updated 09:55 am EDT, Thu September 3, 2009
Heavily altered from the original
Sprint quickly acted on late rumors by launching the HTC Hero, its first-ever smartphone based on Android. The full touchscreen device is heavily modified from its original form and loses the "kink" of HTC's Android phones in favor of a flat, brushed metal panel that has all HTC's familiar controls, including the trackball. It also switches from GSM and HSPA to CDMA and EVDO Revision A for its calling and 3G data.
Software keeps close to the reference phone's custom Sense UI, which brings contacts, weather, Twitter and other common tasks to the multiple home screens instead of leaving it to individual apps. However, the carrier is bringing versions of its Internet TV, NFL and NASCAR services to Android and also claims visual voicemail. It similarly teases Pandora's upcoming Android port of its Internet music streaming app as being available for the Sprint Hero.
Hardware features are identical beyond the cellular technology swap and bring a 5-megapixel camera, GPS and Wi-Fi, with a microSDHC slot used for most storage; a 2GB card comes in the box.
The Hero is due to ship October 11th and should cost $180 on a two-year contract, but only after a $50 immediate discount and a $100 mail-in rebate.
Sprint's device is the first Android phone for a US carrier beyond T-Mobile and should be part of a larger strategy that has at least one Android phone with every major network in the country. Verizon will get a Motorola Android phone, codenamed the Sholes, through an special event next week and may be joined by a second T-Mobile device nicknamed the Morrison. AT&T is still rumored to be readying the HTC Lancaster but may be facing a delay.
Android has had relatively little market share worldwide as it has usually only been available through a handful of carriers in North America, Europe and Asia where Apple, its most obvious competitor, has had deals with about 80 countries for roughly a year.