U.S. Cellular's Android assault continues with the HTC Hero S. Available now for $199.99 with a two-year contract, the Hero S is a refreshing change from the latest trend of large handsets, sporting a compact and solid design. The Gingerbread smartphone also offers world-roaming capabilities and comes with a 5-megapixel camera, HTC Sense, and a 1.2GHz processor. It's a very capable Android phone and makes another great addition to the carrier's lineup, but in terms of value, there are better options.
The HTC Hero S isn't a particularly flashy device, but it's still attractive for other reasons. As with other HTC phones, the Hero S has a high-quality construction, with an aluminum unibody design and soft-touch finishes. I don't know about you, but when I'm shelling out $200 for a device, I want something that feels like a high-quality product, and I get that feeling with the Hero S. Plus, its compact size is a refreshing break from the lot of larger devices on the market today. At 4.78 inches tall by 2.43 inches wide by 0.46 inch thick and 4.59 ounces, the smartphone is easy to hold and slip into a pants pocket.
The Hero S features a 4-inch qHD (960x540 pixels) touch screen that's both sharp and bright, so reading text and viewing images and Web pages was no problem. I'm in a weird position where after having reviewed numerous phones with 4.3-inch displays and larger, the Hero's screen looks a bit small to me, but in reality, I think it's a good size that will please a lot of people.
Below the display, you'll find the four standard Android buttons: home, menu, back, and search. The left side features a volume rocker and Micro-USB port, with no controls on the right spine. Though the lock screen gives you quick access to the camera, I wish HTC had added a dedicated camera key on the right side for capturing photos. I think having a dedicated button gives you more control in trying to capture a clear shot, instead of using the touch screen. The camera is located on back, along with a LED flash; a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera sits on the upper right-hand corner of the screen. There's also a 3.5mm headphone jack and power/lock button on top.
The HTC Hero S ships with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo handset, a preinstalled 8GB microSD card, and reference material.
The HTC Hero S ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread and the latest version of HTC Sense. First appearing on the HTC Sensation 4G, the latest version of Sense offers a number of enhancements, many of which can be found on the lock screen. Aside from a display of the date, time, and other vital statistics, you now get shortcuts to four of your favorite applications. By default, the shortcuts are set to phone, mail, camera, and messages, but you can change them in the phone's Personalize menu. To open a specific app, you can simply drag the icon to the ring at the bottom of the screen, instead of having to unlock the phone first.
In addition to the shortcuts, HTC wanted the lock screen to showcase more user content, so now you can personalize the screen with your photo gallery, friend stream, favorite stocks, or weather. The content then floats by or flies by (depending on which option you choose) onscreen.
Once you unlock the phone, you'll find even more improvements. For example, the home screen features a 3D carousel so you can more quickly flip through the seven home screens, rather than swiping through each panel. (Of course, you can also use the Leap screen function.) The pull-down notification tray has a second tab called Quick Settings where you can manage your wireless connections and access other settings. The mail app and widget now give you a preview of each message, and the photo gallery widget features a flip-board effect.
Though custom UIs on Android are always a bit of a polarizing topic, I found the new functionality to be both useful and well integrated into the system, making for a great user experience, especially compared to that of the Motorola Electrify.