By Brandon Miniman | March 11, 2011 10:27 AM
At Mobile World Congress, HTC unveiled three new phones that act as successors to the HTC Desire, Incredible, and Wildfire. The most interesting of the pack was the Incredible S, because it had a large 4″ Super LCD display, buttons that rotate along with the phone, and similar specs to the high-end Desire HD. In this review of the unlocked version of the Incredible S, which happens to work on T-Mobile, we tell you whether the Incredible S is a worthy successor to the original.
Inside the box we have just the charger and some headphones. The Incredible S comes with an 8GB microSD class 4 card preinstalled, making for around 9GB of storage when coupled with the 1.1GB of ROM.
Let’s go through the specifications. The Incredible S is running with a Qualcomm 1GHz Snapdragon CPU supported by a plentiful 768MB of RAM and 1.1GB of ROM. The Super LCD display is four-inch and WVGA 800×480 resolution. For syncing and charging, you have microUSB, and for audio there is a 3.5mm jack with SRS enhancement when you use the stock music application. It has a proximity and light sensor, plus an accelerometer. For radios you have Wi-Fi (with N support), Bluetooth, FM, and of course UMTS with HSPA+ support. It can do UMTS 900/1700/2100, allowing it to work in Europe or on T-Mobile in the USA. The camera on the back can take 8MP photos and 720p videos, and it includes a dual LED flash to illuminate dark subjects. On the front there is a 1.3MP camera for video chat. Powering everything is a capacious 1450 mAh battery.
At first glance, the Incredible S looks like a buttonless phone if you look at the black area below the screen. This is because HTC didn’t “paint” the buttons on; rather, they must be illuminated for you to find them. There’s a notification LED behind the top speaker grill which blinks green when you have a new email, SMS, or missed call (configurable in Settings), or glows amber when charging.
Once illuminated, the buttons don’t look evenly lit, which is unfortunate.
The Incredible S does a neat trick…the buttons can rotate when you flip the phone into landscape! While a cool feature to show your friends at a party, we’d much rather have buttons that were evenly lit and painted on than buttons that rotate and look low quality when illuminated.
In a deviation from last-generation devices, HTC is putting the charging port on the left side of the device, below the large volume rocker. The side placement makes typing while charging a bit more difficult.
Also different from previous devices is the placement of the headphone jack on the top instead of bottom, and the power/standby button on the right side, not left.
If you’ve ever seen a Droid Incredible, this back area is going to look familiar. HTC claims that the contour on the back makes the phone more comfortable to hold, but I didn’t find this to be the case. Back here we can see the 8MP camera with dual LED flash. Also back here is the speaker grill. Speaker phone performance was very good, with no distortion, even at maximum volume.
Taking off the back battery cover we can see the 1450mAh battery, which has a SIM slot behind. Towards the bottom we have the microSD slot, which comes from the factory with an 8GB class 4 card.
The Super LCD screen on the Incredible S exhibited top-notch color reproduction, excellent contrast, and terrific outdoor screen visibility. While the last-generation Incredible featured an AMOLED display, which was more constrasty, we’re not missing it after spending some time with the Super LCD panel.
The Incredible S ships with Android 2.2.1, but HTC says an upgrade is coming later this year. Along with this older version of Android, you’re going to get an older version of HTC Sense, that is, the one that ships on the Desire HD/Inspire 4G. There’s a refreshed version on its way out for HTC’s Android 2.3 Gingerbread devices. It features some modest upgrades like a redesigned app tray, a quicker way to access settings, and some other small changes.
The Sense interface for Android is one of the best out there. It starts on the homescreen with seven homscreens with can be rearranged, but not deleted. You can fill these homescreens with a variety of high-quality widgets to show you your next calendar appointment, display your bookmarks or favorite people, give you the weather for your area, show you what the stock market is doing, let you quickly access your favorite contact, bookmark, or app, and much more. If you like the idea of widgets, you’ll love the Sense interface. Naturally, the more widgets you use, the more battery you’re going ton consume in a day.
The Sense interface is present in many of the preloaded apps: email, phone, contacts, calendar, FM radio, navigation, internet, camera, calculator, gallery, news, weather, settings, and more. In most cases, this means that HTC has added the “slider” interface, allowing you to switch between various types of information within an app. If you tap and hold on any of the sliders, you’ll be able to add and subtract elements from it. Additionally, if you apply a skin from the Personalize menu, all apps that have been modified with the Sense UI will also change, which is quite nice should you get bored of the default HTC black and green color scheme. One of our favorite skins is the Slate theme, which uses gray and light blue.
Another great feature of this version of Sense is that it integrates with the cloud through HTCSense.com, for free. After you make an account, you can remotely manage your phone in many respects: you can track it on a map, you can remotely lock or wipe it, and more. Previously, you could even remotely install widgets, wallpapers, and other assets through the HTCSense.com website, but those features have since been put on hiatus as HTC optimized the website for better performance.
Typing on the on-screen keyboard wasn’t as enjoyable as it was on, say, the Desire HD. Screen sensitivity wasn’t outstanding. That said, HTC gives you a choice of three keyboards: QWERTY, T9, and SureType, so you’ll have plenty of options for inputting data.
Photos taken with the 8MP camera of the Incredible S came out quite good. The camera focused terrificly on close-up object, it evenly illuminated dark subjects with the dual LED flash, and it reproduced colors very well. The camera application is a joy to use; it provides real-time effects like Sepia, Black and White, and Distortion.
Video recorded at full 720p resolution also came out better than average. Motion was pretty smooth and colors were accurate. Nice!
The Incredible S has a front-facing camera that does video at VGA resolution and photos at 1.3MP. As you can see, the video quality isn’t too bad, with decent framerates.
The Incredible S has nearly identical specs when compared to the Desire HD, though it tends to score a bit lower in Quadrant, usually around 1400 (the Desire HD scored 1600). In day to day operation, the Incredible S is quick, but not as instant (when opening apps, etc) as the Desire HD.
Browsing the web was a solid experience on the Incredible S. Even on long web pages, we didn’t see any checker pattern, probably thanks to the large amount of RAM on the device.
CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED
Over T-Mobile’s network here in the US, the Incredible S provided fantastic voice quality with no dropped calls. We were seeing average network data speeds of around 2.7Mbps down and 1.7Mbps up, which is pretty strong. As a comparison, the Nexus S has the same network capabilities, we averaged a slightly slower 2.5Mbps download speed average.
Battery life on the Incredible S was very, very good, thanks to its relatively large 1430mAh battery. Under a heavy use scenario, you’ll get through a day and a half. With moderate use, you won’t need to hit the charger for about two full days.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Incredible S is sold unlocked for around $640 over at Negri Electronics. It’s very possible –likely, even, given the branded renders we saw — that the phone might come to Verizon as the Droid Incredible 2 later in 2011.
+ Gorgeous Super LCD display
+ HTC Sense UI enhancements are found everywhere
+ Works on T-Mobile 3G with solid data speeds
+ Terrific camera
+ Excellent battery life
+ Status LED is useful
+ Great speakerphone
+ Buttons rotate
- Boring design
- Last-generation hardware
- Feels cheap with no use of metal
- Not as fast as Desire HD
- Screen sensitity is not as good as other HTC smartphones
When we review a new phone, we’re sensitive to the fact that they don’t exist in a vacuum…meaning, we have to be cognizant of the phone marketplace today. If that weren’t the case, we’d rate the Incredible S highly: it has a terrific screen, exhibits great performance, takes awesome photos, and it’s loaded with the latest version of HTC Sense.
But in a day when LG is releasing phones with 3D screens and multiple cores, Motorola is debuting its line of qHD high resolution devices, and Samsung is bringing forth next generation Super AMOLED displays, the Incredible S looks very much outdated. Perhaps if HTC introduced the phone at a more budget-friendly price, we could recommended the device, but given that it’ll cost almost as much unlocked as the better upcoming smartphones of mid 2011, we just can’t recommended that you go out and buy one. Heck, you can spring for the dual-core qHD Atrix 4G, unlocked, for just $50 more.
We rate the HTC Incredible S at 3/5.