HTC Incredible S reviewSee all photos
Staring down the Incredible S' visage while it's turned off, the only word that comes to mind is "featureless." This was the phone previously known as HTC's buttonless flagship, a nickname earned by virtue of its unconventional capacitive buttons. They only light up while the phone is activated and, moreover, rotate into a landscape orientation when you're using a landscape-capable application on the handset. They don't roll all the way around, basically they've got one 90-degree turn in their arsenal of tricks, but they make us smile every time they do it.
HTC's true exhibition of flair on this phone can be found around the back, where the much-loved / -loathed Incredible back cover makes a return. It's not identical to the original, but the industrial theme is still there. The cover itself has a rubbery feel to it and is made of a highly malleable matte plastic. It provides a reassuringly durable feel, and even if you succeed in scratching it up, it looks like it'll wear its bumps and bruises well.
N.B. - In the above video we speculate about the golden connectors inside the back cover being used for some form of inductive charging. HTC just got back to us to say they hook the phone up to its antenna which is built into the rear casing.
A frugal apportionment of just two buttons frames the sides of the phone: a volume toggle mounted on the left and a power button at the familiar top right location. Beyond those, you'll find a MicroUSB port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a mic port around the device's countours, while its front gets a mesh-covered earpiece compartment that also houses a status LED and sits alongside a 1.3 megapixel camera. For real photos, however, you'll be wanting to use the 8 megapixel imager on the back, which is kept company by a dual-LED flash / flashlight and a single loudspeaker. Unlike the Thunderbolt, the single-bar volume button works well and has a pleasingly clicky feel to it -- though its sheer size and positioning mean that you'll occasionally find yourself lowering the handset's volume just by gripping it naturally.
Delving a little deeper, you'll find a 1450mAh battery, which is responsible for powering the same component set as was found in the Desire HD -- namely, a Qualcomm MSM8255 system-on-chip, 768MB of RAM, and an Adreno 205 GPU. Much as we noted with the Desire HD, this combination of hardware simply makes Android sing. You'll read more about that below, but rest assured that in spite of lacking a second core -- which is the trendy new addition nowadays -- the Incredible S has exquisite performance for the smartphone category. Watching it do its work feels little different from observing a thoroughbred horse trotting home to the finish.
That last note would be true even in the absence of the SRS stuff, however, as the loudspeaker on the back of the Incredible S is pretty mediocre. It can get loud, that's for sure, but it's tinny, there's almost no bass to speak of, and we didn't enjoy using it much to carry out handsfree conversations, either. Then again, the smartphones with legitimately useful speakers on them are few and far between. One thing the Incredible S is missing, though, is an HDMI output. Those little plugs are growing ever more widespread among modern handsets and the Incredible S certainly has the credentials to serve your HDTV with some gorgeous visuals, so we're a bit bummed not to see it included here. HTC isn't leaving you hanging completely, as it's added DLNA capabilities for communicating with your TV wirelessly, but that does tax the battery a lot more.
Returning to the aforementioned battery life on the Incredible S, it's pretty darn impressive. In one rundown test, we managed to pass the 12-hour mark with 10 percent of juice left in spite of watching a two-hour movie (Star Trek II, thanks for asking), handling our contraband gadget emails, testing out in-browser Flash playback, and setting aside a few minutes for Angry Birds. There were, of course, periods of the phone just sitting idle (mostly idle, Gmails never stopped coming in), but it's undeniable that the Incredible S leaves predecessors like the Desire and Desire HD looking at the ground in shame. That 1450mAh cell seems to be used judiciously as well, as we noticed the vast majority of power was being consumed by the screen or the apps we had running in the foreground -- exactly the way it ought to be. Should you be content with a slightly lower screen brightness and a little less multimedia action, we can imagine getting a couple of days out of the Incredible S on a regular basis.
HTC Incredible S camera samplesSee all photos
Tap-to-focus functionality is available in both camera and camcorder mode, and in another departure from the Thunderbolt, light metering is done relative to where you choose your focus point. Ergo, in a shot where you have both sunlit and shaded areas, choosing to focus on one balances the camera's light intake specifically for that spot. Humorously enough, that most often results in either a washed-out sunny patch or overly dark shadows -- the camera lacks the dynamic range to conquer such contrasts in lighting -- but the ability to choose is much appreciated. A final, and perhaps conclusive, advantage over the Thunderbolt is that macro shots worked out rather beautifully on the new Incredible. It too lacks a dedicated macro mode, but as you can see in our galleries, shoving it up close to subjects produced highly respectable results.
HTC Incredible S full-res cropsSee all photos
Focusing speed is generally fast and the time taken between shots is delightfully quick. HTC's camera software looks to have been optimized to the high heavens, as we could get from a locked phone to our first snapshot or video within mere seconds. And that still mostly involved the system waiting on us rather than vice versa. Very impressive processing speeds all around, another feather in the Snapdragon's hat.
HTC Incredible S camera filtersSee all photos
HTC bundles a set of moderately useful filters with its software -- nothing new here, they've been part of Sense for a good long while -- which can be quickly accessed by a menu item, previewed, and slapped down immediately upon your photographic victim. You can check them out above. Other options you can tweak include ISO adjustments (up to 800), white balance. geotagging, aspect ratio, exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpness, and, of course, resolution. There's even a two- or 10-second timer for those who manage to somehow perch the Incredible S in a position where it can take a photo.
480p daytime video sample
We also liked what we saw on the video front, although the ever-present rolling shutter effect made itself apparent in the video above (see the bus passing by at the 1:14 mark) and some artifacting started showing up in our evening shots below. Notably, HTC's sepia and grayscale filters really pay off when used on nighttime video recording, as they help control the color difficulties the camera has at that hour and lend a more cinematic feel to your output. For a perfect example of what we mean, check out the black and white sequence at the end of the vid below -- London's 234 bus has never looked so glamorous.
720p nighttime video sample
The general theme of snappy performance was evident throughout our use of the Incredible S, whether we were shooting photos, messaging, browsing media files, playing games, using the iPlayer app, or Gooogling to see if we have the top result for our surnames. Navigating around Google Maps was also a pretty spectacular affair. Almost no time was taken to refresh the map when we were zooming in and out and the whole experience was faultlessly fluid.
While we're having a whinge about software foibles, we also came across some dropped frames when playing back video. Flash playback in the browser was typically flawless, however on occasion we'd get a video stuttering along at not-enough frames per second. We also encountered this issue with video files we loaded onto the device and while playing back content from the BBC's iPlayer app. The odd thing about it was that it was an intermittent problem, telling us that the hardware is surely capable of churning through the workload but the software is holding it back on occasion. We shook off the missing frames by plugging the Incredible S into a charger, so this could potentially be an example of over-aggressive power management or something of the sort. Worth noting, but probably innocuous in the long run.
You'll have noticed above that we mentioned Google Maps and not HTC's own Locations app -- we very much prefer Google's default software, even though Locations does preload full maps to your MicroSD storage and thereby avoids leaving you stranded when out of range for wireless communications. Basically, our choice would be to use Google Maps first and HTC's mapping solution for when we no longer have that option.
Unfortunately, we couldn't test HTCSense.com because the necessary menu item for us to log in to the service via our phone ... wasn't on our phone. Another little trip-up for HTC with this service, which was quite a disaster when we first gave it a shot during our Desire HD testing. Not the most awesome attention to detail there, and the whole service should ideally have been perfected by now, but we can't gripe too much at HTC when this happens to be an added functionality that no other Android manufacturer is endeavoring to provide at the moment.