HTC has created plenty of Android smartphones over the last two years, so if you thought they were all going to end up looking exactly the same, think again…
Sitting between the Desire and Desire HD comes the Incredible S, announced within minutes of the new Desire S. Now there’s an awful lot of handsets with Desire in the title, we’ll understand if you’re getting confused and wondering where the Incredible S fits in.
It has a smaller screen than the Desire HD, but HTC still appears to be regarding this as a flagship product. And, while neither the Desire or Desire HD had front-facing cameras for video calling (which thanks to Apple it seems everyone now wants to use again), the Incredible S has a 1.3-megapixel snapper on the front to complement the 8-megapixel one on the rear.
Besides the slightly smaller screen, the Incredible S is positioned above the Desire HD. It also outperforms the Desire S. But, beyond that, there’s not much that is unique on the Incredible S, which is exclusively available from The Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy stores in the UK.
Besides a video calling camera (which can be used as a regular camera too), the key difference is in the styling. From the front, you have all the standard elements of yet another black smartphone slab, but on the back you will see a battery cover that doesn’t hide the innards of the phone, but accentuates them instead. It’s the phone of choice for people who used to mod their PCs and would never be seen dead with something in an anonymous aluminium shell.
HTC argues the design makes the phone look even thinner than it is (11.7mm thick). However, in my opinion it makes the phone look thicker. This is because the bulge makes you think there are parts sticking out beyond what you would associate as the back of the phone, i.e. a flush finish.
However the optical illusion may work for you, and the phone feels good in the hand thanks to the soft touch material that gives you confidence that you’re won’t drop it easily, as you might with the new crop of super skinny smartphones coming onto the market. I’ll even go as far as to say that thicker handsets look and feel nicer overall, especially when HTC has been able to include a 1,450mAH battery, which tops the Desire HD and should keep it going for a few hours longer.
All things considered, the Incredible S does look pretty good. For that end, HTC has achieved what it set out to do by doing things a little bit different. Some of you will take one glance and be immediately turned off, so for you HTC will hope you’ll be turned towards the Desire S or one of the other new models. There are certainly plenty of other models to choose from in the HTC range.
Currently all of them will give you only Android 2.2, which seems a really strange decision but is presumably down to the time it takes HTC to adapt its HTC Sense UI to work with each new OS revision.
This is one of the compromises you have to accept and live with, in order to enjoy what is probably the best third-party user interface customisation on any Android device. It’s a worthy sacrifice, as HTC Sense really does have a huge number of tweaks to make Android more exciting, from changeable skins to audio sets – and plenty of enhancements to the camera interface (more on that later).
HTC has promised an upgrade will be available to Android 2.3, but it should have been included from day one to avoid a time-consuming download at some undetermined point in the future, along with the ever present, albeit slight, risk of something going wrong and data being lost.
Mind you, with HTC Sense backing up most of your key data ‘in the cloud’ the damage would be fairly minimal.
The lack of a dual-core processor is also going to hurt HTC now that the smartphone market is playing the same games as in the computer world (including Apple with the iPad 2), after everyone got bored of the same silly game with cameras and megapixels.
Even though dual-core processors are yet to prove themselves as offering the significant improvements that benchmarking tools suggest, along with concerns over power consumption, people always look for something bigger and better than before. That might be a higher clock speed, improved graphics or more memory.
What we have here is a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset, matching that of the Desire HD. There’s also the same amount of RAM, 768MB, which is very generous and ensures plenty of apps can remain loaded and running in the background. Only Motorola’s ATRIX beats the Incredible S in the memory department with a whopping 1GB of RAM, but when you get to this level you might start to think that it’s overkill.
And the same can be said about the processor, as it still performs incredibly well with ‘just’ 1GHz and a single-core, giving a Quadrant benchmark score of 1609 and a Neocore rating showing 56.9 frames per second. Suffice to say, both are good.
It isn’t likely that you’re ever going to consider this phone to be slow, regardless of what is offered in the future from dual, or even quad-core processors that Qualcomm has stated could be in use by the end of the year.
There’s another feature that I haven’t mentioned yet that should stir some interest with techno junkies. Below the 4-inch Super-LCD screen, HTC has included four touch-sensitive, illuminated, soft keys. As ever, there’s no set layout for the icons and HTC has opted to use them in the order; Home, Menu, Back and Search, while Google has gone for Back, Menu, Search and Home. Sony Ericsson has its own owner, proving nobody is in any rush to standardise things.
But, whatever the order of the keys – there’s one thing that always remains the same, the problem of turning the phone into landscape mode and having the icons all at the wrong angle. Okay, so that isn’t really a big deal, but it clearly was to someone at HTC that decided to fix that problem. When you turn the Incredible S to the left, the Android button icons rotate, as if by magic.
I have to mention magic because HTC hasn’t said how it works and I know they wouldn’t appreciate me hacking the review phone to bits. All I can confirm is that it isn’t a LCD or OLED screen, and most likely comes down to switching illumination show different symbols at different levels, but even then it isn’t immediately obvious to look at. What is obvious is that it looks good, and shows an incredible (sic) attention to detail that other manufacturers possibly never even thought of.
After rotating the screen left and right for a bit, it seemed like a good idea to check out the camera. Now HTC has produced a number of handsets with 8-megapixel sensors, including the HTC 7 Mozart with a Xenon flash, I hoped that they’d have got the experience just right.
The interface is simple, with touch-to-focus and a number of camera effects, including face detection and geotagging, but the image quality is still only just above average. The dual-LED lamps are bright, especially when used with the HTC torch application, but low-light photos are hampered by noise and can disappointment overall.
In video mode, the HD video capture is let down by dropped frames as soon as the level of motion gets too fast for the sensor. That means a simple pan shot done too quickly will introduce a jerky motion that ensures the phone may be good at most things, but replacing a separate camcorder is not one of them. At least not yet.
But, camera issues aside, the Incredible S is a great phone to use. The screen is very responsive, and the HTC on-screen keyboard is a delight to use – even if it hasn’t got all the tricks of something like Swype.
The native browser has a wealth of enhancements for cutting and pasting, looking up words or sharing content, while there’s support for Twitter and Facebook within the phonebook, and now an optional download to add support for LinkedIn.
HTC’s enhanced navigation software, Locations, offers an improved navigation solution over Google’s own Navigation app, built on the Route 66 software that has been successfully deployed to many other platforms over the years.
When the Incredible S gets upgraded to Android 2.3, the performance should improve even more – although it isn’t strictly necessary given the performance offered right now. Consider this the Android phone for the nonconformist.
Here’s HTC’s flagship release for the start of 2011 and there’s no dual-core processor or even the latest version of Android. Too little, too late? While there will be an upgrade to Android 2.3, it’s okay to be worried that this phone will become outdated before your contract is up. However, there’s no need to be too worried as there’s excellent graphics performance, plenty of system RAM, loads of storage space for apps, great screen and battery life. So even though faster models will come, the Incredible S will still be able to put up a good fight for some time to come.
Ratings (out of 5)
[wpgalleryimage title=”Editors-Choice-5Star” float=right]Performance: 5
Those rotating keys + benchmarking results