Verizon's Next Droid is Incredible

By Timothy Butler | Posted at 11:52 PM

Six months ago, Verizon Wireless launched the Droid, built by Motorola, as its flagship Android device. At the time, it was a formidable device, but development of the platform is moving rapidly and the Droid was eclipsed in capabilities, albeit not sales, by Google and HTC’s Nexus One, which was not available for Verizon. With the Droid Incredible, Verizon seeks to take the Android lead again.

The Droid Incredible is billed as “the next chapter in the Droid saga.” But, the Droid Incredible is not just an upgraded Droid, it is an entirely different phone built by a different company, HTC. HTC is no stranger to Android OS – the first Android phone, the G1, was built by HTC and the Droid’s smaller sibling that launched at the same time, the Droid Eris, also was built by HTC. (Because Verizon controls the Droid trademark, Droid devices are not tied to a single manufacturer.)

The device is light, especially for its screen size, but has a very solid feeling construction nonetheless. Motorola’s Android devices are also quite sturdy feeling, but HTC’s device manages to be so without the accompanying heftiness of Motorola’s phones. HTC has opted for an interesting and unusual back to the device that makes it very easy to grip the phone securely.

Throwing off the hardware keyboard of Motorola's Droid and Devour, the Droid Incredible depends on a software keyboard, much like the Eris and the iPhone. In our testing, this proves a wise choice. The Incredible’s onscreen keyboard may not be quite as easy to type on as the Droid’s hardware one, but the svelte form factor helps make up for that. Moreover, we found the Incredible actually bests the Devour’s typing experience even though the latter does have a hardware keyboard.

The Incredible opts against a directional pad or trackball for selecting things or moving the cursor about and instead includes a trackpad button. The trackpad has just the right amount of sensitivity to make it easy to move about in tight places where using a finger to tap on the screen may prove too difficult.

The Incredible features a sleek, simple exterior.

Given the virtual keyboard, the main physical feature of the phone is the screen and the screen is worthy of the honor. It is a beautifully vivid, high resolution AMOLED display that is one of the best we have seen thus far in a phone.

On top of the Incredible’s impressive hardware is an equally impressive interface. Unlike the similarly spec’ed Nexus One, the Incredible makes use of HTC’s homegrown Sense UI enhancements to Android. We have previously seen Sense UI and its sibling, TouchFLO on Windows Mobile, with the HTC Droid Eris, Imagio and Pure. In each case, we came away highly impressed with the attention to detail that HTC put into enhancing the existing platform its interface runs on top of.

Sense UI touches almost every part of the interface. Some of the additions are small touches, such as the attractive and convenient weather forecast on the home screen that automatically displays conditions for the current location (and includes tasteful, amusing special effects related to the weather such as clouds that move across the screen). Other additions are more significant, for example, an enhanced e-mail inbox with handy buttons for viewing unread e-mail and e-mail from one’s most important contacts.

In our estimation, no presently available platform offers as close of competitor to iPhone OS as does Android with Sense UI. HTC seems to understand the importance of little details and that shows.

While we liked Sense UI when we first encountered it with the Eris, the Eris came with a few caveats: it had a slower processor and a significantly smaller screen than the Droid. Conversely, the Droid ran a newer version of Android, but one that was rougher around the edges since it lacked Sense UI. Either phone felt like a compromise, and the situation begged for a phone that would fuse more robust, Droid-like hardware with the Eris’s Sense UI. The Incredible is such a fusion: an up-to-date version of Android like that the Droid sports, a significantly more powerful processor than the Droid and the really beautiful Sense UI interface of the Eris.

Sense UI’s additional heft does keep the Incredible from feeling markedly faster than the Droid for many tasks, despite more powerful hardware, but the Incredible does feel highly responsive. And some tasks do show off the powerful hardware to great effect: for example, the phone supports Adobe Flash Lite and, unlike other mobile implementations we have seen, the Incredible did not appear to strain when showing Flash animation on a web page.

Even a macro closeup of a thimble produce results on par with many point-and-shoot cameras (100% crop).

Voice calling on the phone was good. While there may have been slightly more of a “digital” sound to voices than on some phones, conversations were very clear. We found the speakerphone function especially good, with excellent volume.

Incredibly – and this is where the device’s name feels most fitting – when left on a basic standby mode, the phone sipped on its battery slowly enough to run for about a week. Once we pressed the device harder with functions such as checking e-mail at a regular interval, some web browsing and one of Android 2.1’s animated “live” wallpapers, the battery did drain similarly to other smartphones. Still, its standby time is truly marvelous.

The phone also includes a remarkably good, eight megapixel camera with flash. Looking at some of the photos we took with the Incredible, they appear to be more in league with photos from a point-and-shoot digital camera than those of another cell phone. Even macro photograph seems to be quite acceptable with the Incredible. The camera performed admirably for both indoor and outdoor shots, in no small part thanks to the very bright LED flash.

The phone’s picture taking abilities shined especially outdoors, where blurriness was nearly non-existent and noise was very low. Indoors and out, colors were vividly saturated. Our primary critique would be that the camera’s software applies a bit too much noise reduction on its pictures, but this is true of many standalone cameras as well.

All in all, the Incredible feels like the most well sorted Android device we have had the pleasure of testing. Moreover, it is simply one of the best phones we have tested of any sort, a serious competitor to the present iPhone 3GS that in some ways appears ready to take on the forthcoming next generation iPhone as well. The Incredible far surpasses RIM’s current BlackBerry lineup, Palm’s webOS devices and the current batch of Windows-powered phones.

Android has unquestionably become the second major modern smart phone platform. Amongst its diverse ranks of devices, the Droid Incredible stands presently in a class apart as a phone we can recommend without hesitation (HTC/Verizon,, $199).

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