May 13, 2010 9:06 pm

Battle of the smartphones

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HTC’s Droid Incredible is latest to take on iPhone
HTC Droid Incredible

Names can become a hostage to fortune but Taiwan’s HTC clearly hopes this will not be the case with the Droid Incredible. While the latest in HTC’s rapidly expanding portfolio of smartphones may not quite qualify as “incredible”, it is perhaps the best Android operating system-based handset to date.

I have been testing the Incredible, which was launched in the US a few weeks ago on the Verizon Wireless network, and comparing it to some of its rivals, including another new HTC smartphone, the HD2 from T-Mobile USA. The Incredible is similar to HTC’s Desire, which was recently launch­ed in Europe, while the HD2 is also available in Europe and Asia.

The Incredible is similar in size and weight to the iPhone, has an excellent touchscreen, a very fast processor and can be configured easily by users to their own personal requirements. As with the iPhone, users have ac­cess to a wide range of free and low-cost software apps.

With its slightly soft, black case, the Incredible looks like many other touchscreen-based smartphones, al­though its interior is a surprising red. The large, bright 3.7in OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen is slightly larger than the one on the iPhone 3GS. The HTC HD2’s very sensitive screen is even bigger at 4.3in and is its outstanding feature. Both screens deliver a resolution of 800 by 480 pixels, also a step up from the 480 by 320 pixel resolution of the iPhone 3GS. The HTC screens are excellent for indoor use but in bright outdoor sunshine they are less readable than, say, a BlackBerry.

The Incredible is quite comfortable to hold, but the HD2 is a little bit too wide and heavy.

Just under the Incredible’s screen is an optical joystick, while the back of the handset features an integrated 8 megapixel digital camera for still and video images. The camera is one of the most powerful I have used – although, disappointingly, there is no dedicated shutter button.

The HD2 runs Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system, has a standard set of control buttons below the screen, including a familiar Windows menu button, and a 5Mp auto-focus camera with a dual LED flash on the rear.

One of the most noticeable features of both handsets is their speed – they are built round a 1 gigahertz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, which is quickly becoming a benchmark processor for high-end smartphones.

Like the Motorola Droid, which was launched late last year, both the Incredible and H2D have excellent sound and had good signal reception on their respective networks when I used them. Battery life, at about five to six-and-a-half hours of talktime, is also relatively good for smartphones but fails to match my BlackBerry Bold.

The big divergence between the Incredible and the HD2 is, of course, that they run different operating systems and have access to different app stores. I preferred the Incredible’s Android 2.1 operating system to Windows Mobile 6.5 (the latter will be replaced later this year by Microsoft’s new mobile phone operating system, Windows Phone 7).

However, the differences are not as significant as might be expected bec­ause HTC has overlaid both operating systems with its superb Sense user interface, which I consider to be the closest rival to the iPhone version.

The Incredible is particularly easy to set up, configure and personalise. But even if you decide to leave customisation for another day, the attractive de­fault home screen features a clock and a weather graphic.

A finger swipe takes you to your contact list, which includes photos for easy identification, e-mail and social networking. Users can set up six additional screens while a new feature, Leap, lets you view thumbnail versions of all the open pages on one screen simply by pinching your fingers together on the home screen.

Neither the Incredible nor the H2D has as extensive an online app store as the iPhone. But both do have a solid collection of basic apps that, in the case of the Incredible, include standard Android applications such as Gmail, Google Talk and YouTube as well as HTC’s Twitter app (called Peep), its photo geotagging app (Footprints) and an app called FriendStream, which integrates feeds from Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and My­Space among others. Users can also change modes so that the handset operates like a car satellite navigation system, using Google’s maps and navigation software.

The Incredible makes it easy to configure corporate or personal e-mail synchronisation and, like other touch-based smartphones, has a virtual keyboard that, while less easy to use than a BlackBerry’s physical mini-qwerty keyboard, is fine for instant messaging, short e-mails and entering web search terms. Web access is smooth and fast with the Android 2.1 browser.

Overall, the Incredible is an impressive smartphone and my favourite Android-based handset. I prefer it to not only the HD2 but also to rivals from Palm, Nokia and Samsung. If you are looking for a super-smartphone running Google’s open-source Android operating system, this is my top pick. But if you are an Apple fan, you may want to wait a little for the iPhone 4G.

paul.taylor@ft.com

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