GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan (LIN) - Thinking about the current state of the smart phone industry makes me think of the lyrics from a certain Ben Folds song . "Smile / Like you've got nothing to prove / No matter what you might do / There's always someone out there cooler than you." Today, that cooler belongs to the HTC Droid Incredible, which is without a doubt the best phone I've ever gotten my hands on. (Yes, it's even better than the Motorola Droid, which I previously declared was " The Droid you should be looking for .")
The Motorola Droid came out almost six months ago, and if it were a person I would tell it there's always someone cooler than you. (For the sake of brevity, the review will refer to the HTC Droid Incredible as simply "Incredible", heck even the box eschews the "Droid" moniker, which I would presume is the branding assigned to it by Verizon.) If you were waiting to upgrade your phone for the next great thing, I'd point you to the Incredible. If you are looking to jump into the smart phone space, I'd point you to the Incredible. The hardware and software combine to create the best mobile experience I've had. The Incredible is the best smart phone on the market right now.
At its base, the Incredible runs Android 2.1, but HTC didn't leave the stock Android experience alone, it put its polish on top in the form of the latest Sense UI. HTC's Sense UI adds a good amount of functionality to Android in the form of widgets and subtle software tweaks. For example, if you bring the Incredible back from hold, the phone will mimic the weather outside. If it's raining, little drips will appear on your screen before a windshield wiper squeegees them away. I was asked on Twitter if there was a way to remove the Sense UI, and right now there's not. But I don't know that I'd remove it if I was given the option because I really feel it adds to the experience.
My favorite aspect of the Sense UI though is its expanded home screens and the navigation on the home screens. On the Incredible the number of available home screens jumps to seven, compared to the three found on previous iterations of Android phones. The additional home screens adds a lot of functionality because it lets the user fill it up with widgets. During testing I ran seven widgets and still had two completely open home screens to fill up. In addition to the seven home screens there are also different profiles you can set that will change the home screens themselves. You can set yourself work, social and other layouts to be even more customizable.
Some of the widgets included with the Sense UI leave their Android equivalents in the dust. The Sense UI clock has 12 different functions, my favorite being the one that integrates weather to show me the current forecast. Another Sense UI favorite of mine is the People widget. It integrates a speed dial function with social networking and messaging. You can tie your family and friends Facebook and Twitter accounts to their profile on your phone and little numbers appear next to their name if they've had a status update.
With the additional home screens HTC also created an elegant solution to manage them. A quick pinch of the screen will show you all seven of your home screens in an "expose"-like fashion. You can jump instantly from the screen you're on to any of the other seven. It's a fantastic implementation that shows even more the amount of polish that went into the phone.
On top of all of the surface level changes the Sense UI offers an improved copy and paste and a modified keyboard from the stock Android. I found it to be pretty decent to type on as far as software keyboards go and with time, I think I could become quite a speedy typer. The Sense UI adds a tremendous amount of depth to the Android UI. I'd say it's like going from jumping into the deep end of your community pool to jumping into an Olympic level diving pool from the top deck.
There's a lot to like about the software on the Incredible and that's even before opening the browser. The browser is now equipped with Flash lite. It's not the best implementation of Flash I've ever seen, but during my testing it was functional, showing animations on websites and allowing me to head to Hulu. Still, the execution wasn't 100-percent because watching videos was a bit of a struggle. I could navigate around the Flash-based website with ease, but when trying to stream a video, it gave me an error. It's a start, though it reminds me more of how the tortoise started out than the hare. Beyond Flash, the browser is improving from previous Droid iterations. The addition of multitouch to zoom is welcome, though I do wish the double-tap zoom function was a bit different and locked in on text easier. The browser is great, and seeing as going to websites is one of my favorite aspects of a smart phone, that's an important staple. I think I'd still prefer the WebOS or Mobile Safari browsers because of their better multitouch support, but
the Android browser is improving.
The integration with Google services remains top-notch on Android. There is no better smart phone OS at keeping me connected to my Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Voice accounts. I can also keep connected to my work emails with the Exchange setup, getting both emails and calendar details.
The software on the Incredible is top notch, truly at the head of the mobile class. The same can be said about the hardware.
Taking up nearly the entire front of the device is the stunning 3.7" OLED screen. On an OLED, you'll notice there's a much brighter and vibrant picture than on a LCD screen. The Incredible boasts a 480x800 resolution. When I held up the Incredible to my Palm Pre, the difference was amazing. Videos look great on the Incredible and text is incredibly crisp, even when zoomed in. The Incredible's screen lives up to its name and really is incredible. There have been some reports that the OLED screen cheats to achieve its pixel count. The really technical details can be found in an Ars Technica post on the Nexus One screen , which is identical to the screen used on the Incredible. I didn't find it to be an issue, but pixel purists may have issues here.
Under the hood is a beast of a processor. The Snapdragon's 1Ghz speed devoured everything that I threw at it. Paired with 512MB of RAM, the Incredible shows amazing speed. Everything was quick, snappy, responsive. Scrolling through apps there was nary a hitch. It's the first Snapdragon phone I've reviewed, and it's truly noticeable.
You won't find a keyboard on the Incredible, which helps keep it slim. It measures 4.63" (H) x 2.3" (W) x .47" (D) and weighs 4.59 ounces. It has a topographical edge to it. I'm not sure if they had map-makers in on the design of the phone. I liked the way the phone felt in my hand.
Besides the screen, on the front of the device are an optical joystiq and four touch-sensitive buttons: home, menu, back and search. They're pretty standard fare. On the side are a pair of buttons for volume and the micro USB port. On top there's a hold button along with the 3.5mm headphone jack. There is no dedicated camera button.
Speaking of the camera, the Incredible offers more than the traditional megapixel count. At 8 megapixels, the Incredible's camera is more than you'd expect to find in a phone. It has a bevy of options for you to adjust including brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness. On top of that you can set different picture effects like grayscale, sepia, negative, solarize, posterize, posterize and aqua. Beyond that, you can even set the ISO at various levels, the number of options are many. Geotagging is available if you'd like to know where you took your pictures as well. There's also a touch to focus option, so you can choose where the camera is focusing the shot. I found the pictures to be pretty good, and probably among the best I've seen when comparing it to other cell phone cameras. That being said, I don't think we're at a level yet where it will replace my point-and-shoot camera. The Incredible also records video at a 480x800 resolution. Again, it was pretty good, but isn't going to replace my HD Flip cam.
Prying off the back of the case will reveal the Incredible's decidedly red heart. The guts of the phone are a bright Verizon red. The same red styling can be found on the earpiece and camera edges. You'll also find the microSD slot. Right now it's listed on Verizon's website that the Incredible will come with a 2GB card in addition to the 8GB of internal memory. This is upgradeable, provided you have a larger card or you buy one. I'd be inclined to toss a 16GB card in there because prices have come down a bit.
The same Android Market is available, with an app catalog that is growing, by last count it's breached 50,000 apps. That's just a quarter of the apps found in Apple's App Store, but when you have that many, you can find quality. I found free apps for almost every purpose. Facebook is represented with a pretty decent app. I checked out the Seesmic app for the first time while reviewing the Incredible and found it to be quite a worthy Twitter app. I didn't spend much time playing games, but they are there and plentiful. The Android Market really expands the capabilities of the phone and is a key reason why you'd want to jump into the smart phone experience.
With all of these fantastic features, HTC didn't forget that the Incredible was a phone at its base. I found audio quality to be superb through the earpiece. When paired with a Bluetooth device quality was dependent on the device it was paired with. Through the Motorola H17txt headset I used, calls were crystal clear with no drops during my testing. I have great Verizon coverage in my area, so I never really had a problem getting a signal. That being said, with a phone like this I have to impart the same warning I usually do. Test it. Use your phone, check the signal, go to the places you
frequent the most. If you have a summer or winter getaway that you regularly go to, it's going to be worth a trip to see if you have a signal there. Don't jump into a smart phone with its data rates without checking it out.
The Incredible is not incredible in every way. My main reservation is with battery life. During my time with the device, it didn't have spectacular battery life. There were a couple of times it didn't make it through a full day of use. If I was going to use it full-time, I'd want to have a charger around and would be much more meticulous about turning off functions like Bluetooth and GPS that I didn't need to run all the time.
There's also an issue with some of the apps I downloaded off the Android Market. Some of the apps are not used to having internal memory and will look to the microSD slot for storage. If there's nothing in the microSD slot, it will think there's no memory. When I tried using a video player app, it could not see the movies I had on the phone. I could still watch the movies through the phone's native player. The problems will likely be fixed on the popular applications, but that's up to individual developers. (Thankfully this is also addressed by the included 2GB card and it's easy enough to grab a new one.)
Incredible Software + Incredible Hardware = Incredible Incredible
"Smile / like you've got nothing to prove / No matter what you might do / there's always someone out there cooler than you." The way smart phones are improving, the reign at the top of the mountain will not be a long one. I heaped praise upon the Motorola Droid when it launched. I still think it's a great phone, but it's taking a backseat in my recommendations. If someone interested in a new smart phone asks me what to get, I'm telling them to grab the HTC Droid Incredible. If someone wants a Verizon smart phone, I'm telling them to go after the HTC Droid Incredible. That being said, there's always something around the corner. I don't want that to sound like I'm telling you to wait though. The people who grabbed the Droid still have a great phone. When the next coolest thing comes out, Droid Incredible owners will still have an incredible phone. I'm of the mindset that you're better off getting the phone you want and not worrying about what else is coming until you can get your next phone.
Right now, this is the best phone on the Verizon network and probably any American network. The HTC Droid Incredible is on sale right now. It runs $299.99 with a $100 mail-in rebate for a 2-year contract. If you're looking for a new smart phone, this should be among the ones you consider. In fact, I'd dare say it should be the one you choose.
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