Review: HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE for Verizon Wireless
HTC's third take on the Incredible goes for the triple 4s: It adds 4G, Android 4.0, and Sense 4.0. The Incredible 4G LTE also fills a much-neglected spot in Verizon's smartphone lineup. Here is Phone Scoop's full report on this compact concoction from HTC. Updated with additional signal and battery tests.
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HTC's venerable "Droid Incredible" line for Verizon Wireless has done very well over the last two years. Rather than sell its own variant of the excellent HTC One series, Verizon stuck to its Droid guns and instead offers the Incredible 4G LTE. This compact smartphone is more portable than today's flagship devices, but it offers many of the same features. See if small is the way to go in Phone Scoop's full review.
The HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE returns to its roots a bit. It's more like the original Incredible than the Incredible 2. This new Incredible is small — at least compared to HTC's newest devices — and has the same design that I found so appealing about the original.
It sticks to the well-worn red-on-black styling cues that have become familiar territory on Verizon's phones. I wish the Incredible offered the same awesome red interior that the 2010 version did, but alas, it does not. In fact, I wish the Incredible came entirely in red instead of black, but I digress.
The Incredible is soft, yet solid. The battery cover has a soft-touch finish, and it feels really nice against your skin. I like that the phone’s edges are all rounded. I find it to be just the right weight. It's not so heavy as to be a brick in your hands, but not so insubstantial as to make you think it was cheaply made.
The display measures four inches, which helps keep the overall footprint of the device down. There are three capacitive buttons along the bottom of the screen for the Back, Home, and Multitasking functions. I found these buttons to be responsive to the touch and had no trouble using them. They offer haptic feedback when pressed, but that response can be turned off if you wish.
The volume toggle is on the right side, placed snugly towards the top corner. It presents just enough of a profile that your fingers can find it. I didn't care for the action, however, which I thought was mushy. If you're looking for a physical camera button, you won't find one.
The microUSB port is on the left side, positioned close to the bottom. Along the top, HTC has included a 3.5mm headset jack for stereo headphones, and a lock key. This key is about perfect. It's just large enough so that it is easily found. Travel and feedback were spot on.
The battery cover has a ridged surface that gives it some real grip. I was able to hold onto it firmly even though my hands were sweaty thanks to the hot July sun. Once the battery cover is removed, users can access the both the microSD slot and microSIM slot, which are located next to the battery. It's notable that both can be removed without first pulling the battery. Removable batteries are also a rare sighting in today's smartphones, and it's a "feature" I am sure some buyers will appreciate in the Incredible.
Updated 6/6/12 after further signal and battery testing.
The Incredible has a 4-inch Super LCD that packs in 540 x 960 pixels. It looks great. Colors are rich, and text, icons, and graphics are smooth. It would be nice to see a full 720p screen on this device, but the combined size and pixel count give it a high-density look that's very appealing. Indoors, it looks fantastic. I was able to navigate most screens under a sunny sky, but noticed that it was hard to take pictures outdoors from time to time.
The Incredible did a fine job of connecting to Verizon's 3G and 4G networks. It passed the ultimate test: it was able to consistently surf the web and make calls from within a concert arena packed with 20,000 other rabid smartphone owners. That's not an easy feat. During my time testing the device, I never saw it lose signal, and it always connected calls on the first attempt — even under the worst signal conditions. Data also always worked.
One issue I noticed, 4G speeds weren't up to par with other 4G devices. For example, when under strict 3G coverage, using the Speed Test app, I was able to achieve peak downloads of about 1Mbps. This is exactly right for CDMA EVDO, which is the technology Verizon uses for its 3G network. Using the Speed Test app while in Newark, NJ, at the Prudential Arena, peak speeds over Verizon's 4G LTE network never exceeded 2Mbps. This is certainly an improvement over 3G, but isn't even close to the speeds PhoneScoop has experienced with other devices. This could be due to the high concentration of concert-goers at the arena, however, and PhoneScoop will continue to test the device to make sure there isn't another reason for the Incredible's slow LTE speeds.
UPDATE: I tested the device further over the last few days, and saw LTE wireless data speeds increase to a more typical level for Verizon's 4G network. Peak downloads reached as high as 11Mbps, and averaged about 8Mbps. The slower LTE data speeds I saw while testing the device in Newark earlier this wek were likely a result of a capacity crunch due to concert being held Monday evening.
The Incredible is an excellent voice phone. Not only did I find calls to be of the highest quality, but the earpiece speaker is extremely loud. Set all the way up and pressed to your ear, you might damage your hearing. The extreme volume meant I was able to make out at least part of a conversation during an Iron Maiden concert. That's asking a lot from any phone. In quieter venues, the Incredible impresses with its clean voice tones and crystal clear performance. The performance through the speakerphone was not so impressive, however. The speakerphone itself sounds thin and tinny, and voices took on a scratchier tone. As far as volume goes, it's OK, but not great. You can surely use it in a closed office or quiet home, but it wouldn't suffice for use in a moving car. The ringers and alert tones are plenty loud, and the vibrate alert is very strong.
Don't worry too much about battery life with the Incredible. I had no problem coaxing it through 30+ hours on a single charge. That included spending several hours under LTE coverage and the initial sync process, which can drain batteries quickly. The smaller screen surely helps the Incredible keep its power consumption in check. Even so, it has a 1700mAh battery, which is a respectable size for a phone of this class.
UPDATE: After spending a full week with the device, I am a bit disappointed by the battery life. It'll get through an entire day, but just barely — and even then only when under 3G coverage. I found the battery wasn't able to keep the phone powered when spending an entire day under LTE coverage. It quite often hit the danger zone (less than 20%) by dinner time. Bottom line, keep a charger handy if you live/work/play in a 4G LTE coverage zone.
The Incredible runs Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” with HTC Sense 4. The system software and user interface are similar to those of the One X and One S, though Verizon Wireless's influence is obvious.
The lock screen on the Incredible offers a handful of customizable shortcuts. You can set up to four apps/actions on the lock screen that will launch when you drag them down to the little ring at the bottom of the screen. The defaults are phone, mail, messages, and camera, but you can adjust these at will. One useful lock screen feature is that you can have a camera shortcut and a passcode at the same time.
The central home screen panels all have a permanent dock at the bottom of the screen that holds five app shortcuts — the same four as the lock screen, plus the main app menu. These can be customized if you wish.
There are three buttons below the display: Back, Home, Multitask. The first two are self-explanatory. Pressing the Multitask button reveals a graphical view of all the recently used applications. The hardware Menu button has been removed entirely in Android 4.0, which is annoying, but that’s mostly Google’s fault.
HTC has jazzed up the appearance of Android 4.0, but there are so many options in Settings, it takes a little while to learn where everything is.
The drop-down notification shade collects notifications as before, but with Android 4.0 you can now dismiss individual notifications by swiping them sideways. Access to the full settings menu is available from the notification shade, as are on/off basic toggles for the wireless radios.
Apps in the app menu are laid out in a grid. Swipe the pages to the left and you'll eventually jump from apps to a list of all the widgets that are available. The widget menu lets you see what the widget looks like and tells you how big it is. The main app listings can be customized however you wish, but I was disappointed to see one of the menu screen tabs (All, Favorites, Downloads, etc.) absconded by Verizon Wireless. This Verizon Wireless menu tab cannot be edited, which is lame. That still leaves three tabs for editing, however, and that ranges from alphabetical grids to custom grids to alphabetical lists, and so on.
As for performance, I didn't see any problems during my initial set of tests. Screen transitions were swift, apps opened quickly, and there were no stutters, crashes, or lags.
The phone app defaults to the dialer when opened, with a list of recent calls and favorite contacts above the dialer. Touch any of the contacts above the dialer, and the dialer goes away and you can see an expanded view of your contact list. The phone app itself offers the basics, including speakerphone, Bluetooth, and access to other apps such as the contact list.
Perhaps the best part of HTC's customizations to the phone software are the gesture-based actions. For example, if the phone rings, turn it over to silence the ringer. Or, if you pick it up, the ringer won't silence completely, but will drop significantly in volume. You can also set the Incredible to recognize when it is in your pocket so that it will automatically vibrate as well as ring. Lastly, the Incredible can automatically switch to the speakerphone when flipped over during a call.
As for contacts and calling widgets, they are plentiful. You can set direct dial shortcuts to the home screen, and there are three different styles of widgets for your favorite set of contacts. I particularly liked the contact widgets, and found them to be useful for organizing my contact groups.
The Incredible offers both individual and system-level messaging tools. The individual apps include the basic toolset from Android, such as Gmail, email, SMS, Google Talk, and Google Voice. These are all fine applications that continue to be useful for composing all sorts of messages. There aren't any other IM apps, so Google Talk is your only option out of the box.
In terms of social networking, the Incredible offers integration with Twitter and Facebook within the OS. Sign into your social networking account and you can do things such as share photos, or messages from inside other applications more easily. The separate Facebook app is preloaded on the Incredible, but the official Twitter app must be downloaded from the Google Play Store.
Other messaging and social networking tools include the newest version of Google+, Google+ Messenger, and Latitude. Each has its own widget or home screen shortcut.
With respect to music, the Incredible offers a pretty wide range of options. Amazon MP3, Slacker, Google Play Music, and the bare-bones music app are all pre-installed. These apps each have their pros and cons. Amazon and Google Play can be used for purchasing music, as well as streaming purchased tracks to the Incredible. Slacker offers free and for-pay streaming services. Bummer that there's no FM radio.
On the video front, the Incredible includes the stock YouTube app, HTC Watch, a simple video player, Google Play Movies, and Verizon Video. HTC Watch is HTC's movie rental store. You can also download (purchase or rent) video content (TV shows and movies) from the Google Play Movies store. The selection between HTC Watch and Google Play is about the same, as are the prices.
Oh, and SlingBox is also pre-installed if you're into streaming the content from your home cable box to your smartphone. This requires separate hardware and monthly fees, though, making the app’s presence more of an ad than a useful function for most people.
Thanks to the Beats Audio integration, music and video sound great through the Incredible. I used several different sets of earbuds/headphones and was impressed with the quality. What I really like is that the Beats software has been integrated deeper into the OS, so it works with all media apps on the device.
The Incredible's camera mirrors the features and behavior of those found on the One X and One S. It offers plenty of advanced functions.
Since there is no dedicated camera button, you have to open the camera from a home screen shortcut or the main app menu. It opens very quickly. The controls are laid out simply. On the top-left corner you'll see the flash controls. Rather than obstruct the screen with a drop-down menu, it simply cycles between on, auto, and off every time you press it.
The full settings menu lets users adjust video quality, the review screen, the ISO, white balance, etc. There are some really cool advanced features, such as continuous shooting and video stabilization. Press the giant "A" in the lower left corner to access the different types of capture and scene modes, such as HDR, panorama, portrait, macro, etc.
The Incredible has two shutter buttons. The top one shoots still images, and the lower one captures video. The result is that you never have to switch between camera or video modes, you just choose the shutter button that takes pictures, or the one that shoots video. The really neat feature is that you can take still images while recording video (without interrupting the video.)
I like HTC's treatment of the camera in its Sense software, and the performance is just as good as what I saw on the One X and One S.
The main view of the gallery shows stacks of photos, images, and videos floating on the screen. They are broken down into groupings such as Camera Shots, All Photos, All Videos, and Screenshots. At the top of the screen, you'll see a drop-down menu that says "Albums." Press it, and you'll automatically see a list of all the photo albums associated with the phone and your online accounts, such as Facebook, Flickr, DropBox, or Picasa.
You can of course share photos through any social network/messaging service you want. You can set the images as your wallpaper, print them, see the photos' location on a map, etc.
Editing features are very limited. You can crop, rotate, or apply effects. That's it. The effects run the typical selection, such as black & white, antique, etc. There is no third-party photo-editing software, but there is a video editor. It lets you piece together videos you've captured with the phone into simple projects.
The Incredible's camera takes images at up to 8 megapixels. Given what I saw with the One X and One S, I was hoping for better results. Generally speaking, the images I captured were decent, but there were all sorts of problems when you look at the lot of them together. Several had white balance problems. Others had exposure problems. Others had good exposure and white balance, but soft focus. The Incredible still manages to take good pictures, but not as consistently as I'd like.
Video capture outperformed still capture, for sure. The video I shot was clean, in focus, had good white balance, and was properly exposed. The Incredible's video camera did as well as you could expect with dramatic changes in lighting, and there was no jitters or ghosting. I did notice some odd sound problems from time to time, as you hear at the very beginning of the video below.
The stock Android 4.0 browser is decent. As far as rendering web pages goes over Verizon's network, it does just fine. I was really quite impressed with how the browser operates and how good web sites look on the display. Do yourself a favor, though, and download the new 1.0 version of Chrome for Android. It is a fantastic browser that's available to Android 4.0 devices, and it's worth skipping the stock browser for. It's faster, cleaner, and more intuitive to use and has much better controls for managing open tabs. Don't ask, just do it.
HTC's Sense 4.0 lets you fine-tune nearly every facet of the Incredible's behavior and appearance. In fact, it probably offers too many options; it has a bit of a learning curve.
The modifications that matter most to most people, such as scenes, skins, wallpapers, and ringtones, are a web of interlaced and related settings that take some time to learn to use properly. The most useful tool of the entire UI is that which lets you customize the lock screen shortcuts.
As usual, most of the Verizon-branded services are on board, such as VZ Navigator, Verizon Video, My Verizon, V CAST Tones, etc. Most of these cannot be deleted, but some can be "deactivated." Deactivated apps no longer appear in the main app menu, but still reside in the phone's storage. I didn't find the overall number of apps pre-installed (48) to be overly burdensome, in that there's still plenty of memory left for the user to install his/her own apps.
The Incredible's Bluetooth radio works perfectly. It paired with every device I could find. Phone calls, in particular, sounded excellent when sent through my car's speaker. Music sounded very good when sent to stereo Bluetooth headphones. I had no issues pushing files to/from the Incredible.
There are perhaps too many options when it comes to the clock on the Incredible. There are more than a dozen clock widgets, in addition to other widgets that also happen to include a clock (such as the weather). What's even better is that you can use these same clock widgets to serve as the clock for the lock screen. The selection is great, and can be set to match just about any wallpaper you might use. Lastly, the clock widgets are infinitely easier to read than the stock wallpaper clock.
The GPS worked well. The Incredible's GPS radio was able to lock on my position in less than 20 seconds, and was accurate to within about 25 feet. I've seen faster/more accurate behavior from other phones, but that's still really good. Paired with Google Maps, the location capabilities are excellent. Thanks to the speedy network access, fast application processor, and accurate GPS radio, real-time directions were spot on and as close to "real-time" as I've ever seen from a cell phone. Verizon's VZ Navigator software is just as capable at point-to-point directions, but doesn't work offline (Google Maps does) and it also costs $10 per month while Google Maps is free.
The HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE may not by a stunning flagship phone, but it’s certainly a good effort from HTC. It includes nearly all of the features that its bigger siblings do, but packs them into a smaller package.
The Incredible's hardware is decent, the display dazzling, and the signal and voice performance as good as any phone I've tested. The Sense 4.0 user interface on top of Android 4.0 is slick and offers an incredible amount of flexibility to the user. The media options are excellent, and basic tools such as messaging and contact management are top-of-the-class.
Perhaps the Incredible's only weakness is the camera, but it's not so bad as to be a deal-breaker. In my opinion, the Incredible's biggest problem is its lack of sex appeal. It just doesn't offer the same pizzazz that some of the competing devices do.
That said, the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE does an incredible job of offering a lot in a little phone.