HTC Incredible S: Review


review With less screen real estate than HTC’s giant Desire HD handset, but more power than a lower-end model like the Wildfire S, the HTC Incredible S is a smartphone destined to be sandwiched in the middle of HTC’s growing line-up.

However, with a unique form factor and a number of high-end features, the Incredible S is no lightweight, and may help attract customers to the network of Australia’s number two telco Optus, which has garnered Australian exclusivity on the device. Can it hold its own, pound for pound? Read on to find out.

The HTC Incredible S is available in Australia exclusively through Optus and Virgin Mobile.

HTC is fast attracting a reputation for making lovely looking and handling smartphones. In fact, we would say that after Apple, right now the Taiwanese manufacturer is holding pole position when it comes to the sheer eye- and hand-candy that its devices possess. There’s simply something about the moulded grey exterior of a HTC phone which is distinctive and differentiates the company’s devices in a way that rival manufacturers like Samsung, Sony Ericsson and LG have been unable to achieve.

With this in mind, we hope you’ll appreciate what we say when we note that we currently consider the Incredible S to be the best-looking and feeling smartphone that HTC is currently selling.

Most of HTC’s phones feature a combination of aluminium and plastic, but the Incredible S’s back is composed of a single piece of matte black rubberised plastic, with the HTC logo embedded in it. We can’t emphasise enough how lovely this material is. For a start it doesn’t collect fingerprints, but it’s also very grippable while still feeling smooth and velvety to touch. In addition, we loved the way the plastic shapes itself down around the internal components of the phones.

The front of the phone is a single piece of hardened gorilla glass. HTC has eschewed its previous physical buttons in favour of touch-sensitive controls at the bottom of the screen — its normal four Android buttons (home, settings, return and search) are present.

At the top of the screen is a large speaker grill, a 3.5mm headphone jack and the phone’s on button. There’s nothing at all along the right-hand side, while on the left-hand side are volume buttons and the micro-USB connection. There are no buttons on the phone’s bottom, while the back features its large 8 megapixel camera (in quite a large physical size close to 1cm), as well as two flash light outlets and another speaker grill.

Overall the design is minimalistic — very few buttons, just one shade and a couple of different types of materials — but we loved it. There simply is no other smartphone in Australia at the moment that we like holding as much as the Incredible S.

There is no doubt that the Incredible S’s featureset matches its stellar design credentials.

It’s sporting the 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU we’ve seen on so many phones over the past year, has 768MB of memory and 1.1GB of internal storage. Our model also appeared to come with an extra 16GB SD card — with 14.83GB available. An Adreno 205 graphics chip keeps things snappy, with hardware-accelerated Adobe Flash supported.

All of the normal mobile phone networks are supported, and our model shipped with version 2.3.3 (Gingerbread and updates) of Google’s Android platform.

At 4.0″ and a resolution of 480×800, the Incredible S’s screen is smaller than that of the giant Desire HD, which has a 4.3″ screen, but we prefer the 4.0″ size. Those with smaller hands will find the Incredible S more than large enough for their needs, and perhaps slightly too large. The plastic surrounding the screen makes it slightly larger than an iPhone 4.

However, where the Incredible S really shines in its featureset is its camera.

To be honest, it is going to be pretty hard to find a better camera in a smartphone in mid-2011 than the little wonder which ships with the Incredible S — at 8 megapixels, and with auto-focus and dual LED flash capability, this little baby is simply superb. No matter if it you’re shooting at night, with low light conditions, or in glare, you’re going to get a pretty decent shot out of the Incredible S, based on our testing.

The camera also translates well to 720p video recording, and we’re guessing that you’d be hard-pressed to tell after it’s been uploaded to YouTube that a video was shot from the Incredible S and not from a more professional dedicated handicam.

There is also a camera on the front of the Incredible S, rated at 1.3 megapixels. While it’s not stellar, it would do the job if you needed to place video calls — which most people don’t appear to have seen much use for just yet. And of course all the normal extras that you would expect — GPS, BlueTooth, Wi-Fi support and so on — are all included.

It’s been said that the Incredible S shares much of the same technical specifications as the HTC Desire HD, but in a smaller form factor. With this in mind, it’s not that hard to predict that the phone’s performance will be stellar, based on our review of the Desire HD in early April, which found that the Desire HD was finally living up the promise of Android when it comes to its performance. At the time, we wrote:

“The Desire HD is one of the first Android phones we’ve seen where the power of the phone’s hardware matches the power of its software. Menus snap into place, everything you click loads instantly, swiping has satisfying little bouncing animations that don’t lose frames even when the constantly moving and changing HTC desktop background is shifting around simultaneously. This is how Android ought to be.”

It’s a similar case with the Incredible S, but with one essential difference — the Incredible S runs Android Gingerbread.

What this boils down to is a whole heap of subtle user interface enhancements, that add up into something quite remarkable — especially when combined with HTC’s Sense layer on top of Android.
When we turned on the Incredible S we were treated to an animated background with a series of fireflies gently buzzing around. The large time display flicked over to the current moment, and overall there was just a sense of gentle, beautiful motion that told us that we were a world away from the iPhone’s static screen — or even the generic home screens of most of the rest of the Android world.

With a couple of exceptions — usually related to the add-on software Optus has bundled with the Incredible S — the user interface and touchscreen of the handset are just wonderful to use. We also found it hard to find an application which didn’t load as quickly as we wanted on the Incredible S, and the jagginess common to smartphones is pretty much absent here.

In addition, we found the battery life of the phone better than that of the Desire HD, which was notably greedy when it comes to sucking up electricity. The Incredible S, likely due to its smaller screen, will go longer between charges than the Desire HD — although HTC’s performance still isn’t quite up to spec with that of the iPhone.

Those eyeing off a HTC Incredible S right now will no doubt be conscious that the phone has a wave of competitors currently about to hit the Australian market; many of which will be sporting a more powerful, dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor that on paper would put them out ahead of a single-core phone such as the Incredible S.

However, what the Incredible S represents is a fantastic update by HTC of its existing line-up. It’s pretty hard to fault the phone, and right now we consider it one of the best, if not the best for many people, of the high-end smartphone offerings available in Australia. The key word here is ‘polish’. So many of the smartphones currently hitting Australia show great raw promise, but fall down in practice because their manufacturers have only had a few releases to settle in with Android.

Not so with HTC. The Taiwanese company is currently hitting its straps, and the Incredible S represents a fantastic example of its line-up. We can’t recommend it enough. The HTC Incredible S is available in Australia exclusively through Optus and Virgin Mobile.

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Image credit: HTC