Some time ago, there was no question that the iPhone was the hands-down most compelling smartphone on the market. Today, with Android phones hitting market hard and fast, the iPhone isn’t as appealing a smartphone as it once was. Android has the potential to give Apple a serious run for their money. The latest Android phone of this bunch comes from Verizon Wireless and it’s called the Droid Incredible. We have one in our hands and we thought we’d give you a more in-depth look at HTC’s latest and greatest.
It’s packed with a 1Ghz CPU, 8-megapixel camera, and a customized version of the Android 2.1 OS, as well as all the smartphone trimmings befitting a new headlining handset. But, is being called the “Incredible” enough to make this handset truly incredible? Or, is it just another Android phone?
Read on to find out!
- Huge 3.7-inch AMOLED capacitive touchscreen display with WVGA resolution.
- Slim form-factor
- Dual-LED camera flash
- 8 megapixel camera
- 8GB internal storage for apps, music, video
- Hot-swappable microSD card
- Android Market still lacking the app-diversity and breadth of Apple’s iPhone AppStore
- No simultaneous voice and data service
- Questionable battery cover design
Hardware specifications / Spec-sheet overview
- 1Ghz Snapdragon CPU
- 3.7-inch AMOLED capacitive touchscreen display @ WVGA resolution
- 8 megapixel camera with dual-LED flash
- 3G data
- Bluetooth (Stereo (A2DP), Handsfree, Headset, Phonebook Access)
- Android 2.1 OS with HTC Sense
The Verizon Droid Incredible is made by HTC (we’d previously known it by it’s codename, “Incredible”). HTC is the same company that’s responsible for the design and manufacture of the Google Nexus One Android smartphone, which gives the Incredible an impressive pedigree. As such, the Incredible emerges from its retail packaging every bit the stylish and feature-ladden smartphone that we’d expected. The Android smartphone bears red-colored accents in its headset speaker and surrounding the camera lens, which just adds to the Incredible’s eye-catching design.
The Incredible is a slate-style handset that looks similar to the Nexus One. The dimensions of the Incredible are almost identical to the Nexus One. The Incredible sports a generous display that dominates its front face. A high-gloss bezel frames the display, with touch-sensitive buttons lining the area underneath the display. There’s also an optical trackpad that replaces the trackball on the Google N1. The backside of the device is coated in a matte, soft-touch rubbery finish.
Like the N1, the Incredible features a 1Ghz Snapdragon processor, 512MB of RAM and 512MB of ROM and 8GB of on-board storage, a 3.7-inch AMOLED display, 3G data, WiFi, GPS, a microSD card slot, 3.5mm headphone jack and runs on the Android 2.1 OS. Unlike the N1, though, the Incredible packs an 8 megapixel camera with dual-LED flash, a hot-swappable microSD card slot, and the custom HTC Sense UI that we’ve come to appreciate as an iPhone alternative. We think of the Incredible as the slightly higher-achieving brother to the Nexus One.
But, there are compromises. The Incredible feels a little light in the hand. It feels downright plasticky compared to the N1. When we first opened the box and handled the Incredible, it felt far too light. It turned out that we still needed to insert the battery pack – which usually adds some heft to a handset. But, the added weight of the battery didn’t help make the Incredible feel any more solid. The N1 employs some of the aluminum unibody construction techniques pioneered with the HTC Legend, which gives it a dense, metallic feel. The Incredible, on the other hand, doesn’t have any aluminum unibody construction to speak of. That’s a shame.
Moving past the compromises, the Droid Incredible offers some surprises. First, there’s are those red-colored accents that break up the handset’s all-black color theme. Then, should you have to pry open the battery cover, you’ll find a battery compartment entirely finished in a stunning red color. We think of it as “smartphone lingerie.” Nobody knows what lies beneath the Incredible’s battery cover, and it’s totally up to you to decide who gets to peek at its naked backside. If that’s not lingerie-esque, we don’t know what is. You also get a surprising new HTC Sense feature called “Leap,” which lets you easily switch between homescreen panes with a simple pinch gesture. Then, there’s the 8-megapixel camera that will focus on any point with a tap of your finger on the touchscreen.
The Incredible runs the latest version of the Google Android OS – Android 2.1 OS. But, rather than use the vanilla Android homescreen, HTC has re-skinned the Incredible with its custom Sense UI. The Sense UI essentially replaces most of the native Android menus, the keyboard, and adds a host of useful homescreen widgets. If you’re an iPhone user, you know how important it is to have an intuitive user interface that’s as fun to use as it is easy. That’s what Sense does for Android – it turns boring Android into a force that Cupertino will have to reckon with.
The updated Sense UI boasts a new feature that we mentioned above: “Leap.” Rather than require you to swipe through homescreen panes one by one, the Leap feature allows you to quickly switch between panes with no swiping. Say you’re on the rightmost homescreen pane and you want to get to the leftmost pane. Rather than swipe a handful of times to get where you want to go, Leap allows you to simply pinch the screen and pick which pane you’d like to jump to.
The new Sense UI also includes a new feature known as FriendStream. It’s a widget that aggregates all your social network updates in one convenient location. Think of it as friend-following life stream. Social (network) butterflies, and online stalkers will be all over this widget.
Sounds good so far, right? Well, not everything about Sense is better than the standard Android interface. For example, HTC replaced the messaging app with something more in tune with their design philosophy. With Android 2.1, tapping on a person’s name within the text messaging app gives you a number of options for contacting the person. With HTC’s messaging app, you have to tap-and-hold on the person’s name to get those same contact options. Fortunately, the tap-to-contact menu paradigm remains intact in HTC’s “People” app. Another point of possible contention is the HTC keyboard that replaces Google’s Android keyboard. A lot of people like HTC’s keyboard better than the one it replaces (we do too), but it does take some getting used to after using the standard Android keyboard for a good while.
Overall, the Incredible’s software is fast, smooth and rewarding. Sense is just prettier and funner to use than the vanilla Android homescreen. The 1Ghz processor and gobs of RAM help ensure that you’re not going to be stuck waiting for the Incredible to catch up to your finger inputs.
Web browsing, multimedia, camera and video
Being an Android phone, the Incredible makes use of the Android web browser, which is based on the reliable and fast webkit rendering engine. It gives you a full desktop browsing experience on your phone – complete with support for Adobe Flash technology! That means the Incredible will work with Flash-based websites, interactive menus, and embedded Flash videos. That’s something the iPhone can’t do. If Flash is a big deal for you, you’ll be happy with the Incredible – at least until the online world moves to HTML5.
As far as multimedia is concerned, don’t expect the Incredible to beat the iPhone. The Music app will play your MP3 audio files with no problems. But, there’s a bit of lag when starting the app. The Music app also tends to bog down during use – it takes longer than it should to bring up a playlist or browse songs by artist. The iPhone is part iPod music player, and as such, handles music and video with lag-free aplomb.
Thankfully, music playback hiccups are smoothed over by the stunning look of the music player itself. It’ll scrub through your song, show you album art, allow you to repeat or shuffle, and even gives you options to share your music or set it as a ringtone.
Video playback is acceptable. There aren’t too many formats you can play on the Incredible, but as long as you’re willing to convert your videos to MP4 format, you should be good to go. In fact, the Droid Incredible managed to play an MP4 video that the Nexus One repeatedly failed to play. The display’s WVGA resolution makes for some impressive video quality, but still suffers from a bit of small-screen-itis. 3.7-inches of screen space is ample for web surfing, but watching hours of video gets a little tiring on the Incredible’s small screen.
The camera is fantastic. It starts up immediately. Once started, you’re ready to start taking pics at will. Shutter lag is non-existent, which is refreshing for a smartphone camera. You touch the screen to tell the camera where to focus. The lack of any shutter lag helps make shot-to-shot times as short as you could hope for. And, with all kinds of photo-effects and brightness/contrast/saturation/sharpness control options, you’ll have standalone camera quality from a cameraphone. The dual-LED flash is good for close-in shots in low light, but struggles with taking low-light photos from a distance. You really can’t ask for any better low-light performance, but it’s still not at digicam levels. Did we mention the camera’s 8-megapixel image sensor? Yeah, that’s awesome.
Video recording is as smooth as the still camera. Switching to video recording mode is a simple matter of tapping a menu and hitting the “Video” option. You won’t get continuous auto-focus when recording video, but that’s something we can live with.
Call quality and battery life
Call quality is exceptional. The Droid Incredible rides on the Verizon Wireless network, so you can be sure that you get some of the nation’s most reliable and clear voice calls. We didn’t get to use the Incredible for long enough to definitively rule out any call problems or dropped calls, but seeing as how it’s Verizon, it’s hard to see the Incredible dropping too many calls.
Battery life is what we’d expect from a high-powered smartphone. Don’t expect to leave your Incredible’s microUSB-based phone charger behind on your next weekend trip to Napa Valley without running out of power. You’ll easily get a full day’s worth of power with the Incredible – we’re power users (think 3G data all the time), and our Incredible lasted over 24 hours on a single charge – but you’re going to have to plug the Incredible into a charger every night or at least by the next afternoon.
Conclusions and final thoughts
The Incredible is, well, pretty damn Incredible. The Incredible’s feature-set is one of the most impressive of any smartphone currently available today. You get high-end hardware packed into a slim and sexy package – and the hardware works well, without lag or any major snafus. The styling of the handset (the battery cover comes to mind) may not appeal to everyone, but we’d guess that most people will find it attractive enough to compete with the iPhone and the Nexus One.
The AMOLED display is stunning. As long as you’re not in direct sunlight, the Incredible will impress with its vivid color range and sharp picture. But, again, stay out of the sun – unless you like staring at a washed-out display.
The hot-swappable microSD card slot is simply amazing. Sure, you have 8GB of on-board storage ready to soak up all those apps, songs, and videos, but it’s nice to be able to swap microSD cards on the fly. It’s incredible, actually. There’s just something about not having to wait for your phone to reboot after swapping microSD cards that tickles our lazy-bone.
The dual-LED flash works well in many situations, but don’t expect to take photos of your party in a nightclub without sacrificing some quality. It’s more important that the 8-megapixel camera exhibits no shutter lag and supports touch-focusing.
It sucks that you can’t use voice and data at the same time (especially for people that don’t carry multiple smartphones at all times), but that’s an issue with Verizon’s network technology. We’re going to give the Incredible a pass on that.
It also sucks that the Android Market is still so limited in comparison to the iPhone AppStore. There are so many iPhone apps that the Android Market lacks, but we’re going to give the Incredible a pass on this one as well due to the fact that Android will continue to ramp up in the apps department as time goes on.
Overall, the Verizon Droid Incredible is a great Android phone. It’s got the hardware chops to take on the best of the best. It’s light on its feet and handles most tasks – UI, maps, apps, videos – with ease. HTC Sense makes everything better. We like the design. We like the specs. Despite it’s drawbacks, we really like the Incredible. So, if you need to qualify that with a one word adjective, sure, it’s “incredible.”