The Hero feels more substantial than HTC's previous Android handsets, but the hardware—and the software, to a certain extent—will be familiar to anyone who's used the company's other hardware. It's all just a bit, well, nicer.
Now, I know its shape is somewhat boatlike, and its chin—an HTC hallmark—has evolved into something closer to a jaw. But the version I held—the white one—had tasteful aluminum trim, clean lines and a shape that was generally more hand-friendly than the Dream, and slightly heftier than the Magic. Its Teflon coating isn't as slippery as it sounds, thankfully. I wasn't really in a position to drop test the phone to see if the finish is as durable as HTC says, so we'll have to take their word on that.
Software performance was very snappy, though the interface takes a while to figure out at first. Screen input on the multitouch capacitive screen is accurate and quick, and the slight vibratory haptic feedback does the job, but the software doesn't seem quite as buttery smooth—especially during multitouch zooming—as the iPhone or Pre, and I noticed occasional keyboard slowdown during browsing. The Android basics are all there, and the multiple homescreens are the same as they've always been, albeit populated with a pile of new HTC widgets.
On those widgets: Most of them are fine, drawing heavily from previous efforts by HTC on other platforms (weather and stocks, for example, are almost identical to the versions for TF3D). We didn't have a chance to really test the social networking integration, since the display phones weren't loaded with much personal data. In general, it looks a bit like webOS's Synergy. It's a little bit more fragmented in a way that I think people will like: instead of mandating a single flow of status updates, texts, call history or new photos from your contacts, it divides their activity into panels. More on that here.
Finally, we've got Flash support. The implementation is patchy, at least for now. A quick trip to YouTube, as you can see in the gallery, displayed an oddly-sized video frame, and transitioned to a full-screen player when double tapped. It worked OK, although it was clear that the phone was straining. Playback wasn't totally smooth; it would suffice in a bind. Flash ads and animations work more smoothly, and Adobe says that many games are playable. (Note: Eh, what about controls?)
In more than a few ways, the Hero—or Sense, really—represents a lot of what people had hoped for in Android. When the OS came out, everyone was talking about customization, varied hardware and integration with online services. Until now, we hadn't really seen that.
Far from the horrible carrier interface overhauls we're used to seeing on featurephones, the facelifts given to Windows Mobile over the last few years, courtesy of HTC and Samsung, have been the only thing keeping that tired OS alive. Now Android's getting the same treatment. The difference is, customization is easier, the changes are deeping, and Android is a good, modern OS in the first place. HTC has done some exciting stuff here, to be sure. With any luck, others will follow.
If you want a closer look at the software, HTC has posted a complete walkthrough of the OS: