Sunday, May 29, 2011

HTC Incredible S Review

HTC has really come a long way since 1997 when the company first began operations. The company really made its first marks on the smartphone world with their Windows Mobile offerings. But their really big impact on the smartphone world was when they were the first company to take a chance on an unknown mobile operating system called Android. Who would have thought from the lowly HTC made T-Mobile G1 would be the beginning of a mobile revolution. Today we look at one of HTC's latest offering the HTC Incredible S from Bell, a phone inspired from one of HTC's most successful phones ever, the HTC DROID Incredible.

Overall Construction
The original HTC DROID Incredible had a very unique design, which many either loved or hated. A similar yet toned down design was used on the HTC Incredible S. I believe that the more toned down styling of the Incredible S will stay true to its heritage while converting a few of those that hated the design of the DROID Incredible.

That being said, the phone feels extremely well built. The kind of premium feel you get from holding a phone made of high end materials and of course where there is smoke there is fire. The Incredible S is relatively thin being about as thin as the Atrix 4G and a couple of millimeters thicker than the iPhone 4. But that's until you actually hold the device, the way the edges are tapered and the way the back of the phone is designed it actually feels very thin.

The phone construction itself is a bit of a departure away from the recent trend of HTC building phones from unibody aluminium chassis. Instead, the phone is closer to the original HTC Desire in build quality, which for all intents and purposes is a good thing. On the back HTC uses a soft rubber coated plastic for the battery cover and on the front there is a black coated aluminum screen bezel around the 4-inch Super LCD screen.

I really have to tip my hat to HTC for the execution on the back panel. The toned down "topography" in combination with the soft matte rubberized back allows the phone to have good ergonomics, good scratch resistance and provides a good reassuring grip on the phone itself.

The general feel of the phone is a really strong indicator of HTC's ascension to the elite of smartphone manufacturers. One must remember that HTC has made huge leaps in build quality and chronologically is not that far removed from the HTC Dream/Magic, the first Android phones to hit Canada, which in all honesty would seem like really cheap feeling phones when compared to today's offerings from HTC.

On an interesting note, it seems that the review units sent out to Canadian reviewers are unique in that they are the only ones with chrome accents instead of black accents found on the US and European versions. Leave a comment in the section below if you have a Canadian Incredible S with Chrome accents.

HTC Incredible S

Originally, I believe the plan at HTC was to have all their high end phones equipped with AMOLED/Super AMOLED/Super AMOLED Plus screens from Samsung. Since Samsung also uses those displays for their own Android powered phones, it's obvious why HTC's plans fell through.

The resulting shortage of AMOLED screens for the Nexus One, Desire and DROID Incredible meant HTC had to outsource the screens to another company using different technology. HTC turned to Sony and their SLCD screen which, according to HTC CEO Peter Chou, offers a comparable experience to AMOLED.

The Incredible S' screen offered great viewing angles, great brightness, excellent colors, excellent black levels and good contrast.

The top of the screen is covered with the usual suspects when talking about high end Android Phones; Gorilla Glass with an oleophobic coating allowing for a scratch resistance surface that is relatively easy to clean up pesky fingerprints.

The overall responsiveness of the touch screen was excellent. From typing to hitting buttons to your full array of multitouch gestures the touchscreen response was fantastic. When doing multitouch gestures on Google Maps, the multitouch keyboard and pinch to zoom in the browser the experience was simply awesome.

The use of the word "comparable" by HTC CEO Peter Chou is pretty appropriate, as I found the 4-inch Super LCD screen to be the closest screen to compete with Samsung's Super AMOLED and perhaps the iPhone 4's best in class IPS screen. To sum it up in a sentence, this is one of the best screens on any HTC phone we've seen to date.

Any seasoned Android user will first glance at the Incredible S will wonder "where are the buttons?" This is one of the special features of the incredible S, depending on the orientation of the phone the buttons will orient themselves accordingly.

This means for example, browsing a webpage in landscape mode would orient the buttons in the right direction. This might just be a more a superficial improvement be I think it's pretty darn cool. On further examination, it seems like the buttons are actually small individual LCD screens that display different icons based on the orientation. Regardless of the usefulness of the rotating buttons, they were well spaced out and very responsive.

The physical buttons were a bit of a let down. They are very flush with the phone itself so feeling them out without looking at the phone itself can be a bit of a challenge. Another thing that I noticed is that the volume button is quite a bit wider compared to competing high end smartphones. This can be a bit cumbersome for people who like to use their right hand to power down the device as I found myself regularly hitting the volume down button, this results in the ringer being turned down or even turned off, but is certainly not a a big deal.

Battery Life
In the 2 weeks of testing the device the 1450mAh was more sufficient enough to get through a day of web browsing, light gaming, messaging, WiFi tethering,etc. It certainly is a testament to the larger battery, slightly smaller screen and SLCD technology that the phone has far superior battery life to a very similar phone in the HTC Desire HD which has a highly criticized battery life.

Internal Hardware
While the HTC Incredible S doesn't have bleeding edge hardware it still sports some very respectable hardware:
- 1 GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 Processor
- 768MB of RAM
- 1.1GB of Internal storage expandable with microSD card by up to 32GB
- Adreno 205 Graphic processor
- 14.4Mbps HSPA+ capable chipset
- WiFi b/g/n
- 8MP auto-focus camera with dual LED flash and 720p HD video capabilities

HTC has been touting these specs, for their high end devices, for the last 6 months now from all the way back to the unveiling of the HTC Desire HD. So this set of hardware might sound familiar to those familiar with Android hardware.

HSPA+ “4G” Capabilities
Just like the Motorola Atrix 4G the HTC Incredible S was not branded as a 4G device but Bell has taken advantage of the ITU changing its classification of 4G to allow the re-branding of the Incredible S to the Incredible S 4G.

As far as raw speeds are concerned the Incredible S did not disappointed one bit. From the get go I didn't expect the speed to be slow nor did I think they were going to be that fast as the Incredible S really hasn't gotten any press at all for its overall HSPA+ speeds.

I was gravely mistaken, this phone has blazing fast download constantly at least 4Mbps and often 6Mbps and upload speeds were fantastic as well reaching 2+Mbps in all of our tests, easily outclassing any HSPA+ we've tested so far. This is by a wide margin the closet device to being a legitimate "4G" phone. I was impressed by the overall speeds and the consistency with which the phone would reach excellent speeds.

This is only a sample of the HSPA+ coverage speeds in Montreal so your mileage will vary, but this should give you an idea of the speeds to expect when in a well covered HSPA+ area.

Speaker and microphone
The ear piece on phone calls gave me some good sound although the max volume could have been tweaked to go a bit higher for those times where you need to drown out some surrounding noise but this isn't an issue at all just personal preference.

The external speakers are status quo as far as HTC goes, not really bad although not really good, especially when cranking up the volume to the maximum there is significant cracking and distortion in videos, music and call put on speaker. But let's be honest here for two out of the three aforementioned activities it one would be foolish to rely exclusively on the external speaker, especially since this phone is equipped with SRS surround sound.

The microphone was good and clear from the test calls we had done and was probably helped significantly by the secondary microphone dedicated to noise cancellation.

To be completely honest, camera stills and video quality on their devices were never HTC's strength, but I must admit they have stepped it up with with the Incredible S. The camera performed well in almost every lighting situation and the dual-led allowed night shots to be taken without over saturating the scene with too much light. Video capture was good, color replication is good sound capture was good as well but the frame rates could be improved.

The 1.3MP front facing camera is, as with all front facing cameras, not really one that delivers amazingly good still or video but does its job fine.

Sample Pictures


HTC Sense UI 2.0
To understand where HTC's Sense UI comes from one must look futher even farther than the inception of Android when HTC was mainly a Windows Mobile smartphone manufacturer. During the "glory" days of Windows Mobile it was clear from the get go that the UI was really centered around the use of a stylus as the major input method of choice for any interaction between the user and their device.

With the advent of the iPhone finger friendly UIs really started to take off. This is when HTC introduced their TouchFLO and TouchFLO 3D UIs to their Windows Mobile lineup of smartphones. The styling and essence of TouchFLO and TouchFLO transitioned to Android via one of the first Android device to tout a custom UI, the HTC Hero featuring HTC Sense.

Sense brought a uniformity across, what was at that time, a very discontinuous Android UI. It also brought the first forms of social integration to Android. Today Sense has evolved along with Android to not only be a superficial UI change but to also include HTC exclusive services from such as phone backup, phone locator (frighteningly accurate) and remote wipe, services very similar to MobileMe from Apple but free of charge.

For those of you how have previously owned an HTC Sense device such as the Magic, Hero or Desire the experience will be very familiar with the unique Sense UI launcher, widgets and general feel of the UI. There have been some enhancements in Sense 2.0 over previous versions of Sense.

As mentioned earlier all the services from are included free of charge to users. In the test that I performed services worked great call and message forwarding worked great, as well locking the device.

Also included when making an account is access to the HTC Hub which includes a nice choice of skins, themes and other customizations to personalize your device.

Functionality improvements are also found in this version. Firstly the HTC Sense keyboard, which I've personally liked ever since the HTC Magic had it (which was at launch even before it got updated to Sense) has been upgraded with text navigation keys, since trackballs/trackpads are going the ways of the dinosaur and with multitouch capabilities, allowing users to just press and hold shift while hitting a letter to capitalize it.

The widgets from HTC are some of the best looking widgets from its weather widget to the Power/Data Settings widgets to the battery widget they all have a polished uniform look to them and for someone who can appreciate style to go along with substance this is very much appreciated.

Of course custom UIs have been in the middle of a firestorm of controversy around the speed with which Android phones receive updates. HTC's Sense UI has not been immune from this criticism despite being seemingly the most optimized and streamlined custom UI of any of the big Android manufacturers. Like other manufacturer customizations, it has some nice enhancements but also has redundant features such as social aggregation when there are perfectly good dedicated apps available free of charge.

This is also compounded by the fact that HTC decided to launch the Incredible S with Froyo instead of Gingerbread despite the fact that the HTC Desire S a handset that is extremely similar to the Incredible S was launched with Gingerbread.

That being said, it is unfortunate to see that the Incredible S as launched with an older version of Android and all we can hope is for the promised Q2 update to Gingerbread to be a speedy one. But on the other hand, in my opinion, HTC's Sense UI is the most well rounded UI in terms of both form and functionality.

In everyday use, the phone simply flew in day to day operations and suffered no lag or slow down in navigation in the UI, pinch zooming in the gallery and webpages, browsing, taking pictures (extremely fast) and video, and in most casual games. The Incredible did have some trouble with high end games like Dungeon Defenders but was still somewhat playable. Gingerbread would have been a preferable launch version and when it does it will be a welcome upgrade but for now Froyo will do just fine.

Like the Motorola Atrix, the Incredible S is bundled with several pre-loaded apps, many of which cannot be uninstalled. Some apps are redundant, like the Telnav GPS Navigation app. Others are actually quite useful like the Bell TV & Radio app as well as the Bell PVR app.


SRS Audio
One last significant addition to the Incredible S that other previous HTC devices lacked, would be the SRS Surround sound Audio. While, again as previously mentioned in other reviews, I'm by no means an audiophile SRS audio enhancements makes a noticeable difference when using the appropriate headphones.

Flash 10.3 Performance
Not too long ago Qualcomm put out a video talking about their MDP and how it blew away a competing platform's dual-core offering in HD flash performance. I really doubted the video myself until I ran tests of my own and honestly the results are unbelievable. Flash performance on the HTC Incredible S was (I was trying to avoid using the word for the entire article) simply Incredible. The Incredible was the only phone capable of playing in-browser 720p flash videos with no drop in frame rate.

The HTC Incredible S isn't sporting the latest hardware nor is it sporting the latest software, but does it ever do a lot of things well. In many ways it can be considered jack of all trades, not really excelling in one particular aspect but not faltering in any particular aspect either.

For people looking for their first smartphone and interested in Android, the Incredible is really one of the more compelling choices being one of the more attractive phones available and really being an all around solid performer the phone will most probably not disappoint the regular consumer.

Android power users will probably want to skip the Incredible S in favor of a pure Google device like the Nexus S but unfortunately it isn't available on Bell if you need to stick with them.

[Edit:] It was brought to our attention that the Google Nexus S by Samsung, is available to Bell customers through Futureshop. Thanks Jason.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 9/10
- Typical HTC design and construction, simply solid and attractive

Screen: 9/10
- Excellent screen, one of, if not, the best non-Super AMOLED screen available

Buttons: 9/10
- Responsive Capacitive buttons, very cool and flashy rotating feature

Internal Hardware: 8/10
- Not top of the line hardware but delivers amazing download/upload speeds

Speaker and Microphone: 8/10
- Status Quo, usual HTC, good speaker volume, includes mic cancellation

Camera: 8/10
- Camera and Video performance is good, and much improved over previous HTC devices

UI Changes: 8/10
- Sense UI, including feature adds nice value to the Android platform and is simply fast, streamlined and visually appealing

Addition Enhancements: 8/10
- The addition of SRS surround sound is great and Flash performance is phenomenal

Included Apps/Bloatware: 7/10
- As with most Bell phones, it's a mixed bag as far as bloatware is concerned some really useful apps, some bad

Final Score: 8.2/10

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