Now, That’s Incredible Mobile

Some time back I shared that I would be leaping from my steam driven and coal fired Palm Treo to the then brand spanking new Palm Pre. I was met with a price plan that prohibited me from making that commitment. Thank God! I was thankfully spared from investing in what my friend Lisa Foote now calls “a dead phone walking.”

Since that time I have been patiently waiting for a phone that fulfilled my mobile needs. One that offered all the utility I seek (fast web, good service, access to apps, plenty of power) while still having a look and feel that didn’t say, “I’m sensible..not sexy.” I have a Volvo wagon that handles that just fine, thanks.

Last week the fine folks at Verizon offered me a chance to take the HTC Incredible, officially labeled the Droid Incredible, for a spin. The Incredible is on my short list of phones to which to commit, along with the iPhone (on anything but AT&T), or the HTC EVO and I was anxious to put the phone and it’s Android platform through it’s paces.

Disclaimer: This won’t be an overly “techie” review. Those who develop and program for the smartphone market are far more qualified to do that. In fact, Breon Nagy does a stellar job in his latest review. Mine will be from a more hands on “do all the bells and whistles really work for me” viewpoint. Yes, there will be a bit of spec verbiage, but I’ll try and answer the “Yeah, but what does that mean.” questions. Should you crave a little geek speak, you can see the full specs here.

Let’s get started. When unboxing this phone I distinctly heard a distant chorus of angels. Now hold up…this isn’t an all sunshine and rainbows review…there are some things that bother me about this phone, but Verizon’s Incredible delivers a damn good looking phone, so I was visually impressed right away. It’s a look and feel is sleek and sexy, something the flagship Droid, with it’s hard edges and multi-layer design, failed to deliver. The front slick black design with only a small, well recessed track-ball and the slightly rounded edges of the device feel good in the hand. The “topographical” back puzzles me a bit but it’s flat black finish does make it easier to hold on to what looks as slippery as a buttered newt.

I’m not thrilled by the narrowness of the phone in my rather long hands, nor am I crazy about how the camera lens of the hefty 8 megapixel camera protrudes so much, but the features and benefits of both make it easy to get past this. My guess is that a protective case will alleviate both issues should you decide to use one.

The Incredible is currently “state of the art” in the Android arena. Running on Android 2.1 (the latest version) and offering 3G connectivity this bad boy is plenty powerful. Upon turning the phone on with the top mounted power button the 3.7 inch screen jumped to life. It’s clear, colorful and easy to read. I even found it so in direct sunlight.

The phone offers good-looking wallpaper choices including “Live” wallpaper. The moving colorful wallpaper would have kept me entertained for hours back in the partying’ days of college. Kinda like your own little Who concert light show. The ability to customize the desktop to your liking is available in seven different screens. These screens are part of the Sense user interface and allow you to divide up the content the way you want as well as offering established themes (Travel, Social, etc.) with a host of available widgets.

Being a big fan of a real keyboard I was concerned about adapting to the virtual keyboard the Incredible sports. I was pleasantly surprised. The “keys” are quite large in landscape but even in portrait view, I had little to complain about. The web browsing and access was lightning quick (relatively speaking) thanks to the Snapdragon processor.

I was able to take advantage of some of those apps and widgets I mentioned during the short time I had the phone. I navigated to a few destinations with the turn by turn directions offered as part of Android Google maps app and tried a host of Twitter apps (ultimately settling on HootSuite Lite). I was looking forward to using the the FM radio app, which requires you to plug in earbuds for an antenna. In a word, the FM radio blows. Reception was poor even with strong city-grade signals. Consumers always name the FM tuner as a feature they want included in their MP3 device. It’s too bad this doesn’t deliver more than the look of FM and not the sound.

My MP3 library sounded fine and allowed me the appropriate amount of crankage for individual tracks. The hefty amount of on-board memory and the SD card slot offers plenty of room for even the heftiest of libraries. App-wise, I found easy access to most of what I was looking for in the Marketplace and the phone offered no hiccups or problems as I added and deleted applications.

Of note is that third party applications available for the phone will require that SD card to run them. The card easily plugs into the side of the phone under that back cover and Verizon will give you a free 2GB card if you purchase an Incredible before May 31st. This is a memory management thing that I’m sure will be fixed in later versions. But for now the extra space you get with the card doesn’t hurt!

The camera quality is a real standout for the phone…OK, it kicks ass. The 8 megapixel camera delivered great photos and video recording. My iPhone lovin’, 3 megapixel camera slave colleagues were quite impressed. The dual LED flash is a nice addition for indoor shooting though it can leave subjects a bit washed out if you’re too close.

With a device such as this battery life is always a concern. Though I gave the Incredible quite a work out, I didn’t find myself cursing a low battery. I spent the entire day live blogging and Tweeting from the Minnesota High Tech Association conference and had no issues. I used up about 3/4 of the battery but the ability to charge the phone via it’s USB cable (and included wall adapter) made it easy to get a little bump when needed.

A quick note about coverage area. Being one who is currently a free agent when it comes to cell service (I’m out of contract on all three of the phones in my account) I was anxious to get a taste of the Verizon network. While I never dropped a call, the “one bar” of service I get at my home south of Minneapolis is not better than my Sprint coverage. In downtown Minneapolis, I wallowed in four screaming bars and 3G…but I don’t live there. Kind of disappointing…but not a deal-breaker.

Why? Because this phone is all that and a bag of chips. I think the whole quest of the “iPhone killer” is pointless (though incredibly flattering to Mr. Jobs and company) but you would have to consider the Incredible on par with it. Maybe it’s the iPhone “wounder”.  The phone delivers ease of use, plenty of power, all the apps you’ll really need and access to a rabid Android community. That community is so into the platform they will gladly step out and help any “noob” who needs some assistance.

Pre-orders are being taken now online and the phone itself hits stores on April 29th. The cost is set at $199.00 including a 2-year commitment and after an instant rebate. You’ll need the voice and text plan data plan as well as the data plan to use the Incredible. If you go with an individual plan, you’ can get into this bad boy for about $80 a month.

(Photo courtesy of Pixar and Phandroid)