Yes for the last week or so, I’ve been conducting my own Louis Theroux style documentary, hence the title chosen for this blog posting.
They say that you should never meet your heroes; you’ll always be disappointed. Well, I’ve been living with my Hero for the last seven days and disappointed, I am not. Last Thursday I ventured to the Meteor store in Waterford City and threw caution to the wind. Readers whom I may have lost over recent months due to a lack of posts will remember my regular criticism of mobile madness, the iPhone culture, and something that I termed the Phone-omenon that was sweeping over our collected lands. Today I stand before those readers, a somewhat reformed prude, perhaps not a hypocrite but marginally bordering on technology whore.
Just over a year ago, I wrote a piece on “Living with iPhone“, a week-long journal on my experiences with the iPhone from pick-up to regular usage. It wasn’t my phone – just on loan for the purpose of evaluation. Despite many alluring design features and a joyful user interface there were enough things about the iPhone that made me not want one but I tired to like it. This time, it’s my Hero on the chopping block…
Day 1: Picked up my Hero from the Meteor store, switched my prepay O2 number of 10 years to a Meteor postpay plan of Eur 20 per month with an added Eur 5 data plan to cover the phone’s thirst for connectivity. First complaint, Meteor had not previously advertised that they would not sell this phone without a data plan (for obvious reasons) and as such it was misleading to suggest that the lowest price plan was Eur 20 per month but I got over that quickly enough. Porting my number from O2 to Meteor took about 2 hours – very nice. As soon as my old Nokia 6233 lost signal I powered up the Hero. Ah look at that, cute little robots dancing around on my screen; a bit like the Google equivalent of the Microsoft search puppy in Windows XP. Instruction manuals are not for intuitive devices so that piece of literature was quickly defenestrated in favour of a proper test. Flicking around through menus wasn’t too arduous and I quickly found what I was looking for; my social network account settings. Entered my Google details waited a little and a-la-kazam! All my contacts pulled down from GMail contacts, my calendar synched with Google Calendar and not a single copy to/from a SIM card required, and as such it will continue for as long as I have the Hero. Now that does impress me greatly, especially considering the hassle I went through to get my contacts on the iPhone. Then again if it wasn’t for the iPhone I may never have had imported all my phone contacts to Address Book and been able to import them to Google some time ago. A little browsing, window shopping in the Android Market, and setting up Twitter and Facebook – ooh! I can link Facebook accounts to my contacts too. Damn this thing is really winning me over. Where’s me Google fanboy t-shirt, I’m getting plastic surgery to look like the Android robot!
Day 2: Crikey it’s late! In retrospect a little silly on my behalf but rapidly came to the conclusion that the Hero, once powered off, does not behave like every Nokia I have ever owned. Setting an alarm will not wake the phone up, nor me – you piece of crap! Damn you! Damn you! No, no I’m sorry, forgive me my teflon coated Android. Oh well, just as well it wasn’t a work day. Powered on, still a reasonable amount of power left on the device. Now that was surprising considering I had put it through its paces for a long time yesterday with lots of connectivity burdens. Next challenge, trying to get the device to pair with the Bluetooth kit in my car. Didn’t go well initially. No matter what I tried the phone just wouldn’t discover nor pair with the car kit. After about an hour of playing around, unsuccessfully, I refused to believe that there was an incompatibility and looked for the workaround. I then thought that over the years I have had my Bluetooth kit there were a lot of devices paired with it, hmm. I decided to clear the memory of the unit and viola! First search, phone finds device and pairs. Happy as Larry again.
Day 3: Alarm went off this morning, woo-hoo! Unfortunately the battery was almost dead after the first snooze so it was time to charge. Can’t say that I was unimpressed with that considering how much use the phone had gotten in the last 2 days. It’s great that this device charges off a standard USB mini-B connector. There’s no end to leads, car chargers etc that I have lying around to charge the device at a moment’s notice. Pretty uneventful day though, didn’t get up to much apart from linking all my Facebook contacts to my phone contacts for those that existed in both worlds. Went to Eddie Rocket’s and discovered the joy of Facebooking while eating fast food – where have I been all this time! Was asked if the Hero told you of events/reminders from the calendar if you had turned it off at the time of scheduled notification or the battery had run dead. Quick test with a reminder and no, it doesn’t. Not sure if the iPhone does either?
Day 4: Lazy Sunday. Started playing around with the other apps and features of the Hero. Unlike the bad experience I had with the iPhone, I discovered that I could set differing volume levels for different alerts; it’s a simple thing but it keeps me happy. Woo-hoo! Downloaded a compass (and a marine compass) application for my phone. Never will I get lost again. Then I remembered, oh yeah, this yoke has GPS built-in, hadn’t tested that out yet. Sitting near the box window in my living room, turned on Google Maps. Alert tells me that I can expect location results accurate to 70m. Hmm, that might be a bit useless? Oh no, wait there I am, that’s a lot more accurate than 70m and I’m mostly indoors. Not bad, not bad at all. Haven’t gone looking for a navigation system yet but in time I will complete my full sellout. 😉
Day 5: Off to work I go and the building that we affectionately call the Faraday cage due to the nature of its construction, steel girders and metal cladding. Surprisingly the signal was no worse than my O2 signal and perhaps even a little better. Keeping an eye on the device during the day, drifting away to a state of admiring its form factor. First thoughts, it’s not the darkly mysterious, alluring beauty of the iPhone but then again I’ve never been that big into fashion. What it is, is a very clean, pleasing and well constructed device. The only downside to its form factor would be the slot for the micro SD card being behind the easily removable back panel. However, considering my Nokia 6233 had issues with hot swapping cards and the iPhone has no card slot, I can live with this. Additionally I can take out the battery to replace it should the need ever arise – take that iPhone-e-o’s! Sitting on my desk for the day, trickle charging off the USB port of my MacBook Pro, partial harmony with the one exception of not being able to sync through iSync with my Address Book app. No biggy though as Google covers that for me over WiFi or 3G, syncing is now something that just happens and not something that I need to do. That’s nice.
Day 6: A colleague in work asks if I have tried the sky map feature on the phone that works with the compass, GPS, and accelerometers. Eh, no. Didn’t hear about it but am now very interested in finding it and giving it a whirl. Later that evening I located the application and downloaded it. Downloading and installing apps on the Hero is an absolute joy. I have yet to purchase an application and my phone isn’t hacked with some alternate app installer loaded onto it. I don’t have to enter account details to “purchase” free apps nor upgrade them. The Apple Store could really learn a thing or two from this. Anyway the star chart is known as Google Sky Map and it works brilliantly, the initial position from either GPS or network inference coupled with highly sensitive compass and accelerometer adjustments make use of the app, a very enjoyable experience. Naturally there wasn’t a star in the sky due to heavy cloud but I saw them all through the screen of my Hero. I may never have to look upon the harshness of the real world again!
Day 7: Oh yeah, I’ve got a 5MP camera now, must check that out. Funny how few things I have had need to photograph in recent times. Even with my SLR I hardly snap anything anymore. Anyway a few quick snaps, generally impressive. Haven’t downloaded them yet but at least on a phone they still have the look of phone cam photos. Nice array of photo settings though, white balances, autofocus, the lack of a zoom function by default is a bit upsetting but not disastrous, and the geo-tagging of photos is good. Oh yeah, the Irish vs France soccer match was on tonight. Suddenly the Facebook and Twitter apps make so much sense when away from home and the absolute need to express one’s utter rage at stupid, blind officials. Okay, must suppress rage towards cheating, razor flogging, footballers. A few text messages coming in tonight: Very few people have contacted me since I got my Hero. Is it the white phone image that I feared? Now branded a white power supremacist? Probably a little over-sensitive on that one. Anyway one of the features of the iPhone that I really liked was the threading of SMS and thankfully the Hero has it too. There’s nothing worse than not getting the context of a delayed reply and responding inappropriately. All is good – end day 7.
So, that’s a week of my life with my Hero. Has it changed my life dramatically and forever? Well, the simple answer is no. However, that’s not an anticlimax by any means. The fact that the Hero has not caused me to do a single thing other than input my Google sign-in details and just works, while providing me with loads of free apps and no store account sign-up is testimony to the realisation that holding out for this phone was definitely the best decision ever. The iPhone has been thrown in as comparison several times because I feel it is the only device worthy of direct comparison. It’s a stylish, popular device with oodles of features and support. However, it’s more expensive than the Hero, less upgradeable (in fact not upgradeable at all apart from the software), the price plans are more expensive with O2 for entry level usage (which in reality is a lot of people who want these devices), the iPhone never worked properly with my car kit and the lack of a standard USB charger makes powering up a little less likely in random locations or by using another device’s cable. So, the HTC Hero has not changed my life at all. Instead it has nestled itself into my way of living, it uses my old hardware, I can swap memory cards at will, my existing contacts manager syncs with it, my calendar is now only in one location and syncs continually in both directions. Has the Hero any faults? Sure, probably but show me a device that doesn’t; they don’t exist. For me the Hero is perfect for all my needs while giving me access to the much advocated smart phone world. I knock the iPhone a lot but perhaps it’s because it’s just not for me? I associate better with the underdog, I admire its understated marketing, the fact that it’s non-intrusive. For those reasons the Hero may well flop as a serious competitor to the iPhone, I hope it doesn’t because this phone deserves so much more accolade than the lack of press that it’s getting, and I’m not just putting my mouth where my money is.