Moving on from Ovum

30 03 2012

Today is my last day working at Ovum. After nearly five years with the company, split between London and Melbourne, as an editor and an analyst in two different teams, it’s time for me to move on.

It’s been amazing. I’ve made some lifelong (I hope) friends, learned an incredible amount, and done some things that I would never have thought possible five years ago. Ovum is full of great people with intelligence and integrity, and I wish them all every success.

It’s sad to leave, but the time is right for something new. I will be taking up a role with a large Australian digital media business, which I expect will provide plenty to sink my teeth into. I am looking forward to “doing” rather than “talking about”.

Before I go, I want to thank Lee Hope for hiring me (as an editor) in the first place. At the time I had just landed in London, and I chose Ovum over another job offer that paid slightly more, because I got a great vibe from the team that interviewed me at Ovum. It was the right decision. I grew as an editor, and the nine months I spent in his team provided a great grounding in how this whole analyst thing works. I still feel like an honourary life-member of Team Editorial.

Thanks to Mike Philpott who offered me my first analyst role, in his Consumer team. Mike is an excellent analyst and one of the most supportive and encouraging managers I have ever had. He’s also a great bloke despite his unfortunate devotion to English rugby.

The bulk of my time in London was spent working with Adam Leach and Tony Cripps in the Devices & Platforms team. This was basically the best job ever. Travelling around talking to interesting people and technology companies; writing about smartphones and tablets just as they were really taking off; and generally learning a ridiculous amount from two of the smartest guys in the room, while having a hell of a lot of fun. The fact that much of this learning occurred in the pub doesn’t diminish it in any way! Thanks guys.

And thanks to Adrian Drury, who recruited me into his Media & Broadcast Technology team and allowed me to transfer home to Melbourne. I learned a lot – very fast – from Adrian, and it was a real buzz working together with the local teams to build an Asia-Pac client base virtually from scratch.

Finally, a more general thanks to all my other friends and accomplices (who are too numerous to name but you know who you are) at the company. I wish you all the best, I hope we stay in touch, and I thank you all for sharing your knowledge and good humour with me. I hope we can have a pint or a coffee together, in Melbourne or in London, soon.

Onwards and upwards.





ABC News Breakfast, 1 December 2011

5 12 2011

This ongoing Australian legal battle between Apple and Samsung is becoming maddening for consumers who want to purchase a Galaxy Tab 10.1 from a local retailer, but even more so for analysts trying to predict the twists and turns of the courts in various jurisdictions around the world.

Last week I was invited to speak with Virginia Trioli and Michael Rowland on ABC News Breakfast and try to explain the situation for their audience. Here is a clip.

Video can be viewed here:





Ten things about the BlackBerry PlayBook

31 08 2011

The PlayBook shows potential, but has a few weaknesses. (Image taken by me).

Wow, it’s been over 18 months since I last wrote anything here! Must’ve been busy! My brain space has been mostly dedicated to learning some new coverage areas, and moving my life halfway around the world. I’ve also been toying with changing the way I approach this blog, but in the mean time here’s something utterly conventional.

I recently attended a RIM analyst event in Sydney, where they gave attendees a PlayBook to evaluate. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks, so here are some thoughts. Generally I quite like it, but I hope the next version is  better. It just feels rushed, and I think it will take RIM a couple of iterations to get it right, but the platform certainly has a lot of potential. There are “big trend” issues raised by the PlayBook related to the role of tablets in the enterprise, the “consumerization of IT”, whether tablets will “kill” this or that category, and all of those buzzwords, along with RIM’s market position and strategy. I’m deliberately not going to address them here – that stuff is for paying clients of my employer. This is just some tips about what it’s like to use the PlayBook as an ordinary person.

Five good things about the PlayBook

  1. The hardware is pretty good. It feels solid in the hand, the screen is bright and sharp, and it feels fast enough. The design is functional, not aesthetically triumphant, but definitely no eyesore. The touch-sensitive bezel gives it an uncluttered look and works well with the OS design. The speakers are loud enough and clear. It’s a good piece of kit.
  2. The QNX operating system seems like a platform with a lot of potential. The UI is simple and intuitive (*ahem* especially if you’ve used WebOS) but the real screamer is that it feels fast. QNX must be incredibly efficient, because the PlayBook can multi-task better than any comparable device I’ve used, and its dual-core 1GHz chipset is nothing special compared to the top-end competition. I tried playing Need for Speed Undercover (preloaded on the PlayBook), with a 720p video playing, a browser window with three tabs open, and the Photo Browser showing some of my holiday snaps, and the PlayBook didn’t drop a single frame. Even when flipping between apps, it’s smooth as silk. RIM made a very sensible acquisition when it ingested QNX.
  3. The web browser is excellent, and renders pages as if you were using a laptop. Including Flash content, which is handy, although sometimes Flash sites get confused by the screen resolution.
  4. It’s the right size to carry around and it even fits in some of my pockets. But the screen is still big enough for browsing, reading and watching video. Tablet size is about personal preference, though.
  5. HDMI out. This should be on every tablet and smartphone.

Five  things about the PlayBook that need to improve

  1. No native email app. This is the surly elephant in the PlayBook’s dining room. Just because I can check my web-based email in the browser, doesn’t mean I should have to. If RIM couldn’t build an email client to support BES/BIS servers in time for launch, it should have at least included a decent standards-based email app. Sure, if you have a BlackBerry phone you can pair it up via Bridge, and then you get calendar and email and contacts, and it’s more secure etc etc… I’ve heard those arguments and I think they’re inadequate. Those applications are part of the core experience on every other tablet and smartphone for a reason.
  2. App World has tumbleweeds rolling through it. The tardiness of the native SDK probably hasn’t helped, but there should be plenty of developers out there capable of building apps in Adobe AIR or WebWorks. However, most of the action is happening on iOS and Android. There is a real risk for RIM that what remains of its developer community, forced to re-tool to support QNX on the PlayBook and (in the not-too-distant future) on BlackBerry handsets, will decide they’re more likely to make a living on the more popular platforms. At the moment there are a few good apps scattered around App World, but it’s pretty sparse compared to Android, and especially the iPad. Apparently there’s an Android Player coming soon, which will allow Android apps to run on the PlayBook. If this feat of technical wizardry is accomplished (and I confess I am sceptical) it should improve things for users in the short term, but I worry that it will leave the PlayBook’s native SDK to the role of “unpopular kid who is clever but has no friends”.
  3. The initial set-up process was horrible. It forced me to complete a mandatory software upgrade, which required a 361MB download and couldn’t be skipped. It failed multiple times and re-started from the beginning. I had the same experience while setting up a colleague’s PlayBook. It was a pain in the arse. It took me over 24 hours to get my PlayBook up and running. This is not the user experience you’re looking for – indeed it’s a great way to harsh what should be the buzz of a new purchase.
  4. The BlackBerry Desktop software needs a major upgrade. It really is a poor man’s iTunes, and I don’t like iTunes. Media management is really clunky (it doesn’t let you copy albums!), it only seems to recognise my PlayBook some of the time, and it’s ugly – in fact it feels like travelling back in time to 2002. You can transfer media without using it, so I recommend you do that.
  5. No MicroSD slot makes it less valuable as a media player. This is less of a problem than some of the other negatives, but I like having the ability to load up a memory card with movies and music, especially when I travel. I miss it. It means the PlayBook  (I have a 16GB version) can’t replace my ancient iPod on trips away. Although the sound quality through the headphone jack would also need a boost for that to happen – it’s definitely not an audiophile device. Video codec support is only “OK” as well (H.264 and some DivX/Xvid files seem to work, but the MKV container is not supported). All in all it’s an adequate media tablet, with some weaknesses.

So, this is in no way meant to be an exhaustive review, but it highlights some of the salient traits, positive and negative, of this device. Some carriers are bundling the PlayBook with a BlackBerry handset and pricing quite aggressively, so given the PlayBook’s reliance on the BB handset for various important functions, that’s probably the way to play it if you’re considering a purchase.

N.B These comments are based on the PlayBook running version 1.0.7.2942 which was the latest update at the time of writing.





HTC HD2 review

25 02 2010

What: HTC HD2

How much: around £500 (unlocked, SIM-free) at various online retailers.

The good: Amazing 4.3 inch (800×480) screen, very fast Snapdragon chipset and generally high hardware specifications, excellent implementation of HTC Sense UI; the greatest weather widget ever seen.

The bad: Windows Mobile 6.5 shows its ugly side every now and again; it’s a big beast and not exactly pocket-friendly; lack of developer momentum behind WinMo means it lacks the quirky apps from iPhone and Android; firmware version on the test unit was a bit buggy, required daily resets and crashed occasionally.

Buy it if: You want the best Windows Mobile handset available; you need the business functions of Windows Mobile but want a multimedia and web browsing powerhouse; you want a huge screen.

Don’t buy it if: You can’t tolerate Windows Mobile; you wear skinny jeans; you’re skint; you want to wait for this hardware to run Android.

Summary: This was the best piece of mobile phone hardware I’d seen until HTC announced its new handsets at MWC 2010. It has an enormous high resolution touchscreen and a blazing fast processor in a slim, minimalist body. HTC has done an excellent job of hiding Windows Mobile’s flaws behind its own Sense UI (a slightly different implementation than on the Hero, and I actually prefer it) and using the phone day to day is fairly pleasant, with the interface controlled by plenty of sweeping touch gestures. The screen is a great asset to usability, the sheer amount of space available means the onscreen keyboard is accurate and easy to use, Google Maps looks fantastic, viewing photos and videos is excellent, and the extra grunt from the Snapdragon chipset means the phone runs smoothly even while displaying some lovely graphical effects and transitions. The software on the unit I tested got a big laggy after a day or so in use, requiring a reset, and it’s not without its bugs. Nevertheless, I really like the HD2 despite its flaws.

Software

Generally, I’m not a fan of Windows Mobile. Admittedly powerful for office workers, it’s now looking bloated and clunky. Version 6.5 is a mild improvement, but it still lags behind the leading smartphone OSes in terms of looks, usability and fun factor, and the Windows Marketplace app cupboard looks depressingly bare. Luckily, HTC has put in the hard yards and designed its own Sense user interface, which does a surprisingly good job of hiding the WinMo bits  – most of the time. Sense looks and feels great, with a graphically rich, customisable home screen, it puts all of the most important functions within easy reach. It also offers plenty of customisation, so you can add your most-used apps and people to shortcuts on the home screen.

Now, I have to mention the weather widget first: it’s insane. It shows a huge and awesome animation of your current location’s weather across the whole home screen, and you can easily flick to other favourite cities and check out the weather there. It’s amazing. I can’t believe I’m this excited about a weather widget, but it’s freaking awesome.

The HD2 comes with both Internet Explorer and Opera 9.7 installed, with Opera as the default. I think it’s an excellent choice, and it does a very good job of rendering web pages, resizing the text columns to fit the width of the screen. It also supports multitouch pinch-to-zoom, which is useful. Let’s face it, having a huge screen makes mobile browsing significantly easier, and the HD2 does a very good job of it.

The built-in Twitter app is very good and has most of the functionality of third-party Twitter clients on other platforms. The Facebook app is less impressive. It works, but it looks suspiciously like a shortcut to a mobile web version of Facebook. Sense merges your Facebook contacts into your phone contacts, which I like, but it could still be smarter – it missed a few of my contacts.

Text entry is excellent. Having a screen the size of the Great Sandy Desert makes entering text ridiculously easy because the virtual keys are enormous. I even found myself using it in portrait orientation rather than doing my usual trick of rotating it into landscape mode. It’s perfectly usable in portrait, in fact better than most handsets can manage in landscape. I’m becoming a convert to this huge screen thing!

The YouTube app on the HD2 also deserves a mention, as it uses the whole screen and plays videos perfectly with no stuttering (over WiFi at least). This thing is made to watch video on, but it’s a shame the default video player doesn’t have fantastic codec support, and is limited to the formats that the built in Media Player supports. Nevertheless there are several good third-party alternatives for Windows Mobile that should cover the gaps for fans of Divx/Xvid/H.264.

The email app didn’t seem to collect my mail consistently, but I have a feeling that my BlackBerry was snaffling it before it ever got a chance to reach the HD2, so I won’t assume the worst.

All in all, I was surprised how much I didn’t hate the software. It did get a bit laggy and require a restart every day or so, but apart from that there were very few moments where I wanted to throw the HD2 at the wall.

Hardware

The first time I ever saw the HD2 it was in the hands of HTC’s CEO Peter Chou, at an analyst briefing in London. He was clearly proud of what HTC has achieved with the HD2, and rightly so. It’s a lovely bit of hardware, in fact I think it’s the best mobile phone hardware I’ve seen.

The screen. It’s amazing. Massive area, high resolution, great brightness and colour, and very responsive. Best screen I’ve seen on a handset, and it had everyone in the office gawping and rubbing it. Top marks.

The processor. Probably the equal fastest currently available in a phone (there are other Snapdragon handsets out there, but most are underclocked well below the HD2’s 1GHz). The latest generation of cutting-edge Android devices from HTC (Desire, Nexus One) use the same hardware platform. It makes the notoriously sluggish Windows Mobile run like melted butter on Teflon-coated silk, and everything is very responsive. Top marks.

The body. The huge screen means this is a big phone, but the bezel around the screen adds hardly any extra bulk, and it’s slim. I found it fitted in my pockets without too much hassle. The build quality is mostly excellent, and I really like the metal shell. There’s a bit of wobble in the keys at the base of the screen on the review unit I was lent, but it didn’t seem to affect performance.

The camera. Five megapixels, with a dual LED “flash” which makes it more useful than the Hero’s camera. Images are mediocre in this class, despite the relatively plentiful camera controls. Meh.

The ports. HTC has finally ditched the annoying ext-USB port from the Magic, and swapped in a standard micro-USB port which means you can use the same charger with other handsets (it’s coming in as a standard across the industry) and syncing data requires a standard micro-USB cable. They’ve also added a 3.5mm headphone jack, which pumps out good quality sound. With a good-sized microSD card, the HD2 could be a decent music player.

Storage. It doesn’t have much on-board, so you’ll need to bring your own microSD card.

HSDPA, WiFi, GPS. Yes to all, and all good.

Battery life. You would think the price of a massive screen and huge engine would be high power consumption and poor battery life. And you’d be absolutely correct. I was charging the HD2 more than once a day. I’m sure you could wring a fair bit more out of it with 3G, WiFi and GPS turned off, but this thing is more Usain Bolt than Haile Gebrselassie.

Anyway, I suppose I’ve written enough, lest I sound like HTC has paid me to write this (they definitely haven’t). But it is a very nice piece of kit, and it shows what the people at HTC can do. I do wish it wasn’t running Windows Mobile, but it’s pretty much as good as Windows Mobile gets. If you’re forced to use a WinMo phone to fit into a corporate network (or maybe you just love Windows Mobile) you really can’t do better.





Again with the Twitter

11 01 2010

eaten

Diary of a Twitter-addicted analyst

This post is really just a few thoughts about my relationship with social media – specifically blogs and Twitter – as a technology industry analyst. Although some high-profile analysts have enjoyed great success using social media to build their profile (and that of their company), and some analyst firms are actively encouraging their analysts to blog, I still see a few issues here and I don’t think they’re easily resolved.

Some of our competitors have adopted analyst blogs and use of social media whole-heartedly, but the company I work for has been much more cautious. Some of my colleagues have experimented with blogs, as I obviously have, but this activity isn’t officially sanctioned. I deliberately blog only the sort of material that I would never publish through company channels (lately I tend to limit myself to reviewing devices, mainly for the benefit of my friends, and all written in my own time). I enjoy writing about technology and I do it for interest. Nevertheless, I am conscious of not giving too much away.

Personality and trust in a serious world

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that I recently decided to make my feed private. In the process I removed just over 300 followers, including a lot of random spammers, inactive accounts and internet marketers. I also removed a lot of people who are following me purely for professional reasons (including tech PRs, analyst relations people, people who work for clients, vendors, journalists and so on).

The Naked Pheasant wondered what the reasoning was behind an analyst taking Twitter private, noting that it seems to inhibit Twitter’s raison d’etre: open communication. I completely agree. It was not a decision I was initially happy to take, and it goes against my own natural instincts towards openness and honesty (I’m a Gen-Y, so I can’t help it, right?).

I took this decision because, as an analyst, Twitter carries a high degree of risk. There is a tension between the way many people (myself included) use Twitter – for open and immediate communication with some personality – and the high value that others place on my comments, by virtue of where I work.

I take the view that Twitter is at its best when it contains some personality. When I follow someone I like to hear what they’re watching, which football team they support, what their hobbies are. I like to express myself, and tell my friends what I’m doing, but my friends really don’t care about our latest forecast for global smartphone shipments in 2014. They might care about the bike components I’ve bought, whether I’m racing at Rollapaluza, what I’ve been reading, which politician or newspaper columnist I’m angry at, or which new beer or band I’ve discovered. If there’s sport (especially cricket or cycling) on, you’ll hear my opinions on it! A lot of my followers like hearing about the latest phones, or new gadgets and tech, and they value my opinion on that stuff, but they are interested because I’m a person, not an RSS feed. On the other hand, I’m sure plenty of people were following me expecting insight into the global telecoms market, and ended up hearing all about the quality of Ricky Ponting’s captaincy. Sorry guys!

Twitter is brilliant for its immediacy and directness, and for injecting some personality into communications. It can be excellent for building relationships with people you deal with in a business context, and some of the PR/AR people I work with have used it well for quick back-channel communication. There are a (very small) handful of industry people who I still allow to follow me for this reason.

But when Twitter becomes a serious business tool, this personality gets squeezed out by the need to moderate every comment, neutralise controversy and stay on message.

Openness requires trust

Honesty and openness online require a level of trust. Twitter is an extreme case: you trust that people will interpret your statements charitably, understanding that 140 characters is not enough to express things as articulately as you might. People who know me personally know that I have a mischievous sense of humour, and that I love to make deliberately outrageous statements just to test the response, but people who’ve only met me online may take every comment seriously.

On Twitter you have to trust that people will not (deliberately or accidentally) distort what you’ve said to make mischief. As your circle of followers grows, familiarity is diluted and this trust becomes harder to maintain. It is seductively easy to assume that people on Twitter understand this implicit pact, when in fact it’s not the case. It is easy to be stitched up, and the consequences of a loose comment could be career-defining.

Ultimately I reached the point where I can no longer trust people to take my tweets in the spirit they are shared. The risk is too high. I had to decide whether to tweet only about work, or to continue to show some personality, but with a selected audience. So I made the decision that I would rather be a Person on Twitter than an Analyst on Twitter.

Locking my twitter feed is a way of narrowing my circle of trusted followers. It’s a way of reclaiming Twitter as a personal medium built around relationships, still being cautious, but not being paralysed by fear of having an inarticulate or rushed comment retweeted and decontextualised through the echo chamber. There has been some collateral damage – I have been forced to block some people who don’t deserve to be blocked. Locking my feed is a very blunt tool, and it definitely limits my enjoyment of Twitter and its usefulness, but I see it as the lesser of two evils.

Since I locked my feed I have been tweeting a lot less about work, except in conversations with other analysts and friends, or just to say what I’m doing. There is now almost nothing of commercial value in my twitterstream, for competitors or clients.

A brief comment on Twitter rankings

A few weeks ago Jonny Bentwood of Edelman and the IIAR launched TweetLevel, a tool that ranks Twitter users’ influence based on criteria including number of followers, level of engagement and trust. It’s not just for ranking analysts, but obviously given Jonny’s AR focus he has designed it with analysts in mind.

Being ranked as an influencer is part of being an analyst. Vendors and research buyers alike want to know that they’re briefing the right people, and that the research they are buying is written by respected analysts. It’s part of the business, and I’m perfectly happy with that.

But I don’t want to be ranked on my Twitter use. I don’t use Twitter to deliberately influence people, I’m not interested in racking up huge numbers of followers (hell, I just blocked 60% of them and I reject almost all the requests that come in) and locking my feed has basically shot my Twitter influence right out of the sky in big billowing plumes of smoke. I don’t mind, I’d much prefer to use Twitter on a more informal basis and as a research tool. I suspect that many of my colleagues feel the same way, and many of the most influential of my colleagues don’t use Twitter at all. Influence on Twitter is something that I am completely uninterested in.

In all honesty, I’m just not comfortable with being ranked, measured and monitored when I’m talking about day-to-day stuff. I could start a separate professional Twitter profile, but to be honest it’s just too much work for not enough reward, especially given that our management is still (justifiably) nervous about analysts using Twitter. Perhaps they believe that the company brand is being impacted (positively or negatively) in a channel they can’t control, which carries too much risk (I don’t know). They have been looking into a corporate policy for social media. Analysts may soon come under pressure to conform to strict company policies (which would kill the appeal stone dead for many) or stop tweeting altogether (less likely). I haven’t seen the policy so I have no way of knowing what it may contain, but I think it’s a sound idea to have one.

Regardless, I think my personal brand and real-world influence can be built much more effectively through traditional means: by producing good reports, doing good engagements, speaking to people at events and conferences, and getting exposure through the media and trade press.

Anyway, blocking my feed is my way of putting this discussion on ice for a while. In the mean time, there’s nothing stopping anyone from contacting me using the traditional corporate channels.

If you want to arrange a briefing, email or call me at work. I’m only a Google away.





Samsung bada: navigating the ocean

15 12 2009

This is an opinion piece that I co-wrote with Adam Leach, looking into Samsung’s strategy for Bada. It was syndicated on Telecoms Europe.

http://www.telecomseurope.net/content/samsung-bada-navigating-samsungs-ocean?page=0%2C0





HTC Hero review

23 11 2009

One of the best Android handsets yet

What: HTC Hero

How much: Varies, but Orange and T-Mobile both have the Hero for free on a £30/24-month contract (rebranded as the G2 Touch on T-Mobile). Or you can buy it outright (SIM-free) for about £370 from a number of online retailers.

To my long-suffering Aussie friends: you should be able to buy it outright from an online retailer for about A$580 (seeing as no carriers have picked it up).

In the US there are two CDMA versions of the Hero platform: Sprint offers it in a different (blander) shell, and Verizon offers yet another mild variant renamed the Droid Eris.

The good: HTC Sense UI adds a lot of polish to Android OS; excellent usability; access to thousands of Android applications; solid hardware design; aggregation of contacts and linking to Web services is good; build quality is excellent.

The bad: The launch firmware was buggy and slow (make sure you update to the latest version from HTC); same basic hardware platform as the cheaper Magic; no Mac OS support for HTC desktop software; contact aggregation doesn’t give enough options for managing contacts or choosing which to sync; the customised version of Android means HTC takes longer to keep up with “official” Android platform updates.

Buy it if: You want one of the most polished Android devices on the market, or one of the best smartphones.

Don’t buy it if: There’s no real deal-breaker here, unless you want to wait for one of the new Snapdragon-based Android handsets, or you prefer a proper keyboard.

Summary: HTC has been steadily improving its Android handsets with each iteration, and the Hero is easily the best so far, eliminating most of my quibbles with the Magic and adding a huge amount of polish through its Sense UI. The software is the highlight, offering loads of customisation options, excellent usability and expandability through the Android Market. As I write this, with the latest firmware version the Hero offers one of the best smartphone experiences available. In fact, I was really sad when HTC asked for the loan version I was using back. However, you’ll need an unlimited data plan, because like all Android handsets it’s constantly transferring information over the network.

Software

There has been a real proliferation of Android handsets since I reviewed the HTC Magic a few months ago, and it’s become much more difficult for manufacturers to differentiate their devices from their competitors’. HTC has done so by customising the Android UI with its own Sense UI, which I think is a significant improvement on the standard Android build (as seen on the Magic). The Hero I reviewed is running on HTC’s modified version of Android 1.5, but the work HTC has done is a really impressive demonstration of how much Android can be improved: it’s very pretty and the extra functionality really makes the Hero stand out from its competitors.

Sense ties all of your Google contacts and Facebook contacts together, and can link to Flickr profiles. What this means is that you can easily see all of your interactions with a person, check their status, contact them or view their photos all from one place. It’s a good idea and works well for the most part, although it does take some time initially matching some contacts with their Facebook profiles. I would really like to see better control of which contacts are imported from Google: the Hero insisted on downloading all of my Google contacts, resulting in dozens of random email addresses in my phone contact list – it would be better if I could select a group of contacts to download to the phone.

I also had trouble when adding new contacts to the phone: the Hero saved them as “phone contacts” on the handset and wouldn’t sync them to Google. You can select this when creating a new contact, but you can’t change them after the fact. There is also no ability to merge duplicates on the device, so contact management is all done on the web.

These are my main complaints about the Hero’s software. Otherwise the experience is almost seamless, whether it’s downloading and installing apps from the Android Market; taking and uploading photos to Facebook, Twitter or Flickr; setting up email addresses; using the Calendar; Google Maps; installing widgets on one of the seven (!!) homescreens… it all just works.

In fact, it’s pretty much the smoothest phone user experience I can think of (bearing in mind I am not an iPhone user). It’s won a few awards from gadget magazines and industry groups, so it seems I’m not alone in thinking so.

The Hero is slightly larger than a BlackBerry Curve 8900

Hardware.

The Hero has all the standard specs you would expect on a phone at this price point: Qualcomm 528MHz CPU; A-GPS; HSDPA; WiFi; 5.0MP camera with autofocus; capacitive touchscreen; 3.5mm headphone jack (yay!!). It doesn’t stand out from the crowd in terms of specifications, and in fact the Qualcomm MSM7200 chipset is starting to look a little long in the tooth compared to the Snapdragon and Cortex A8 chips starting to appear (HTC’s flagship WinMo device, the HD2, runs a 1GHz Snapdragon chipset). But the hardware does the job, running nice and smoothly for the most part.

The industrial design and build quality are both rock solid. I really like the angular shape of the Hero, and the form factor sits comfortably in the hand or in the pocket. The screen is not huge, or especially bright and colourful, but it does the job.

The 3.5mm audio jack is a really welcome addition, as it means you can use the Hero as a media player without fumbling around with a pointless adaptor. The music playback software is excellent on the Hero, and sound quality to my ears was adequate (though not mind-blowing, it is good enough to stop you carrying a dedicated media player in most situations).

The camera is… ummm… well, it’s useless in low light because it lacks even an LED flash. In broad daylight it’s good enough to snap the odd pic, but not replace a dedicated camera (there are many better camera phones on the market).

Images taken with the Hero are usable on the web, but dynamic range, colour and sharpness could all be better.

Battery life is quite respectable compared to equivalent handsets. you will still need to recharge every 24 hours, but that’s not bad considering how much data the Hero sends and receives.

I guess that’s about all there is to say… I really like the Hero and have recommended it to a few friends who have also been very happy with it. By no means is it perfect, but it’s definitely one of my favourites at the moment.