your web contacts and allows you to post to one or more of the the services.  The app is ok, but the FriendsStream widgets really take the cake.  There is a full-screen, scrollable widget and a half-screen “status update” widget.  You can choose which networks you’d like to post to, right from the widgets.

Other new apps include FM Radio, Car Panel, Desk Clock and City ID.  City ID is by far the most underwhelming.  All it does is tell you what city and state a phone number is from.  It doesn’t even access the call log.  The Desk Clock is pretty weak too.  It’s just a basic digit clock, with nothing else on the screen.  The numbers are small, gray and hard to read.  The FM Radio is neat.  You HAVE TO have headphones (or any 3.5MM cable) plugged in.  It uses it as an antenna.  That being said, you can’t listen to the radio via the external speaker.  The Car Panel gives you quick access to Footprints, (Google) Navigation, Voice Search, View Map, Search, and Make a call.  “Make a call” is the only one that has native interaction.  It will access your favorites and recent calls to populate large icons for easy calling.  The car panel doesn’t work in landscape.  Maybe you have to have it in the car dock to force it into landscape.

The flip clock widget now has the fancy animations that we saw in the original Hero demo video.  I just noticed this yesterday.  If you unlock the screen and DON’T TOUCH A THING, the animation will play.  When it’s sunny, the screen gets washed out and lens flares appear.  If it’s cloudy out, clouds will hover over the entire screen.  I kind of wish it would rain today or tomorrow.  I want to see if the windshield wiper swings down.

The camera is pretty awesome.  It’s 8MP with a dual-LED flash.  Be careful, every time you launch the app, the flash is ALWAYS set to “auto”.  I wish there was a dedicated camera button, but the optical joystick is pretty solid.  There are tons of settings, like ISO (up to 1250), white balance, contrast, saturation, and metering mode.  It wouldn’t replace my DSLR, but it sure could replace my point-and-shoot.  Indoor/low light images turn out pretty good.  The flash can over saturate a subject if you’re too close.  While the video quality is pretty darn good, it’s not 720p.  It’s WVGA (800×480).  Don’t get me wrong, the videos look great; They’re just not HD.  Tap-to-focus is still present.  Check out sample images here.  Here are my sample videos (some are still processing).

Someone asked about tethering the phone.  The answer is “yes”, you can use your phone as a modem.  You have to add that to your plan.  It’s an additional $15/month for regular customers and $30/month for corporate users.  There is currently a promotions for $5 off of either.  It did not test this feature as the drivers aren’t available for Mac.  I talked to the engineer, and he expects that it will be available for launch.  He has been using it on Windows. UPDATE: Phone tethering will not be available for Mac.  However, we all know there are other solutions out there.  Be careful, they may go against your carrier’s terms of service.

This is the first Android phone with a sizable amount of internal storage…8GB, in fact.  The native apps seems to use the storage just fine.  However, third-party apps don’t yet know how to access it.  I tried using QIK and it wouldn’t let me without an SD card, and I couldn’t.  Twidroid didn’t cache user images either.  This may just be a few lines of code that needs to be added to the app.  We’ll see.  When you plug the phone into your computer, a nice popup display and you get options to just charge, use as disk drive, sync with HTC Sync or connect to Mobile Broadband Connect.  You can set a default for this as well as have it never nag you again.

Here are a few potpourri items…
You can now edit the custom dictionary, so if you saved a misspelled word, you’re not out of luck.  The new copy-and-paste features are really slick.  Works more like the iPhone.  You can end calls from the notification bar.  It does in fact have Android 2.1-update1.  The Ustream broadcaster doesn’t work with the phone.  The image is all garbled.  This might have to do with the camera sensor.

In summary, the HTC DROID Incredible is a fantastic device.  While it has some of the same Sense quirks that the Hero had, it’s leaps and bounds above the Hero.  Should you get one?  That’s up to you.  All other factors aside (contracts, price, service plans), if I had to choose between a Nexus One and the Incredible, I would choose the Incredible.  Would I sell my T-Mo/AT&T Nexus One and jump ship to Verizon?  Probably not.  Would I sell my Hero and jump ship to Verizon? I’m seriously thinking about it.  It’s a great upgrade for first-generation Android users.

The HTC DROID Incredible will be available from Verizon Wireless Thursday April 29th.  Pre-orders begin Monday April 19th on their website.

I want to thank Verizon Wireless for getting me this device early.  I may be able to get it back after it’s been through its press junket.

If you have any questions, feel free to tweet me or comment here.  I’ll do my best to answer them during my limited time with the phone.

Breon Nagy

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