The HTC Droid Incredible 2 has arrived and everything suggests that it is a great successor to the original HTC Droid Incredible (check our Droid Incredible Review if you missed it). Some things have changed, like the loss of the AMOLED display (HTC could not procure enough of them), but other things have not: the Incredible 2 still has a great industrial design, solid software and a colorful display.
HTC presents the Incredible 2 as a smartphone for those who “dare to be different”, as a “standout cinematic experience” and a great imaging phone. This sounds great but is that really so? In this review, I’m going to go over the most frequently used features to tell you how the HTC Droid Incredible 2 looks -and behaves- in the real world. Are you ready? Let’s dive…
We all use smartphones in our own way, so it’s important that I tell you where I come from: I typically check my email (a lot!) 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. On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks, but I rarely play games (on Android – what games?). This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful.
Just to set some background information, here are some technical highlights related to the Droid Incredible 2. If you want to look at the full specifications, head to the official specs page at HTC.
Soc: SnapDragon 8655, 1Ghz (what is an SoC?)
GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
HSPA/WCDMA: for Europe/Asia: 900/AWS/2100 MHz
OS: Android 2.2.1 (+HTC Sense)
User Storage: 7GB + MicroSD slot
Camera: 8 Megapixel + 1.3 Megapixel
Sensors: G-sensor, Compass, Proximity sensor, Light sensor
Local networks: WIFI + Bluetooth
I like the design of the Droid Incredible 2, very much. The body has a matte black finish that has a slight “leathery” texture to it which makes it almost immune to fingerprints and increases the grip that your fingers will exert on it, thus reducing the odds of an encounter with concrete… The design in the back resembles the original Droid Incredible: it has a “bump” that houses the camera and battery. When holding the phone, you cannot feel the it with the palm of your hands (phew!). The design makes the phone looks significantly thinner than it really is – but it works. This is a nice object to look at.
The phone doesn’t feel like “plastic” at all, and seems extremely rigid. Some of you will love this, while others might want to have something that is a little bit lighter. Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways. All the super-light phones have a “plastic” feel. It’s up to you to decide.
The Droid Incredible 2 also has very few physical buttons on its sides: basically “Power” and “Volume”, which is great because the more buttons you have, and the more likely you will press some of them unintentionally. HTC used to make phones with buttons *everywhere*, but this is a better way in my view.
Nice detail : the Android buttons rotate along with the image on screen. Now -that- is “polish”!
You might remember that the original Droid Incredible had an AMOLED display. We all agree that AMOLED has superior contrast and saturation, but good LCD displays tend to have more accurate colors and possibly better power consumption with bright content (AMOLED draws more power to display a white screen than a black screen).
Indoors, the screen is very good. The colors are nice, and it is plenty bright for my taste. If you push the brightness, you will lose in contrast, but this is not something that is unusual with LCD displays. I wish that HTC could have used an IPS LCD (like the iPhone 4 or the Optimus 2X) – but this is another story, and I’m not sure that IPS manufacturers can actually supply enough of them anyway.
The only thing that I hold against this display is its shininess: outdoor usage can be challenging at time, especially here in California. The HTC Evo Shift 4G had a similar glare situation, but the Droid Incredible’s LCD seems overall better, except for that.
HTC sense is a software layer unique to HTC smartphones. Its goal is to add functionalities that makes HTC users lives better. The best example is the copy/paste function (that actually works), but there are many other “add-ons”, like an LED flashlight, and Social Media widgets. If you want to know more about HTC Sense, check their (sparse) product page.
Dialing: No problem there, dialing a number can be done with the numeric pad, a contact card, or better yet, a “direct dial” shortcut on the phone’s main screen. If you have less than 10 people that you call all the time, the direct dial shortcut will do wonders as you can’t get any faster than that. If not, searching someone with their name should be pretty quick too.
Wireless Reception: The wireless situation has changed very little since last year when we reviewed the Droid Incredible. I have to say that AT&T has improved the coverage around our offices, but overall, Verizon remains a more reliable network for data and even voice – especially in big cities like San Francisco or New York. I’ll never say that enough: it doesn’t matter what *my* network conditions are, as yours will be different. Try asking friends and family to see how their network is where you hang out.
Audio Quality: I found the call audio quality of the HTC Droid Incredible 2 to be above-average. It’s not “great” but it’s clear enough and voices aren’t muffled at all. There’s nothing to report on that front. This is your average+ voice quality over a wireless network.
Virtual keyboard: As always, HTC has ditched the default Android keyboard in favor of its own, which has the particularity of showing which special characters will be used if the user leaves a key pressed for a second. Some people love it, others find it visually “busy” – I’ll let you make up your own mind.
I *love* the arrow keys at the bottom as they are very handy to navigate a few characters left and right, which is handy to fix typos. Those keys were not there when I played with the first Droid Incredible. I also like the voice keyboard key (it was there before) because it usually works very well. I’ve been impressed with Google’s voice recognition, especially since it works great, even with my foreign accent.
Copy/Paste: As you may know, there are plenty of Android 2.2 phones that *still* do not have a proper copy/paste. Although Google mostly fixed this in Android 2.3 (codenamed “GingerBread”), the Nexus S is still the only device with that OS. Most of the other phones are still on 2.2.x.
Thanks to HTC Sense, the Incredible 2 has a functional copy/paste that looks like what Android 2.3 has. It seems like a small thing, but when you need to copy/paste a human-unreadable piece of text like a 128-bit WEP key, you’ll thank HTC for this.
Web Browsing: It’s been pretty much proven that Android 2.2 has a great mobile web browsing. This is no different, and really it would stink if Google -the largest web company in the world- could not get a great web browser in their mobile OS :)
In-Browser Flash Support: As I’ve just said, regular HTML pages display just fine. But Flash support is something that more and more among you want, or simply *demand*! The good news is that in-browser Flash support is here. As a test, I went to a few Flash sites, one of which is wechoosethemoon.org. It works perfectly, and most of the plain-vanilla Flash sites (small business, restaurants…) should work just fine.
Flash games are a different story. Some will work fine, but remember that most have been designed for a desktop computer, so they might simply require too much processing power, or memory, to run smoothly on a phone. The Droid Incredible 2 is also not the fastest Flash-friendly Android phone out there, but we’ll get back to that in the Performance section.
Microsoft Exchange: A lot of professionals care about Exchange, and I do too because we’re using Microsoft’s email system at work. Android has long supported Exchange, even if handset manufacturers sometime come up with their own email app.
On the HTC Droid 2 Incredible 2, the email app is very good. First, it uses a white background, which makes it much more readable in direct sunlight. Many other Android phones use a black background (users can’t change it!), and I think that it is a mistake. Secondly, HTC’s email app has everything that I need directly on the screen, including flags, batch actions and quick access to calendar invites.
Switching from a list view to a threaded view is quick and easy as well. I don’t use it much, but I do know that many users just love threaded views. In the end, I’m impressed with the email app, and this is one of the best on Android. Did I mention that it has a functional email search too?
GMail: Android being a Google product, it is almost a given that GMail would get a special treatment, and it does: it has its own email application that lets Google users “star” a message or labels use labels to categorize it. GMail also supports push-email, which means that messages arrive practically in real-time without requiring you to hit a “send/receive” button, which is called “pull-email”. Push is also more battery efficient than pull.
Other Email accounts: Most popular web email services are easy to setup, but if you host your email on your own domain, chances are that you have POP3 access. The Droid Incredible 2 can handle those as well obviously, but you would have to forget about push-email. Fortunately, hosted exchange or GMail pro can give you push-email with your own domain.
Google Docs: Back in the days, Google Docs was not editable on smartphone, but Google has fixed this a while back. If you wonder, Google Docs are accessible and editable on this smartphone. By the way, there is a free Google Docs app now. If you want something more MS Office friendly, try looking at DocumentsToGo.
Smartphones have become great entertainment devices, and the Incredible 2 is no exception. Online (via wifi) or local videos can be played smoothly on its colorful display, and the compatibility with existing music and video files is higher than on most smartphones. Even Windows Media files are supported out of the box. The Incredible 2 won’t stream 1080p content to your TV, but the reality is that most people simply don’t do that kind of stuff.
Actually, the main issue with Android today is to find a legitimate source of HD content. Android users really deserve a good solution here. For tech-savvy folks, there’s always PlayOn for Android, but this requires having a PC media server.
Video content: the HTC Droid Incredible 2 has been able to play all the MP4 files from my PSP collection, and a few that I created myself for reviews on this site. The quality of the playback is impeccable for those files, even for the DVD-quality (800×740, 30fps, 2.4Mbps) file that I had encoded with Nero Vision.
I haven’t tried all MP4 variants, but so far this is looking good. Some Android phones could not play all the files. The phone might be able to play 720p videos, but without an HDMI output I’m not sure what 720p would be used for… Officially supported format (out of the box: 3gp, .3g2, .mp4, .wmv)
Games: I have tested the phone with a 3D racing game called Raging Thunder 2 Lite (free download). The game is smooth, and completely playable – no problem there. Like most 3D games on Android, it doesn’t utilize all the latest graphics feature from OpenGL ES 2.0, but on the other hand, it’s fast.
The overall issue with Android is the lack of cool games in my opinion. I’m not saying that you can’t find anything, but the choice is pretty thin compared to the iPhone. Things have gotten better, but if you haven’t been using Android before, it’s something that you should be aware of.
Music: Music playback is a basic function for any smartphone, and it is rare that one does poorly. With Android, you have the choice between using a web service via an application, or copy MP3 files (without copy-protection) from any other source. Overall, it is usually easy, especially if you don’t have thousands of files to deal with. Officially supported formats: aac, .amr, .ogg, .m4a, .mid, .mp3, .wav, .wma (Windows Media Audio 9)
Speaker quality: There’s a small rear speaker in the Droid Incredible 2, but unfortunately, I don’t think that is it very good. The sound is not very loud and gets saturated quickly if you crank it to the max. I’ve definitely heard better speaker sound coming out of a smartphone: the Motorola Atrix, for example, does have an excellent sound quality.
Photos and Videos (Good)
In broad daylight, the HTC Droid Incredible 2 snaps good photos. They are great for sharing photos over social media networks, and look fantastic on the web, especially when scaled down to 640×480 or something like that. I bet that you could also print that motorbike photo, and get a good 6×4” paper photo as well. If you want to look at the original photo files, go to our Ubergizmo Flickr page. You can also find samples from other smartphones there.
In low-light conditions, things get a little more difficult, especially for the focus. I’ve shot two photos in a shaded area near where we are, and although this is not “low-light” (as in “party/diner”), the auto focus already had a hard time keeping up with the subject.
Low-light is truly the next frontier for smartphones, and to be fair, this is a very difficult thing to pull off. From what I can tell, Sony’s EX-MOR sensor still remains the best low-light hardware that we’ve seen, but to put it in context, the Droid Incredible 2 does a very good job in daylight, and is slightly above average for low-light conditions.
Video capture is very similar, and I tried to shoot a movie with both bright lighting and some areas in the shadows (+transitions). The video is very slightly blurry, but on the other hand, there’s no pixel artifacts popping in high-frequencies areas (windows, trees…). Some handset manufacturer to try artificially crank up the “crispness” of the video, but that can also introduce other image-quality issues. Videos shot with the Droid Incredible 2 should look great on YouTube, and it is impressive to see that smartphones can easily beat my old “720p” camcorder that is 6x the size. (videos are recorded in .3gp format)
Media files: With The HTC Droid Incredible 2, it is easy to connect over USB and browse/copy user files just like you would on a regular USB drive/key. If you don’t have a lot of files to move around, this is actually much easier to deal with than Apple’s iTunes. Want to copy some photos? Connect the phone in “disk mode” and copy from/to. Really, it’s a no-brainer.
If you have tons of media files and music that constantly change, it’s a bit more complicated as this is a typical case where a data management application, like iTunes, is handy. The thing is: people who tend to have large collections of media files are probably savvy enough to figure things out.
These days, you also have the option to upload your content to an online storage and streaming service like Amazon Cloud Music. It works quite efficiently, but requires you to have an Internet connection. Winamp from AOL can also be used to manage large quantities of music files. In the end, you’ll have to poke around and see what works for you, but I think that the large majority of users will do just fine with copying their media files manually over USB.
Contacts, Emails: out of the box, Android is built for synchronizing everything over the Internet. However, some vendors add utilities to synchronize contacts and media files. Desktop email however is not an option (you might be able to find an app for that). Even Microsoft does not provide an email synchronization software with its Windows Phone 7, so in this smartphone world, you’re clearly better off with an online service.
For contacts, HTC provides a software that will sync contacts from Microsoft outlook to your Droid Incredible 2 phone. If you want to know all the little details, here’s the support page on HTC’s website:
One of the perks of having a Droid Incredible 2 is that you have an Internet connection with you at all times. And fortunately, you can use the Droid Incredible 2 as a mobile hotspot, or a USB modem.
Mobile hotspot: this is the easiest way to share your Internet connection. You simply need to go in the settings, enable the Mobile Hotspot feature, eventually setup a password, and that’s it – you can connect to it from your laptop. This is great if you need to go online in a pinch, but most people definitely can’t replace an Internet home connection with it – unless you have very basic Internet needs. The one downside of the Mobile Hotspot: it depletes the phone’s battery faster (but you can USB charge the phone at the same time).
USB modem: I never use this, but one could argue that it is slightly more secure. You will need to install drivers before using your phone as a modem. It’s a good fallback to have if you don’t have WIFI handy in your computer.
Network Speed: in terms of raw speed, it will depend mostly on your location. For example at my desk, I get 1/4 bars and a Speedtest.net test yields a 1Mbps of download speed and 920kbps of upload speed. This is nowhere near the HTC Thunderbolt’s 4G performance, but yet it’s pretty good given the conditions.
Network quality: I have to say that with the Verizon network, I’ve never experienced a network “hang”, especially when I have 3-4 bars of connectivity. I unfortunately can’t say the same for my AT&T iPhone 4.
Now, there’s a small catch: you can’t use the data network and the voice network at the same time. It has to do with how the Verizon network (CDMA) is built, but if you’re on the phone and need to check a Google map or something – this can be annoying, but most definitely not a show stopper for me.
When talking about performance with a consumer electronics device, I always try to separate the “measured” and “perceived” performance. Measured metrics are obtained by running synthetic (not always life-like) benchmarks to stress specific parts of the system.
On the other hand, “perceived” performance is the user observation of performance. Although they should correlate, I would always place perceived performance as being the most important thing. After all, what is performance good for if you can’t tell?
To measure performance, we run a number of tests that show how the HTC Droid Incredible 2 measures against other popular smartphones.
GUIMark 2 (Flash): This test measure the Adobe Flash performance. Flash is a widely used multimedia platform and you can find it virtually everywhere as advertisement, video or other forms of interactive web page module.
To put things in context, there are plenty of phones that don’t support Flash at all, so the mere fact that it works is already a good thing. Now, the Droid Incredible 2 scores in the 12-15 frames per second (FPS) ballpark, which is respectable. However, other phones that have hardware acceleration for Flash are almost twice as fast.
Flash performance addresses several needs. The basic needs for it are Flash websites like small businesses, restaurants, art galleries etc… There, you won’t have any problems – they work well. On the other hand, the HTC Incredible 2 performance is probably too low for many Flash-based games, and for higher definition Flash video (if there is such a thing on Mobile…).
CPU Benchmark: This test tries to measure the number-crunching capabilities of the phone. Again, the Droid Incredible 2 gets an average score, but it is not far away from very popular phones like the Google Nexus S or the HTC Thunderbolt.
NeoCore Graphics Benchmark: Neocore is an old polygonal 3D graphics test, but most Android games are still using relatively old graphics techniques, so it is still relevant – hopefully not for long.
As you can see, the smartphones are packed in “clumps”: each basically represents a different generation of graphics processors (GPUs). While the Droid Incredible 2 graphics processor fares reasonably well, it simply cannot match the current generation of Tegra dual-core + Geforce GPUs. In short, if you are a gamer, you might have to choose between slower frame rate with this phone, or another phone. Keep in mind that higher framerate also means faster battery depletion as games will render many more frames…
Note: I have removed the Motorola Atrix from this chart because the test is not adapted to its higher screen resolution. The final FPS score is artificially low, and I have to write a few more paragraphs to explain what’s going on. If you are curious, go check my Motorola Atrix review and jump to the performance section.
All those numbers are great, but the perceived (or “felt”) performance can be a slightly different story. Out of the box, the Droid Incredible 2 feels very responsive and fast. This is something that has been getting consistently better with Android in the past 6 months.
The only exception to this is web browsing (+Flash). I have to say that on a dual-core phone, web browsing is noticeably faster, even if it is not twice as fast. This is a “clear-cut” improvement from dual-core architectures that I think virtually everyone would benefit from.
Keep it fast: If you want to keep the Incredible 2 zippy, make sure that you don’t have many apps running in the background. Android fanboys will tell you that the OS takes care of everything (blablabla…), but it doesn’t. Just yesterday, some friends played with this phone, left a bunch of apps ON, and after 15mn it was starting to get “warm” which is always a sign of heavy processor activity. Sure enough, the battery was being drained quickly, and the phone started to be sluggish.
Battery Life (good)
I’ve gathered some data that I hope will give you a good hint as of what things “cost” when you use this smartphone. I’ve taken a few frequent cases that everybody will bump into, eventually.
30mn of <activity> will cost you (50% display, no sound):
- Gaming: 12% of battery life (Raging Thunder 2 lite)
- 3G Web Browsing: 10% of battery life (random popular site browsing, automated)
- WIFI Youtube Video: 10% of battery life (mobile HQ)
Note that I tried this with a battery that was 80% charged. It is possible that battery depletion is not linear (although it often is). Devices that get hot are also bad for battery performance.
With my particular usage pattern, I’m getting about 1.5 days of battery life, which is fairly good for an Android handset. It basically means that I need to charge it on the second night, or have a dead phone when I wake up.
Interestingly, the official specifications show that the theoretical talk time over a GSM network is 580 minutes, but only 380 minutes if using a WCDMA network. I’m not quite sure if this is taking into account that GSM networks might be denser, but the difference is huge.
On the other hand, the official standby time for WCDMA is 370 hours, while in GSM, it is only 290 hours. This is something that I’ll try to dig into, but for now, I don’t know the answer.
Must read: We’ve compiled a list of tips to help you improve the battery life of your Android phone.
Conclusion (very good)
The Droid Incredible 2 is a very good phone. Its design, ergonomics and usability more than make up for the relative lack of performance when compared to the fastest handsets out there. For folks who value aesthetics, this phone is up there with the Nexus S and one of the best Android smartphones. And while it might not have the latest “Gingerbread” Android 2.3 (this unit is on 2.2.1), the HTC Sense software does a great job of providing some of the things that are missing.
The ideal user for this phone is someone who wants a nice-looking Android phone with very decent performance and battery life.
Don’t miss these
Those who seek the latest features might want to look at the HTC Thunderbolt for its uber-fast 4G LTE support (amazing, really), and gamers might want to check the Atrix and Optimus 2X smartphones.
Obviously, outside of the Android realm, you have the iPhone 4 – but you should know that the iPhone 5 (or iPhone 4S, whatever Apple will call it) is on the way… you’ve been warned.
Links: HTC Thunderbolt review, Motorola Atrix Review, LG Optimus 2X Review, iPhone 4 Review
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