- Extremely fastSense UI makes Android feel polishedGreat sound quality
- Screen hard to see in sunlightDesign may not be for everyoneCamera 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.
In general, the Incredible's display was very reminiscent of the Nexus One screen -- that should come as no surprise, they're identical -- though the touch response seemed notably better here, likely a software issue. Because these displays are the same, it means they share the same issues; we disliked the color intensity on the Incredible just as we did on the Nexus One. Reds and oranges, in particularly, look overwhelmingly saturated here, and other colors aren't truly represented. It's just too colorful, if you can believe it. Another somewhat major issue that we struggled with on the Incredible (just as we did on the Nexus One) was the awful screen visibility in bright daylight. We had numerous occasions where we simply could not answer a call or take a picture due to the AMOLED display's poor showing outdoors. In overcast settings (such as the one above) it was usually bearable, and If you crank the brightness all the way up on sunnier days you can get some visibility, though once you're outside and can't see the display, that's a bit of a challenge. In all honesty, we love certain aspects of these screens, but we're perplexed as to why HTC continues to use this same display when it's clear the daylight performance is hamstrung.
The camera is one of the big selling points of the Incredible. At 8 megapixels, it's obviously one of the highest resolution smartphone shooters on the market -- but is it any good? In our tests, we found the Incredible's camera capable of taking stunning photos -- particularly in daylight settings -- though it also has a few drawbacks that made it a little less usable than we would have liked. First the good though. Unlike other HTC cameras, there doesn't seem to be any color spotting or weird splotches here. When we took a snap, the reproduction was true to the source (or certainly as true as other cameras we've tested). The shutter speed is fairly quick, though by no means Palm Pre quick, even with the review option switched off. You take pictures using the trackpad button, though we would have liked an option to take pics with an onscreen trigger as well, as pushing in the rather shallow trackpad caused the camera to shake a bit. Another issue we had was that the autofocus seemed to shoot first and ask questions later, meaning that on a number of occasions it appeared to have locked on to its subject and snapped a photo, but the results were rather blurry. We had a similar issue with the flash, where we felt it was jumping the gun just enough to blow out a lot of the images we tried to take. Those issues aside, the more time we spent with the Incredible's camera, the more used to it we got, and by the end of this review period (which admittedly wasn't as long as we would have liked), we were getting pretty handy with it. We had particularly good results when we switched the metering mode to centered.
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
640 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.
We're not going to go into excessive detail on Android 2.1 and the Sense UI present on this phone, as you can read all the details on the software in our previous reviews of the Desire and the Legend, though there are tweaks and additions here that are worth making mention of.
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.
Verizon and HTC have collaborated on a few perks in the OS as well, cleaning up the Google Navigation, er, navigation, and also collapsing Visual Voicemail into the messaging app on the phone, making it easier to get at all your communications at once. We're Google Voice users (which of course perfectly integrates with the device), so we didn't spend much time with Verizon's version. HTC was also happy to point out that its email app supports multiple Exchange, POP, or IMAP accounts with a unified inbox -- something that should please a number of enterprise users. Other bundled apps include Quickoffice, a PDF viewer, HTC's Teeter game, and Peep, the company's built-in Twitter client. A note about this latter application; we're big fans of HTC making Twitter an integrated part of its UI, but this app has the annoying habit of auto-updating your timeline and jumping to the most recent tweet, which makes this "solution" less than appealing. We ended up sticking with Seesmic, and probably will until HTC addresses this minor issue. One other item that cropped up -- which may or may not have to do with this being an unreleased device -- is that we got very different results for apps in the Market. Some programs we were looking for just simply didn't show up in our searches. We had the same problem with the Desire and Legend when testing, and HTC says it's looking into this problem, though we have yet to hear a proper explanation from the company on why this is occurring.
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.
Let's just put this out there: the Droid Incredible is the best Android device that you can purchase in America right now. It's better than the Droid, better than the Nexus One, and certainly beats the pants off of any previous generation handsets like the Eris, myTouch, or Cliq. It's not just a very, very good Android phone (though it is); it's also an excellent smartphone no matter how you cut it. If you're on Verizon right now, you're finally getting really great options for phones, but the Incredible is currently sitting at the top of that heap with a good bit of distance to the next in line. Sure, there are still issues like a lack of quality titles in the Android Market, and if a hardware keyboard is a must, this won't do the job for you. Also, while Sense is truly great on this phone, there may be users who prefer a more streamlined, stripped down experience. Still, if you're looking for an ultra-fast, extremely capable smartphone that has the guts and gleam to go the distance, the Incredible just might be the Droid you're looking for. Yes, we made that joke.