August 12, 2009

Hands-on Android: HTC Hero and Samsung Galaxy

Posted in Smartphone at 4:15 pm by gloriouscomputing

Being in Europe has its benefits. I can just wank into the city and play with the latest Android phones. The USA still only has the HTC Dream (aka. G1), right? 😛
Update: Since I first wrote this, you just know got the second HTC Android phone… the Hero without the phunky OS… dubbed MyTouch.

I’ve read a lot of negative reviews about the HTC Hero, and while I’m not going to flat-out refute them, I was partially pleasantly surprise. More on that later. First, I got to play with the Samsung Galaxy.

Having played with Android only on an Emulator (without internet )before this, I only knew the very basics. Well, the Galaxy in the flesh had internet, but no google account. So I could try out the default software, but only those that didn’t require me to sign in (Not Mail, Market Place…).

After asking the clerk where the Unlock button was (it’s on the side), I was off! The OS felt great. Having just learned about the fact that you can hold the HOME button down to get an Alt-Tab style switch of currently running applications was a god-sent. Applications initially started at ok speeds. Fine, certainly as good, if not slightly better, as/than my iPhone 3G. Switching back to them once they were running was nearly instant. Since that’s what you will do a lot, it’s pretty exciting.

I also discovered another thing. You can hold one of the default buttons to bring up the on-screen keyboard at any time, no matter what. This is a great feature! This means that to search for an app from the home screen I 1) Click the App List button, 2) Hold the keyboard displaying button 3) Search. One more step than the iPhone (Press Home from Home screen, start typing), but totally functional.

I took some pictures of my hand (since the phone was fixed facing the wall), and even captured a video of said hand moving. It was a bit hard to tell from a hand, of course, but the video seemed good. Certainly as good as what I’m used to from Cycorder (iPhone 3G needs to resort to a jailbreak app to record video, since Apple are wankers). I watched said video on the phone and it played well. The store clerk said to transfer files to the devide, you can either take out the SD card and put stuff on it manually, or you can just connect it with USB, and get direct access to the SD card (if not the phone memory too). I’m not entirely confident if he was just saying that to make me happy, but I have no reason to think this wouldn’t just work. The only reason I question the ease with which he assures me this works is because I’m an Apple-survivor and still traumatized from forced-iTunes. If forced-iTunes sounds kinky, you are right, but it’s not as good when it’s not consentual.

Overall, I left the store very happy with Samsung Galaxy. It runs Android, and it runs it well. Not with blazing speed, but with good speed, and if I could trade in my iPhone 3G for it at virtually no extra cost, I would do so. But for 430 Euro, I’m going to have to wait. Galaxy is probably the better of the two phones I am reviewing today, for me, largely because the button placement makes sense. The biggest downside compared to the HTC Hero is that the Samsung Galaxy has no nub. The nub really shines for gaming.

So next I stumbled into a different store, and noticed the G2 Touch (aka. HTC Hero). I didn’t read the Touch part at first, so I figured I was using just a G2, which I believe is the HTC Magic. That wasn’t the case, which I noticed when I was greeted with the home screen. “Fuck, what I mess!” was my first reaction, initially blaming it on T-Mobile/Online/whatever they call themselves here, thinking that they had customized it. I already mentioned my default dislike of widgets, and the HTC Hero is a great example of this. Being dumb-founded by the amount of screen garbage, I swiped to the right and left out of curiosity. That’s when I noticed it was the HTC Hero, because it had 7 home screens, rather than the normal 3. 3 seems like too many, and 7 is drooling stupid. Going through the screens, I ran across things what seemed like a weather app, and an Email application. One screen was blank, I believe. Can users really remember what widgets they put on which screen? I certainly couldn’t. I’d have too hard of a time remembering which application shortcuts I placed on my three desktops. So you have 7 Desktops, and no way to find anything on them. If you want something, you have to swipe left, left, left. Not there? Well, fuck. Now you are way on the left. Now you have to swipe right, right, right (or just hit home, I believe), and then right, right, right… ah, there it is! Great…

While conventional wisdom has it that the HTC Hero GUI will somehow make Android more mainstream, I disagree that this GUI is a step forward. It’s like Compiz. It’s shiny, but it kills your performance at no functional gain. The only way this will sell more people on Android is in the way people buy Wiis: “Oh, shiny! I must have it. Hm, I have it…ehh.” I like many Wii games. But the GUI: Oh my god. The only way they could make the GUI worse is if the bombarded you with even more interrogational message boxes, and the only way to answer them was to simultaneously do an handstand while pointing the Wiimote at the buttons. God-forbid you could just press A.

The worst part of all the proprietary widgets that HTC added is that they aren’t applications. This means that the neat holding the Home button to see all running Applications and switching between them easily thing… doesn’t work for getting to your widgets.

Do not buy the HTC Hero for its re-done GUI. You will like it only until you realize it’s a big mess. That’s not saying a single feature might not be better. You may have 4 different mail applications on your phone now, and 3 different ways to get to them, but one of them might be slightly better than the rest. I only played with this for a little bit, but it was very messy. I think the HTC Hero GUI adds little value and divides the community. I am much in favor of any better application that might be developed being released to everyone. If anything, bundle it with your own phone for free and charge money for it for other company’s phones. If HTC had done this, I would maybe buy one app from them, but forgo the entire 7 desktop clusterfuck with their widget square dance.

To the Market Place! Unlike the other (physical) store, this store had the Market Place accessible from their Android phone (here the HTC Hero). Oh, how wonderful it was. Being used to the hackish (Yeah, I said it!) App Store, this “Market Place” was a dream come true. Why:

  1. You don’t need to enter your password every time you visit it. On the iPhone, I would download an App, then come back a few minutes after having tried it to install another: Bam! Enter password again, please! (Edit: I hear that you can turn this off. If iphones would “just work”, it’d be off by default)
  2. Apps install in the background. You can install an App, and stay in the Market Place. I don’t install apps one at a time. When I want to install apps, I usually have a few in mind. The iPhone kicks you out of the store so you can watch the progress bar. With the Android, you tell it to install one App, and you are instantly ready to install another. It’s a queue, in the background, with notifications coming up on the Awesome Shade (allusion to AwesomeBar) when it’s done, from where you may run the app, if you wish.
  3. Free Apps are first class citizens. The App Store of Apple was designed around payware. If you download freeware, it will be rubbed in your face that you are getting the same, illogically forced, experience you would if you had paid for another non-free app. I’ve never bought an iPhone App, ever. However, when I reinstall all my apps after the typical format I have to do to upgrade my firmware, I always get the stupid “You’ve bought this app before, so it’s free for you this download. OK / CANCEL?” First of all, I’ve bought nothing. It was always free, and even if it wasn’t before, I certainly don’t need to be confronted with a show-stopping message box (the download doesn’t start until you click OK). Also, OK/CANCEL? Are you fucking kidding me? I clicked Install TWICE in a row, so yes, I do want to install, and no, of course the fact that I don’t have to pay for it, just like I’ve never paid for it before, will not change my mind. Of course, since I am reinstalling all my apps, I can look forward to clicking OK 20 or so more times, after being kicked out of the App Store each time.

The Market Place feels amazing. Being a bastard, I even installed SIPdroid on the phone that was on display. Doing this on the Amazing Marked Place give me a feeling that resembled that when Obama was elected president: a long sigh of relief after long years of terribleness. Of course, just like with Obama, a lot of people say the Android platform could be even better, but boy is it so much better than what I’ve experienced before it!

HTC Hero has the nub. The nub is great. I’ve played the Galaxy clone, and I don’t think I’d have enjoyed it as much with the Galaxy’s arrow keys, separated by an OK button. Unfortunately, and this is even more of a deal breaker: the Back button on the HTC Hero really is in a terrible place, as the reviews have said. If you are not left-handed, this button will be a frequent pain in the ass.

Considering that I use my phone for applications way more than I do for gaming, I will have to go with the Galaxy’s slightly better Back button, forgoing the HTC’s cooler nub. Probably though, I will wait for an even better phone, since I’m not in a hurry.

Another weird thing about the HTC Hero was that I was unable to hold down any button to get the on-screen keyboard anywhere, unlike with the Galaxy. It certainly came up when I usually needed it, but not having the ability to have the keyboard at any time was scary, especially since I was so happy to just have found that feature on the Samsung Galaxy.

I also tried the iPhone 3GS in the store. Fuck it’s fast! There is no denying, the iPhone is the fastest phone of the 3 I spoke of here. Unfortunately, going back to the iPhone OS felt like I was walking with clutches. Going 200 M/H… but with no steering wheel… right into every wall. It’s hard to find a perfect metaphor. Yes, it’s the fastest, but considering the OS it’s running, I couldn’t be swayed away from the Android’s much smarter OS. If I could trade in my current 3G for either a 3GS, a Galaxy, or a Hero, I’d pick the Galaxy… then the Hero, and last the 3GS. The thing is, if your apps are already running in the background on the Android, they open just as fast as they do initially on the 3GS. Both Android phones’ Web Browsers seemed as fast, if not faster than the 3G’s, but perhaps not as fast as the 3GS’s. Since I’m used to the 3G, Android would still be a better upgrade for me, all things considered.

…Looking forward to my uber-SIP-cell-phone…



  1. Rykel said,

    So did Sipdroid work?

    Could you actually place a SIP call over the 3G network?

    Thanks for a great review.

    • gloriouscomputing said,

      No, I didn’t have any SIP account details on me, so I didn’t get a chance to try Sipdroid out, unfortunately.

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