Droid Incredible 4G LTE review: Great sound, good price

HTC's latest smartphone offers Beats audio and the latest version of Android.

The 4-in. HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE, which hit Verizon Wireless shelves today, offers rich multimedia features and a fairly rare chance to grab an Android 4.0 smartphone for just $149.99, after a $50 rebate from Verizon.

The Incredible's case is pretty basic. It comes in black with red highlights and keeps to the boxy, mechanical feel of so many of the earlier Droid models offered by HTC, Motorola and others. Placed next to a white iPhone or the sleek Samsung Galaxy S III, it seems almost plain.

HTC's Droid Incredible 4G LTE
HTC's Droid Incredible 4G LTE

Still, the Incredible's specs are pretty special at this price point. They show a strong focus on features meant to entice customers interested in playing games, viewing video, listening to music and taking good, if not great, video and pictures.

The Incredible uses a 1.2 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor that made browsing and even rotating from portrait to landscape as quick as any smartphone I've tried. Videos ran smoothly.

The phone offers a 4-in. qHD display, putting the resolution at 960 x 540. That's below the resolution of some of the hotter new phones on the market (for example, the Galaxy S III offers 1280 x 720), but is still acceptable. The Incredible's 4.8 x 2.4 x 0.46 in. body is only slightly longer than that of an iPhone 4S, but the viewing area is about half an inch longer. It weighs 4.7 oz., slightly less than the iPhone's 4.9 oz.

Its rear-facing camera is an 8-megapixel model with autofocus, LED flash and a 28mm lens. A front-facing camera is included for video chat, which takes advantage of Verizon's fast 4G LTE network when Wi-Fi isn't available.

One of the best features of the Incredible's camera is a Video Pic capability designed to allow a user to record video, then touch an onscreen button to take a still photo in the midst of the video shoot. It worked simply and intuitively, and there are also onscreen controls for a variety of video effects.

But while Incredible shone at video recording, its audio recording was disappointing. My video and audio recordings sounded tinny on playback -- a shame, since the Incredible's audio was fine overall.

Excellent audio

In fact, that brings me to my favorite feature: audio. I like to listen to Pandora and streaming radio, and I've even learned to keep my data costs down by finding Wi-Fi instead of using the expensive cellular network to stream music. I found the Incredible's Beats Audio sound enhancement easily its most outstanding feature. If you are like me and put a premium on good audio, this might be your next phone.

HTC has other Beats Audio smartphones (such as the HTC One X), but this is the first one I've tried.

Verizon sells a Beats Solo headset separately for $180, but even relying on standard earbuds, I was impressed. The marketing materials for Beats are right on when they describe the sound as offering "thundering bass, soaring midrange and crisp highs." In general, the sound produced was also just clearer.

Incredible is built with a microSD slot, allowing up to 32GB of storage, good for saving plenty of songs and movies. A 1,700 mAh removable battery is another plus for long playback of songs. Both are (as with most smartphones) located inside the back case, which is hard to pull off and made of flimsy plastic.

One final feature that might lure Incredible buyers is Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which works with the HTC Sense 4.0 interface. It includes some snazzy apps, including a really nice weather app. With thunderstorms predominant in July where I live, the weather app fills the screen with a video flying us through ominous clouds filled with lightning flashes. It's much more convincing of a thunderstorm's danger than reading a text bulletin from the National Weather Service.

While the more flashy Samsung Galaxy S III, as noted by Computerworld's JR Raphael, still has physical navigation buttons (rather than relying on Android 4.0's new virtual controls), the Incredible uses virtual controls (for back, home and apps) that conform more truly to the OS. The camera control is also right in the home screen, making it convenient.

Bottom line

With fewer than 10% of available Android phones running Android 4.0, the Incredible could be a quick way to latch onto the new OS. (The latest version, Android 4.1, won't be available on anything outside of the Nexus 7 tablet for about six months.) Android 4.0 also has features such as Android Beam, which uses NFC to quickly transfer files from the Incredible to another similarly-equipped smartphone.

Given it runs Android 4.0, has a $149.99 price-point, interesting Video Pic capability, and awesome audio, it's unfortunate that the Incredible's case is ho-hum. It's almost as if HTC has hidden Incredible's light under a bushel.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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