With Droid Incredible, Google-based phones take next step

May 13, 2010 By Troy Wolverton
The HTC Droid Incredible

Google and its smart phone partners have been on quite a roll lately.

Last fall, Motorola introduced the Droid, the first hit phone based on Google's operating system. Droid not only was the best Android phone, but it also was the best smart phone on the market at the time other than Apple's .

In January, Google and Taiwan-based manufacturer HTC topped the Droid with Google's . Although sales of the Nexus One have been disappointing, the device took Android to the next level with its sleek physical design, refined three-dimensional interface and speedy processor.

Now, with the new HTC Droid Incredible, Google and HTC have raised the bar once more.

The Droid Incredible shares a lot in common with its sister phone, the Nexus One. It's got the same snappy 1-gigahertz processor and the same bright 3.7-inch . And like the Nexus One, it runs Android 2.1, which is the latest version of Google's operating system.

But the Droid Incredible offers some significant improvements over the Nexus One. The first thing users will notice is that the Incredible comes with HTC's Sense interface. Sense is a program that runs on top of Android and helps organize the phone's home screens.

Users see a big clock when they turn on and unlock their phones and icons of commonly used programs. Double-tapping the Incredible's home button allows you to see thumbnail views of each of the phone's seven home screens.

Instead of having to swipe across the screen multiple times to get to the page you want, you can simply tap on its thumbnail and go to it directly.

Sense also lets you customize your home screens with scenes that correspond to particular uses or times of the day. So there's a "work" scene that includes links to your e-mail box and calendar and stock chart widgets. And there's a "play" scene that includes a Twitter widget and a link to your phone's picture gallery. The feature also lets you create your own personalized scenes with particular and program icons. To switch among the scenes, you just change a setting on the home page.

But the Incredible has more going for it than just the latest version of Sense. It also has an 8-megapixel camera -- compared with a 5-megapixel one on the Nexus One -- which gives the Incredible one of the highest-resolution cameras for a smart phone.

Like the camera on Apple's iPhone 3GS, the Incredible's camera allows you to focus on particular areas in a scene by touching on the area you want in full focus. You can also shoot video. The Incredible's camera, unlike the iPhone's, includes a zoom feature and dual LED flashes for taking shots in low light.

I found the pictures to be sharp and bright, some of the best I've seen taken with a smart phone camera.

Another nice upgrade is in storage. Unlike the Nexus One, which comes with a scant 512 megabytes of onboard storage space, the Incredible comes with a respectable 8 gigabytes.

You can expand storage on both phones by plugging in a micro SD card into their storage slots. But 8 gigabytes should be more than enough room to store your Android applications and a decent number of songs or movies.

Perhaps most important, the Incredible runs on Verizon, the nation's biggest network in terms of users. Verizon also tends to have better coverage than either T-Mobile or AT&T, the carriers that support the Nexus One.

In addition to these upgrades, the Incredible includes most of the latest Android features found in the Google phone. It has Google's free turn-by-turn navigation program, an address book that integrates contact data from Microsoft Exchange mail servers, Facebook and other sources, and an online backup service.

That said, the Incredible has shortcomings. I found its rectangular shape and multilevel back more awkward and less comfortable to hold than the Nexus One or my iPhone.

Worse, Verizon says that you should get more than five hours of talk time out of it, which is two hours less than says you can get out of the Nexus One. I didn't test it on this point, but I frequently found that even after moderate or little hands-on use -- albeit with mail sync turned on -- the Incredible's battery was dead at the end of the day.

While the number of Android applications has been growing quickly, it's still a fraction of the 200,000 now available for the iPhone. Yes, you'll find some of the more popular iPhone applications on Android, including Facebook and Pandora. But you'll find a greater diversity of applications for the iPhone, and games in particular remain a huge advantage for Apple's device.

And while Verizon has very good coverage, its network has one notable flaw: It doesn't allow you to talk on the phone while you surf the Internet or, say, look up a restaurant review on Yelp. That can blunt the multi-tasking advantage that Android phones have over the iPhone.

All that said, the Droid Incredible is a very nice phone. If you are on Verizon or determined to get an Android phone, it's the best thing out there.

HTC DROID INCREDIBLE:

• Troy's rating: 4.2 (out of 5)

• Likes: Sense interface; high-resolution camera; snappy processor.

• Dislikes: Blocky design; number of games and applications lags far behind those available for iPhone.

• How much: $200 with two-year Verizon contract and $100 online discount.

Explore further: Lenovo's smart glasses prototype has battery at neck

2.7 /5 (7 votes)
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User comments : 5

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trekgeek1
3 / 5 (2) May 13, 2010
Who cares if the battery was dead at the END of the day? The phone was operational throughout the day. We'd all like more battery life but we need to realize when a device did it's job. Plug it in to charge when you get home, the little guy deserves it!
JimB135
not rated yet May 14, 2010
Smartphone competition is so intense that it's nothing but cool for us consumers. The pace of progress keeps accelerating. By the time I'm ready to upgrade my phone in another 6 months the choices will be be more than amazing.
onecargarage
not rated yet May 14, 2010
8MP may very well be overkill for whatever lens they can fit on a cellphone. I wonder if any of the Linux geeks have any ideas for a window handler to compete with Sense...

The battery is a weak point, but being tied to Verizon is a deal-killer, I use voice and data at the same time often.

Now for the really big question: When will they be available unlocked?
meeker
not rated yet May 18, 2010
This phone has a 1-gigahertz processor and I've read that a 1.3 GHz is coming by the end of the year.

My 5 year old laptop has a 1.6 GHz processor and I think it still runs well for what I need it for (outside of battery life), but with phones getting as powerful as they are, I may not ever need to buy another laptop again ... and perhaps not another desktop by the end of the decade.

All you'll need is a phone attached to a larger display (and perhaps a physical keyboard/mouse too).
Dually
not rated yet May 18, 2010
The problem isn't lack of battery life. Rather the problem is too much horsepower under the hood. The truth is that when you're running multiple tasks such as pushing email, pushing IMs, using gps, browsing internet, and streaming pandora to bluetooth headphones, all at the same time, the battery will go dead in less than an hour from a full charge in the Incredible.

The remarkable thing is that the Incredible has the horsepower to do all these things effortlessly at once: not that that requires so much power.

My solution is to carry a 6400 milliamp usb battery with me.

Also, the 24 gb of memory is quite lacking if you have a good collection of free classic audio books, which when coupled with the bluetooth headphones (such as the motorola s9) and backup battery, turn the Incredible into quite the campfire companion.