Phone review: HTC Hero/G2 Touch

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The Independent Tech

Are you, like many others, getting sick of hearing about the iPhone? Do you find yourself listening to Apple evangelists and wishing there was an app that would make iPhone owners less smug? Well there's no app - yet - but there is a new phone on the market which might well help.

The G2 Touch is a new handset from HTC, featuring Android, the Google-backed open source operating system which is set to become ubiquitous in the mobile phone market over the next year or two. HTC were the first ones to the party on Android - their G1, released at the end of last year, being the first model on the market to use the software - and they've taken that knowledge and built on it in the release of the G2 Touch. The new model dispenses with the G1's physical keyboard, making it much less bulky than its predecessor, although it does retain the slightly angled 'lip' at the bottom of the device, and except for a new oleophobic surface, the touchscreen is the same as that of the G1.



Users can now zoom in and out of web pages by pinching the screen in the sense popularised by the iPhone, and another welcome addition is a standard headphone socket, meaning listening to music no longer involves fiddling around with a convertor. Light-sensing technology dims and brightens the screen as appropriate, helping relieve the battery life problems which have troubled users of earlier HTC Android phones. With support for Flash, the Android trumps the iPhone with the ability to display multimedia web pages, though it has to be said that loading videos or other Flash components can be anything from sluggish to practically impossible depending on the speed of your data connection.



Although the phone runs on the same version of Android as the G1 and Magic handsets, to the untrained eye the 'Sense' interface on which the company has been working for three years, looks a few steps further on aesthetically than its forebears, with a range of G2 Touch specific widgets such as analogue clocks and a calendar detailing a month's worth of events, as well as widgets for displaying recent Twitter updates and playing music from one of the device's seven home screens. Interface problems are occasional, and with multiple programs running at once, or many applications syncing simultaneously, there is some forgiveable slowdown. One standout feature which will recommend the phone to many users is the G2 Touch's integration with services like Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, and the UI is designed to make social networking central to the G2 Touch experience, with features including the option to move messages between accounts.



At 5-megapixels, and with video-recording capability, the phone's camera is sharp enough to stand in for a digital, and has a zoom which works surprisingly well for a phone add-on. The gallery, though, can be slow to load, and when shooting video the camera takes a moment to calibrate which can prove frustrating if you're filming in the spur of the moment.



The handset is clearly the result of a lot of hard work from HTC, both on the handset design front, and in terms of the interface, and a worthy entry into a smartphone market competitors as tough as the Palm Pre, Blackberry Curve and iPhone 3GS. It manages to take the bare bones of the Android operating system which has been highly developed by Google and their partners and turn it into something equally functional but of greater elegance, and for this it deserves praise. With the underlying hardware still that of earlier models however, the phone can feel underpowered at precisely the moment's when its pedigree should be clearest, like when using multiple applications or shooting video. Small though these reservations may be, they do to an extent tarnish what is a nonetheless impressive and well-equipped smartphone for the Android generation, and a serious challenge to the dominance of the iPhone.

The G2 Touch is available from T Mobile from £36.50 a month, including unlimited internet, and the handset is also available from Orange as the HTC Hero.

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