Critics' Choice Review: HTC Incredible Dubbed 'Best Smartphone'

If you have the audacity to name your new smartphone Incredible, it had darn well better live up to its name. Based on the reviews from CNET, LAPTOP magazine, PC Magazine, and PC World, the new HTC Droid Incredible does just that. In fact, the Android 2.1-based Verizon phone ($200 with two-year contract) could just as well be named Awesome. Stupefying. Maybe even OMG.


Here’s what some reviewers are saying:


“The Droid Incredible by HTC is an absolutely amazing device,” says PC Magazine, giving the phone its Editors’ Choice award and a 4.5 star rating. “The most powerful phone on the U.S. market today, it reflects and enhances the state of the art smartphone...It's one of our highest-rated phones in the past year.”


The Droid Incredible is “hands-down Verizon's best smartphone, and one of the best and fastest Android devices on the market right now, so much so that we deem it worthy of our Editors' Choice award.” – CNET, which also gave the phone 4 out of 5 stars.


“Other than some minor design qualms, this smartphone truly lives up to its name.” – PC World, 4.5 stars.


“Motorola Droid owners now have a reason to be jealous...While we have some complaints, and the $199 price will be too steep for some, overall the Incredible is one sweet smart phone.” – LAPTOP magazine, Editors’ Choice, 4 stars.


Get the picture? The HTC Droid Incredible has emerged as one of the year’s hottest smartphones. The following is a breakdown of what reviewers are saying about its design and features; software and user interface; phone quality; multimedia; performance; and battery life.


Design and Features of the HTC Incredible


The Droid Incredible is about the same size as Google’s Nexus One. It measures 4.63 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.47 inch thick and weighs 4.59 ounces. “It felt light enough that we sometimes didn't notice it in our pocket,” notes Marc Flores at LAPTOP.


But the phone has a “strange rubberdized ‘topographic’ battery cover, which I could have done without,” writes PC World’s Ginny Mies. “While the Incredible is lighter, it doesn't feel as solid as the Nexus One.”


“It does feel a bit plasticky compared with the Nexus One,” adds Bonnie Cha at CNET.


A smart phone’s insides aren’t usually worthy of much comment. Not so with the Droid Incredible. When “you remove the HTC emblazoned battery cover...you'll also be hit with more red than you've ever seen on a device as both the inside and the battery are a very bright red. You'll either love it or hate it,” writes Flores at LAPTOP.


The Screen


Similar to the Nexus One, the capacitive OLED touchscreen measures 3.7 inches diagonally and has a WVGA resolution (480x800). But when placed side by side with the Nexus One, the Incredible display “appears smoother and more vibrant,” notes Cha of CNET.


Cha adds that the screen “felt more responsive, registering every touch right away and providing a smooth scrolling experience. The built-in accelerometer was quick to change screen orientation, and the proximity sensor kicks in as soon as you hold the phone up to your ear to take a phone call.”


Several reviewers note the HTC Incredible’s screen was difficult to read in direct or bright sunlight, and the screen picks up more fingerprints than New York City police headquarters.


Keyboard and Buttons

The Droid Incredible has a virtual keyboard. LAPTOP’s Flores says: “It's really hard to duplicate the accuracy and speed of the iPhone's layout, but the Incredible comes really close. Unlike the soft keyboards on the Motorola Cliq XT or Backflip, the Incredible's keyboard let us fly. The auto-correct feature was fairly accurate and helped us save time...Overall, typing on the Incredible keyboard was a pleasant enough experience that we had no problem texting or e-mailing our friends and colleagues regularly.”


Below the display, there are four touch-sensitive shortcut keys--home, menu, back, and search--and below them is a new optical joystick/trackpad. “Overall, (the joystick/trackpad) works as advertised, but the smaller size of the button makes it a bit awkward at first,” notes CNET’s Cha.


The Droid has only a few additional physical buttons, including a volume rocker, a mini-USB port, power button, and 3.5mm headphone jack.


HTC Incredible: Software and User Interface


“I'm no fan of the basic Android user interface,” says Sascha Segan at PC Mag. “I think it's a bit too cold and spare, relying too heavily on tech-savvy users to configure it. So I love what HTC has done here.”


UI: Segan explains that HTC's Sense user interface “improves everything about the Android experience, but most notably it makes your default home screen somewhere you'd actually want to hang out. The Incredible's home screen starts with a beautiful, animated, transparent weather graphic; flick left and right to find full-screen photo contacts, e-mail and social networking pages, along with the ability to see all of your customized home screens at once. As you get more comfortable with Android, obviously you'll fidget with things—that's what Android is about—but the Incredible gives you a great experience even in its default state.”


Leap: Several reviews raved about the new Sense UI feature called Leap. Here’s how LAPTOP describes it: “Instead of swiping left and right between the seven customizable panes or screens, you can simply pinch anywhere on one of the panes to bring up a set of thumbnails that shows your panes. If you're on the second pane and you want to "leap" to the fifth, just make a pinch gesture on the screen and tap on the desired pane. It's quite simple and a very welcome addition to (the Sense user interface) for easy navigation.”


Social media: The HTC Incredible is social media savvy, too. The Friend Stream feature, also part of Sense, aggregates Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr accounts, enabling you to view all or a custom subset of status updates and posts. “The layout is pretty simple, but for now you can only share text on Twitter or Facebook,” says LAPTOP. “You can't upload images to either service, and Flickr doesn't seem to be an option for uploading pictures.”


E-mail, contacts, calendar: Aside from Gmail, the Droid Incredible supports multiple POP3, IMAP, and Exchange accounts and combines them in a unified in-box. The phone has its own Microsoft Exchange client for syncing e-mail, contacts, and calendars.


The Sense UI includes an updated mail widget that lets you jump to a list view of all your e-mail instead of just one message at a time, says CNET’s Cha. “Once in the mail app, there's a handy tabbed interface at the bottom that lets you view unread messages, attachments, meeting invites, and more with a simple touch,” she adds.


“I like HTC's address book better than Google's; like the default address book, HTC integrates Facebook into your contacts as well,” Segan of PC Mag says.


The Droid Incredible also gives you a new Group Contacts widget, which lets you organize contacts by groups. It’s “simple to add contacts to a group, though removing them requires a few extra steps,” says Cha at CNET.


Web Browsing

The Droid Incredible uses the WebKit browser, familiar to Nexus One and Droid users. The browser supports pinch-to-zoom gestures and double-tap to zoom. Most reviewers found the browsing experience zippy and pleasant, though the Incredible didn’t load non-optimized pages as quickly as an iPhone 3GS in some cases.


To use voice and data simultaneously, you must connect via Wi-Fi. Verizon doesn’t currently allow you to use their network for voice and data at the same time.


For an extra $15-30 monthly charge, you can tether the Incredible to your laptop via a micro USB cable and use the phone as a modem. According to LAPTOP, HTC and Verizon say that mobile hotspot capability is coming soon to Android devices, enabling you to share one wireless connection between your Android smartphone and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices.


Mobile Apps Still Lag on Android

The Android Market is still small compared to the wealth of iPhone apps. The problem is “made much worse by Android's awful fragmentation; there are phones running four different versions of Android out on the market,” says PC Mag. “What Android is missing is big, brand-name apps from major publishers; most noticeably, I couldn't find a single big-name 3D game for this phone. That's shocking. App development is way behind the capabilities of the hardware here.


The HTC Droid Incredible as a Phone


For the most part, reviewers felt the Droid Incredible makes for a solid phone, with great call quality and a generally good speakerphone. It offers a speakerphone, speed dialing, smart dialing, voice commands, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging with threaded chat view, according to CNET. Bluetooth, 3G, GPS, and integrated Wi-Fi are also included.


“We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO Rev. A) HTC Droid Incredible in New York using Verizon service, and call quality was good, though not without issue,” says CNET’s Cha. “We enjoyed clear conversations with very little background noise or voice distortion, and there was plenty of volume--almost piercing at the highest level. Friends also reported good results with no major complaints about the audio quality on their side of the conversation. Though we didn't experience any dropped calls, there were a couple of instances where the sound cut out so we couldn't hear our caller. The situation was easily resolved by moving to a new spot, but it was nevertheless a bit annoying.”


Multimedia Features


The Droid Incredible has an 8-megapixel camera with a dual LED flash. Reviewers were positive about the quality of images captured.


“The smartphone took excellent photos indoors and outdoors,” says CNET. “Pictures had a good color and sharp definition, and there was very little shutter lag. Nighttime shots still looked a bit gray and dull, but it was certainly better than most other camera phones, and objects were clearly defined in the image.”


“Color us impressed,” adds LAPTOP. “While we can't say this would definitely replace a point-and-shoot, it does more than ‘the camera that happens to be with you,’ as the saying goes.”


The camera can also shoot high-resolution video up to 800 x 480 resolution, but not at 720p quality. Most reviewers agree with PC World’s Mies, who says video quality was “fine for quick clips, but I was disappointed by the slight pixelation in my videos.”


As for music and video playback, that’s “never been a selling point for Android, and that's still the case with the Droid Incredible, though HTC Sense adds a slightly more attractive interface to the player,” says CNET’s Cha.


Performance and Battery


Critics were generally pleased with the Incredible’s performance. “The one aspect of the Droid Incredible that absolutely knocked our socks off is general performance,” notes CNET. The smartphone “was one of the most responsive and fastest Android devices; heck, one of the fastest smartphones in general, that we've tested to date. The handset handled every task we threw at it without stumbling, and even with six open apps open, the Incredible never slowed down.


The Droid Incredible includes a 1,300mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 5.2 hours, which reviewers found to be so-so. “I found that if I started at 7 a.m. and used the phone's Internet features frequently, the phone's battery was struggling by about 7 p.m.; if you need better battery life, you have to get a BlackBerry,” says PC Mag.


The Wrap Up


The Droid Incredible, though imperfect, sure seems like a hot, gotta-have smartphone. But for how long, with Apple’s fourth-generation iPhone due this summer and the HTC Evo 4G on Sprint also looking very promising?


“Even though Android as an operating system and the handsets that support it evolve rapidly, we don't see the Incredible becoming outdated any time soon,” notes LAPTOP. “If your contract is expiring this summer, it may be worth waiting for the HTC Evo 4G on Sprint--which has a larger display, 720p recording, WiMax, and mobile hotspot abilities--but for now, the Incredible is one of the best smart phones on the market.”


Concludes PC Mag: “The Incredible is the best smartphone on Verizon, and the second-best smartphone in America; it would outpace the iPhone if it weren't for all of those great iPhone apps. The Incredible renders the upcoming Nexus One for Verizon's network totally irrelevant, although it may yet be outmatched by Sprint's upcoming, WiMAX-based Evo 4G.”




James A. Martin has written about mobile technology since the mid 1990s and is the author of the Traveler 2.0 blog.




Android, smartphone review, HTC, HTC Incredible, Incredible review