HTC Droid Incredible Review: More Like ImpressiveS

The Droid Incredible follows HTC's standard remix formula: Two parts existing phoneware—Android 2.1 with Sense, speedy processor—one part fresh spice—Verizon's network.

To proceed directly to the spoilers, this is the best Android phone you can buy on Verizon, which, at the very least, makes it the best smartphone you can buy on Verizon. It's also possibly the best Android phone you can buy in the US for now—with the caveat that running a custom user interface introduces the high possibility it will get screwed on future Android updates from Google, as owners of HTC's other custom Android phones could attest to, still waiting patiently for the update to 2.1 themselves.

Sense and Desire, Revisited

The Incredible is essentially the same as the Europe-only Desire, but shoved in a black-and-red hot rod body with a pumped up 8-megapixel camera, running on Verizon's network. It's got the same Android 2.1 plus Sense interface combo, which adds a few new features over the old version, such as the OS X Expose-like "Leap"—pressing home or pinching zooms out with a swooshy animation to reveal all seven of your desktop screens—and Friend Stream, which aggregates news feeds from Twitter, Facebook and Flickr into a single flow.

Since we've already covered that ground in detail, if you wanna know about the software, I'd check out our earlier review, which covers all of that ground. The two bits I'll note separately about the software is that it's got the most usable Android touch keyboard in existence, and it's remarkably fast and responsive—like the fastest I've ever seen an Android phone running the Sense interface. It's almost shockingly fast, actually.

HTC Droid Incredible Review: More Like ImpressiveS

The Hardware

The Incredible might be the world's first mullet phone: flat, straightforward business in the front, stylized rubber party in the back. In fact, if you pop the back condom off (it's got ridges and it's rubber, it's basically a hard condom), the Incredible's hot-rod red underneath. It saves the phone from verging into boring-as-hell territory. Slightly thicker than a Nexus One or iPhone, but lighter, it feels (and looks) chintzier than both.

The phone's face is its 800x480 AMOLED display, with four capacitive touch buttons and an optical joystick. The display appears to be the same as the Nexus One, a super-saturated crowd pleaser, which also happens to have a few color reproduction issues. Running the test patterns, the Incredible also showed the same kind of color fringing that the Nexus One has. For all but the nerdiest of people though, it's a non-issue. It's a really pleasant screen to feast your eyes on, even if it's not producing the most technically accurate colors.

DO NOT BE ALARMED by the funky looking port on the side. It's not proprietary, it's just a weird-looking micro USB port. The optical joystick works, though it feels unusual at first. It proves useful mostly for navigating between text, since Android still as a whole sucks at text editing. Battery life is okay, not good. But this is a function of Android, and its marvelous freedom to run things in the background, as much anything else. Verizon's 3G network actually works in New York, unlike a certain other carrier's and it was as fast as you'd expect. Calls, they were fine. Update: Further testing does reveal, however, weaker than expected reported signal strength—that said, performance still felt okay.

HTC Droid Incredible Review: More Like ImpressiveS

The Camera Gets Its Own Section

The camera is actually one of the few unique characteristics of the Incredible. It's a new eight-megapixel shooter with a twin-LED flash, versus the five megapixel cam HTC's been shoving in phones. The photos and video it takes are passable, not incredible, as you can see. (Full-sized photo samples here.)

Two things make it mostly excellent to use, though. First, it's fast. You can snap a photo in two seconds from the home screen. That includes autofocusing, which is touch-to-focus. (You can also long touch to focus-and-shoot, but this takes longer than focusing and pressing the optical joystick button separately, which immediately fires the camera.) The software is really responsive, too. There's no dedicated camera button, unfortunately—so you do have to launch via software, which is a downer.

Second, the controls are impressively extensive. You can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, even manually set ISO (100-1250). It also comes with a variety of picture effects, like grayscale, sepia and negative, saving you the step of running it through a separate Android app to add effects to your shots.

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Verdict

The calculus is relatively simple: If you're on Verizon and want a smartphone (and aren't stuck with BlackBerrys), the Incredible is pretty much the one you should buy. With Palm's future unclear, and its app ecosystem shaky, it's hard to recommend the Pre, even though its software is generally more usable than Android. And the Droid's single redeeming feature over this, a physical keyboard, is actually less usable than the custom keyboard HTC's put on the Incredible. The Nexus One for Verizon looms, but the only reasons it could be considered superior—it feels better built and more expensive, and the promise of timely updates from Google—are mitigated by the fact the Incredible is here now, and HTC's Sense does glossy up some of Android's rough spots.

Calling this phone Incredible is a bit hyperbolic. But it is impressive.

HTC Droid Incredible Review: More Like Impressive

It's fast

HTC Droid Incredible Review: More Like Impressive

HTC's Sense makes Android a bit more usable and connected

HTC Droid Incredible Review: More Like Impressive

Camera controls and interface are great, shots and video only decent

HTC Droid Incredible Review: More Like Impressive

Feels a little cheap, and too plasticky

HTC Droid Incredible Review: More Like Impressive

The places where Android and HTC's custom Sense interface overlap can feel a bit weird and confusing

[Verizon]