Why I will be returning my HTC Hero

by davidnielsen

Recently I bought an HTC Hero to replace my old broken phone and to bring me into the smartphone era, something I have been looking forward to for a while. For the most part I have been fairly pleased with the phone as such but it is a device with issues.

1) HTC it ifself

Don’t be under the impression that Android phones magically keep themselves updated over the wire, you have to flash the damn thing. However HTC doesn’t support Linux (nor Mac OS X for that matter). They aren’t even shy about it when I asked tech support how to perform such updates under Linux.

Thank you for your enquiry about the HTC Hero.

Unfortunately we do not support Linux and MAC operating systems but we recommend to query local community forums in the internet dedicated to the Linux platform.

If there’s any other enquiries, please let me know by responding using the link provided and I will be happy to check for you.

So they don’t provide the tools to do the job, but I am welcome to ask the community. On one hand their support department is quick to respond, on the other hand their reply is a worthless pregenerated non-answer. The end result is that Linux and Mac users will be left out of important updates which fix issues, including one might suspect security problems. Thank you HTC for entirely missing the point and endangering your customers.

The wonderful bit of irony here is that the phone underneath is running Linux, so they basically deem that it is good enough for their hardware, but not mine.

2) Performance

I’d heard bad things about the Heros performance in reviews but when I played with the store model I didn’t see any lag. However the lag very clearly appears after a night of idleness and it makes the interface nearly unresponsive. Reviews claim that a firmware update fixes this, however do to Linux being unsupported for the flashing this opens up a whole new dimension of hurt. I finally broke down and acquired access to a Windows XP machine and spend a couple of hours hunting down issues with their flashing tool (which turned out to be rooted in a broken driver for the Android phone as a USB device). After performing this gutwrenching update, the performance issues remains present, on the plus side the interface is no available in Danish which was lacking in the device as it was sold.

3) Poor quality slightly hidden

The Hero feels good in your hand, it has the right weight and size to be comfortable to use. The headset that comes with the package is sufficient to enjoy music or conversation. However the insides aren’t beautiful at all, the GPS is off by several kilometers, the camera is slow and produces blurry pictures. The touchscreen keyboard has keys roughly 1/3 the size of any normal fingertip and the spell checking will constantly replace words like “you” with “joo” unless you specifically stop it.  It’s slow to type on, the response of the device is sluggish and overall it just feels cheap in use… for a device that is supposedly the top of the line model, and at a price that would make even Bill Gates blush I definitely didn’t expect this.

4) Strange arbitrary limits on the software

I really need Skype and I need it to be portable. However on an Android phone it seems that the software is both in beta and from on high is prevented from using your 3G/wifi connection to make calls. There is no technical reason for this to be so, in fact my old phone supported Skype directly and it integrated with my contact list. This appears to be a problem rooted in cell phone providers and Google setting up this requirement which is despicable behavior that leaves my expensive phone less capable than it would be for no good reason. Further research shows that iPhone users are in the same boat but with different limitations (I believe they can only use Skype over a wifi connection). This kind of abuse of power makes smartphones far less appealing and limits application developers creativity and user freedom.

5) There is no easy way to exit applications

As part of the design Android applications never seem to quit, this means that as a user you have to remember to check the browser, close all your additional pages and reset the page that you cannot close to something you are comfortable seeing because the next time you hit the browser icon, this is what will pop up. There is a means of killing applications but you have to dig through multiple hidden menus and enter the castle of slow that is “manage applications”. This is a design decision but given the already sluggish performance, ones impression of the device isn’t exactly enhanced by leaking applications which over time makes the road to recovery a Windows style reboot. You know that you designed a piece of crap when the way to get it back to a useful state for a few hours is to reboot it.

There are good things to say about the device, the Sense UI is beautiful and overall the device is pleasant to the eye with glittery candy being spread for your enjoyment. I’ve had it for a few days now and I have to admit that the calendar application with it’s synchronization to Google Calendar is a wonderful tool that has improved my life leaps and bounds. The screen might be small but it’s clear and very readable, I have found myself enjoying checking Google Reader from my bed and marveling at the power of the mobile webpages as well as the speed of the browser application. In fact I am so impressed by the mobile webpages that for 99% of use I go to these rather than the specially crafted applications for things such as GMail since it’s faster and provides easier access to labels.

You only have about a day and halves worth of battery power so use it wisely, luckily the recharge time is short and since it is done via USB you can be assured access to a source of power pretty much everywhere even without carrying a hefty recharger. The agreement to use USB charging for all modern phones really is one of those no-brainer decisions in retrospect, for years every time you switched phones you got a new brick to carry and nobodies chargers were compatible (often even within different models with the same vendor). The amount of waste and idiocy saved by this is measurable in the real world. It fills my heart with joy to think of, and as a bonus the power brick that is supplied for when a USB port is unavailable has a clever design where you can replace the plug to suit local standards. If only the rest of the device shared this clever engineering and design – verily I submit onto you, the HTC Hero would be a worthwhile investment.

Never the less, today the HTC Hero is going back to the store. I can’t stand the sluggish interface, HTC’s swamy non-support and delivering a frankly broken Skype experience really pushed me over the top. For something I spend this much money on out of pocket not to mention the costs I tied myself to for the “unlimited” data plan I really expected better.