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HTC Hero smartphone

HTC Hero smartphone

Boasting HTC's Sense UI, the HTC Hero is without doubt the best Android phone yet and the closet competitor to the iPhone we've seen.

HTC Hero

Part of HTC's Sense UI is the home screen of the Hero. It consists of seven screens that can be swiped from side to side to reveal any number of shortcuts, folders or widgets.

Another impressive feature of the HTC Hero is the integration of contacts with social-networking sites like Facebook. Contacts in your address book can be matched with Facebook contacts, so you can use a person's profile picture, see details of their birthday and view status updates all from a single contact screen. When you view a single contact, you can also see all interactions with that particular person: information, messages, mail, updates and events, photo albums on both Facebook and Flickr, and call history. This is an excellent feature and one that isn't available on the iPhone.

The HTC Hero's on-screen keyboard has also been tweaked from the standard Google Android version seen on the Magic. Although it's useable and comfortable in most instances, it lacks the polish of the iPhone's on-screen keyboard. We often found ourselves having to tap more than once to register a key and there is noticeable lag when typing at fast speeds. We also preferred typing in the regular portrait mode rather than tilting the phone sideways to use the landscape keyboard. On a positive note, we found the auto-correction excellent in most instances.

Like all Android devices, the HTC Hero's integration with Google services is excellent. Android automatically synchronises your Google calendar, mail and contacts over the air. When you add a new contact or calendar event on your PC, it will automatically appear on your phone and vice versa. If you don't have a Google account, you can create one on the HTC Hero itself; you can then easily import a contact list from Microsoft Outlook or even Apple's address book. Support for Microsoft Exchange is included out of the box.

As a multimedia device, the HTC Hero fares much better than both the Magic and the Dream, mainly thanks to the inclusion of a regular 3.5mm headphone jack. The music application and widget are slick and polished but lack the smoothness of the iPhone. The Hero has a 5-megapixel camera without a flash. It's annoying taking a photo using the trackball: your finger can slide around when attempting to click the trackball. The quality of recorded video is poor, but it remains a solid camera phone. The Hero comes with 512MB of flash memory, and it also has a microSD card slot for extra storage.

The included Web browser is excellent and, unlike the iPhone, the HTC Hero supports Flash. The browser is responsive, polished and easy to use. Like Safari on the iPhone, it also supports multitouch, so you can zoom in and our by pinching your fingers on the screen. A version of the Google Maps application is strangely absent, though it is downloadable from the Android Market — Android's application store.

We found the HTC Hero's battery life to be slightly better than the iPhone 3GS', though it's still not great compared to other smartphones. The Hero just lasted a full day even with hourly push e-mail, Twitter, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth all turned on. You can squeeze some extra precious hours out of the Hero by turning off some of these settings, though they are all part of the experience.

Australian online store MobiCity is selling the HTC Hero outright with a 12 month warranty.

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