HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE Review: Solid Little Phone, Awfully Big Name

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Short Version

Does bigger always mean better? It depends on who you ask of course, but more than a few major smartphone manufacturers would probably say yes. Even the notorious hold-outs at Apple are rumored to be working on something a bit larger than their usual — in short, the race to be the biggest doesn’t show any signs of letting up.

In a market where big smartphones reign supreme though, Verizon and HTC seem to think that a smaller device can still captivate some jaded consumers. As a result they’ve put together the Droid Incredible 4G LTE, a poorly named device that manages to squeeze a surprising amount of power into a relatively small frame.

Features:

  • 4.0-inch qHD Super LCD display
  • Runs Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich and Sense 4.0
  • 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 8GB of onboard storage, accepts microSD cards as large as 32GB
  • NFC
  • 8-megapixel rear camera, VGA front-facing camera
  • MSRP: $149 with a two-year contract, available as of July 5, 2012

Pros:

  • Great Super LCD display
  • Plenty of horsepower for daily tasks
  • Solid build quality

Cons:

  • Screen may seem too small for some
  • Verizon loaded it up with quite a bit of bloatware
  • It’s not terribly handsome

Long Version

Hardware

The first thing I noticed about about the Droid Incredible 4G LTE is just how small it felt in my hands. After months of toting around a Galaxy Nexus, it was actually kind of shocking. The Incredible 4G is just a hair wider than the iPhone 4S, but its taller stature and slightly narrower screen make it seem leaner than it actually is. Even so, the device has a well-constructed feel to it — it has a comforting heft to it and a quick bit of bending yielded none of the tell-tale creaking sounds that plague lower-end handsets.

At its thickest point the new Incredible comes in at 11.7mm — a far cry from the slim waistlines of HTC’s One S or the iPhone 4S, but it never feels like too much of a handful. That’s mostly thanks to the device’s curved back — like in the HTC Rezound before it, that curve helps the device from feeling too chunky.

The name of the design game here is nearly the same as it has been for nearly every other HTC/Verizon device in recent memory — the Incredible 4G’s rear is swathed in a matte black soft-touch plastic (warning: it picks up smudges easily), and the signature red trim around the camera lens makes a return after being left out of the Droid Incredible 2. Probably the most notable aspect of the Incredible 4G’s back plate though is the grippy, ridged finish that covers most of it — yet another design cue from the Rezound.

Aesthetically speaking, it’s not all old news — while the back has a matte finish, the device’s face is lined with a glossy gray plastic that helps break up the monotony. Most of the real estate is taken up by the device’s 4-inch Super LCD display (more on that later, naturally), and sitting below that is HTC’s now-standard row of three Android navigation keys — back, home, and recent apps. The front-facing VGA camera sits just above the screen, and north of those are a handsome red speaker grill, sleep/wake button, and headphone jack. The microUSB port is located on the Incredible 4G’s bottom left side, just opposite microSIM and microSD slots (though you’ll have to pop off that back plate to get to them).

All things considered, the Incredible 4G is solidly built, but it pales in comparison to the One series when it comes to looks. It’s actually quite a shame — with the One series, HTC has proven that it can design phones that look as good as they are constructed, but little of what they’ve learned has made the transition to the new Incredible. And it’s not as though the devices weren’t in the works at the same time — a very early version of the Incredible 4G was spotted back in February, right around when the One series made its debut at MWC 2012 in Barcelona.

Software

Unlike the last device I reviewed, I’m pleased to report that the Incredible 4G runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, though it’s obscured a bit by HTC’s Sense 4.0 UI. If you’ve read Jordan’s HTC One S review, you’ll already have gotten the gist of Sense 4.0, but I’ll add that the latest version of Sense is far more tolerable than the versions that came before it.

That may not sound like much of a compliment, but coming from a person who thinks that Ice Cream Sandwich (and Jelly Bean, natch) are best left untouched, that statement carries more weight than it seems.

While previous iterations of Sense (especially Sense 3.0) seemed intent on wowing users with unnecessary graphical and UI flourishes that ultimately had a deleterious effect on performance, Sense 4.0 looks and feels much lighter and less obtrusive. There are plenty of thoughtful touches to be found here — the almost webOS-esque multitasking interface, the ability to edit the app tabs at the bottom of the launcher, the custom widget panel that pops up when long-pressing the homescreen, etc.

In a way, Sense has matured over these past few years, making it one of the better custom UIs that consumers. That being said, there are still some quirks to look out for and the device’s menu button situation immediately comes to mind. Unlike stock ICS, which often sees the menu’s soft key placed in either an app’s top or bottom navigation bar, HTC often gives the menu button a bar of its own to inhabit. It’s thoughtful, in a way — easy access to settings is always appreciated — but it just takes up more room than it’s worth. The keyboard is also remarkably similar to the Sense keyboard of yore, which I’ll admit I’ve never been a fan of.

What’s less tolerable is what Verizon has done to the Incredible 4G — unsurprisingly, the carrier has opted to load up the device with plenty of bloatware to contend with. Some of the offending bits like game demos are easily removed, but as usual preloaded Verizon utilities like My Verizon Mobile and the Verizon app store can’t be uninstalled. Fortunately, Sense allows for individual apps to be disabled and hidden from sight so it’s simple enough to clean house even though you can never really get rid of them (short of flashing a custom ROM).

Verizon seems to have done a bit of fiddling in other parts of the UI too: one of the tabs in the app launcher quickly brings up all of Verizon’s pre-installed nonsense, and users can keep their eyes peeled for persistent (and mildly obnoxious) notifications about their Wi-Fi status.

Camera

Here’s the thing about the Incredible 4G’s camera — it sports an 8-megapixel rear sensor and the ImageSense camera UI like its cousins in the One series, but it doesn’t seem to have the discrete ImageChip that HTC is so proud of. That said, though, images were sharp and colors were vivid, there’s some distinct graininess when light levels dip.

HTC’s ImageSense UI makes up for things a bit by putting plenty of controls at the user’s fingertips without becoming overwhelming. Settings and scene modes are aligned vertically along the left side of the screen, while the shutter button, video toggle, and a full array of artsy filters can be accessed with one touch.

The Incredible 4G also shoots some impressive video, though there’s plenty of room for improvement. There’s plenty of wiggle to be seen even with the video stabilization option turned on, so users will have to be extra mindful so their recordings don’t turn into wobbling messes. On top of that, auto focus is awfully slow when recording video, so be prepared to tap-to-focus more often than not.

The end result is a very solid camera that could have been so much more. One last thing worth noting is that the Incredible 4G lacks a dedicated physical shutter button. Sure, the One X and the One S don’t have one either, but if Verizon and HTC were going to run with a completely different design, they could’ve improved things for the better a bit.

Display

Let’s be real here: the screen is not going to work for everyone. It wasn’t that long ago that a 4-inch display would’ve gotten us phone geeks all hot and bothered, but those days have passed and the Incredible’s screen is left looking a little puny compared the flashy big guys on the market.

Say what you will about its size, but the Incredible 4G’s 4-inch Super LCD display is a very pleasant addition to the package. Colors were bright and well-reproduced, viewing angles were excellent, and visibility in sunlight was solid (though you’ll have to be mindful about cranking up the brightness).

Of course, some compromises had to be made. Unlike some of the 720p devices in roughly the same price range, the Incredible’s display runs at qHD resolution (960 x 540). It doesn’t squeeze as many pixels as some other device displays can — the Incredible 4G has a pixel density of 276 ppi, which bests the One S (256 ppi) but can’t touch the Galaxy S III’s 306 ppi. Still, that matters less on a smaller screen, and there was nary a jagged, pixellated edge to be found.

In the end, how much you or any other potential customer will like this phone depends a whole lot on your thoughts about screen size. That initial sense of screen-related claustrophobia subsided after a few days, but my heart ultimately still yearns for something bigger. If you’re thinking about picking one of these things up, do yourself a favor and play with it in person first.

Performance

Don’t let its looks fool you — the Incredible 4G may be small, but it packs some considerable power under the hood thanks to its 1.2GHz Snapdragon S4 chipset (the Adreno 220 GPU doesn’t hurt either). From a purely anecdotal standpoint, I didn’t see a single hiccup as I swiped though the Incredible 4G’s menus and scrolled through long lists of links on a handful of websites. Similarly, the Incredible handled my usual test suite of HD videos and games with aplomb — this little guy has plenty of oomph.

The Incredible 4G’s average Quadrant score was 4098 — understandably not quite as high as the HTC One S (4371) since it sports a more robust spec sheet, but it’s awfully close. Meanwhile, it put the Galaxy Nexus (2730) to shame, though that seems to be a recurring trend with the devices I’ve played with recently. In short, the new Incredible should have no trouble keeping up with your daily grind.

Network performance was equally solid, with the Incredible 4G hitting an average of 14.2 Mbps down and 5.3 Mbps up in my quiet little corner of New Jersey. It goes without saying that your results be vary from mine (unless you live down the road, in which case you should come over and say “hi”), but Verizon’s network continues to be the one to beat if you’re looking for strong, widespread LTE coverage. In typical HTC fashion, call quality was remarkable as well — clear, crisp, and always loud enough.

What does miff me about the Incredible 4G is that it’s ostensibly meant to be a music-friendly device, but it’s stuck with a rather wimpy speaker on its rear end. I realize I may be picking nits here, but I long for the day that I review a device with a top-notch integrated speaker so jamming out on the go isn’t so problematic.

Battery

I wasn’t expecting much out of the Incredible 4G when it came to its removable 1700 mAh battery. My iffy past experiences with the original Incredible subconsciously soured me for the Incredible 4G’s potential, but it ended up performing better than I hoped. While using the Incredible 4G as my daily driver, I was easily able to get through an entire day of taking calls, firing off emails/texts, and sneaking in the occasional YouTube video before my battery went critical.

If you’re the type who just likes to sit around and fiddle with your phone all day, your results will obviously be a little different. In our typical stress test — in which display brightness is set to 50% and the device is set to repeat a series of Google Image Searches — the Incredible 4G lasted five hours and 12 minutes.

That’s not too shabby at all, and it compares favorably to both the One S (4:51) and the Galaxy S III (5:15). When it came to our video stress test, the Incredible 4G put up similar results. With display brightness set to 50% and volume cranked all the way up, it managed to play just a hair over five hours of nonstop video before finally giving up the ghost.

I don’t need to tell you that these sorts of intensive test results shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but combined with my day-to-day experience with the device, anyone who takes the plunge probably won’t have much to worry about on this front.

Conclusion

I’ve come to really like the Droid Incredible 4G LTE, but it’s far from being a game-changer. That by itself isn’t a problem, but its lofty price tag doesn’t exactly help. At $149, the Droid Incredible 4G LTE is just a stone’s throw away from devices like the new Galaxy S III, which many have called the Android phone to beat.

It becomes difficult, then, to recommend something like the Incredible 4G when something exceptional can be had for nearly the same price, but bigger isn’t always better. If your mitts just can’t grapple with something like the Galaxy S III or Galaxy Nexus (or if you just prefer a phone that’s less conspicuous in your pocket), the Incredible 4G is an admirable choice in spite of its minor flaws.

















As Panasonic TVs flicker, new chief offers tough love

TOKYO (Reuters) – In today’s world of fast gadgets and fickle consumers, managers at Panasonic Corp, the sprawling, and struggling, Japanese electronics manufacturer, still refer to a 250-year business plan their founder wrote between the two world wars.

Hey, That’s Mine! Give It Back! The Fallacy Of The International Clone

baby crying

Editor’s note: Lee Jacobs is founder of Colingo– An English learning service focused on Brazil.  Sometimes his alter ego Mr. Lee gives English lessons on Youtube, check out a recent one on “drinking words” here.

I have spent a lot of time in Brazil, working on my startup Colingo, about a month ago I was in Sao Paulo for Dave McClure’s Geeks on A Plane. Brazil is a hot market with many firms like Accel and  the famed Sequoia capital  searching for opportunities. Many of these investors are looking to fund   “copycat,” business that emulate successful American startups. Businesses like Peixe Urbano (Groupon), Elo7 ( Etsy), Kekanto (Yelp), and Shoes4You  (Shoedazzle).

Whenever I come back to the Valley, I often hear whining that clones are the work of unimaginative thieves — not real innovators. Genuine innovation requires brand new ideas, and is typically the work of a Stanford dropout (or at least Harvard).

This is bullshit.

As I alluded to in a previous post, this is just another example of how American entrepreneurs are grossly misinformed about what’s happening outside of U.S tech scene.

While the idea that innovation stems from the epiphany of a brilliant entrepreneur certainly is romantic, it rarely happens that way. Great ideas and companies have always evolved from what came before them. Even the archetype of a “true innovator,” Steve Jobs,  was famously  ‘inspired’ (some think copied) ideas for the mouse after his trip to Xerox PARC early in his career. Facebook, started as a  ‘clone’ of HotorNot, Google was inspired by search engines before it. Having grown from their initial roots, These two businesses no longer closely resemble their original inspirations. It is reasonable to assume many international clones will evolve on their own trajectory. In fact, to be successful they must.

Brazilian clones have had to do more than what Eric Acher of Brazilian VC firm Monashees calls “geographic innovation,” these companies have had to adapt to the local realities of doing business in Brazil. While the fast growing Baby.com.br is inspired by the American Diapers.com, Baby had to reinvent how shipping and order fulliment was done in Brazil to make up for lack of quality fulliment options. Helpsaude.com  is a Zocdoc for Brazil, unlike its American counterpart has gone with a free listing model. Founder Gustavo Guida Reis, tells me he needed to adapt the model to account for Brazilian doctors hesitancy to pay up front.

A common argument in the anti-clone camp is that cloning reduces the incentive for companies to innovate. “If my idea is just going to be copied, what’s the point?” For one thing, entrepreneurs should be building companies because they firmly believe in changing the status quo, and that in itself should be incentive enough. Furthermore, whining about competition reminds of me of the Winkelbrows complaining Zuck stole Facebook from them- as if scaling to a billion users is an afterthought. Building real companies is the hard part.

Overall, it feels like the anti-clone attitude in the Valley, is borne out of a fear that a clone will out-compete them. Entrepreneurs should fear not, for business models, designs, and features can be copied. Teams cannot. True innovators should be confident in their own unique vision for how to push an industry forward and confident in their team’s ability to execute on it.  In the end, building a business comes down to the individual vision of the people running it and their unique ability to execute. As Fred Wilson recently pointed out, innovations  will inevitably be copied and it is up to innovative companies to push the envelope and continue to build new things. As we saw from the recent shut down of the Samwers brothers’s  Fab clone (the Samwer brothers’ dubious ethics seem to be an example of when cloning crosses the line- but that is for another post), staying focused and execute your vision is what matters.

Robert Kuttner: Waiting for Lefty

President Obama is willing to have the federal government spend more money. But he has partly bought the story that deficit reduction has to come first. The Republicans would further gut the public sector. Contrary to the conventional view that deficit reduction would somehow “restore confidence” and increase business investment, that’s not how economies work. Businesses invest when they see customers with open wallets. Though the Congressional Budget Office projects higher growth returning around 2014, it bases these projections on a “return to trend.” There is no plausible story about where the higher growth will come from. If we don’t get a drastic change in policy, we will be stuck in this rut for a generation or more.

Read more: Barack Obama, U.S. Economy, Unemployment Rate, Public Sector, Economy, Great Recession, Great Depression, Politics News

Mophie JuicePack Powerstation: fast, high-volume charging for iDevices

I have a confession to make: I do not like external batteries for mobile devices like the iPhone. I especially dislike the case-based ones—the ones that you slide your phone into with a battery strapped to the back like a jetpack. The idea of carrying around an extra battery just for my iPhone is generally distasteful to me. I think they are unnecessary for most of everyday life, which leads to a second reason… I don’t like to buy (or carry) unnecessary stuff.

Recently, however, I began to change my tune and opened myself up to the possibility that there could be a mobile battery pack for me. I was traveling frequently and kept finding my gadgets on the verge of death after a long day on the road. My criteria was that it had to be smallish and easy to throw into a bag, but not so small that it’s easily lost. It couldn’t be built into a case, and it had to be usable with a wide variety of devices—not just my iOS devices. It also had to cost less than $100. I began to hear good things about the Mophie JuicePack Powerstation. I eventually purchased one prior to my trip to San Francisco for WWDC 2012 so I could test it out for myself. And after having used the JuicePack to recharge my iPhone 4 and third-gen iPad over the last month or so, and I am pretty satisfied with the purchase.

What you get

The current version of the Mophie JuicePack Powerstation is essentially “just” a 4000mAh external battery. A previous version of the device only had a 2000mAh battery, which Mophie claimed would double an iPhone’s battery life. The 4000mAh version is double that. The battery comes in an enclosure that supports any device that can charge over USB, so it’s not limited iOS devices—you can also charge Kindles, Android devices, and any number of other accessories that can plug in over USB. The charging output of the JuicePack can go up to 2.1 amps, making it suitable for charging even the third-generation iPad (notorious for taking forever to charge on lower-output USB plugs).

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Sikorsky, U.S. sign $7.3 billion Black Hawk order

FARNBOROUGH, England (Reuters) – Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp , has signed a five-year $7.3 billion agreement that will provide the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force with more H-60 Black Hawk helicopters and other versions of the utility aircraft, according to several sources familiar with the deal.




Op-ed: MPAA/RIAA lose big as US backs copyright "limitations"

Harold Feld is a Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge, a Washington, DC advocacy group dedicated to “the openness of the Internet and the public’s access to knowledge.” The article originally appeared on Wetmachine, a group blog on telecom policy, software, science, technology, and writing. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Ars Technica.

Well, it’s been a fun week on the international trade agreement front. Monday began yet another negotiating round for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, this time in San Diego. To the amazement of everyone, the US Trade Representative (USTR) announced on July 3 it would now include a provision in the intellectual property (IP) chapter recognizing the importance of “limitations and exceptions” to copyright and embracing the international 3-part test for what constitutes suitable limitations and exceptions. (For those not familiar with this term of art, “limitations and exceptions” are things like Fair Use and First Sale Doctrine in the United States. As the name implies, limitations and exceptions to copyright limit the rights of the copyright holder and create exceptions to the general rule against copying without permission.)

It is difficult to convey to people who don’t routinely deal with USTR and the copyright maximalists that dominate trade negotiations just how stunning a turn around this is, given the fairly well-established limitations and exceptions in U.S. law and the fact that—as USTR acknowledged in its announcement—the three-part test for what constitutes suitable limitations and exceptions is already well-established and incorporated into international law. Indeed, given all this, the incredible thing is that this is, as USTR acknowledges, the first time USTR has included any explicit reference to limitations and exceptions. In addition, as my colleague Rashmi Rangnath points out over at the Public Knowledge blog, while this is a positive step for USTR, we have not seen the new draft TPP text, so the actual implementation of these principles in the TPP draft could still be a major step backward from existing US law.

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Analysis: Investors brace for shaky U.S. earnings season

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Earnings season begins on Monday with U.S. companies facing a litany of issues that could make second-quarter reports look dismal.