Androids may dream of electric sheep, but HTC dreams of producing a touch-powered phone that can really give the iPhone something to worry about. With the Hero it pretty much manages to turn that dream into a reality.
We know you've probably looked at the photos of the Hero (or G2 Touch as T-mobile calls it) and thought that it'd be a good looking phone if it's wasn't for the jutting jaw line. However, when you actually see it in the flesh the jaw line isn't anywhere near as offensive to the eye as it looks in the snaps and certainly not as bad as it was on the original G1. This is because the Hero has a more refined styling than HTC's previous two Android efforts. Whereas the G1 and Magic looked quite industrial, the Hero has what we can only describe as a sort of retro sci-fi look, especially in the way the rear of the handset curves around to match the profile of the jaw line. Think hardware in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and you'll get an idea of the sort of design feel that it conjures up when you hold it in your hand.
HTC has also rejigged the layout of the buttons on the front of the phone. Now the call/answer and end buttons are laid out in a line with the home and menu ones. The search and back buttons sit beneath these to the right of the mini trackball that glows white when you have an incoming call or text message. Sensibly, HTC has added a standard headphone jack on the top, so there's no more messing around with headphone to miniUSB adaptors when you want to use your own cans.
As well as the styling, the screen has also been substantially improved. Although it has the same resolution as the HTC Magic at 480 x 320 pixels, it's a capacitive screen and is much more accurate when it comes to registering finger presses. In fact, it's so good we'd say it's on a par with the iPhone which, let's face it, has set a pretty high benchmark. The increased accuracy makes every day tasks like hitting the right link among a group of tightly packed links in the web browser much easier, but also vastly improves the usability of the updated onscreen keyboard. These updates combined with the Hero's strong predictive text engine mean you can now happily tap away on messages or emails without having to worry about correcting every single mis-typed letter.
Elsewhere the spec is similar to previous HTC Android devices. The phone's Qualcomm processor runs at 528MHz and is paired with 512MB of ROM and 288MB of RAM. There's HSDPA support for download speeds of up to 7.2Mbit/s on the 900 and 2100Mhz bands and you also get quad-band GSM support with GPRS and EDGE for when you're out of the range of a 3G signal. Connectivity is rounded out by Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR. As with most of today's smartphones there's also onboard GPS plus a digital compass. The pre-launch version of the handset shown at the preview event suffered from slow downs, but that's not the case with this final, retail version. Except for the odd moment here and there (listening to music while viewing a Flash-heavy web page, for example), it feels fast and responsive.