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Droid Incredible Review

droid incredible apps hero
photo gallery

On the paper, the Droid Incredible doesn’t look that much different from its cousin, the Google Nexus One. In fact, they do have a lot in common, even if the Droid Incredible is obviously slightly more advanced (see table) and also runs on what many call “the best cellular network in the U.S”: Verizon. The Droid Incredible also comes with HTC Sense, a series fine-tuned Android OS additions that make the phone more usable. Wireless carriers aside, most people ask me: “should I get the Incredible or the Nexus One?”. My definitive answer is: The HTC Incredible. In this review, I’ll tell you how I have used it and why I think that it is better than the Nexus One. Ready?

Update April 29 2011: We have published our Droid Incredible 2 Review.

Context: We all use our phones differently, so it’s important that I tell you where I come from: I have been using the Droid Incredible for a couple of weeks as my main phone. I typically check my email often with Exchange, and I reply moderately because the virtual keyboard is not as productive as a physical one. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but I rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful.

Technical Highlights

Droid Incredible Google Nexus One
Android 2.1 + HTC Sense Android 2.1
3.7″ AMOLED 480×800 3.7″ AMOLED 480×800
Qualcomm 8650 SnapDragon, 1Ghz Qualcomm 8250 SnapDragon, 1Ghz
512MB RAM 512MB RAM
8GB of internal storage + microSD slot 4GB microSD card
8 Megapixel camera 5 Megapixel camera
Wifi b/g, BT 2.1+EDR, aGPS Wifi b/g, BT 2.1+EDR, aGPS
FM Radio No Radio
TV Out (microUSB) No TV Out
Carrier: Verizon, 3G speeds AT&T, T-Mobile
4.6 x 2.3 x 0.47″, 4.6oz 4.7 x 2.4 x 0.5″, 4.5oz
1300mAh battery 1400mAh battery

(Complete specs: follow the Verizon link after the conclusion)

There are a few notable differences with theNexus One: The Droid Incredible has 8GB of internal memory (+ one MicroSD slot on the side), while the Nexus has only the MicroSD slot with a 4GB microSD card by default. Secondly, the Nexus One has a 5 Megapixel camera instead of the 8MP of the Incredible. The Incredible has a dual-LED flash, versus a the single-LED flash of the N1. The Nexus one has a slightly better battery (1400mAh), but you will see later that sheer battery capacity doesn’t define battery life.

Physical Design (Very Good)

Body: the design of the Droid Incredible is slick by most people’s standards, and I certainly like it myself. The backplate design might be more controversial, but while it is not my favorite backplate, I’m OK with it. I’ll let you decide for yourself after looking at our photo gallery. The more important part is that the build quality is good, and the phone feels solid.

Display: The Droid Incredible’s display is very similar to the Nexus One display (for good and bad). Both use AMOLED technology, and while the actual screen size may vary just a little, both provide the same feel and experience. It is narrower than the iPhone – not by a lot, but just enough to induce more typos when using the virtual keyboard, in my opinion. The colors seem more saturated than they should, but that’s kind of how AMOLED is… I would certainly not use this an an example of color accuracy, but I like the high contrast, and how the colors “pop”. The thing that I don’t like with AMOLED display is how unreadable they get when it’s bright outside. I guess that this is the downside of living in California, but this is probably the most annoying thing on this phone.

droid incredible apps display
The AMOLED display is superb when used indoors

droid incredible apps display shiny
However, outdoors and in direct sunlight, it is shiny and not bright enough

Optical trackpad: I’m sure that I don’t use the trackpad to its full potential, but it is honestly not very useful. I really need it only when I try to move the cursor within a word, and this does not happen very often. Just to give you a reference, I think that this trackpad is not as nice to use as the Blackberry Bold 9700 trackpad.

UI buttons: the four buttons at the bottom of the phones are much more sensitive than on the Nexus One, and I’m glad that HTC improved this aspect because the N1 was a little annoying for that. The quick search button will open a universal search that will scan you contacts, shortcuts, bookmarks and so on… it also gives you an option to extend the search to the web. For web searches, I have installed a Google Search widget.

Basics

droid incredible apps dialer
Dialing is very easy, the basics are well covered

Dial a number: Just like other Android phones, dialing a number on the Incredible is very easy. HTC Sense makes it even a little more convenient: for example, HTC made the dialer a little smaller so that you can see (and click!) the few last numbers called. Accessing the full list of contacts or favorites is also simple.

Wireless reception: Overall, the Verizon network is the one that has the best reputation in the U.S, however you should remember that reception quality is mostly a matter of where YOU are. Do your homework, and ask your friend what their reception is. It might very well be that another carrier will have a cell tower nearby your home or office. I remember that a recent study has shown that Verizon dropped less calls than AT&T.

droid incredible apps speaker
The main speaker is used in speaker-mode and for multimedia apps

Audio quality: during calls, the sound is clear and loud (louder than my BB 9700), so I’m satisfied with this. It should be loud enough to hear distinctly in a busy restaurant.

droid incredible apps keyboard
The virtual keyboard is very complete, but visually a bit noisy

Virtual Keyboard (Busy): HTC Sense provides a keyboard that is different from the original Android one. First of all, it as a comma key at the bottom and you can see what the alternate characters are (1,2,3… and special characters). If you press and hold a key, the alternate key will be used. By doing this, you don’t have to switch to the alternate view of the keyboard. This could be a time saver, but the “hold” time is a little too long at about 2 seconds – it needs to be set to 1 second to really save time. I would like to have more control over the keyboard. I find this one to be too (visualy) busy for my taste.

droid incredible apps copy paste
It’s good to have a working Copy/Paste…

Copy/Paste (works!): Most reviews don’t mention this, but the Copy/Paste actually works very well on the Droid Incredible (yay!), including in non-editable zones, which is like… 97.66% of the time when you need a copy/paste. Copy/Paste works like it does with the iPhone: click and hold something and a set of delimiters will appear. Drag the delimiters to change the selection, then copy, and voila. Thank you HTC.

droid incredible apps web browsing
Web browsing is very good, and finally, we get the pinch&zoom

Web Browsing (Excellent): As it is the case with recent Android phones, the web browsing experience is excellent. Web browsing is fast, and the superb screen resolution makes the iPhone 3GS seem blurry. If you have a good sight, the extra resolution will let you see more text at once, therefore reducing the need to scroll and zoom – I love it.

If you do need to zoom and scroll, HTC has added the most coveted pinch & zoom support, which was missing from most Android devices in the U.S, including the N1. Just like on the iPhone and the Pre, you can now zoom easily and intuitively. There’s one difference though: this browser will reformat the text each time you zoom. While this makes text reading better, it also displaces web page elements in unexpected ways.


Web browsing, copy/paste video demo

droid incredible apps flash
Basic flash works, but Hulu does not. YouTube relies on the YouTube app

Flash: Flash Lite is supported, but in practice, it didn’t help me that much. The stuff that I really care about (Hulu, for example) did not work, but a few banner ads and games (too slow to play) did work… I think that we will need full Flash 10.1 support with great performance (I insist on this point) before the whole Flash thing starts to make a difference.

Google docs: Google docs is still in read-only mode, which means that we’re only half of the way there. Not that I would *like* to edit a spreadsheet from the small display with the small keyboard, but I would like to have the option of doing it (this is true for most Smartphones btw. The Nokia N900 does work with Google Docs). There’s a big demand for the editing functions, so I thought that you should know.

Email / Accounts Sync

droid incredible apps email
Reading email is great, but typing is a little slower compared to a Blackberry

The email experience is pretty good, but I’ll repeat myself (from a prior review) that this is nowhere near the level of productivity that a BlackBerry would reach. From getting to the top of the email list (press “t” in the BB), to initiating a reply (press “r”) with a keyboard shortcut to finally typing the actual text, I would say that the Blackberry (9700) makes me twice as fast to answer emails. Also, the Blackberry has a custom dictionary that you can use to expand acronyms into full blocks of text. For example, if I type “addr” [then space], it expands to my full address – you can’t beat that.

In my Nexus One review, I complained about the lack of email search. If you use the universal search (tap the search button at the bottom-right of the phone), you can search everything in the phone, including apps, shortcuts, contacts, and… emails. This is clearly much better than nothing, but I would have loved a Mail Search. Note that the GMail client has a search feature that works well. I’m talking about the Mail client for Exchange and POP/IMAP accounts here (POP and IMAP are supported by virtually all email providers).

USB Sync: I happen to sync my email via the 3G connection, but many people would still like to sync with their computer Email with a USB cable. HTC has made it possible to sync contacts and the calendar sync over USB (kudos to them), but there’s no Email sync from Outlook or Outlook Express. I did not see any Mac support for contact sync.

Push-email: You can setup Android to deliver emails “as they arrive” to get true “push email”. I tried with Exchange and GMail, but not with POP. This is great because you can engage in IM-like email thread (for better or worse), without “refreshing” the mailbox all the time

droid incredible apps accounts
Android 2.1 supports many accounts, including the popular social networks

Accounts Sync: You can add all kinds of accounts like Exchange, Facebook, Flickr, Google and Twitter and synchronize content on a regular basis. With Facebook for HTC Sense, you can’t sync Facebook faster than once every hour unless you do it manually. I suspect that this is true for other services as well. Frequent manual refreshes could deplete the battery faster than you would want.

Computer Sync

Upon connecting with USB, the Droid Incredible will appear as a USB drive in your OS. Simultaneously, the phone will ask if you just want to charge (no data connection), Sync Contacts+Calendar (Windows only), Mount as a USB drive or share the phone’s internet connection with the computer. This is pretty basic, but sufficient for most users. Under Windows, you can optionally import photos and videos the same way you would from a camera or a memory card – this is familiar
territory. There’s no iTunes equivalent to manage the phone – for better or worse. Personally, I really like the simplicity of the USB connectivity but sometimes it’s easier to manage things from a computer because it’s more comfy.

Tethering

droid incredible apps pdanet dev
I used PDANet to tether the phone for this test. Check if your carrier allows it

Out of the box, the Droid Incredible has a tethering option that I was eager to try. Well, it didn’t quite work “out of the box”… I installed HTC Sync and connected via a USB cable, chose the tethering option, after after which the computer tried to install the Modem drivers… and failed. A quick search revealed that others are experiencing the same issues. So I decided to try PDANet, a 3rd party solution that uses the USB Debug Mode to communicate data back and forth between the Droid and the computer. This seems like a workaround that would work with every carrier. Anyway, after installing following the PDANet and installing a client on my Win7 laptop, I was connected via the 3G connection. With 2/4 bars, the phone managed to get a 1.8Mbps/0.73Mbps connection, according to Speakeasy.net, that’s not bad at all.

droid incredible apps network speed
This is the speed that I was able to get from the office. with 2/4 bars

Photo and Video

droid incredible apps camera
The camera is very good in bright conditions. The dual-LED helps in the dark

Photos: images captured with the 8 Megapixel camera look good and rank surely among the best that we’ve seen in recent months, but the internal image processing software has been tuned to “sharpen” the images a little too much in my opinion. There’s also visible noise and small details like leaves are sometimes blurred out by the image compression. In relatively good lighting conditions, the colors are quite natural, which is a plus – the Nexus One was not as skillful. Despite being a very good mobile phone camera, it won’t surpass a pocket digicam – that was to be expected. In darker conditions, it’s a bit more difficult, but there’s a 2-LED flash (that works best from 1.5 yards away). Just take a look at ourDroid Incredible photo & video samples on Flickr, they will speak for themselves.

droid incredible sample 17
Some flowers nearby, photo taken late in the afternoon, in the shadows

droid incredible apps photo
Good news, the colors are fairly “true”

Video: I’m pretty happy with the video quality of this phone. The camcorder app can record videos at 800×480 (24fps, 2000kbps) and 640×480 (30fps). Lower resolutions like 320×240 are also supported, but unless you’re running out storage, there’s no point in using the small resolutions. 640×480 is my personal favorite as I prefer faster framerate over sheer resolution, but both work very well. I recommend avoiding fast panning motions because that might make the video a little choppy. Check out our Droid Incredible video samples on Flickr.

Performance

As benchmarked by Linpack, the raw performance is the same than what we’re getting on the Nexus One, so there’s no surprise on that front. Android 2.2 will bring a 5X theoretical performance jump, because apps will be compiled to native code, thanks to the Just-In-Time (JIT) compiler that turns Java code into native code.

droid incredible apps ui
The user interface is much faster than pre-Nexus One phones, but ZuneHD-fast yet

User Interface performance: on the “perceived performance” front, the user interface is fast. Android phones have made steady progress and went from relatively slow to fairly fast in less than a year. If you’re a little picky (like I am), you will notice that the UI elements are still not as fluid as the iPhone 3GS or the Zune HD. I still think that this is a structural software issue with Android, one that has not been addressed in Android 2.2, yet.

Gaming performance: At the moment, gaming performance is pretty much in-line with what you can get on the Nexus One. It’s good, but it could be (and will be) even better with Android 2.2. Let’s hope that HTC will come up with the Droid Incredible 2.2 Update quickly. Look at the video to see what the Droid Incredible can do.

Boot time: if you’re curious, the Droid Incredible boots in 37 seconds from black screen to “being usable”.

Multitasking (Excellent)

droid incredible apps multitask
3rd party apps can run in the background. My favorite is Skype

We all know it, Android is a good multitasker, but you will need to keep an eye on what’s running in the background to avoid taxing the resources (cycles, battery) too much. I still recommend using a Task Killer application, and preferably one that lets you kill all non-essential apps in one click via a shortcut. You can also set it to automatically terminate applications every x minutes/hours, just to make sure that you don’t forget. Even though Android has (in theory) been getting better at minimizing the impact of background tasks on the battery, I found the Task Killer to be useful – oh and it’s free too.

HTC Sense

While the Nexus One is running on a standard Android build, the Incredible benefits from HTC Sense, an improved user interface (UI) that builds upon Android. There are a ton of improvements, and my favorites are the calendar, flash support in the browser, status updates and the homepage “leap” (seeing all seven home screens at once). These simple things make your life a little easier. I don’t think that I should dedicate a whole section of this review to it, but if you want to know more, head to thisarticle form Android Central. Honestl
y, I would rather see Google improving the Android UI for all, instead of having HTC do it only for HTC devices.

Entertainment

droid incredible apps photo gal
The photo roll is fairly fast, but it could be even better…

Photos gallery (Getting better): the photo gallery app is simple and classic. You can scroll over a film roll that displays 3 photos at once, or zoom in and view photos one by one. You can even crop the photos if you want, although I never have the urge to do it. From the gallery, it is very easy to share a photo via email, social networks or Bluetooth. Overall, the gallery works so much better than phones that came out just 6 months ago. It’s faster, but still lags behind the Zune HD and the 3GS. We’re getting close…

droid incredible apps music
The music player is very decent, but where’s the keyword search?

Music (No search?): The plain-vanilla Android comes with a decent music player, and I usually don’t have much to say about other than “it works”. The HTC variant is equally functional, except in one way: I did not find a text search function – this is a pain in the neck if you have a lot of songs. I tried to use the unified search, but no music results came out.

Audio quality (Good): Overall, the external speaker quality is good. It is plenty loud and you can definitely watch a clip, or listen to music very decently. If you crank the volume level past 80%, the sound starts to be distorted.

droid incredible apps video yt
Youtube’s high-resolution videos play without a hitch over 3G

YouTube Videos (Very good): YouTube video worked really well over 3G, despite that fact that I have only 2/4 bars when sitting at my desk. No particular complaint there. Make sure that you use the high-quality video (in the menu). By default, my YouTube app was to the low quality.

MP4 Videos: Videos played locally on the Droid Incredible can be extremely sharp and fast. I have created a 2.5Mbps movie (AVC, 720×480, 30fps, stereo 48Khz) and the phone was able to play it back perfectly. May be I could have cranked up the bitrate, but this was more than enough. On the other hand, PSP-friendly .mp4 files that I used with other Android phones did not work on this one. That’s a bummer because some people out there might have build and converted a ton of movies to fit their phones. I also tried to play a 720p 8Mbps movie, and that one froze my phone.


A 720×480 Mpeg4 file played on the Droid Incredible

Misc

droid incredible apps skype
Verizon has the best Skype integration
but SkypeOut calls use minutes instead of data

Skype: Verizon has the best Skype integration on Android (The Nokia N900‘s is great too), so it’s quite a perk to be able to leave Skype in the background and place/receive calls with it. Remember thatSkypeOut calls will use your minutes because they don’t go through 3G, but call a special number instead. This means no voice-over-IP from a hotspot, or from abroad. Too bad…

Battery Life (Excellent)

droid incredible apps battery status
The Android battery utility shows you what’s consuming more power: handy!

Overall, the Droid Incredible has the best battery life of all the Android devices that I have had in my hands recently, and that includes the HTC EVO 4G, if you are curious. The Nexus One and most of the others could barely survive 24hrs, even with a moderate usage, but the Droid Incredible survived way into the second day (see how I use it in the “Context” paragraph at the beginning). This is huge because this means that I can forget to charge it overnight. I’m not sure why this is, but I suspect that the idle power management (sleep mode) is simply better. What I don’t understand is why the EVO 4G, which runs a similar software (if not more recent), does not pass the 24hrs barrier. (note that I use a Task Killer on all Android phones. This is often very useful to cut down power consumption). We’ve compiled some tips to make your android battery life even better.

Battery utility: if you want to know what app is sucking out all the power, use the battery utility. It will show you which app/process consumes power and this knowledge will help you save power. Go to Settings>>About Phone>> Battery>>Battery use (see photo above).

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The battery is user-replaceable… in case you care

User-replaceable: The battery is user-replaceable if you feel like buying some more, but I found the backplate to be much harder to open than on the Nexus One for instance. No biggie, but if you change batteries often, it might be annoying. I think that most users feel better to know that they can change a dead battery themselves, not that it actually happens that much.

Camera is incredibly taxing: After a week or so, I realized by accident that the camera was the most battery-taxing of all (at least that I know of). If you use the camera for 3-5mn, it will quickly jump to be the most power-hungry app in the battery utility. Good to know!

droid incredible apps power widget
I highly recommend the Power widget. It lets me turn things on and off quickly

Power Management Widgets: I found the power management widget to be very useful because it shows you right away if high-powered stuff like 3G, WIFI and GPS are ON or OFF, it puts you in (complete but manual) control of the power management. Of course, a better alternative might be to make things smarter so that they turn completely OFF and ON when needed, but in the meantime, it’s handy. I highly recommend it.

Things that could be better

Narrow design: just like many HTC designs, I fin
d the Droid Incredible to be very pocketable, but at the expense of typing accuracy with the virtual keyboard. A careful examination of the virtual keyboard reveals that it is only slightly narrower than the iPhone’s but that small difference makes a noticeable difference in typing linpack. Fortunately, HTC also has larger phones like the EVO 4G, which is much more comfy to type on.

No Data during calls: This has to do with the CDMA wireless technology used by Verizon (and Sprint): it simply can’t do voice and data at the same time. For example, you can’t be on the phone and go do a web search (the browser won’t be able to connect). That sounds really annoying, but in the real world, it has never been an issue for me. I did try it and I can confirm that this is true, and I think that you should know. It seems that Sprint’s Wimax (4G) doesn’t suffer from this and Verizon’s upcoming LTE (4G) might not either.

No UMA: Verizon’s network has worked very well during this test, but wouldn’t it be nice if they were supporting UMA as well? With UMA, we would be able to connect to the Verizon network over WIFI. That would be a boon for customers living on the edge of the network. It would also offer a small solution to those who travel abroad. They would be able to get some coverage indoors.

No International service: I just mentioned the international traveler, so you’ve been warned: outside of the US, this phone won’t work.

droid incredible apps rotate
The rotation doesn’t kick in when people expect it to.
I see Android newbies go “huh?” all the time

Landscape mode doesn’t work at 90 degrees CW: This is very mild, but the landscape mode doesn’t work consistently. The screen will rotate only counter clock-wise (CCW) and it will do so only in specific apps.

Conclusion

The Droid Incredible is an excellent phone that demonstrates Android at its best, and reveals HTC’s mastery at releasing high-quality phones litterally faster than we can test them. I can’t wait for the Android 2.2 update. Because I found the battery to be better and the screen and the tactile buttons to be more responsive, I can warmly recommend the Incredible over the Nexus One. The Verizon Network worked beautifully for me, even though I never had 4/4 bars in and around the office. No dropped calls, no sluggish web traffic. The only sacrifice, that I’m not quite yet ready to make is to abandon a SIM-card based phone because I travel a lot outside the U.S and it is just very handy to keep the same phone and pop a local SIM card in. What’s yout take on the Droid Incredible? Do you have more questions, remarks? Drop a comment below.

Links

Do not miss these reviews: MacBook Air Review, iPhone 4 Review, Macbook Pro Review,iPad Review, iPhone 3GS Review,Sprint Overdrive WiMax Modem, Blackberry 9700 ReviewPalm Pixi ReviewMotorola Droid Review,Nokia N900 ReviewHTC Hero ReviewMyTouch 3G Review/HTC Magic, Nokia N97 Review

Droid Incredible Photo Gallery,Droid Incredible Photo Samples (700px-wide)Droid Incredible photo samples on Flickr (native resolution), Images from this page, in higher resolution

Droid Incredible homepage atHTC,Verizon. Droid Incredibleuser manual, HTC Sense

Disclaimer

At the time of publishing, I own a small number of shares of Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T). Each represent less than 1% of my holdings.

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