HTC Verizon Droid Incredible Review. Video

When a company names one of its key products after an adjective that describes how wonderful the product is supposed to be, it makes you wonder if that company is compensating for something. What exactly is missing in that product that makes the company feel like it has to tell you how to feel about it?

This was my first impression upon hearing about the HTC Droid Incredible. If HTC feels like its best marketing strategy is to name it something as extravagant as the Incredible, chances are I will come out of the review feeling the exact opposite. Samsung employed the same strategy with the Impression; these kinds of names make the manufacturer sound cocky.

The difficulty in the Incredible was that, according to the official specs sheet, it really SHOULD be Incredible. Everything about this Android 2.1 smartphone just appeared great on paper. But how did it hold up after using it for a week and a half? All in all, it turns out that the device lived up to its name in many categories. Let’s dig deeper.

Verizon HTC Droid Incredible video overview

Design of the HTC Droid Incredible

Heard of One & Co.? Don’t feel ashamed if you haven’t; it’s a design firm acquired by HTC near the end of 2008 in an effort for HTC to change its image and come out with fresh and innovative-looking handsets. If you remember the crazy design on the back of the HTC Touch Diamond, then you’ve seen some of One & Co’s craft. The Incredible is another example, and its unique design is clearly evident.

There are several aspects of the Incredible’s design worth noting and commenting on, so we’ll start with the basics. Upon viewing the Incredible we were graced with a 3.7? capacitive touchscreen that, upon using, feels very responsive. Most activities were done rather smoothly and without issue, with one exception: I noticed that the touchscreen didn’t seem properly calibrated when I would try to click on a small link; even though my finger would be touching the correct spot it would at times register my touch just a few millimeters below that spot. This became annoying when looking up certain sites on the web, such as Google Reader. Beyond that small inconvenience, however, the touchscreen worked wonderfully.

The Incredible is a very natural fit in my hand. It doesn’t feel too bulky or out of place in any way. It sizes up at 4.63 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.47 inch thick and weighs 4.59 ounces. The device itself is narrower than the iPhone, making the screen feel a little more cramped from left to right, but that didn’t present any sort of problem to me. In fact, I thought it fit even more comfortably in my hand than the iPhone does.

I loved how the thin the phone is. There is no bulky feeling when handling the phone, whether I’m talking or just scrolling through various screens.

I would say the most unique aspect of the phone’s design is its back. Like the Touch Diamond, the design is unlike anything we’ve seen before on a phone. The back is a bit bumpy and actually has three different levels, with the highest part of the back taking up the most space in the middle. This is where the 8 MP camera and accompanying flash are found, as well as the obligatory HTC and Google logos. Since a picture says a thousand words, the picture below will be the best way for me to describe its shape.

The cover can be opened up from a narrow notch found at the bottom of the phone. It’s not the easiest cover to take off, presumably because of the back’s design. The best method is to start at the notch and detach it clockwise, a little at a time. Removing the cover can be almost blinding, as the entire back (including battery) is bright red. We find a 1300 mAh battery and MicroSD slot (fortunately accessible on the side of the phone, and not under the battery itself), as well as camera.

In terms of other outside componentry, we find a 3.5 mm headphone jack and power button on the top (acting as both screen lock and full power on/off), and simple volume up/down and MicroUSB charging port on the left.

In attempt to maintain simplicity, the bottom and right side have absolutely no buttons whatsoever. On the front there is an optical joystick and four buttons that are touch-sensitive instead of physical — home, menu, previous screen, and search. These buttons will only be accessible when the screen is turned on. The optical joystick is also a nice alternative for navigating screens, as you can use the joystick by simply brushing your finger across it in whichever direction you need to.

Since there is no physical keyboard, extra consideration of the on-screen keyboard must be given. HTC opted to throw in its own keyboard instead of relying on the stock Android. The keys vibrate by default when touched, indicating you are actually typing something. Fortunately, if you’re not a fan of that feature or just trying to conserve battery life, this can be turned off in the phone’s settings. Overall the keyboard was comfortable to use, though I found it rather easy to touch the wrong keys from time to time. Because this is always bound to happen, even if you are the best on-screen typist, the keyboard includes a predictive text feature that gives you 3-4 other ideas for words that you may have been trying to type. It also predicts certain words before you type the entire thing; for instance, typing “are” gave me an option to type “aren’t”. This capability allowed me to type faster than I could on a typical Android keyboard.

The touch screen itself can be somewhat picky. Even after calibrating the touchscreen to my own style and method, I still found at times that I would try to touch a certain link but the screen thought I was touching a different link that was nearby. After a while I got used to this happening and adjusted my method of using the screen, but I would prefer to see it adjust to me, not the other way around.

An extra note about the screen: it looks more narrow than other competing phones such as the EVO 4G or iPhone, but that didn’t hinder my experience or make it uncomfortable in any way. I still felt that scrolling and pinch-to-zoom (among other things) were just as easy on the Incredible as it is on phones with wider screens.

User Interface of the HTC Droid Incredible

The HTC Sense UI appears to be universally accepted as the best custom Android UI on the market, and I enjoyed my experience with it. Most custom UI’s tend to make the Android OS worse, usually due to being slower and buggier, adding in unnecessary screens, or limiting the types of activities you can do with Android. Sense offers a UI that’s more user-friendly and has better integration with those features that the OS already has.

After turning on the Droid Incredible, I was treated to a lock screen that I need to slide my finger down in order to unlock it. The device comes with a default UI “Scene” though Sense gives you several different scenes to choose from. Each scene is different in what is offered on the 7 home screen panels. This amount of customization is important to me, because I like the ability to change the look and feel of the UI to adjust to my tastes. If there’s a certain widget or screen I don’t like, I want to have the opportunity to get rid of it or at least change it to something else. Fortunately the Sense UI gives me full control of that customization.

The Droid Incredible uses the new updated Sense that was announced in February at Mobile World Congress. So far we’ve seen this UI update show up on the Legend and Desire, both of which were also announced at MWC as well, but this is the first we’ve seen it on a device sold on a US carrier.

The update adds in weather animations to illustrate the current weather in your area, whether you’re at home or traveling. If it’s cloudy, wispy clouds will pass over the screen when it’s first unlocked. From the main screen I can either scroll left/right to other screens, or I can use the new Leap option. By hitting Home or doing a pinch-to-zoom, I was treated to thumbnail images of all 7 home screen panels. Touch whichever panel you want, and you “leap” to that screen instantly.

Other updates include Group Contacts, which frankly puzzles me that this hasn’t actually been available on most smartphones in the first place. Group Contacts gives me the option of separating all of my contacts into separate groups, whether it be friends, family, work, etc.

The new Sense also throws in a feature called Friend Stream, which takes all of your social networking updates and combines them into one feed.

I love having the ability to make my own folders in which I can put whatever Market apps I want. One of my favorite customizable features, however, is adding widgets. Many of my most-used apps or features can be accessible on the main screen with widgets. For instance, I can put toggle switches for things like Bluetooth and WiFi on one of my home screen panels, instead of having to dive through 3 settings menus to do the exact same thing. This is a huge difference-maker to me.

Features of the HTC Droid Incredible

Diving more into the actual specs and features of the phone, I have determined that the Droid Incredible offers top-of-the-line specs while keeping the cost competitive with other smartphones that can’t keep up with what the Incredible has.

The Incredible uses a Snapdragon 1 GHz CPU and throws in 512 MB ROM and 512 MB RAM, turning the device into one of the fastest and most responsive smartphones I have ever used. I rarely had to wait longer than 1-2 seconds when switching screens to check email, texts, Twitter updates, or even going into the internet. Simple activities such as using pinch-to-zoom were amazingly smooth with the faster CPU inside, which just helped solidify the user experience.

Another top-notch component is the 8 MP camera with dual LED flash and autofocus.

I took several pictures both inside and outside and for the most part the pictures came out crisp and sharp. Sure there was the occasional fuzzy picture that didn’t look quite right, but generally one or two quick retakes would resolve that problem. Below are some examples of pictures taken by the Incredible’s camera.

There is also a lot of available memory up for grabs. 8 GB is included in the phone already, and has MicroSD expansion that potentially can add up to 32 GB more. Not only does this give the vast majority of Droid users more than enough storage space for music, movies and apps, imagine how much better it will be once the Incredible can be updated to Android 2.2 Froyo, when it will have the support of Simplify Media’s streaming media services.

One of my absolute favorite features in the Incredible is the speech-to-text capability. The keyboard that pops up when composing a message features a key on the bottom left that resembles a mic; simple press the mic and start speaking, and include words to describe punctuation. For instance, to say the phrase “hi, how are you?” you just need to say “hi comma how are you question mark”. I found this very handy to use. And frankly, it’s easy enough to hit backspace once to delete the whole thing and just try again.

Emailing is a breeze with the Droid Incredible. Multiple email accounts can be set up in a universal inbox and virtually every type of email account is supported. This includes Exchange, POP3, and IMAP. I was able to sync my Gmail exchange calendar and contacts easily and without incident, and added in an extra Gmail account as well as Yahoo and Hotmail.

HTC has a few apps integrated with the Incredible that help enhance the Android experience, such as Footprints. This app adds geotags to your photos and lets you add other relevant information to each photo. Essentially the goal of Footprints is to turn each photo into its own digital postcard. I also noticed Peep, a HTC-developed Twitter app. Peep was actually rather nice to use, though I still prefer using other third-party Twitter apps through the Android Market. With Peep on, this would give me double notifications whenever somebody responded to one of my tweets or sent me a DM. Naturally this got a bit annoying for me, so I had to limit my Twitter apps to just one.

The Incredible also throws in FM radio on top of support for most music and video file formats and codecs (MP3, WAV, WMA, MP4, 3GP, WMV, to name a few).

I was glad to see threaded conversations for text messaging. The threads aren’t designed in any creative or peculiar way; no comic speech bubbles as on the iPhone, for instance. It’s just a simple list view of each text in the conversation. It does show the pictures of those who you’re interacting with, however.

The default internet browser is Webkit-based, and uses pinch-to-zoom. As noted before, the pinch-to-zoom was incredibly smooth on the browser and was very convenient. When text is zoomed in, it wraps to fit the screen. In other words, if I have to zoom in to view sites that use smaller text, it doesn’t force me to scroll left to right just to read the entire text; all I have to do is scroll up and down because the new size of text fits in the screen no matter what. The one downside to this, however, is that pictures aren’t fitted to screen when zoomed in and just causes the pictures to look more pixelated and fuzzy.

Fortunately speech-to-text capability is built into the web browser as well. When touching the search soft key on the bottom right of the phone itself, you’re presented with a google search bar and a mic button to its right. I said “unwired view dot com” and sure enough, I was offered a Google search results page complete with unwiredview.com as the number one option. This was actually much faster and easier than if I had to go into the browser separately and type it in.

Note that I mentioned this is the default browser. There are several alternatives available through the Android market, so don’t hesitate to check all of them out in an effort to find your favorite.

Last but not least, the phone app itself should be mentioned. Sense UI puts the phone app conveniently on a large button on the bottom of the screen, and then opens up to show address book on the top and number keypad on the bottom. The keys are huge and should not give you any concern about dialing the wrong number. For added assistance, smart dial is featured in the app. This enables you to start typing the call recipient’s name and the address book will filter it for you. This is nothing new, but is always welcome. The Droid Incredible also has 3-way calling, speed dials, voice command, and speakerphone.

An extra phone-related feature is Verizon’s new Skype mobile service, offered front and center on Verizon’s very own Android Market channel. Skype can be used on 3G as well as WiFi, and any Skype-to-Skype calls won’t count towards your monthly minute allotment. Skype also offers some great international rates, so we highly recommend using this service instead of calling international long distance using just Verizon’s network.

My major beef with the Incredible is the native multimedia support. The music player is only featured as a home screen panel on one or two scenes, and otherwise needs to be brought in to the main screen as a widget, which seems a little weird to me. The fact that I have to download 3rd-party apps just to enable the device to sync up with my computer seems absurd to me. While I can still connect to my computer via USB and do drag-and-drop, it seems as though Google or HTC would have a better alternative than this.

Performance of the Droid Incredible

Running on Verizon’s network, I never had any doubt that the Droid Incredible would make good quality calls. Obviously Verizon is known for its coverage and call quality, so that’s a given on almost every phone the network offers. The one exception to this, however, was that of the Incredible’s antenna. While I hardly dropped any calls or had any interrupted service, the low reception on the Incredible sure made me nervous at times. Checking with others who have reviewed the phone and some who use it as their primary device, I know that I wasn’t the only one who had the same concern. I NEVER saw the reception on my Incredible go above 2 bars. Regardless, though, I still didn’t have any obvious static or fuzziness in my calls. Quite frankly, it was rather bizarre. My opinion is that the phone showed lower reception than it was actually experiencing.

Battery life was okay. Rated at a talk time of 5.2 hours, the Incredible lived up to the rating. I could go a full day without charging it up, provided I was only using it moderately. Whenever I used it for constant emailing, web surfing, and doing other random tasks on the device, it definitely did not last all day. This will be an important thing to keep in mind if you plan on using it nonstop throughout your workday. Expect the talk time to last roughly 5.5 hours, and mixed usage to last anywhere between 15-20 hours.

One limitation of the Verizon network is that you cannot use both voice and 3G data at the same time. You’re fine if you are connected to a WiFi network, so try to find one nearby if at all possible.

I loved the quickness of the device due to its Snapdragon processor. Everything was speedy and snappy, and I felt the same about Verizon’s 3G internet speeds as well. On 3G I achieved speeds of 1.15 Mbps down and .41 up; over my home’s WiFi connection I got 2.0 Mbps down and 1.02 Mbps up. Was it 4G fast? No, but the phone still did a good job of accessing most websites as quickly as I needed.

Streaming radio and video was a breeze both on WiFi and on Verizon’s network. I was able to use apps like Pandora and Podkast without having to wait for the music to buffer. I used my Skullcandy in-ear headphones on the Droid Incredible to listen to podcasts, music, and YouTube, and was impressed by the audio quality.

Even without the headphones in, the phone’s speaker was rather loud when making calls and listening to music. I never had to worry about not being able to hear my calls in a noisy environment.

Final Thoughts on the HTC Droid Incredible

My final thoughts on the Incredible are similar to my first impressions. I was very satisfied in the using the Incredible. It was quick, snappy, used a intuitive user interface that made it incredibly easy to use and customize, and had top-of-the-line specs that were out of this world. I couldn’t find anything that was truly lacking on the Incredible, and feel that HTC was able to make a product that lives up to its arrogant name.

This is the third phone in the Droid series and far surpassed the first two in specs and overall performance. It has been my favorite Android handset to review so far (I am still expecting a review of the EVO 4G soon). This doesn’t mean it is without flaws, as there isn’t a phone on this planet that doesn’t have something to improve on. For instance, the multimedia could have a better presence on the home screen panels and should be much easier to sync up with my computer without having to search around for a third party app.

To me, though, that is a small gripe when compared to the capabilities of the phone otherwise. HTC is clearly doing a wonderful job of establishing a successful Android presence in an incredibly competitive market, and that will help the company go a very long way.

Get $100 off at Amazon on HTC DROID INCREDIBLE Android Phone (Verizon Wireless)

Author: Brad Molen

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