(A post from Mai, our web developer/Android guru)
The Road Less Travelled
Before anything else, a disclaimer: This is NOT a technical gadget review. I won’t be talking about the specs here because you can Google that anyway. This is going to be about my experience as a “fresh” user because the HTC Hero is my first smartphone. My phone prior to this was a chipped (and cheap) flashlight phone that had a yellow backlight. Save for Snake and its built-in super useful flashlight, you can’t do much with it except to call and text. Which were all I really needed in a phone, anyway. Of course…until I started using the Hero.
I actually wanted an iPhone 3GS because it looks hot stuff and I can play SIMS3 on it. Furthermore, one of our business’ core competencies is iPhone development, and adding another toy for our app development experiments wouldn’t hurt. But a month ago we also decided to enter the world of Google Android so my business partners convinced me to get a Google phone instead. Annoyed as I was, I gave in. Practicality over vanity. After more than a week of hacking and ‘lovemaking’ with my HTC Hero, I’m glad I took the road less traveled.
Cool and creepy
The minute I turned on my phone and connected to a network, I teleported to another dimension. I was totally awed when I discovered that it automatically pinned down my exact location and its local time, its current weather, its current temperature and the expected high and low temps of the day without me entering any kind of information (gone are the days of entering date and time). It was cool and creepy at the same time. Cool because my phone finally has a mind of its own and I felt like I was in a James Bond movie, creepy because I associate the advancement of technology to the end of the world. The device felt so futuristic that I kinda expected it to know my favorite color and current celebrity crush as well. And to my amazement, it did. Read on. (Can you imagine the convenience, you don’t have to key in your date and time each time you travel to a different timezone).
The first thing that caught my fancy is the fact that the HTC Hero — okay, can I call it the alien device? — has an amazing interface called the Sense UI. You have seven “home” screens to customize. You can add and remove widgets and shortcuts, much like how a PC desktop works. A swipe takes you to a different home screen. You can access almost anything in your phone with a swipe and a touch. It appeals to the lameass in me. (When bored, I just flick through screens because it feels like I’m dealing a deck of cards — so cool).
Here’s a video showing the power of the Sense UI.
After toying with the homescreen, I went on to play with the built-in applications. One of them was People, a totally awesome contacts organizer that is synchronized with your Google contacts and your Facebook. I just entered my Google credentials in phone settings and voila, all of my contacts in my Gmail account now appear on my phone. Now I don’t have to worry about switching, losing or upgrading phones because my contacts are stored online. As long as my next phone runs Android, I can have my contacts again just by entering my Google login details. No more tedious exporting, importing and copying! People is perfect except for one tiny problem: the phone showed ALL of my Gmail contacts which are almost a thousand, including people I’ve only emailed once. It was a good thing I found an FAQ on how to synchronize only a select group. So now just the cool people appear in my phone directory.
Perfect stalking device
Because HTC Hero is from the future, it can also automatically link your Gmail contacts (therefore phone contacts) to your Facebook and Flickr friends. Most of my friends don’t know it but their FB profile pictures are proudly displayed next to their names in my contacts list. I also have their birthdays on my phone, and I didn’t enter a single date. Facebook fed all of these information to my phone. Perfect stalking device! Scary, much? (On a sidenote, remember I told you how my phone knew what my favorite color is and who my latest celebrity crush is? You guessed that right, Facebook).
I’m all googly-eyed
So the Hero is running on Android, therefore powered by Google. You update your Google calendar, the freaky alien device is also updated. You update your freaky alien device, your Google calendar is also updated. And your freaky alien device will notify you of the event, meeting or whatever that’s stored in your Google calendar when it’s time. You don’t have to look for a PC to check, it’s all there, in the palm of your hand. It’s the same for contacts, for Gmail, for Google Talk and for almost everything that Google the genius has invented and implemented. Yes, even Google maps. Was able to retrieve your friend’s postal address? Just tap on it in his profile in People and Google maps will find it for you. You can even ask for directions, and can switch from map view to satellite view and vice versa. The Hero really makes me wonder if it came from planet Krypton.
With the Hero, you can also do the usual multimedia stuff like play music, watch videos, view photos,take photos and videos, view word docs, etc. It also has a built-in app that gives you weather updates and forecasts for the next four days for seven different cities. And oh, it can sync with a POP mail too. Probably the only thing it can’t do is cook dinner for you. Aah…but maybe in six months..
More of the hotstuff features in this video:
So anyway, let’s see, so far I’ve only discussed the built-in apps. Did you know that with the HTC Hero you can also download applications from the Android Market? Just like a PC, you can choose which apps to install on your freaky alien device. Being a certified science nerd, my ultimate favorite is the Google Sky Map. Check this out:
At the Android Market, you can download apps that can scan barcodes, emulate a lightsaber, recognize a song, entertain you, feed you news, look for books for you… the list is endless. It’s a totally different world, but a world definitely worth tapping into. I won’t be able to end this blog entry if I start talking about the apps in the Android market. (The ones I have are Google Sky Map, BBC News, Aldiko the e-reader — like Kindle, Chess, Sudoku, The Android Discussion Forum, Jewels, Google Listen, Meebo, Nesoid Lite — to play my favorite Nintendo classics i.e. Contra and Super Mario, Shazam, and TED).
As I said numerous times, the HTC Hero is an alien device for first-timers like me. But I say that in a good way. In my refusal to keep up with phone technology (I’m not a phone person), I have totally lost track of the insanely high-tech developments in the mobile industry. The Hero is a welcome change to my rather outdated mobile lifestyle . The transition was easy because its user interface is a no-brainer: past experience with smartphones are not required. And with my current love affair with my freaky alien device (which I call Sheldon – after of course, Sheldon Cooper), I shall sing tweet this with all my heart – from my HTC Hero of course: