updated 08:25 am EDT, Wed June 24, 2009
HTC at a press event this morning launched its third-generation Android phone in less than a year. The Hero is designed as a web- and music-focused phone with a touchscreen-dependent design like the Magic but is even more compact. Its key, however, is a new interface known as Sense: like TouchFLO, it offers quicker access to calendars, contacts, the time and the weather as well as a quick launcher for the phone dialer. These are all accessible as Android-standard widgets.
A dedicated search button is also specific to the Hero and not only searches typical Android content but can also find contacts, e-mail metadata, music and even Twitter posts. Contacts themselves are also integrated with the web and meld their Facebook data with their Flickr galleries.
The Hero is also the first-ever Android phone to use Flash: an updated web browser with Flash 10 for mobile not only supports websites with typical flash animation but also YouTube and other Flash-based video websites. It also supports audio streaming and nearly replaces Android's dedicated YouTube client.
Multi-touch is new and lets users at least auto-adjust font sizes in e-mail.
The hardware itself is also much improved over even the recent Magic, including its own unique touch for durability: while it has an oleophobic (oil-resistant) screen like the iPhone 3GS, it adds a Teflon coating on the main body that resists scratching while simultaneously providing a softer, more grippable surface. A 3.5mm headphone jack finally allows use of third-party headphones without an adapter, and the camera has been upgraded to 5 megapixels while preserving autofocus.
As with other more recent Android phones, the Hero also gets 7.2Mbps 3G, GPS and Wi-Fi as well as an accelerometer, a compass and a microSDHC card slot. A reasonably fast 528MHz ARM-based processor is also key to the handset.
HTC ships the Hero to Europe in July and will sometimes be available for free on contract, such as with Orange UK. Asian countries receive the phone later in the summer. No North American plans have been made formal for the existing phone, which doesn't support US or Canadian HSPA for its 3G. However, T-Mobile USA is rumored to be getting the Hero in the fall, and a variant of the Hero dubbed the Lancaster is expected to reach AT&T with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.