How things begin is often how they end.
Well, that may be a bit dramatic. Maybe it’s simply life coming full circle. Either way, after [forcefully] introducing my malfunctioning Droid X into my quartz countertop, I had to move on to replacement phone until I make up my mind about what will be my next major smartphone purchase (iPhone 5? Galaxy Nexus? Galaxy SIII?)
I first thought that I would stop using a smartphone altogether, and use my old, but very slim, LG flip phone that I had in a drawer in my house. That non-data experience only lasted a couple of days. After that, I activated my wife’s old BlackBerry 8830. I could only stand using that BlackBerry for an evening. I jumped on Craigslist and found someone selling a very clean Droid Incredible for $90. After a little email back-and-forth with the seller, I picked it up last night. The Droid Incredible is nice, slim phone. Interestingly, though, after using the Droid X for nearly 18 months, the Incredible seems small. Considering that I don’t like stuff in my pockets, this is not a bad thing.
The Incredible was my first smartphone (for personal use). For nostalgia’s sake, here is the write up I posted on my blog when I first got the Incredible in May of 2010. It’s crazy to think that was almost two years ago. Time in the technology world should be measured like dog years.
A Little Background
As some of you know, I took the plunge and picked up the HTC ADR6300…better known as the Verizon Droid Incredible. Until a few weeks ago, I was patiently waiting for the Google Nexus One to show up on Verizon’s network. Something told me that there was a chance that this phone may never see the light of day on Verizon, and this was proven true this past Friday (Google Announcement).
I have been toying with the idea of upgrading from my LG flip phone to a smartphone. Just as with any self-respecting tech nerd/geek, I have been reading all the technology and mobile tech blogs to get the most current information about devices on the market, or ones expected to release soon. I have a number of friends and colleagues that own the iPhone, and have been bending my ear for years about picking one up for myself. I entertained the idea, but moving to AT&T wasn’t appealing, and I, in all candor, was not that enamored with the iPhone. Before anyone makes claims of me being an Apple hater, let me clarify that I am very fond of Apple products and design. In the case of the iPhone, I just wanted something better.
What that “better” was, I didn’t know. In the last year, there has been increasing talk about the development of devices running with Google’s operating system called Android. Last fall, the Android device that made the most noise is the Motorola Droid. Though the Droid enticed me, I was interested in a phone being developed by Google called the Nexus One. The Nexus One was released on T-Mobile at the beginning of the year. At the time of it’s release, Google shared that it Verizon would carry the Nexus One by the spring. Subsequent to the announcement, word started to spread about a new Android OS device for Verizon. The specs for this Verizon Android device were, surprisingly, better than the Nexus One. So, my deliberation on what road to travel really boiled down to 1) wondering whether I would wait to see if the rumors about a CDMA version of the new iPhone 4G coming to Verizon were true; 2) contemplating jumping networks to get the HTC EVO-4G debuting on Sprint in early June; 3) hold out for the Nexus One; or 4) stay on Verizon and get the Incredible. A fifth option that I’ve taken off the table for now is the Windows Phone 7, expected to debut this fall.
As much as the EVO-4G was (and somewhat still is) calling my name, I decided that I would go with the Nexus One or the Incredible—really whichever one came out first. On April 12, Verizon announced the Droid Incredible would be available on April 29. Pre-orders started on April 19. I was reluctant to pre-order the Incredible because some of the sneak-peek reviews commented that the body felt “plasticky.” This was a little unsettling, since the Nexus One has a good deal of metal in its body. After a good deal of last minute hand-wringing, I took my lunch break from a training class for work to run to the Verizon store on April 29 to pick up the Incredible. The first store I went to was sold out. My first thought was “Damn!” I was told that another store a short Metro ride away had them in stock. I thought, “Hmmm. Maybe this is a sign that I need to think a little longer about this.” However, by the time I hit the door of the store I decided to dash to the other Verizon store. Score! I returned to the last day of my training class (a tad late) with the Incredible sitting on the table charging. It was done. I joined the Android family. Ok, now onto the phone.
Basic Tour of the Incredible
Once you get beyond the standard HTC and Verizon splash screens upon startup, you reach the lock screen. (Note: The Incredible runs on Android OS 2.1, dressed up with HTC’s user interface – Sense. Here’s a peek at the “stock” Android lock screen.)
The Incredible comes with seven adjustable screens, as opposed to the three screens that come with the Motorola Droid or Nexus One. You can quickly add or delete widgets and programs/apps to any page. You can swipe left or right to reach the different screens (a little bar — just above the phone tab in this picture — moves to let you know where you are in the order of screens) or you can use HTC’s feature called “Leap” that allow you to reduce the screen to a thumbnail view so you can see all seven screens at once. To reach this view, you can either pinch the screen or press the home button.
From this Leap view, you can touch any of the thumbnails to immediately go to a particular screen. I like the Leap feature, because at times I get tired of the swiping gesture and want to get a screen quickly. The other way to get to programs or apps quickly is to press the up arrow — to the left of the phone tab in the picture below.
Pressing the arrow pulls up your program/apps launcher. This screen scrolls up and down. You can look at the programs and apps in a grid or list view. I prefer the grid view because your list can get pretty long if you start adding a bunch of apps. You may have noticed an “M” in the stop left corner of the screen in the pictures above. This is the notifications area of the screen. This is the area of the phone that will give you information about new e-mail, text messages, and updates coming in to your apps. (Multitasking) For instance, the “M” in the notifications bar on my phone indicates a new e-mail. To learn more about the notifications, I simply swipe down from the top of the screen to reveal the notifications window.
From the notifications window, you can touch the particular notification, and it will take you to the program. If you want to ignore the notifications, you just swipe up from the bottom of the screen to close the notification window.
I am pretty comfortable with different operating systems, so the transition from a basic cellphone to the Incredible and Android OS was pretty easy. Though I use a Blackberry for work, the operating system is nothing like what you’re used to. I think anyone that’s accustomed to an iPhone or iPod Touch will move around the phone pretty intuitively. There are certain things that act differently from the iPhone, such as the screens swipe left and right more than up and down. Minor differences, though, in the scheme of things. Basic set up is reallyeasy, especially if you use Gmail. Once you type in your Gmail username and password, the phone will populate with your e-mail, calendar and contacts from Google. If you use Yahoo, Hotmail or any other service for e-mail, including Microsoft Exchange, you can add the accounts easily in the HTC mail client. Here are a couple of things worth noting about the way things work with HTC Sense.
- If you use Gmail. Be aware that the Gmail app baked into the operating system doesn’t, at this point, have cut-and-paste. If cut-and-paste capability in e-mail is important to you, use the HTC mail client. The cut-and-paste in the HTC mail client is easy to use. The only drawback, that I can see, to using the HTC mail client is that it doesn’t appear to show HTML e-mail—at least consistently. The Gmail app shows HTML messages, usually asking you if you want to show images before drawing all that additional data.
- HTC Sense has a great “people” (think contacts) feature. Instead of having to search around for an e-mail, text message, or phone call from a particular person, you can just go to that person’s contact page in your People app. At the bottom of each contact page are a series of icons that let you see all the e-mails, text messages, photos, social media updates and phone calls from that person. However, in order to take full advantage of this feature, you need to use the HTC mail client and run your text messages through the HTC messages program. I use the Google voice and Gmail apps, so my e-mail and text messages don’t associate with contacts in HTC’s People feature.
There are a ton of videos and articles that can give you more information on the Sense and general Android features, so I won’t drone on about them here. Android Central has a great round up of articles and information (including videos, and tips and tricks) about the Incredible on its site and forum.
Let me touch on the fit and finish of the devices body, which initially gave me pause. Though the front part of the phone is made of a shiny black plastic, it doesn’t feel or look cheap. I analogized it to my Zune. It’s plastic, but if feels substantial. The back of the phone is contoured.
The material used on the back of the Incredible feels somewhat rubberized. Though a bit unusual, the contoured back doesn’t affect the feel of the phone, and, in my opinion, adds a little bit of a unique design flare to the Incredible.
The Incredible is very light. Not cheap-feeling light, but light. I probably would have preferred something a little more substantial in my hand, but the light weight is great when you have this phone in your pocket. Additionally, the Incredible doesn’t feel flimsy in your hand. I was just surprised that a device with all these capabilities would only weight a touch more than my flip phone.
I will write another installment to go over some of the apps—both native and those downloaded from the Android Market, but I want to talk about just a few other things really quick.
If you’re moving from a basic mobile phone or a smartphone, such as the Blackberry, with a physical keyboard, to a touch screen-only device, it can be an adjustment. Most iPhone users I know say, “You get used to it.” That may be true, there is something to be said about a physical keyboard. Even after a few weeks with the Incredible, I find that I type much faster on my Blackberry. The Incredible does give you feedback when you touch letters on the screen, which helps.If you like the Android OS, but want a physical keyboard, you need to look at the Droid, CLIQ, Ally, or the new MyTouch3G slider that’s coming out soon.
Like most people, I find that the keyboard is much easier to use in landscape mode (holding the Incredible sideways) than in portrait mode. Perhaps because I have larger fingers, but the most accurate way to type in portrait mode is one finger tapping. Using two thumbs in portrait mode, for me, caused me to hit the wrong keys too often. In either orientation, I appreciate — well most of the time — the auto=correct or suggestion feature. As you type the Incredible intuitively tries to figure out what you’re typing. It’s particularly helpful on long words because as you type, words appear above and you simply tap the word to replace what you started. The problem comes when you have words that you know are right and the auto-correct replaces the word for you. The simple, but somewhat annoying way to deal with that is to tap the word you typed on the suggested word list. When you do this, the word you typed is added to the phone’s dictionary for future use. It’s a nice feature, but I’ve found that having to add words here and there through an e-mail slows down my typing. The up-side, I don’t know if it’s unintended, of the auto-correct is that it forces me to proof what I’ve written. (Though I usually do that anyway.)
Oh, if you make errors while you’re typing, you can tap the screen to move the cursor back to the area you need to correct. There’s also an optical track pad at the bottom of the Incredible that allows you to move through elements on the screen. I’ve found the optical track pad to be quite responsive. You just have to get accustomed to the amount of finger movement required to get around the screen accurately.
One of the biggest knocks I’ve seen on the phone is it’s relatively weak battery life. I’m sure the multiple programs/apps running have a lot to do with battery performance. There are programs you can download to control or “kill” background apps to save battery life. You can also adjust the default syncing option for the phone to control what programs and apps draw data automatically.
I was a bit concerned about battery life in the first week with the phone. I was, admittedly, playing with the phone a lot, so I couldn’t really judge whether the battery was weak or if I was abnormally taxing the phone. In the past week, I’ve noticed much better battery life, but “better” still means I only get less than full day’s use with a charge. Unlike standard cell phones and Blackberries, you will need to charge the Incredible daily unless you have almost no apps running on the phone.
There are other batteries available that fit into the phone, and extended batteries are on the way. I may consider the higher capacity battery that fits into the phone, but I don’t like extended batteries because they alter the dimensions of the phone—pushing out the back with a different cover.
I am a photographer, so my scrutiny of the quality of images is probably more exacting than others. While I don’t expect the Incredible to replace my DSLRs, I have been curious to see if the 8 megapixel camera could stand in place of my point-and-shoot for daily snapshots and video. Right up front, I will say that I am disappointed that the video camera does not record in 720p high definition format. This is particularly curious, given that the Sprint EVO-4G has the same camera and records in 720p. If you spend anytime looking at video on YouTube, Vimeo, or other sites, you will appreciate the quality of HD video. Setting that annoyance aside, I found that the camera takes pretty decent images. The camera has selective focus, meaning you can touch different areas of the screen to shift the focus, but so far I’ve found that the focus system is not as accurate as I’d like. Here are some examples I grabbed for this piece.
Notice that Carla’s picture is not quite in focus. I touched the focus area on her face several times before snapping the picture. I even reduced the resolution of the images from 8MP to 1MP in the hopes that it would write faster, and, thus, reduce any affects of camera shake.
Again, notice in the second video that the rose is not in focus, though it’s closest to the camera. I selected the focus area on the rose, and made sure I was a sufficient distance from the rose so it was not too close to focus. I suspect that spending more time with the camera will result in better image and video quality.
The Incredible has a great screen with vibrant colors and deep, rich blacks. The response to touch, which is critical on a device with no keyboard, is fast and precise. I like the haptic feedback (it vibrates a little) when you make particular touch inputs. Speaking of touch…if you anywhere near the OCD issues I have, the fingerprints and smudges on the screen will just about drive you batty–even with a screen protector. I keep a soft lens cloth with me at all times. I guess this just comes with the territory with touch screen devices. It is worth noting that one of the drawbacks of AMOLED (Active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) screens is that they suffer from significant washout in direct sunlight.
I don’t know how many of you are walking around using your phone in direct sunlight. However, if you spend a lot of time in the sun, you might want to think twice about this phone and look at the Droid, instead. In the couple of weeks that I’ve had the phone, screen glare has not been a problem.
I love the Incredible. If you’re looking to upgrade from a standard phone or an existing smartphone, I don’t think you can go wrong. As with any smartphone on the market, there are pros and cons that you should weigh, but the Incredible has far more pros and cons. If you’re on Verizon, or open to changing networks, I would strongly recommend this device. In all candor, more than a couple of times, I’ve wondered whether I should return the phone and move to Sprint to get the EVO-4G, because (among other things) it’s larger, has HD video recording, and can act as a mobile hotspot for up to eight devices. The thing that would likely keep me at home on Verizon with my Incredible is that I don’t like bulk and can’t imagine having the EVO in my pocket. Stay tuned for another piece, or two, on some of the programs and apps, as well as some tips for using the Incredible. Please let me know if you have specific questions. I’d be happy to add them to my next piece, or create a Q&A sheet.