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
You want the difference between the old and new Incredibles? There it is in benchmark form for you. The Nexus One is basically an Incredible inside a less bodacious shell, so you can see that in general performance terms the Incredible S is about 15 percent better equipped to ride the lightning. That number really doesn't begin to tell the whole story, though. The Incredible S comes with HTC's ever-present Sense UI loaded atop Android 2.2 (yes, it's Froyo, stop grimacing!) and what strikes us about it, first and foremost, is just how awesomely responsive it is. There can be differing opinions on the value that such a tricked-out skin adds to a phone, but there's no questioning HTC's execution. Froyo has been around for a solid nine months now and HTC's familiarity with the source code is evident throughout the Incredible S user experience. For once, we're actually happy to see an Android device shipping without the latest version of the OS on board -- if only to experience the joys of a (nearly) lag-free smartphone. And worry not, this handset should be rocking Gingerbread by the end of June
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.
The browser is fast, very fast. Feed it with a WiFi connection and the only delay you'll experience is in figuring out where you want to go next. Pinch-to-zoom and scrolling smoothness were also good, however not quite up to the iPhone 4's gold standard. Mind you, we had to put the two devices side by side to discover that, so the margin of difference we're talking about here isn't exactly overwhelming. A less excusable, though still somewhat minor, issue we encountered related to rendering of zoomed-out pages and content in motion. You'll find aliasing cropping up when you scroll through pages, which disappears as soon as you've settled down on a position and the browser's had a chance to essentially re-render the scene. It seems to be a little trick to permit faster scrolling at the expense of perfect aesthetics. Being the greedy types that we are, we'd rather have both. We also found zooming out from a page brought the jagged lines back, but again at a level that can't really be described as deal-breaking.
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.
The rest of HTC's Sense-hancements are similarly hit and miss. The FriendStream app that might have been innovative a year ago is nowadays obviated by mature dedicated apps for both Twitter and Facebook, and things like Peep should really just be set aside. Moreover, while third-party skins like the excellent LauncherPro will let you stuff your homescreen with a ton of apps, HTC still only gives you a 16-icon grid that's supposed to accommodate both your apps and any widgets you might want to use. It's kind of unacceptable that the HTC Hero from mid-2009 can fit the exact same jumbo weather + clock widget and eight icons as the far better specced and higher-res Incredible S.
HTC has made an effort to move things forward with the introduction of HTCSense.com -- a sort of MobileMe for HTC Androids -- and the addition of a couple of intelligent features when receiving calls. Looking at the latter grouping first, you're able to set the phone to ring louder when it's in an enclosed space such as a bag (using its proximity sensor to detect such circumstances), to reduce its ringing volume when you move it around (calling the accelerometer in for help), and entirely muting the ringtone when you turn it upside own (accelerometer again). Once you finally decide to pick up a call, turning the phone onto its screen automatically turns on the loudspeaker. Or it's supposed to
turn on the loudspeaker -- we only got this to work twice out of a couple dozen attempts. The general point with these additions -- which were first introduced alongside HTCSense.com with the launch of the Desire HD and Desire Z about six months ago -- is that they're harnessing hardware that is already at the phone's disposal and, when they work, they're adding legitimate, albeit small, sprinklings of value.
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.
Android, an operating system that has heretofore been characterized by constantly striving forward and pushing boundaries -- whether in terms of hardware specifications or the introduction of features wholly new to mobile devices -- has finally settled down and given rise to a truly mature product. Froyo has been with us for a good while, but that hasn't really tarnished its enduring excellence and HTC looks to have spent the time well in tightening up and optimizing its user experience. What's resulted is one of the most thoroughly refined Android handsets to date, whose case is enhanced by some dashing good looks, rock solid build quality, and a camera to be proud of. The Incredible S serves as a sterling exhibit of what can be achieved when devs and designers are given the time to polish up their work instead of having to reinvent the wheel with each and every new iteration. Of course, the flipside of that coin is that familiarity will inevitably breed some level of contempt, and this handset offers a compendium of good ideas from HTC's past rather than any revolutionary innovations of its own. Still, for those who disregard novelty in favor of a very well thought-out and produced device, the Incredible S delivers.