HTC Incredible S 4 Stars

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HTC has done such a good job with its phones that we expect an awful lot from them nowadays. The Incredible S has already been seen in the US as the HTC Droid Incredible, which released to plaudits on the other side of the pond last year. This European version has an excellent, sharp SCLD screen and runs on Android 2.2 Froyo (an upgrade to 2.3 Gingerbread is in the offing) – and it has all the features you’d expect from a smartphone. It’s definitely a decent handset, but may find itself outrun by the new generation of superphones set for release in the summer.

Design

HTC thinks outside the box when it comes to design – consider the Teflon-coating of the Hero and Desire, or the bright overcoat of the HD Mini and Trophy. On the Incredible S, HTC haS opted for a matte look and had introduced a new design feature – turn it over and over most of the rear side you’ll find a raised rectangle – we guess this is to make space inside the chassis for all those features without the handset feeling too big and bulky. The Hero featured a ‘chin’, which was designed to protect it display; the Incredible S has more of a hunchback – but you get used to it after a while.

The WVGA screen measures four inches and along its base you’ll find a touch-sensitive strip – this is home tO the usual four Android buttons – home, back, search and menu. What we did like was the way the screen’s LEDS rotate when the device is on its side, so these glowing icons always look as if they’re the right way round.

The display is now a super-clear SLD, which is easier to view in bright sunlight, and like all of HTC’s recent phones, build quality is truly impressive.

 



Back to basics

The phone runs on the Android OS, which HTC has overlaid with its own Sense interface, which provides excellent email setup and social networking integration. A comprehensive start-up screen lets you enter your details for Flickr, email, Twitter and Facebook accounts. There’s also a new screen, which asks if you’d like to transfer data from your old handset – bear in mind that at the time of reviewing, this didn’t work with newer handsets such as the iPhone 4. Existing smartphone owners will probably have their details synced on webmail or Microsoft Exchange, and other info on a microSD card, but it’s a useful addition for anyone new to smartphones.

The Incredible S fires up pretty rapidly – six-second pause between pressing the power button and the homescreens popping up. Logging on to Wi-Fi and 3G networks also proved speedy. There are seven homescreens on the Sense interface, all of which can be personalised with your own choice of app shortcuts and widgets. To achieve this, you hold down the homescreen until a menu appears, which lets you customise display, homescreen and sound. If you can’t be bothered with any tweaking, then you can choose from a number of default home screen settings – or ‘Scenes’ – which have subjects such as ‘social’ or ‘work’ and include suitable relevant apps and widgets.

The capacitive touch-screen has multi-touch support, so it is possible to pinch to zoom and view all seven homescreens in bird’s eye view. The virtual keyboard proved pretty responsive and accurate, although we suspect fast typists will notice a bit of lag – the iPhone 4’s keyboard probably just pips it to the post.

Being social

HTC's has always excelled when it comes to social networking facilities. The Friend Stream widget will aggregate all your social network feeds, and it is also possible to sync social network contacts into the contacts book – then you can choose to see all of them, or just those contacts for which you have telephone numbers. Most Android social apps have the added benefit of syncing contacts from any new apps (Skype, for instance) with your phone book.

If you’re emailing, expect the usual Android offering – Gmail has its own separate app, which offers a replica of the desktop version, while all other email (including Microsoft Exchange corporate email) is streamed into one app. Frustratingly, you can’t stream your Gmail messages into that one stream.

Web browsing proved good, with a full HTML browser, pinch to zoom support, and a canopy and paste facility.

Still and moving pictures

The HTC Incredible S has the best-specced snapper you’ll see on any HTC phone – along with eight megapixels, it boast a dual LED flash, as well as the facility to tweak settings, contrast and exposure. And yet the images it produced were pretty disappointing. Our daylight images came out over-exposed, and the flash was actually too strong in low light, especially for taking portraits. Of course, you can fiddle with the settings but it seems rather odd when everything else is set up to work well out of the box. We did manage to sort out the overexposure and the contrast with a bit of tweaking but we still found colours rather washed out and experienced some blurring on our pictures. On the other hand, the shutter is fast, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t have an ultra-steady hand, and there are some nifty onboard photo effects that add tints to pictures - a bit like the iPhone's Hipstamatic app.

On the front of the handset is a 1.3-megapixel camera for making video calls – although there is no native video-calling feature included. Remember Android doesn’t support Skye, so you’ll need to download Fring or Tango and make sure your friends use this too.

One good thing is that the video player supports DivX along with other file formats. DivX is  increasingly used for most online downloadable video now (apart from that from the iTunes Store), so it ensures that the Incredible S is a top-notch and future-proof videophone. The SLD screen also shows off high-def video in all its bright, colourful glory.

Battery and multitasking

We were pleasantly surprised by the phone’s battery life – it continued for  more than 15hours, with both Wi-Fi and HDSPA on, Spottily playsuits being downloaded and even some GPS-assisted navigation. So at least you know it’s unlikely to switch off in the middle of the night if you don’t charge it (very important if you use the phone as an alarm clock!). A prompt appears once battery life hits 15% to let you now you should tweak power settings – a useful power meter will show what is using up most of your power (it turned out to be that lovely screen).

The incredible S is a very good multitasker – although as the power levels dropped it did become a bit jerky if we had some battery-draining apps running in the background. If you want to switch between open apps, you can hold down the home key and a multi-tasking app bar will appear. It’s just a shame that it is not possible to close programs from here – instead you have to head into the Settings menu. Sure, you can download one of the many task manager apps from Android Market, but it’s frustrating that HTC hasn’t seen fit to preload one – or even create its own native app.

A-GPS and Google maps offer a decent sat-nav experience, which gets even better for drivers if you use the Car Panel app.

The phone is faster than its US counterpart, because it packs the new 1GHz chip (instead of the Qualcomm MSM8255 model) and also supports the faster 802.11/n Wi-Fi rather than the older 802.11/b and g protocols.

The Incredible S will have the benefit of the 2.3 Android Gingerbread update this summer, although you won’t be able to use the NFC technology – it’s rare in phones at the moment – but come the new generation of superphones in the summer, it will likely be a feature as Orange, O2, Vodafone and T-Mobile are all backing it.

 

The verdict

The Incredible S is a very capable handset, but still suffers from all the usual Android issues – the mediocre camera, the lack of a native task manager and that odd split between Gmail and all other email accounts. Some of these issues are indeed, fixable, but if you like to be first with new technology, the lack of NFC support may prove a deal-breaker as on a two-year contract the phone will be out of date before your contract finishes. Having said that, it’s an excellent phone for social networking and video, and you can get it for nothing on a £25 a month contract, so it is pretty good value. So, if you’re less interested in the very latest technology, and more interested in obtaining a solid email and web experience, the HTC Incredible S is still a decent choice.

Pros:
Excellent social integration, top-quality video, HTC’s intuitive Sense interface, can be upgraded to Android 2.3 Gingerbread.
Cons:
Camera is not that great for a top-end handset, lack of NFC support, omission of native task manager.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 3 Stars
  • Ease of use 4 Stars
  • Features 4 Stars
  • Performance 4 Stars
  • Battery life 4 Stars

Final verdict: 4 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice