The Hero also pulls in your Facebook and Flickr photo
albums, and your friends' albums, and shows their photos alongside their
contact info. Unfortunately, it doesn't support any other social-networking
sites. HTC told us there's no plans for MySpace, Bebo and the like to get a
look in. You can grab apps and widgets for those sites from the
Android Market, but you won't see them in the address book and photo gallery.
The Android Market is less censored than the iPhone's App Store, but that has both positive and negative consequences. There are loads of great apps on there and most of them free, but they don't tend to be as slick as iPhone apps, and finding good ones is tougher. When you do find good apps, though, they're easy to install.
The truth about
One of the most important features on a touchscreen phone is its on-screen keyboard, since you can't fall back on physical buttons. The Hero's keyboard is one of the best we've seen, both in its landscape and portrait modes. It offers a Qwerty layout, with excellent predictive text, and you can run through a training mode to help it learn your particular tapping quirks. There's a separate number keyboard, but you can hold down a letter key to insert punctuation and numbers into text without having to switch -- a handy feature for typing things like passwords, which often contain a mix of letters and numbers.
Like the iPhone after its most recent update, the Hero supports cut, copy and paste. There's even spell-checking functionality, although it's turned off by default.
Life in the slow lane
But it's not all sunshine and lollipops. Sadly, HTC has saddled the Hero with its old favourite Qualcomm 528MHz processor -- the same as the Magic. Using the keyboard reveals the Hero's occasional sluggishness -- switching between the landscape and portrait keyboards takes ever-so-slightly too long. Similarly, the phone sometimes seems to hesitate slightly when you're swiping around the home screens and interacting with the widgets.
We found the Hero to be stable, and, unlike the Magic, it rarely hung or crashed, but the occasional lag could get annoying when you're using the phone every day. One way to reduce the lag is to turn off the widgets, but we think that's a real shame, since they're among our favourite features.
Another area where the Hero bests the Magic is battery life. It's quite good for a touchscreen smart phone. We had no trouble getting a full day's use out of the Hero, even with plenty of Wi-Fi surfing and use of Bluetooth.
Solid Web surfer
Surfing the Web on the Hero is a pleasure, thanks to its accurate browser, which includes Flash support, so you won't miss a single whizzy ad. In our tests, however, the Hero didn't handle Flash video very well -- our Crave TV videos were far too jerky to watch. And, unfortunately, the BBC iPlayer site's version of Flash didn't seem to be supported at all, so we had to rely on the dodgy beebPlayer app. We couldn't watch videos on the YouTube site either, but the built-in YouTube app worked perfectly.
The Hero has good connectivity, with Wi-Fi and 7.2Mbps HSPA for faster data over 3G, but we found the browser didn't load or switch windows quickly enough. We look forward to installing Opera and seeing if it does a better job. One fantastic addition to the Hero, as opposed to earlier Android phones, is multitouch capability, so you can zoom into pages with a pinch of your fingers to get at those tiny links.
Multitouch also comes in handy for zooming into photos, but, unfortunately, it's nowhere to be found in Google Maps. We had to use zoom buttons on the screen, which means we could only zoom into the centre of the map. We were very disappointed to see Google Maps working less well on a Google Android phone than on the iPhone.