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>> Hi. I'm Bonnie Cha, Senior Editor at CNET.com, and today we're taking a First Look at the HTC Hero for Sprint. This is the first Google Android device for the carrier, and as you may or may not know, Sprint decided to wait on offering an Android smartphone until know because they didn't think the operating system was quite ready when it first debuted, and I'm thinking they were right to wait because it might have paid off for Sprint here. There's actually an HTC Hero already available in Europe, but it looks nothing like the Sprint version. HTC has revamped the design and gotten rid of the chin, which was on some of the other Android devices, like the T-Mobile G1 and the T-Mobile myTouch 3G. I was actually surprised when I read some user comments complaining about the change because I thought the chin just looked weird. It definitely gave the phones a unique and memorable look, while the Sprint HTC Hero kind of blends into the rest of the mix, but I still think this is a very nicely designed smartphone. It's really compact, and even though it shares a similar shape to the myTouch 3G, the build quality feels better. It doesn't feel slick or plasticy, thanks to the soft touch finish on the back. A couple of other advantages that the HTC Hero has over the other Android phones is one, it offers a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, so you don't have to deal with any awkward audio adaptors, and two, it features a multi-touch screen, so you -- just like the iPhone and Palm Pre, you can just pinch the screen to zoom in and out of pages, which is much more convenient than tapping on the screen. But I have to say that it wasn't quite as smooth as the Pre or iPhone. It was just kind of jerky at times. What really makes the HTC Hero different from others is the HTC Sense user interface. This is something the company first introduced with the European version of the hero, and what they've done is basically replace the standard Android UI with their own, just like they did with Windows Mobile and its TouchFLO 3D interface. So now instead of three home screen panels, you now get seven. And you can navigate through them by sweeping your finger to the left and right. On each panel, you can add various widgets, including standard Android ones and some that HT has added like Twitter and Footprints, which is an app that let's you geotag photos and then send them off as postcards. On top of all that, there's something called "scenes," which lets you change the theme of the phone, depending on whether you're at work, traveling, or out on the town and so forth. For example, the work screen shows you things like upcoming appointments and stock quotes, whereas the travel scene will display things like footprints, two clocks, and weather information. I'm not gonna lie; this is all very overwhelming at first, but after you take time to customize the various screens, it really comes in handy, and that's part of the beauty of the Hero, is that you can personalize it to your lifestyle. But underneath all that HT Sense goodness is still Google Android, so that means you still get access Android market, which has more than 8,000 apps in the catalog now. And of course, you get support for Google services, like Google search, Google calendar, and Gmail. In addition to Gmail, the Hero can also access other POP3 and iMap email accounts and offers exchange synchronization for Outlook calendar and contacts. And you can now open and view attachments right from an Outlook message with Documents to Go, which you couldn't do on the myTouch 3G. Sprint also offers a number of its services on the device, including Sprint Navigation and Sprint TV. The HTC Hero works on the carrier's EVDO Rev A Network and also has integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The included Google Browser offers flash support so you can view streaming media sites like YouTube right from the browser. As for other entertainment options, you can download and purchase songs from the Amazon MP3 store. There's a dedicated media player and a five-megapixel camera on back. There's obviously a ton of features, which you can read more about in our full review. As far as performance, the HTC Hero is pretty responsive. It's not the fastest phone I've ever used, and there are some occasional delays, but it's generally up to task. I'm still annoyed that you can't save apps to an SD card, and battery life is another thing to watch out for. It can drain pretty quickly with all the things that it can do, so if you find that you're constantly low on battery, consider retrieving your email less frequently, sign out of Twitter, or turn GPS when you're not using it. Like I said at the beginning, Sprint might have been smart to wait because I think the HTC Hero is a more full-featured and even more customizable device than the G1 and the myTouch 3G, but I do think the Hero's better for people who have a little bit of knowledge, since there's a bit more involved with the phone, whereas the Palm Pre has more of a broader appeal and easier to use. Still, it's a very capable device and an incredible value at $179.99 with a two-year contract. The HTC Hero will be available from Sprint starting on October 11. I'm Bonnie Cha, and this has been your First Look at the HTC Hero for Sprint.
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