I’ve learned that there are two things about being a mobile-phone reviewer.
The first thing: you get to handle awesome gadgetry days or weeks ahead of its official release date, and you’re not just allowed to use the heck out of it; you need to, in order to do your job. That’s the awesome thing.
The other, less-awesome thing: you eventually have to give it all back.
“Empty Nest” is a recurring column discussing what I miss -and what I don’t- about the devices I’ve had to return.
The HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE came to my door as all devices do: in the midst of a hectic parade of non-stop action. I was wrapping up my review of the Motorola Atrix HD, another device that happened to be the third in its family line, and the new Incredible arrived just in time for me to draw some interesting parallels between the two devices. You’ll have to wait for a future installment of Empty Nest to hear more about the Atrix HD, though; this bit of reflection is reserved exclusively for our Taiwanese friends at HTC.
In all, I found the newest-generation Incredible to be quite a treat, giving it an 8 out of 10 overall and calling it “a great device at a great price that goes a long way toward living up to its lofty brand name.” It was my first experience reviewing a device from Verizon Wireless, and my first encounter with a smartphone bearing that carrier’s famous “DROID” branding. It also marked my first experience with HTC Sense UI layer since my AT&T One X review, so there was a lot going on in the short period of time the new Incredible and I hung out.
A few weeks after giving it back, I’m feeling a few pangs of sadness, but also breathing a small sigh of relief. Here’s what I miss, and what I don’t.
It’s Good To See You
My review of the Huawei Ascend P1 a few months back gave me some interesting insight into the effect of device size on perceived capability. In our world of jumbo-phone domination -which we discuss in the latest episode of the Pocketnow Weekly podcast, available tomorrow- it seems the “bigger-is-better” mentality is alive and well. When manufacturers allocate development dollars and marketing resources toward important devices, those smartphones tend to be the bigger ones, their overloaded spec sheets complemented by oversized displays and hardware so massive it makes us wonder just where all the small phones have gone.
The Huawei Ascend P1 was a break from that tiresome trend, its serious performance ability in a smaller package making it feel like a much more advanced device. This was also true of the Incredible 4G LTE. It wasn’t a small phone, particularly with regard to thickness; I’d call it a mid-sized device. Its somewhat chunky casing fit perfectly in the hand, its display big enough for most tasks but perfectly accessible even with one-handed use.
And speaking of the casing: wow, what a piece of hardware. After an endless parade of smartphones too scared to stand out from the pack, the new Incredible’s casing design was a breath of fresh, polystyrene-flavored air. The muscle-car feel of the battery cover’s patterned protrusion looked great with its red accents, the textured finish only improving the feel in hand. The phone might’ve been a little heavy for its size, but I’ll take that substantial feel over a cheaper, lighter build any day.
In its brightest moments, carrying around the Incredible 4G LTE was like carrying a miniature version of an very high-end smartphone– which, in a sense, is exactly what it was. From the fundamentals -excellent reception and call quality- to the fringe benefits -an adaptable camera and useful UI customizations- the latest Incredible was a phone I felt very comfortable recommending to friends and family.
It’s Good To See You Go
There wasn’t much I found lacking in the new Incredible, but that doesn’t mean it was a perfect device.
Verizon Wireless certainly made its presence felt on the software side, for one. As is usually the case with provider meddling, the results weren’t positive. I definitely don’t miss the persistent WiFi notification hanging out in the upper-left-hand corner, a carrier contrivance as senseless as it was annoying.
That was the most egregious of the UI sins committed, but not the only one. I’m relieved that my current phone doesn’t feature HTC’s Beats branding constantly fighting with other notifications for space in the top bar, as was the case on the Incredible 4G LTE. Being reminded of Beats’ overbearing EQ settings with every track change is something I’m happy to be rid of.
Also, though I liked some of the useful enhancements HTC’s Sense skin brought to the Android experience, I can’t say I miss the lag at all. The look and utility of Sense 4 are big pluses, but though it’s lighter, it’s still a heavy skin. Even the mighty One X lagged under the weight of Sense’s load, and despite comparable hardware under the hood, the Incredible 4G LTE stuttered a bit more often than its flagship predecessor. The TouchWiz Nature UX on my current Galaxy S III might look tackier, but it’s much more responsive, and I do like it better on the whole.
I started the Empty Nest column series because I was confused by the feelings I encountered after giving back my AT&T HTC One X. On the one hand, I was relieved to return to my Galaxy Nexus LTE because I found it a more comfortable device to use. On the other hand, I missed the flashiness of the One X and some of its standout features.
Today, I have no Galaxy Nexus to return to. My new Galaxy S III serves my daily needs instead, its gleaming hyperglaze and light weight giving me little faith in its ability to stand up to the kind of abuse I imagine the Incredible 4G LTE could endure. So while I’m glad to be back on a huge display and grateful for the more-fluid embrace of TouchWiz, I miss the quiet confidence of HTC’s latest Droid. I’ll still recommend it to friends looking for a solid Android experience on Verizon without straying into jumbo-phone territory, and I’ll still remember my time with it fondly. And maybe, when the “Droid Incredible 4G LTE II Premium Edition” (or whatever) rolls around next year, I’ll give it a spin and see if it has what it takes to truly earn the “incredible” moniker, with no asterisks floating above it.