Life with the HTC Hero.

A couple of weeks ago my old Treo started acting too wonky for comfort (such as refusing to hold a charge for any reasonable length of time) so I started hunting for a replacement. Interestingly, Sprint (my cell carrier) started offering a number of smartphones running the Android OS from Google back in October. I waited as long as I could while keeping an eye on the newswires to see what the going opinion of it was (as well as camped out at my local Sprint store for a while to play with all of their demo Android phones) and finally bought one the first weekend of November. The Sprint store was kind enough to copy my contact list (though none of my data) into my new phone when they activated it which saves a lot of time when you're getting set up. One of the things you will have to do if you want to get any real usability out of it is linking it to a Gmail account. This will pull your Gmail contacts into your phone book, which I find slightly irritating because it effectively quadrupled the number of entries that have to be traversed to find the correct person to call. This also means that one person can have more than one entry but you won't know which it is (Gmail, cellular, home phone, business card) until you actually look at it. I wish that the contacts app worked more like the Treo's in this respect in that it was context sensitive (if you accessed a contact from the SMS app it only displayed cell numbers, while the e-mail app would only display e-mail addresses).

I don't know whether or not it'll work with Google Apps accounts; I haven't tried.

That said, the Android App store is amazing. Every time I go through it I find something new (though I don't necessarily install it). Among the apps that I find useful and thus recommend are the following:

  • ASTRO - File manager for Android phones.

  • Beelicious - Connects to your account and lets you access your links without having to start the web browser first.

  • Car Locator FREE - GPS app that saves a waypoint (like where you parked your car) and can lead you back to that waypoint later.

  • MyBackup - Backs up your apps, data, and messages to the internal MicroSD card. So worth it that I'll be buying for the full version.

  • Note Everything - Android doesn't come with a notepad application of its own. This free app corrects that oversight.

  • Password Vault - Encrypted password database. I can't live without one of these on my smartphones.

  • Ringdroid - Convert audio files into ringtones for use on your Android phone. I use this to organize my contacts by assigning a particular sound or song to categories of people.

  • Wardrive - Just what it sounds like.

  • GPS OnOff and WiFi OnOff - Android Widgets that do one thing and do it well - toggle the GPS receiver and WiFi chipset to save power without having to hunt through the system settings each time.

The Gmail app is really handy but what you can do to messages is limited by the user interface; you can't report spam, you can't undelete messages, and you can't un-archive messages if you accidentally do so (which is easy to do). I'm very fond of the text messaging app because it handles multiple incoming messages in the background rather than popping up a new window over top of the one you're already typing in. If you attach an image to an outgoing text message you'll have to make it a slide show with one picture in it because the largest outgoing message you can send is one megabyte in size; when you take into account the fact that the HTC Hero has a five megapixel camera built in you'll overrun that limit every time unless you do so. The calendar app silently hooks your Google Calendar so you don't have to worry about messing around with it. I strongly recommend that you calibrate the onscreen keyboard after you get your phone because it makes it much easier to use; also, you'll probably have a couple of days of adding unknown words to the Hero's internal dictionary because the text prediction mechanism can be a little overzealous at times.

One annoying thing which I ran into was the fact that my phone stopped receiving text messages a couple of days ago, though it could send them without any apparent trouble. I found that letting my phone update its firmware to the latest revision (v1.56.651.2, released 11 November 2009) helped somewhat (though the hot reboot probably had something to do with that), as well as fixing a couple of annoying glitches with the camera app, the onscreen keyboard, and a couple of other things.

I also discovered during the firmware update that you won't lose your apps, stored data, or settings in the process. Once your phone boots back up you'll be able to pick up right where you left off and won't have to re-do everything. I backed everything up before installing the update but really didn't have to. I do recommend, however, plugging your phone in to power it during the upgrade procedure because if your power cell runs out in the middle of the update it might wreck your phone (but if anyone knows differently please leave a comment).