Buying an HTC Hero in Australia is going to take a little more work than usual. You won't find it in any of the mobile phone stores you might usually visit, instead the Hero is available exclusively through Harvey Norman, which means no $0 upfront contracts and no carrier subsidies. So is it worth the extra effort?
The pictures do not do the Hero justice. The renders in our image gallery fail to show the subtle elegance of this handset, the mixture of the Teflon-coated plastic battery cover and the metallic border around its 3.2-inch screen is surprisingly attractive in person. In the hand, the cover feels like stiff rubber and never seems like its about to slip from your grip.
The screen is bright and sharp, with an HVGA (320x480) resolution and 65K colour display. It uses capacitive touchscreen technology and is extremely responsive to touch. The six standard Android navigation buttons run below the screen and alongside a small translucent trackball which you can use instead of your finger for scanning through the menus.
There are only two external ports, a mini USB port for charging and data transfers, and a 3.5mm headphone port located conveniently on the top of the phone. If you're looking for the microSD card slot, it lives under the battery cover, but not under the battery, so you can hot-swap cards without shutting down.
When you consider the specifications, the Hero is a great example of how Android phones are supposed to be, with web connectivity at the fore and business and media concerns following closely behind. For connecting to the web the Hero sports HSDPA web speeds (7.2Mbps downloads and 2Mbps uploads) and Wi-Fi, plus USB 2.0 and Bluetooth 2.0 for local connections. The Hero also employs a GPS receiver used to track your location and deliver accurate time and weather readings, amongst other purposes.
On the back of the Hero you find a 5-megapixel lens all by its lonesome — there's no flash in sight, but the software does include auto-focus. Business users will find the built-in MS Exchange software useful, and if you're a user of Active Sync then you should know that HTC provides compatible Active Sync software for the Hero on its website.
There are two disappointments worth mentioning though; finicky media file recognition and a lack of substantial internal storage. We tested several video file formats on the Hero but only had success with an MP4 format, even though the Hero should be compatible with WMV files as well. For storing media HTC, throw a 2GB microSD card in with the phone, but this won't help you with applications. At the time of writing, Android applications can only be stored on internal memory, of which the Hero has a paltry 100-plus megabytes available to the user.
Android and the Sense UI
In truth, the Hero's hardware isn't terribly exciting, the real showstopper is HTC's Sense user interface sitting on top of Google's Android OS. Sense is a stunner, an attractively designed workspace full of fantastic widgets designed by HTC and Google. There are seven available panes to use, on which you can place clock widgets, weather guides, calendars, or any combination of web-active widgets from the range available to download through the Android Market — there's a great BBC news widget there, for example.