I'm very proud of companies like ASUS and HTC. These aren't your tradtional consumer electronics companies. They have their roots in the OEM business, working hard but for very little recognition. These Taiwanese companies have been desperately trying to bridge the gap to the mainstream consumer market over the past few years and honestly, they've done a great job thus far. Just earlier this year we saw HTC build Google's first branded smartphone: the Nexus One. A clear shot at the iPhone, the Nexus One was well built and only fell behind in software issues. It lacked the polish that Apple was able to provide with the iPhone. Rather than depend on Google to fix that, here we are a few months later and HTC has a solution.

It's called the Droid Incredible and it's available through Verizon ($199 subsidized with a 2-year contract). Similar in size and features to the Nexus One (not surprising, the two share the same base platform), the Incredible was a strong enough competitor to make Google cancel plans for a Verizon Nexus One. This isn't just a cosmetic thing though. The Incredible has real hardware and software advantages over the Nexus One. HTC has even fixed some of my issues with the Android platform.

In the box you get the phone, a USB cable and a charger. There's no included micro SD card and no case, both of which Google gives you with the Nexus One.

It's clear at first sight the pecking order in HTC's eyes. While the Nexus One was very much a Google phone, down to requiring a Gmail account before you could even use your phone, the Incredible is much more agnostic. A large HTC logo followed by a smaller with Google brand on the bottom, a bit bigger than the Verizon on the front but still not terribly prevalent:

HTC doesn't want to be another Taiwanese OEM house, it wants to be an ASUS, a Palm or an Apple. It wants brand recognition and to get there, it needs good hardware, as well as software differentiation. While the Incredible runs Android 2.1 just like the Nexus One, it features HTC's custom software on top of Android called Sense. HTC Sense is a collection of OS customizations, tweaks and even apps/widgets that are shipped by default on the phone. Google fully embraces this sort of UI flexibility making it very much the Windows Mobile of today rather than something iPhone-eqsue.

The basics of Android are still the same (read my Nexus One review for that), you get multiple home screens and a separate listing of all apps on the phone, but Sense makes the default setup closer to perfection in my mind. It’s all much more polished. HTC/Verizon ship a number of preconfigured Scenes which define what widgets/icons are present on your home screens by default. The Nexus One by comparison comes with more of a blank slate. Both phones can get to the same end point, but the Incredible just ships a bit more complete from the start.

I found that the default Sense scene was pretty well done to begin with. You have a home screen for emails, one for Twitter and one to enable/disable things like WiFi or Bluetooth. The predefined scenes are self explanatory (e.g. the work scene puts more emphasis on the calendar, email and stocks), or you can always change things around and save your own custom scene.

HTC offers its own Exposé clone with Sense. If you want to quickly see what’s on all of your home screens just press the optical joystick and you’ll zoom out to see all seven screens at once. Tap on any one to select it.

The modifications aren’t exclusive to UI, individual applications are different from your standard Android install. The Mail app has a threaded message view where all of your exchanges with a single contact are grouped together. There’s still no way to delete multiple emails at once, no way to copy/paste from an email and no way to search through emails stored on an IMAP server other than Gmail. Imperfect much?

The email widget is a great way of quickly reading through emails. Swipe up to view your next message, swipe down to view the previous one. Again there's no quick way to delete from this view, you have to tap the delete button and hit OK. The Twitter widget gives you similarly quick access to what's going on. The idea is to make your home screens function as intended from the start rather than relying on the user to configure them. HTC did a great job here.

You can group contacts together and send SMSes or emails to an entire group rather than having to manually fill out a To: field with multiple names:

The Calendar and Camera apps are nicer and in general I don’t believe any of the HTC modifications do any harm to Android. In fact, I’d say that HTC’s added polish is a real benefit. It makes me wonder why Google doesn’t do some of this on its own.

HTC's Head in the Clouds
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  • v12v12 - Tuesday, May 18, 2010 - link

    *Sigh...* I hate to go off topic like this, but you obviously lack the ability to keep an open-mind/think for yourself... So here goes kid...

    "how did Apple find the guy, so fast"

    Because one of his roommates called the Police and told them where he was and what he had. But wait a minute, maybe the roommate is a mole planted by the CIA to keep tabs on the guy! Yeah, that's the ticket.

    --------------
    How did the room mate know that it was "stolen," or that anything else was (assumed) wrong with the legality of phone, why would he assume? Just what would lead someone's (fucked up) roommate to purposefully call the police on someone who had a snazzy looking phone? There's much more detail to the story that's not being told... Why would the police get a search warrant over a “LOST” phone; remember there’s ZERO proof the phone was stolen in the 1st place. It’s 1 person’s word over another’s, and that doesn’t garner a very costly and hastily produced search warrant (they usually take many days to weeks to get, unless the crime was very serious; which it’s not, b/c there’s no proof of a crime committed, it’s still HEARSAY at that point in time, DUH?!).

    Hrmm… so the roommate thought, "man WTF I'll show him, for having that cool looking new phone, I’ll fscking call the cops, yeah they’ll come get him!” I'll completely wreck any kind of peaceful/civility I might have had with my now sworn enemy… Yeah I’m going to believe that… either way, so what if it turns out that my assertions about that particular detail of the alleged “crime,” (again there’s no proof he actually “stole:” as in he purposefully took the phone, while knowing it belonged to someone at the establishment; read the idiot engineer’s statement; it was LOST, then reported “stolen,” to cover his own ass.)
    __Okay so back to the point… ZOMG I proposed a scenario and might have been wrong… that MUST mean that the rest of my points and presented evidence is also wiped clean b/c of this newly found minute details of the case… The differences between (apparently) you and I are; I THINK, I ask more depth questions to a story that doesn’t even make legal sense, nor adds up to common sense… Then again I’m actually opened-minded and not another beak-fed nestling that’ll take whatever crap momma-mass-media will regurgitate down my throat. LOL!

    SEARCH those cases then come back talking smack; b/c in FACT they are nothing but FACTS from your own government, dunce… Apparently you’re not well versed in political history at all. Anyone that knows a shred of anything about the law, politics and or who thinks for themselves, knows the credibility and historical documentation of “the government,” that it as a ruling institution is deceitful, controlling, and authoritarian. Never mind, you’re obviously too zombified by games, TV and mass-media, to do your own simple fact checking/research. Enjoy your life serf/pleb/commoner…
    Reply
  • artifex - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Anand, thanks for the great review. I'd heard some negative things about the Sense UI interface from dedicated iPhone users that made me a little concerned, but you've helped me stay excited about the interface and Android in general. I'd be excited about this phone, too, except that I know the EVO is coming out this summer. I really hope you can review it also, to see if they fix some of the problems you noted with this one. Reply
  • LaughingTarget - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    I had purchased a Droid Incredible last week. However, it has this unpleasant problem with the optical joystick. It simply activates itself and randomly flicks the screen and moves the cursor around while typing in fields. The flicking even happens when the phone is left on a flat surface and nothing is near it. It basically made the phone unusable. I had the phone replaced three times over the weekend and all of them had the same problem.

    I really wanted to like the Incredible. It was a solid phone. However, I moved over to Verizon from AT&T to get the phone and because of number portability, I can't go back to my old phone and decided to downgrade to the Motorola Droid. It's a shame, but I won't attempt the Incredible again until I've got some level of certainty that the problem with the optical joystick is fixed.
    Reply
  • Someguyperson - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Anand,

    In order to obtain a better look at how an individual phone's hardware effects the speed of the web page loading, you should use the same browser on all devices, namely Opera Mini, to reduce one of the variables and get a better result.

    -Zach
    Reply
  • Shawn C. - Thursday, May 13, 2010 - link

    Hey Anand love the review. I was under the impression that the iPhone 3GS only had 256MB RAM. I believe that's what iFixit determined it to be. I just wanted some clarification since in one of your comparison tables you have it listed as having 512MB of RAM. Thanks Reply
  • T2k - Thursday, May 13, 2010 - link

    ...like any other modern phone that embraces mobile-digital lifestyle - a one megabit link is simply just way too slow for that. Reply
  • falko2904 - Friday, May 14, 2010 - link

    What we need are phones that will simply work on any network we choose to connect to. Having seen the variety of CDMA/GSM combo phones available, esp from Verizon, this has got to be possible. I want to buy the best phone possible, and use it with the best carrier possible, or even be able to easily switch carriers and phones however I want. The carriers have entirely too much control over the devices we spend money on and how we are allowed to use them. The carriers also seem to be way too interested in using phones and subsidies to compete, rather than competing on the quality of their network and service they provide.

    Some points on the N1/Incredible comparison:

    Animations: In the review it was mentioned that the Incredible seems more responsive because of UI tweaks, especially eliminating some of the animations. The N1 lets has a setting for animations that gives you a choice of all, some or no animations. It is one of the first things I changed on the phone, and it does make it much more responsive.

    Delete Multiple Emails: Both GMail and the regular Email app have check boxes next to the emails for batch operations. Both provide batch deletes, Gmail provides for Archive and Labels, Email provides for Mark Unread and Add Stars.

    Case Design. Overall I like both the N1 and the Incredible. The front of the Incredible looks fantastic, but the back of the Incredible looks unfinished. While the N1 may seem bland in comparison, to me it seems rather elegant both in design and construction.

    Controls: The N1 is the first phone, including the iPhone, that I have been able to use a touch screen keyboard on. The iPhone keyboard is not informative enough for me. I dislike the fact that it displays caps when in lowercase mode. Multi touch functionality on the keyboard is a non issue for me. And then there is always the Swype keyboard replacement. Trackball versus Optical Joystic - On the one hand, I like the light up trackball, and hopefully we will get multi color notifications with Froyo. On the other hand I am concerned about it's long term reliability, if it is anything like the Blackberry trackballs which tend to get flaky after some use. I like the solid state optical joystick for it's no moving parts to fail design. What I would ideally like is a optical joystick that protrudes a bit like the track ball so I can feel it, and also lights up like the track ball.

    UI Design: I love HTC Sense, and I also love the straight Google Experience phones. What I would love even more is, that when Froyo comes out and modularizes the Android OS, that we could get whatever shell or skin we want, on any Android Phone, or remove it to get the Google Experience. After all, it should be our choice. I would love for HTC to make Sense available on the Android Market, even for a cost at that point. Would it not be great to be able to get the latest Android Updates without concern for whatever shell is installed, or going forward be able to get the latest updates to Sense without having to root the phone?

    I am disappointed that the N1 will not be available on more networks. I was hoping that there would be at least one phone that I like, that would be available on all the major carriers.

    On a final note, carriers need to stop customizing their smartphones. They just have no clue how badly they are screwing them up. Admittedly you could always load a ROM of your choice, but that is not for everybody. My last phone was an AT&T Tilt2. Lets start with over 30MB of unusable, uninstallable, game demos. REALLY? On what is advertised to be a premium business class smartphone? And we used to be able to bypass the AT&T customization script, and they "fixed" that on this phone. But before anyone says something about AT&T, I have seen this sort of thing on all the carriers smartphones, and Verizon in particular is known to lock some of their phones features so you can only use them with their pay for services. Don't get me started.

    Falko
    Reply
  • bobny1 - Monday, July 26, 2010 - link

    I have both the HTC Incredible and the Apple IPhone 3gs. My conclution is that Apple is more sophisticated but the Incredible is more fun to work with. Reply
  • coolfx35 - Saturday, October 02, 2010 - link

    I had a Blackberry for 2 yrs b4 converting to the Incredible & even then it took me a few weeks to decide if I really wanted to go back to a touch screen ( I had a Samsung Glyde, the 1st touch screen VZW came out w/ & it was horrible). Now I am sooo glad I did, because I love it. Reply

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