To date, HTC holds the top two spots on the list of recent Android releases in the form of Sprint’s HTC Hero and the T-Mobile USA-branded myTouch 3G. Granted that may change with upcoming releases from Motorola and others, but for now these two HTC offerings are the first glimmerings of hope from the Google camp.
I took a look at both devices, and while neither handset completely trumps the other, the HTC Hero might have the edge. In the end, however, the fact that the two devices are so close in comparison may leave a consumer’s preferred network as the deciding factor for those looking to get themselves a Droid.
At first go ’round, I tried to refrain from referencing the iPhone but to no avail. The iPhone’s “intuitive user interface” set a standard for the smartphone going forward. The iPhone simply can’t be ignored. In short, this review comes with an inescapable caveat, which is the iPhone. It’s the model every honest OEM will tell you they’re chasing, as well as the ideal reference point when reviewing two new Android entries to the smartphone market.
Just to get out of the way some of the similarities between the Hero and the myTouch 3G – because there are many – here’s a quick rundown before we get started on where these two devices are setting a precedent for the expected line of Android specs.
As far as form factor goes, there isn’t a lot to differentiate myTouch 3G from the Hero. The Sprint version of the Hero got rid of the beveled chin, which its preceding European cousin flaunted like no other cell phone on the market. As it stands in the United States, both the myTouch 3G and the Hero weigh about the same, look pretty much the same and have some of the same basic hardware specs.
Both devices offer standard 3.5mm headphone jacks, a trackball, Wi-Fi, USB support and Bluetooth 2.0. Additionally, both have expandable memory slots, which we’ll cover later.
TOUCH SCREENS AND KEYBOARDS
Both of these devices offer seamless Web browsing on slick, responsive touch screens. One thing that sets the HTC Hero apart from the myTouch 3G was its support of multi-touch, which allows users a pinch-to-zoom option. While the myTouch 3G’s touch screen wasn’t awful, the pinch-to-zoom feature offers a vastly different user experience when it comes to browsing a Web page on a 3.2-inch screen.
The keyboards were one sticking point on both devices. Both offer virtual keyboards, and both felt noticeably small in comparison to the iPhone’s keyboard. Perhaps the iPhone’s additional real estate – the iPhone’s available screen measures in at 3.5 inches – is just enough for a little larger keys.
Aside from the screens of these two devices, both feature impressive hardware, which in many cases came in above the iPhone. Two big areas that I took a look at were the device’s camera and memory.
The Hero boasts a 5-megapixel camera, well above the myTouch’s 3.1-megapixel offering and the iPhone 3GS’s 3-megapixel camera. All three devices support video capture.
In the memory department, both the Hero and myTouch 3G offer expandable memory. The myTouch 3G can be expanded up to 16 GB via a MicroSD card. The Hero can be upgraded to 32 GB via a MicroSD card. The iPhone doesn’t offer expandable memory, but rather offers 16 and 32 GB models of the 3GS and then builds it into the pricing.
The downside of what I believe is Apple’s antiquated model for memory is that it comes across as cheap and limiting, whereas expandable memory offers users choice and flexibility. With the Hero and myTouch 3G, you can buy multiple MicroSD cards, which essentially means unlimited memory.
APPS AND GOOGLE
In this category, you won’t see much differentiation, mainly because the Android Market, which currently boasts the industry’s second largest platform-devoted app store at 10,000+ downloadable applications, is one of Android’s most attractive features.
Both the 3G and the Hero offer easy set-up, access and payment for the Android Market, and that’s something few have been able to get right since the arrival of the wildly successful Apple App Store, with its 85,000 downloadable applications. Combined with deep integration of Google applications, mail, contacts, maps and search, every Android handset comes equipped with some of the best that mobile computing has to offer.
Having Google’s software behind Android is one of the truly ground-breaking parts about this platform and its implementation as seen in the myTouch 3G and the Hero. It’s also the point at which Apple and Google diverge in a very dramatic way. Where Apple protects its software, guarding every API with its life, Google freely offers it all up for free, giving OEMs and carriers a lot of interesting options for future handset designs.
HTC’s Sense UI, which is left out of the myTouch 3G, was the winner here and what ultimately puts the Hero above the T-Mobile phone. While television commercials for the myTouch 3G promote that device’s personalization aspects, offering users customizable screens for their apps and widgets, the Sense UI provides a much more intuitive experience.
What’s interesting about that observation is it’s very hard to describe why one UI beats another. Both devices offer essentially the same speed and sensitivity, as well as instant access to many of the same services (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Android Market), yet one just works better, is more…you guessed it, “intuitive.”
My wife acts as a great litmus for these kinds of tests. She’s a light gadget user who isn’t impressed by flashy specs. Like many users, she just wants her technology simple and intuitive, which is one of the main reasons she loves her feature phone and her iPod touch.
I gave her both the myTouch 3G and the Hero and asked her what she thought. I told her to spend five minutes with each device. She did. She came back and said that the Hero was much easier to use, whereas the 3G was “kind of confusing.”
I don’t take my wife’s opinion with a grain of salt and not just because I agree with her. She’s an intelligent person. But she represents a huge segment of the marketplace that has rightfully concluded that they shouldn’t have to understand their technology, rather their technology should understand them. Apple was the first to understand this, and that’s why its device has revolutionized the industry.
The Hero comes very close to the iPhone in terms of understanding its users, followed closely by the myTouch 3G and a pack of forthcoming Android hopefuls. Early glimpses of recent releases from Motorola (Sholes) and Samsung (Moment) will add differentiation to the Android platform, as well as some much needed competition for the iPhone.
The Hero is available from Sprint for $179.99 after a $50 instant savings and a $100 mail-in rebate with a two-year service agreement. The myTouch 3G is available on T-Mobile for $149.99 with a two-year contract. For the $20 difference and larger carrier, I recommend the HTC Hero from Sprint.