Take the most daring Android phone yet, but make it faster, stronger and better (but blander). You have the Sprint take on the HTC Hero, which happens to be the best Android phone you can buy.

I said the original version of the Hero was "daring" and "ambitious, but tragically flawed." (Read that review first.) If it was Batman, the Sprint Hero is Superman: Nearly perfect, but goddamn boring. HTC has taken the striking, aggressive angles of Hero v1 and flattened them out into a rounded, far more generic looking phone. It's not hideous, but it's lost its power to captivate as a geek fetish object.

Everything else about this version of the phone is better: The software, which is exactly the same content-wise on the HTC front as the first Hero, has been seriously optimized, so it doesn't suffer show-stopping slowdowns anymore, even with a full set of HTC's widgets running. Speedwise overall, it's about the same as a G1 running the stock Android OS—bearable, but not exactly a blitzkrieg. (The iPhone 3GS is way faster, to compare.)

Interestingly, while HTC says the hardware is exactly the same—except for the CDMA chips to get it on Sprint's network, obviously—there are some differences we noticed. The screen, while the same size, actually seems to look a little bit better on the Sprint model. Not worlds better, but if you look close, the difference is there. The colors are a bit more saturated, the viewing angle a little wider. Also, it's got a bigger battery: 1500 mAh, compared to 1350 before. The bigger trackball is a plus, since it takes less thumb movement to get around, meaning less carpal tunnel problems in the future.

And, while it's very possibly firmware at play, the 5MP camera shoots, on average, about twice as fast as the first Hero, and the metering in low light seems to be way better, too. Both of the shots above were taken using the same settings on each phone, with the old Hero running the original firmware it shipped with. (Still not great, but better.)

The only real new bits, software-wise, are a handful of pretty standard Sprint apps: Sprint Navigation, NFL Mobile Live, Nascar, SprintTV and Device Self-Service. Everything else, from the keyboard to the multitouch browser looks the same, just faster (and in the case of Flash in the browser, more reliable too, since we could actually watch videos this time around). Which is dandy, since HTC's Sense UI, with its multiple desktops, social networking integration, widgets for weather, Twitter, settings and other enhancements, made Android great.

The real power of this Hero is that the best Android phone you can buy—it's everything good we said about the first Hero, but with our biggest complaint, speed, fixed—is on Sprint and its solid 3G network—making it the first U.S. Android phone outside of T-Mobile—and it's $180. Plus, the required Sprint Everything now has free calling to any mobile number, not a bad perk.

The princess might not kiss this Hero because it's kinda ugly, but at least it'll actually get the job done now. If you've been waiting for an Android phone not on T-Mobile, or one that's finally just about ready for primetime, this is it.

HTC's Sense UI makes Android way more usable and adds useful features like social networking integration

Almost all of original Hero's problems are fixed

Android kinks, like no easy way to update all apps, meh store interface aren't polished over

Jumbo trackball and more logical front placement marred by cheap front plate

Hardware blobbified into something boring and dull, not daring and awesome

Still not as polished as iPhone or Palm Pre