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HTC Hero

HTC Hero Android smartphone

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Review HTC is currently balancing its prodigious smart phone output between its long-established Windows Mobile series of handsets and those running Google's Android operating system. The Hero follows the G1 and the Magic in HTC's Android line-up and comes with a fistful of updates. These include a new user interface, multi-touch screen, 5Mp camera and enhanced social networking functions, as well as the usual Wi-Fi, A-GPS and the ever-growing Android Market app store.

HTC Hero

HTC's Hero

The 3.2in, 480 x 320-pixel touch screen takes up most of the front of the HTC Hero, with a thin strip of a speaker grille above and two rows of buttons – call start and stop, menu and home – immediately beneath the screen. Further down are the trackball and two additional buttons for search and back. There's no obvious reason why the bottom keys should be crammed over on the right hand side – where they're awkward for right-handers to reach – rather than being spaced evenly around the trackball.

The screen is the same as that on the earlier HTC Magic but it's now acquired an oil-resistant coating, similar to the iPhone's, which is supposed to cut down on fingerprints. It works too, but like the iPhone, you'll still have to wipe it occasionally.

Controls on the sides are sparse with just a large volume rocker, which doubles as an up/down cursor control, plus a 3.5mm headphone jack on top and the mini USB power/sync port on the bottom. The back is coated with a resin that adds a degree of grippiness and is home to the camera lens. The HTC Hero will take microSD cards up to 32GB and the slot is under the back cover.

At 135g feels more robust than the Magic's 116g, even though the size is much the same at 112 x 56 x 14mm and it retains that odd little chin at the bottom. A feature that doesn't serve any practical purpose according to HTC – it's just one of those 'brand identifier' things. Cosmetic changes to the casing aside, the major difference between the Hero and its predecessors becomes clear with the new Sense user interface, the first big change in the appearance of the Google Android operating system. HTC has clearly made the same sort of effort with Android that it has with Windows Mobile – not that it needed quite so much – to make it more user friendly, as well as distinctive.

HTC Hero

Grippy backed plastic

Where previously there were three home screens to adorn with widgets, now there are seven – three on either side of the main one. They're all fully customisable too. Just press and hold a blank bit of screen, and the widgets menu pops up, allowing you to choose whichever you like, as often as you like. You can choose between Android and HTC widgets – some of which contain full-screen versions of messages, weather and the like – and there's also a selection of 'Scenes' available with different background themes and preset functions, which can also be customised.

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