Verizon Wireless’s new HTC Droid Incredible is now a milestone for the rapidly growing Android platform. It can easily take the reins as the most powerful smartphone in the U.S. market. However, it doesn’t deserve all the credit; the Motorola Droid, which we reviewed last year, was responsible for initiating the largest Android movement. While Verizon Wireless isn’t pumping nearly as much cash into marketing the Droid Incredible as they did with the original Motorola Droid, it’s still being recognized by both tech pundits as well as the gadget community. Even Google decided to discontinue their own HTC-built Nexus for Verizon Wireless in favor of the Droid Incredible. With HTC’s hardware, Google’s latest Android platform, and Verizon’s reliable network, the Droid Incredible has plenty backing it.
Hardware, Aesthetics, & Design
Simply stated, the Droid Incredible packs the latest tech. The device revolves around the impressive performance of a Qualcomm 1GHz Snapdragon processor paired with 512 MB of ROM and 512 MB of RAM. The impressive hardware doesn’t end there; it also sports an 8 megapixel camera, GPS navigator, Bluetooth (v2.1 + EDR), FM Radio, and WiFi b/g. To better interact with the environmental conditions, HTC also includes an accelerometer, a proximity sensor, and an ambient light detector. To top it off, the Incredible runs on Android 2.1 with HTC’s Sense UI overlay, which supports over-the-air updates.
Unlike Apple’s friendly marketing approach for the iPhone, Verizon Wireless touts the Droid lineup as heavy machinery. They even place robotic arms and feature mechanical parts besides the device in advertisements to further endorse this statement. Despite this, the Droid Incredible has a sharp, modern look. The phone weighs less and is a hairline thinner than the iPhone 3GS; it’s also narrower than an iPhone, but a bit taller. The Incredible is small enough to throw into a bag or slide into a tight pocket with ease. The entire framework has a dark black finish with red accents around the earpiece and camera. Corporate branding for Google, HTC, and Verizon Wireless is a little more subtle with silver lining.
The front of the phone sports the large 3.7 inch display above four touch sensitive buttons: Home, Menu, Back, and Search. There’s also a unique optical trackpad, which is great for navigating through the interface one-handed. A standard microUSB port and volume rocker are on the left side of the phone while the power button that doubles as the lock key and a 3.5mm headphone jack are on the top. The back side of the Incredible is the most striking and odd. Instead of a smooth, subtle, and rounded body, HTC included unusual layers and levels. Despite the design, the phone still has a great grip and doesn’t feel awkward when held. The entire back plate is also removable, revealing the user-replaceable battery pack and a microSD slot. The back side also features the camera, dual LED flashes, and the mono speaker. The only downside is the fact the camera protrudes from the body, which can potentially cause damage to the camera with extended use.
The HTC Droid Incredible sports the same 3.7 inch 480-by-800 pixel AMOLED capacitive touch screen as the Google Nexus. It’s slightly larger than the iPhone’s display and also features a greater pixel density. Text is sharper than on most mobile displays that I’ve encountered. At first glance, the screen just stands out with a burst of color. It’s comparable to HDTVs running in “demo mode” in retail stores. Unfortunately, that isn’t a realistic representation of colors. Images, logos, and graphics often look odd when placed beside another device. For instance, the iPhone’s display appears blue and faded in comparison. The Droid Incredible’s colors are too vivid, over saturated, and warm. With that being said, the average person won’t notice any issues unless they handle multiple smartphones on a regular basis.
There’s also the complaint of visibility under direct sunlight. While the ambient light sensor does a great job recognizing bright light and increasing the brightness, it’s simply not enough. It’s a difficult task to even read the name or number of an incoming call notification outdoors. There’s plenty of room for improvement on future iterations. At the least, HTC deserves credit for churning out a great capacitive multi-touch screen that’s accurate and responsive.
If there was a prize for the best-looking home screen interface, it would have to go to HTC for their Sense UI overlay. It truly does wonders for Google’s native Android interface, which is rather dry. The phone features seven home screens that can hold interactive widgets and icons. Unlike the iPhone, which reverts to the first home screen page, the Incredible focuses on the center page making it faster to slide left or right to reach the intended page. In addition, pinching in or double tapping the home button zooms out into an “expose view.” It offers a heads-up thumbnail view of all seven screens at once. It’s truly a magnificent feature that immediately grabs everyone’s attention. The intuitiveness and simplicity makes users more productive and work faster.
There are many widgets included by default on the Incredible, such as Bookmarks that displays the latest thumbnails of your favorite web pages or the Power Control widget that offers one-click access to the WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Sync, and Brightness controls. Other great widgets include the Favorite Contacts, which pulls in profile photos of your favorite contacts from social networks and the Music widget, which is a quick, alternative way to control music from the home screen. HTC heavily promotes their custom FriendStream widget, which integrates news feeds from Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. Downloaded Apps contain widgets for Engadget, Foursquare, Mint, Pandora, and more. The most notable widget is the Clock Weather, which displays the current time and weather conditions based on GPS coordinates. For a finishing touch, HTC animates the screen each time it’s unlocked with clouds, rain, thunder, sunshine, etc.
To top it off, the Droid Incredible even includes animated ‘Live Wallpapers.’ These aren’t childish cartoon animations or random videos but rather high quality looping graphics. There was even a Live Map background that automatically centers on the phone’s location. Unfortunately, I found that the UI would respond somewhat slower and that it would cause faster battery drain so I ultimately disabled it. With that being said, the Droid Incredible’s interface is a few steps ahead of the iPhone OS, Palm WebOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile. With an App drawer, folders for Apps on the home screen, and plenty of widgets, it can’t be beat.
Most cell phone makers have struggled to create a decent on-screen keyboard. Apple’s virtual keyboard for the iPhone and iPod Touch is the best available. Even the keyboards on the Motorola Droid and Droid Eris have been nothing more than lackluster. Fortunately, the Droid Incredible changes that. It’s the first non-Apple digital keyboard I’ve come across that’s actually usable. It’s responsive, sensitive, and features landscape and portrait modes. There’s support for haptic feedback. However, I found that the vibrations wouldn’t keep up with my fast typing rate. On the other hand, audio key press feedback was more helpful. The Incredible’s keyboard has a key for quickly switching from the QWERTY mode to a digits and symbols view. In addition, it also allows holding down a letter key to access the secondary symbol, which is great for quick punctuation. The built-in dictionary is actually quite robust and learns quickly because users can edit the custom dictionary,
The latest version of the Android OS also allows voice dictation in any field that uses the phone’s native keyboard. My test runs were impressively accurate. While I can’t see myself using it on a regular basis, it can come in handy to dictate a text message with a headset while driving.
Facebook, Flickr, Twitter? No problem. By default, those social networks are all built into the Sense UI. One quick login from the Accounts and Sync menu will automatically integrate the service into the phone. Contacts are instantly downloaded and merged with existing contact cards. Google Accounts even supports syncing multiple accounts. A contact’s card displays SMS messages, Email threads, status updates, photos, and call history in tabbed view. I was quite impressed with the Motorola Droid’s social networking integration last year and although there aren’t any revolutionary changes, HTC’s Sense UI offers many improvements.
Getting real work done with the Droid Incredible is a breeze. Google’s Gmail client is robust and loaded with desktop-like features. Keeping informed isn’t a problem since push notifications deliver alerts quickly. The SMS application has a great threaded message view to keep track of conversations. The Calendar application also works great for viewing multiple calendars. The built-in web browser renders pages faster than the iPhone’s mobile Safari browser over the same WiFi network. The Flash Lite is helpful, but it doesn’t get any closer to supporting services such as Hulu. The tabbed browsing interface helps improve multitasking; however, it requires two clicks to view open tabs, which is a nuisance. Fortunately, other third-party browsers are available for download through the Android Marketplace. Since the Droid Incredible supports saving files on both internal and external storage, it’s easy to view documents through the PDF viewer and QuickOffice.
Pictures and Videos
The Droid Incredible features an 8 megapixel camera with autofocus and dual LED flash. A simple click of the screen focuses on a specific spot, immediately improving quality. There are adjustments available for brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness, plus additional effects including grayscale, sepia, and negative. The Incredible unusually even offers basic controls for modifying White balance and ISO. There’s also a resolution settings, self-timer, geo-tagging, metering, and flicker adjustments. Captured images look great in well-lit situations; however, they begin to appear “grainy” in low light situations. While the dual LED flash should technically help, close-range images taken in darker areas appear overexposed. It’s a decent camera, but it’s still not on par with dedicated point-and-shoot.
While I was hoping for a decent video quality, I found that it can’t even refocus after it begins recording. Video can record at a max resolution of 800 by 480 pixels. The HTC Evo 4G already trumps that 720p recording. The built-in Qik live streaming application does an excellent job of sharing video and can even continuously geotag a video while moving.
With 8GB of internal storage, and support for up to 32GB microSD expansion, the Droid Incredible offers more space than the best iPhone 3GS model, making it an ideal multimedia device. The phone connects to a Windows 7 machine with a microUSB cable and appears as a mass storage device. Syncing content by dragging files or folders of content onto the device is a breeze. Programs such as Windows Media Player 12 also play well with the Android device.
The Droid Incredible easily handled playback of high-resolution H.264 content. That includes most videos tagged as HD on the iTunes Podcast library. Content from TED Talks and Revision 3 ran smoothly without any pixelization, pauses, or buffering. There’s also support for TV out, but there were no cables included in the box.
The audio experience was also integrated into the device. The operating system automatically scans through folders and adds files to the library. The music player allows users to browse through their collection by Artists, Albums, Playlists, Songs, Genres, and Composers. The interface shows album artwork whenever possible. The playback mode offers shuffle and repeat modes. A cover flow view is visible when playing music. The application runs in the background and the status appears in the notification bar. Other apps such as Pandora can also take advantage of the background functionalities.
The built-in mono speaker is impressively loud and clear. It’s crisper and doesn’t begin to crack when reaching max volume. Audio can get loud enough to overtake most phones I’ve tested, including the Motorola Devour, Apple iPhone 3GS, and Palm Pre. Since the Incredible doesn’t have a set of stereo speakers, the best experience is still achieved with a pair of headphones. Unfortunately, none are included in the box. I found that to be an especially odd decision since the embedded FM tuner won’t even work without headphones plugged in.
Call Network and Battery Life
As always, Verizon Wireless has excellent signal just about everywhere. AT&T’s network often results with repeated dropped calls in the same areas where Verizon Wireless performs perfectly. Calls sounded clear without any audio disturbance such as static. The earpiece was crisp and loud enough to hear the caller. The microphone also isolates sound decently, providing a great listening experience to the person on the other end.
HTC Claims about 5.2 hours of talk time with the included 1300 mAh battery pack. Although HTC also claims about 6 days worth of standby, that’s likely a rarity without manually disabling data syncing, notifications, and wireless networks. For the most part, with mixed usage of a few placed phone calls, some text messaging, checking emails, browsing the web, and listening to music, it should last through a full day. The battery life isn’t exceptional, but it’s on par with most smartphones on the market.
I was also glad to see that the included AC Adapter was also a modular microUSB cable. It’s truly convenient since the same cable can connect to a computer for data transfer or recharging when away from a power outlet. The user replaceable battery is also a plus for heavy users. Android also includes a great tool to monitor components of the phone that consume the most power. I found that the Android OS generally consumed the most power on a regular basis followed by the cell radio and WiFi network. The display, interestingly enough, wasn’t a major drain on power nor was the live wallpaper.
The Bottom Line
With great hardware, a great network, and a great operating system, HTC’s Android-powered Droid Incredible for Verizon Wireless is the best currently available smartphone on the market. Everything from the simplistic design, to the top-notch configuration, the extra Sense UI additions, the ever-growing Android Marketplace, and Google’s free GPS Navigator make the Droid Incredible worth every penny. Unfortunately, with the Sprint HTC Evo 4G just a few weeks away, the Droid Incredible will quickly become outdated in the rapidly growing Android field. If you are a Verizon Wireless customer and plan on remaining a customer, this is the best option available, period. However, if you are willing to switch between carriers and aren’t in a rush for a new device, Sprint’s Evo 4G is the game changer. And with Apple’s next generation iPhone due anytime, the Droid Incredible has no chance of long-term survival. Nonetheless, this phone excels on all grounds, but it won’t be the king of all smartphones for too long.