- Extremely fast
- Sense UI makes Android feel polished
- Great sound quality
- Screen hard to see in sunlight
- Design may not be for everyone
- Camera can be slow to focus
Beyond the racing flair, HTC has added some subtle red highlights on the phone (around the camera lens and on the ear-piece), but it's kept things pretty clean around the sides. Up top there's a sleep / power button on the left-hand side, a standard headphone jack on the right, and along the left side of the phone you've got a volume rocker and Micro USB connector. We definitely miss the inclusion of a dedicated mute switch on the recent crop of Android devices, and we wouldn't have complained about a camera button -- but those two minor niggles are certainly not deal breakers.
On the front of the device you've got that big, beautiful WVGA display, four touch-sensitive hard buttons (here arranged in HTC's familiar home, menu, back, and search configuration), plus an optical trackpad standing in for the typical trackball found on earlier phones. We were pleased to discover that the wonky sensitivity on the hard buttons we experience on the Nexus One were nowhere to be found here.
All in all, the Incredible looks and feels like a modern, sophisticated smartphone with a lot of that masculine edge that Motorola imparted to the Droid along with the curvy smoothness the Droid Eris sports. It's almost like the two devices mated (which kind of makes sense). It's a handsome phone, though we suspect some people will be bothered by the Verizon-inspired tweaks that have been made here.
The Incredible also does fairly high resolution video -- up to 800 x 480. We would have liked to see a 720p option here, but we realize we're being hopeless romantics. Regardless, the higher res video did a decent, if somewhat pixelated and slightly stutttery, job at capturing a beautiful Brooklyn sunset. We had better results at VGA resolution, but both modes were more than acceptable for basic shooting. Just don't expect this to stand in for your HD camcorder, and you'll be all set.
800 X 480
Sound quality / speakerphone
As you may know, we loved the sound quality on the Motorola Droid. In fact, we think it's probably the best sounding phone we've ever used. We didn't get quite as excited about the Nexus One (tinny, not loud enough), but the Incredible has seriously jockeyed for Moto's spot here. The earpiece on this device is loud and clear, but never painful on the 'drums, while the speakerphone is excellent for both conversations and video / audio playback. It's a really solid speaker which should be more than sufficient for conference callers and voracious media snackers alike. Bravo guys!
In a somewhat new move for Android phone, HTC has equipped the Incredible with 8GB of internal storage as well as a MicroSD slot which can handle an additional 32GB -- giving you a whopping potential 40GB of space for your goods. We love the idea of a hardwired option for content storage, but HTC has some problems with this implementation. Firstly, many apps currently available in the Android Market which utilize an SD card for offloading data aren't able to see the internal storage at all, which means if you drag some APKs you want to install or want to download some data when you're in an app, you're out of luck. It just simply doesn't see it. This was especially problematic with the NYC Bus & Subway Maps application which requires a download of the train maps, and when we tried to run Nesoid (a popular NES emulator), it not only couldn't find ROMs saved on the phone's storage, but it force closed when we tried to move up a directory! This may not seem like a big deal, but more than once when using the phone we hit this brick wall by not having an SD card present. For the $199 price tag on this thing, it wouldn't have killed HTC or Verizon to throw in even a 2GB card to make the transition easier.
Firstly, we need to talk about the differences between Android 2.1 with and without the Sense UI. If you've looked at a Nexus One (or own one), then you probably know that the experience with the UI is a mixed bag. Some portions of the software have been dramatically cleaned up, while others seem to be left on the cutting room floor. That's absolutely not the case with 2.1 and Sense. Basically, the Incredible -- and all devices with that combo -- feel like complete, polished, modern smartphones, with none of the perks or features missing. In particular, the homescreens have been massively expanded here, giving you seven screens in which to store icons and widgets... and there are a lot of widgets. HTC has included a handful of its own widgets alongside some of the familiar stock ones which Google offers. Of course, the widgets (and their corresponding apps) which HTC offers generally offer far more functionality than Google's options, and they're also tied together with Sense in way that makes the experience of using them within the OS feel complete -- something notably missing from the Google-only experience. To say that this UI is competitive with something like iPhone OS 3.1 (or 4 for that matter), or Palm's webOS is an understatement; in many ways it's superior to what Apple and Palm are offering.
HTC has done a marvelous job in tweaking Sense in all the right places. The first Sense device we tested was the Hero, which we found to be seriously lacking in the horsepower department, resulting in an experience that was sluggish and disappointing. The performance of the Incredible couldn't have been more opposite. The phone never hiccuped, and scrolling between pages or up and down long lists happened without hesitation. Not only was the UI blazingly fast and responsive -- even with all seven homescreens running heavy widgets -- but as we mentioned previously, the touchscreen response on this phone seem remarkably better than its contemporaries, which leads us to believe that HTC has honed the software in this regard as well. That sensitivity comes in especially handy when using HTC's new pinch feature on the homescreens, which brings up a "card" view of all your pages. The only spot where we noticed any kind of slowdown was when using the live wallpapers -- we're not really big fans of the concept to begin with, but it did seem to make the homescreen frame rate visibly more sluggish. Besides just the cosmetic stuff, HTC has also done seriously heavy lifting in the details department, continuing to improve the music, video, and photo browsing options on their devices, as well as making their fantastic on-screen keyboard even better in this higher resolution version. We found finger tracking and typing speed to be considerably improved, as well as word prediction and correction. Apple, watch your back... HTC has done a damn good job of sneaking up on your tech, and maybe improving on it. We can't stress this enough: HTC has made a really good OS (Android) into a truly amazing and competitive OS. HTC has even improved upon the copy and paste functions of the phone, making the process much more iPhone-like, but expanding on that with options to share and look up your selections via a context menu. Oh, and did we mention the amazing new text flow in the browser? No matter how far you zoom in, HTC's software will reflow the text you're looking at to make it zoomable. It's pretty amazing, actually. We don't know why Google doesn't just collaborate with the company in a more formal fashion, because no one else has been able to deliver this cohesive and enjoyable of an experience with Android.
It should also be noted that the browser on these phones is equipped with Flash lite, though we had lots of trouble getting videos to play on many of the sites we visited (Engadget included). If someone was hoping to convince us that Flash could work on a device like this, consider the job unfinished.
Overall the experience with 2.1 and Sense was a complete pleasure -- using the phone felt fast and efficient. We'd like to point out that we've been running the Incredible without any third party task managers, and without manually killing any applications. Android is designed to multitask without the need for utilities of the sort, and based on Steve Jobs' words from the recent iPhone OS 4 event, we were extra curious to see how this brand new build of the software would fare. We can tell you this -- it hasn't let us down yet, and we're not seeing any sluggish behavior or force closes on apps. If this OS has a need for management of its processes, we haven't experienced it yet.
Network / Battery life
As usual, Verizon's network was outstanding. We know everyone already accepts how rock-solid Big Red's connections are, but we'd like to point out that at various times while riding an NYC subway underground, the Incredible managed to squeeze connectivity out of the big V. In fact, when we first took the phone out of its box we were riding the train, and it picked up enough data to auto-update our time and location. Now that really is something.
As we said previously, we didn't have an enormous amount of time to test this device, but in the handful of days we had, we found battery life to be good, but not outstanding. In comparison to the Nexus One, it seemed to fare a bit worse; we could get through a day, but things were down to the wire by the end of the night. It's obvious that a lot of these widgets and background processes HTC is running are going to put a strain on your device, and given that we're pretty active with our smartphones, something is bound to give. Now keep in mind there's nothing really abnormal about the battery life on the Incredible -- it's just not going to wow you.
HTC DROID Incredible