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.
The HTC Hero S is a dual-mode GSM/CDMA world phone. The smartphone works on U.S. Cellular's CDMA network here in the U.S., and like the Motorola Electrify, it features an unlocked SIM, so once you travel abroad, you can purchase a prepaid SIM card to make voice calls and receive data. The Hero S also offers a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, and text and multimedia messaging. Wireless radios include Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), aGPS. It's also 3G capable and can be used as a mobile hot spot for up to five devices.
In addition to the standard Google services, the Hero S comes preloaded with a number of productivity apps and tools, including the Polaris Office suite, a voice recorder, a task manager, a flashlight, and FM radio. HTC and U.S. Cellular also throw in a number of extra apps, such as Peep (HTC's Twitter client), Tone Room Deluxe, Zappos, and IMDb. Unfortunately, you can't uninstall these apps or move them to an SD card.
When in need of diversion, you can turn to the smartphone's built-in media player. It supports your standard music and video formats. You also get access to Amazon's MP3 store and HTC Watch, a video storefront where you can buy and rent TV shows and movies, as well as Google Books and Audible. The smartphone offers 4GB of internal memory and also comes with a preloaded 8GB microSD card, though the expansion slot can accept up to 32GB.
As I mentioned earlier, the Hero S has a 5-megapixel camera and LED flash. The camera app offers a number of tools and editing options, such as white balance controls, ISO settings, face detection, and auto focus. It's also capable of 720p HD video capture. Picture quality under low-light conditions wasn't particularly impressive. As you can see from the image above, objects came out looking pretty sharp, but the coloring was off. The camera did fine outdoors, and we found the video quality results to be the same.
We tested the dual-mode HTC Hero S in New York using roaming U.S. Cellular service and call quality was OK. I didn't notice any distracting background noise and the audio was generally clear. However, voices could sound muffled at times, making it difficult to understand my callers at times. I had to ask my friends to repeat themselves on a few occasions. Meanwhile, they said the call quality was good on their end and didn't report any problems.
HTC Hero S call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone quality was mixed. On my end, the conversations were clear and easy to understand, and there was enough volume to hear callers in a noisier environment. However, my friend immediately said the audio sounded awful on his side, saying that I sounded like I was talking through a tin can. He also noted a bunch of background noise, so something to take note of if you're thinking about using the speakerphone. I had no problem pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones to make phone calls or listen to music.
The Hero S is powered by a 1.2GHz Qualcomm MSM8655 processor. The Electrify has it beat with a dual-core processor, but even so, I found the Hero to be a responsive machine. There are some slight delays here and there, but overall, apps launched right away and navigation was smooth.
The HTC Hero S ships with a user-replaceable 1,520mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6.8 hours and up to 14 days of standby time. We are still conducting our battery drain tests, but so far, with moderate to heavy usage, I'm needing to charge up the phone by evening. We'll update this section as soon as we have final results.
All in all, the HTC Hero S is a very beautiful and solid Android phone for U.S. Cellular customers, but if you want the most bang for your buck, the Motorola Electrify is the better way to go. For the same price of $199.99 on contract, the Electrify packs in a dual-core processor, more internal memory, 1080p HD video recording, and a built-in kickstand. However, we all know that one size does not fit all, so if you want something with a smaller design or don't like Motorola's UI, the Hero S will definitely serve you well. Thankfully, U.S. Cellular gives you that choice.