Monday, June 14, 2010

The HTC Droid Incredible (Verizon Wireless)

Howdy! Before I jump in I've changed the look of the blog. Let me know what you think of it.

To the phone!

The HTC Droid Incredible is Verizon's second installment in the "Droid" series of phones (the first being the Motorola Droid). So far the basis of the Droid series is a touch screen smartphone with Google's Android (linux) operating system. Though I never had one, the Motorola Droid is a very popular product and HTC's take on the series has been just as welcomed.

A smartphone is only as good as the software it runs and balanced by the hardware that backs that software up. Smartphones today are simply small personal computers; they are very similar to the computer that you're probably using to read this now. However, the primary difference is usability. Unlike a personal computer where you can use a mouse to navigate on a screen, you use a stylus or your finger (or even a trackpad) to navigate. A clunky interface with small buttons can be frustrating but an inaccurate touch screen will magnify that and can immediately ruin a phone. However, styli are all but a thing of the past. With the introduction of better touch screens, and more specifically capacitive touch screens, your finger is all you need.

Hardware

The HTC Droid Incredible has a great touch screen and fantastic hardware to back it up. The beautiful AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) displays wonderfully. The capacitive touch screen is very accurate and has the right sensitivity and feed back. The multitouch capability has become an essential requirement for all touch screen phones by now; which this phone has. The Incredible packs a 1 GHz Snapdragon dual core processor; that statement alone should blow your mind.

The average laptop has at least a 1.x GHz dual core processor though uses different architecture. Future variations of Snapdragon will be faster. Qualcomm has stated a 1.5 GHz system (Scorpion) is already in the works. That puts this phone and soon to be released Snapdragon phones around par with second-to-last generation laptops; and it puts it right into your pocket. As well as a fast processor, the Incredible features 512 MB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. Combined, all these parts make for a very powerful device.

Components

The Incredible comes with a bunch of different components within the case that really pack the phone nicely. As well as Verizon's CDMA2000 network card you'll get Bluetooth 2.1, your quintessential Wifi (b and g bands only), a very nice GPS antenna for GPS and aGPS and finally you get an FM radio tuner that requires head phones for the antenna. Along with wireless stuff, you'll get an 8 megapixel camera with LED flash, and bunch of sensors. Sensors include proximity (turns off the screen so your face doesn't hit a button), G-sensor (accelerometer) and light sensors for dimming the screen (can be disabled). The phone also has a micro-SD card slot for up to 32 GB of expansion. My phone came with a 2 GB card, a 3 foot micro-USB to USB cable, USB charger and some books.

I really like the USB charger idea because you can use it to power just about any number of devices. I actually use the chargers I have for my iPhone 3GS and just have extra USB cables for the Incredible. A little FYI, you will need to take a charger with you.

Battery

The battery life on the Incredible has room for improvement. In the year that I had service with AT&T I used my iPhone A LOT (I still use it for media and emergency calls). I keep a USB car charger in the car, I keep a USB cable at the office and I have a USB cable at home so I can charge my Incredible where ever I go. On the worst days I get about 1/3 through the day before the Incredible hits 50% which means its time to charge. I use the Incredible similarly to the way I used my iPhone for email and messaging and while I try to minimize my usage now, the battery still drains faster. I also went through the settings to see if there is anything I can disable or change to increase the battery life; just as I did with my iPhone. I don't use Bluetooth, I disconnect Wifi (I rarely disabled the iPhone's Wifi however), I keep the brightness set statically to a decent level and I set email to either manual sync or 1 hour intervals. Unfortunately, charging the Incredible seems to be something you do while NOT using it. Let me explain.

With my iPhone, I can use up the battery charge, then plug it in and keep using it while it charges up. A great example is I get home with a charge of say around 70%, plop down on the couch and play a few levels of Plants VS Zombies. 2 levels will take about 15 minutes and the charge will drop by about 7%. I usually play around 10 levels in a long sitting which means the battery charge would drop to around 35%. I would then be required to plug in. Similarly, if I take a call and didn't disable 3G or Wifi I can expect to chew threw 5% of the battery in 10 minutes. There are some exceptions but for the most part, I can plug my iPhone in WHILE using it and after a while will reach a good enough charge (around 85%) or eventually fully charge.

The Incredible doesn't seem to want to do that. It likes to take it's time charging which is annoying because there are plenty of instances where I need to charge it quickly between go times. Thankfully, with this being the case, unlike Apple, HTC was smart enough to make the rear panel easily removable. This allows access to the battery as well as the SD card slot. There are extended batteries available and I have already ordered the 2150 mAh unit with rear cover. The standard battery for the Incredible is a 1300 mAh unit.

Update: The 2150 mAh battery came in from HTCpedia.com and it REALLY helps the battery life out. I can actually go quite a while before needing to recharge.

Software

The Incredible comes with Google's Android OS; specifically version 2.1 (Éclair - like the dessert). The 2.1 update smoothened the usability on many of the other Android running devices and was a very welcome (if not needed) update for the OS. HTC has out fitted Android with their in-house designed user interface, Sense. Sense provides easier access and a smoother interface for the already clever Android OS layout. Android also comes with Google's Android Market stocked with over 30,000 apps. Ranging from SSH utilities to multi-player games you have PLENTY of options and an easy way to purchase and download them.

Whether you have an iPhone, something with Android or even Windows Mobile, organizing your home screen and apps can be a real nightmare. For the home screen, Android has "pages" that you can build on. Each page has 16 slots. Similar to Apple's iOS you place an app on a page to have easy access to it. However, Android has something iOS doesn't; Android has widgets.

Widgets access apps and run in real time allowing you to change, stop/start, read, post, sync, or whatever directly from the home screen. I have widgets for an analog clock, weather, email, text messages, power and wireless settings, calendar and bookmarks. Each widget is laid out differently and comes in different sizes (many having different options) taking up a different amount of a page's slots. On one page you can place a power management widget that takes all 4 slots on 1 row, have a clock that takes all 4 slots on 2 rows plus 1 row with 4 different apps. I tend to adjust things like Wifi and brightness levels a lot so these widgets are extremely useful.

The biggest arguing point of Android is multitasking. You can switch from any app to any app without losing anything. You can start downloading a file in a web browser then switch to a game until it finishes, then go back and watch it. You can download multiple files at the same time, just as if you were on a fully functional computer (which you are) that isn't limited by it's creators. You can be on a call then while you're listening to the hold music you can drop to the home screen and play a game, download your email or surf the web. Yes you CAN have a phone conversation AND use data WHILE connected to Verizon's network; there are, however, some restrictions.

For you to surf the web or download email on the Incredible you need to be connected to either Wifi or Verizon's network. However, if you wish to use a data app (email, web, network game etc) while on a call you must have the phone connected to Verizon's network AND connected to Wifi; the simplest way to explain this is basically you must be connected to 2 different networks. Thankfully you can turn on the Wifi and connect to a wireless network without dropping the call (unlike the iPhone). Apple and AT&T like to boast that the iPhone can be in a call and download email or surf at the same time but Verizon can't. What they are saying is based on a technicality. The iPhone MUST be connected to AT&T's 2G AND 3G network (or Wifi) at the same time for a call and for data use to place. The iPhone 3G and 3GS are fully capable of doing that, however, the original iPhone has to be connected to Wifi to make a call and download simultaneously. Currently, the Verizon card in the Incredible acts the same way as the AT&T card does in the first iPhone. This is because Verizon's network technology is different from AT&T's; it's simply just a design limitation. Verizon's 4G network should fix that.

Media

I have a bunch of music from iTunes. Thankfully, I was able to transfer it all directly to my Incredible's internal storage and play it immediately. That was probably the best experience I've had with media on this phone so far; which is sad. While playing various games has been decent I had tried to steam a few videos off of various websites over 3G and wifi and they didn't want to play. There was audio but the video just didn't play. I tried downloading the videos (which was really nice as you can actually save them to the phone) but they didn't seem to play smoothly. The first 2 videos may have had too high of a bit rate so the phone couldn't handle it. I tried downloading a lower bit rate video to see how that would work out but it didn't change. I will try other methods later to see if a particular method works. I also tried to stream some Flash stuff on Metacafe.com but the playback wasn't smooth. On the other hand, the YouTube app did play just fine.

Update: Those original downloaded videos didn't play well but I found some videos that were on the Lonely Island Incredibad album I had transfered from my iTunes. The Lonely Island videos played just fine and so did some puppy videos that my girlfriend sent me.

A slick little feature I really like is the use of backgrounds or wallpapers. Unlike iOS (before 4.0) Android can use wallpapers. The wallpapers' position will even changes as you move from page to page. For the most part they have just standard images, however, the Incredible's hardware will actually support what are call Live Wallpapers. These wallpapers are moving images; swaying blades of grass, clouds moving, stars drifting in space, etc. They look great but put a strain on the battery and processing power.

Negative Things

The HTC Droid Incredible is a great phone packed with many great features. There are some limitations (some are caused by the network it's on and some are just Android's limitations) and I've run into a few bugs with Android. Specific limitations such as battery charging time and call and data usage are minimal issues but should be addressed to fully compete in this field. Bugs I have run into include the touch screen acting like something is touching it constantly (a quick reboot fixed that), the recipient address being removed from the "To" field when replying to a text message, the occasional freezing and poor video playback.

I also have a few things that I would change such as the email interface (switching accounts is not smooth), the screen size (needs to be wider by at least 3 millimeters but no more than 7) and I would love to be able to add custom message sounds (if I can I haven't figured it out) and use different sounds for text messages and emails (currently the same sound is played when you receive a text or email).

Final Thoughts

After having the phone for 3 weeks now I'm 90% satisfied with the HTC Droid Incredible. I think once the big battery comes in I won't be so finicky with the usage and the experience will be much better. If you're on Verizon's network and want to upgrade, are on another network and want to switch or are just choosing your first wireless phone then I hope you'll consider the HTC Droid Incredible. If you have a question about it feel free to drop me an email.

Look for my iPhone vs HTC Incredible post soon!

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