Like the iPhone after its most recent update, the Hero supports cut, copy, and paste. There's even spell-checking functionality, although it's turned off by default.
Life in the slow lane
But it's not all sunshine and lollipops. Sadly, HTC has saddled the Hero with its old favorite Qualcomm 528MHz processor--the same as the Magic. Using the keyboard reveals the Hero's occasional sluggishness--switching between the landscape and portrait keyboards takes ever-so-slightly too long. Similarly, the phone sometimes seems to hesitate slightly when you're swiping around the home screens and interacting with the widgets.
We found the Hero to be stable, and, unlike the Magic, it rarely hung or crashed, but the occasional lag could get annoying when you're using the phone every day. One way to reduce the lag is to turn off the widgets, but we think that's a real shame, since they're among our favorite features.
Another area where the Hero bests the Magic is battery life. It's quite good for a touch-screen smartphone. We had no trouble getting a full day's use out of the Hero, even with plenty of Wi-Fi surfing and use of Bluetooth.
Solid Web surfer
Surfing the Web on the Hero is a pleasure, thanks to its accurate browser, which includes Flash support, so you won't miss a single whizzy ad. In our tests, however, the Hero didn't handle Flash video very well--our Crave TV videos were far too jerky to watch. And, unfortunately, the BBC iPlayer site's version of Flash didn't seem to be supported at all, so we had to rely on the dodgy beebPlayer app. We couldn't watch videos on the YouTube site either, but the built-in YouTube app worked perfectly.
The Hero has good connectivity, with Wi-Fi and 7.2Mbps HSPA for faster data over 3G, but we found the browser didn't load or switch windows quickly enough. We look forward to installing Opera and seeing if it does a better job. One fantastic addition to the Hero, as opposed to earlier Android phones, is multitouch capability, so you can zoom into pages with a pinch of your fingers to get at those tiny links.
Multitouch also comes in handy for zooming into photos, but, unfortunately, it's nowhere to be found in Google Maps. We had to use zoom buttons on the screen, which means we could only zoom into the center of the map. We were very disappointed to see Google Maps working less well on a Google Android phone than on the iPhone.
There's also a trackball for navigating your way around. It could be useful with Web pages and text, but we think it's overkill when there's such a responsive touch screen at hand. Overall, in terms of navigation, overkill is the name of the game, with way too many buttons on the front suggesting that the touch screen can't be trusted. The Hero's nowhere near as over-zealous as the Nokia N97, but, compared with the elegance of the iPhone, the plethora of context-sensitive menus and options occasionally left us feeling exhausted.
The Hero has a 5-megapixel camera that takes decent shots in good light, but it's almost useless in low light because of its lack of sensitivity. It also shoots video, but it takes forever for the camera to get up and running. As with most phones, the camera on the Hero is fine for snapshots, but it won't replace your compact snapper.
Getting your snaps off the phone, and music onto it, is a different process from that of most phones, because there's no dedicated syncing software for the Hero. Instead, it connects to your computer via USB, just like a flash drive, so you can drag and drop the files you want or sync using most music software. We hate being chained to iTunes with the iPhone, but the lack of syncing software means there's no way to easily back up and restore all of your applications and configurations, and you must use over-the-air syncing with Gmail or Exchange to back up your contacts, although there are apps that can help.
Also, we didn't like that we had to "mount" the Hero each time we connected it by USB before we could access it. It does help if you just want to charge the phone without it being detected as a USB drive by your computer, but we like to transfer data frequently, and it's an extra step we don't need.
There's plenty missing from the iPhone, like Flash support, but what's there works fantastically well. Android, like the Linux from which it was spawned, has always had a whiff of geekiness about it--you're free to bolt on everything but the kitchen sink, but it's not a perfectly polished jewel that's always a pleasure to use.
The HTC Hero smoothes many of those rough edges, with a shiny new user interface that covers Android in widgety goodness. Additions like multitouch zoom, lovely Flickr and Facebook integration and a great keyboard make the Hero the best Android phone yet, especially since it's not as ugly as we feared. In fact, we've grown to like its jutting jawbone. If only it were slightly faster and slicker, we'd consider it an iPhone killer. As it is, we'll class it as an iPhone peer.