As some of you have seen me tweet (@markadoherty) last week I received a new phone the HTC Hero. The devices comes in a few different colours, but I got the white version simply because it’s got Teflon coating. The device itself is pretty resistant to scratches and greasy paws on the screen, a life in my pocket isn’t easy
Build quality for the Hero is outstanding, the device is light but feels really solid to hold. As many of you have heard me bleat previously buttons are always a big giveaway when it comes to quality. If a button rocks in it’s bezel, or has a poor action you can tell that it’s not designed to last. With the Hero there’s no issues with any of the front facing buttons, the volume control on the side could have been toughened up.
The screen quality is great, it’s sharp and bright right to the corners and sports 320×480 pixels with multi-touch support. I’ve found it to be highly responsive and accurate, and with the accelerometers I can type in portrait and landscape mode very easily. In the screenshot above you can see the rich SenseUI provided by HTC, everything on the screen is customizable because they are either Widgets or shortcuts.
Android has come on leaps and bounds in its first year, with the addition of on screen keyboards, widgets and a major OS upgrade bringing stability, performance and entertainment features. The Hero demonstrates that HTC really have their finger on the pulse, but it’s not without glitches as you’ll see below.
The clock and weather Widget also displays my current locale and automatically determines the weather, this changes as I move around London and so is really accurate.
If I swipe my finger left or right from the Home Screen I can move to other spaces, in each of these I can add new widgets to personalise the experience. You can see in the screenshots above that I have added my SMS/MMS messages, a Stocks Widget and some quick links for Web browsing. The widgets are updating using very simple Android Widget framework, which is fully customizable. So I can inform the Twitter Widget to update every 4 hours rather than every 5mins (which is the default and had my account suspended).
As far as mobile browsing goes Android has from v1 been able to deliver a great experience for end users. It’s based on the open source Webkit browser with some modifications for performance and to tailor it to run well on Android’s UI framework. Currently it does not support HTML5 but it does have Location support, which is a great boon to tailoring searches for mobile devices. In fact it borrows the same location technology as Google Maps, so there’s no need for GPS.
Flash on Android
Of course the feature that’s most important to me is the support for Flash on Android, in fact it’s the first Android device to support the Flash Player. With such a high resolution 3.2″ multi-touch screen you’ll notice that Flash fits particularly well in this form factor. As with some later Nokia devices it’s now possible to view multimedia content made available by various content sites using Flash today.
Sites like Yahoo Movies, Youtube and various games sites can now provide mobile experiences designed to work with mobile screen sizes. Using the pinch and zoom functionality of the device a user can easily navigate around. In the image above you can see a video that started to playback automatically to promote a new movie. I should point out that while annoying at times, this is also how the business model for the site works (there was no audio btw).
If you want to watch a video or play a game in full screen mode you can simply double tap on the content and it will playback in full screen mode. You can see in the screenshots above the trailer for the new movie Orphan playing back in full screen mode, and in windowed mode also. Also shown above is the BBC’s iPlayer showing a few videos in the carousel. Now I should point out that iPlayer doesn’t work in the browser because the desktop video file was 627mb.
I have noticed a few browser crashes, and interestingly my Google start page is the usual culprit. Wonder if it’s the location feature?
One of the great features of the HTC Hero, and I suppose the Android OS is the ability to “do what you want”. HTC have nailed the principle that phones are social devices, yes they help us communicate but they also enable us to organize our busy lives like never before. With the Hero, Facebook and Twitter have been built right into the platform with full contacts integration.
During the setup of the device the application will automatically try and match your phone contacts with Facebook and other Social networks. This can be a little bit of a hassle if you have hundreds of contact, but it’s well worth the time and the suggestions are pretty good. An example of where it goes wrong is that SIM cards only hold a single name string, not first and last name and there’s no way to know that “Mum” = “Margaret Doherty” on Facebook.
As you can see each contact can be linked from my address book (”People”) to their Twitter, Facebook and Flickr accounts. I’ve opted to not use Flickr because I don’t use it for Photos, and prefer to get updates from Facebook for that. It’s a personal choice though and I’m sure many people would like updates across the board.
Exchange Support – Fail
As you can see Exchange support wasn’t such a great experience, because as it turns out the Hero doesn’t support installation of SSL Certificates. At Adobe we use a corporate SSL certificate for mobile devices to ensure that each device has been setup by a known employee. The benefits of the certificate and installation are numerous and it’s a pretty standard corporate IT policy. On this front therefore “Exchange support” is a fail and a real pity as everything else works perfectly. I seriously wonder how they got this so wrong?
Exchange Support via Moxier
Without Exchange support the HTC Hero would never have been my personal phone but for a company called Moxier. It was well known that MS Exchange support was not a strategic priority for Google, and while that makes sense it’s great to see that Android is open enough for others to build a business around these opportunities.
Moxier, DataViz RoadSync and Roadrunner have been created to fill this gap and today Moxier ($29.99) fits my requirements and includes SSL support. RoadSync would have been my choice but for the lack of SSL support and the great UI, support and 10 second installation and setup was nothing short of perfect.
Included are Calendar, Email, Sync and Contacts support including access to the Global Address List so that I can look up other employees easily. I’ve also found that the Calendar is pretty well thought out, particularly the agenda view shown above where I can see the next meetings coming up.
What you might notice is that my Agenda is pretty light on meetings, and that’s where problems have started to show. As it turns out some meetings are not synchronising correctly, most notably those with timezone offsets and that’s pretty common for me given my position.
In all it’s pretty good but an industrial strength solution is required for enterprise customers, missing appointments would make me look bad. Saying that, it’s better than nothing and I’ve reported the bugs so let’s hope the developer is spending my $30 wisely
My next post is going to be all about my investigation into getting Flash standalone applications to work. I’ve been “fiddling” with the Android SDK and so far I’ve managed to start Flash independently and load the File Picker.
Hopefully I’ll complete the investigation tomorrow!!