Today I got a treat. Over a fine Italian lunch, I was afforded some hands-on time with Sprint's HTC Hero, the first US version of the Android OS device with HTC's Sense UI. Hero is set to hit Sprint retail channels on October 11 for $179.99 after rebate, and from my brief time with the phone I'm optomistic that Sprint has yet another winner of a smartphone in their stable for the hoilday season.
Gone is the infamous chin that graces the lower edge of the GSM variant of Hero; Sprint's CDMA version features rounded corners and smoothed over angles, giving it a slightly more generic but still entirely pleasing look than its forebearer. More importantly, the phone retains the 3.2" capacitive, multitouch enabled display, the trackball, the 5MP camera, and and standard 3.5mm headphone jack that made the Hero so alluring in the first place. You also get HTC's excellent custom software: The Sense user interface and the custom virtual QWERTY board are arked improvements from the standard Android install found on T-Mobile's G1 and myTouch 3G.
This version of Hero also benefits from software optimizations that make it much more responsive than the lag-prone original. Add to that a few Sprint-specific goodies like SprintTV and NFL and NASCAR Mobile, and you've got a Hero with a different look and more under the hood than the one that launched in Europe some week ago.
I didn't really have time to test Hero's voice calling capabilities or put it through any sort of extensive data speed tests, but it felt much like any other Sprint smartphone does on the company's EV-DO Rev. A network these days, at least out here in the Bay Area: Fast and solid. At $179.99 on contract, Hero is competitive with iPhone 3GS, and Sprint's own Palm Pre, and is set to do battle with T-Mobile's myTouch 3G and the forthcoming Motorola Cliq (T-Mobile) and Samsung Instinct Q (yep, Sprint again) Android phones this holiday shopping season.
We'll have more on Sprint's Hero next week, but for now you can check out my brief "First Look" video that covers the device's basic look and feel.