Android deathmatch: Samsung i7500 Galaxy vs. HTC Hero

As of September 2009, the Samsung Galaxy and the HTC Hero are the best Android devices available. With Motorola CLIQ, the situation may change, but for not for those who are looking for a slim phone without a physical keyboard (the CLIQ is a QWERTY slider). Here's how the Galaxy and the Hero stack up.

Hardware

The short story is that the Galaxy has a camera flash, while the Hero has more RAM (288MB vs. 192MB), but no internal storage (Galaxy has 8GB). In rest, the phones are pretty similar. Be mindful of their supported 3G frequencies. For example, the original HTC Hero doesn't support T-Mobile USA's 1700MHz band for 3G. The Galaxy does, and there appears to exist a version of HTC Hero that support UMTS 850/1900MHz.

Screen

The screen has the same size and resolution. The Hero sports an "oleophobic" screen, designed to avoid the oil from human fingerprints, and the Galaxy has an AMOLED screen, which consumes less battery and is supposed to be brighter than any other screen. I haven't been struck by the AMOLED screen; it's a nice screen, but nothing to make me go "wow". Its optimal viewing angle is sufficient: about 60 degrees horizontally. Beyond that, the colors become cool. The AMOLED screen does have much blacker blacks than Hero's screen, which shows a very dark gray instead of black, due to the LCD backlight.

Below are photos of both the Hero and Galaxy screens at maximum brightness.

Samsung Galaxy without screen protector Samsung Galaxy with screen protector

You can notice that the text on the Galaxy "glows" more and appears a bit thicker. That is because the AMOLED screen is much brighter. To bring the AMOLED screen to the same level of visual brightness as the Hero, you can turn down its brightness to about 50%, while the Hero stays at 100%. Subjectively, the text on the hero appears a bit crisper, smoother and more luminous than the text on the Galaxy.

The Samsung Galaxy also suffers from screen shimmer while data is transferred.

I found finger swiping on the HTC Hero screen to be easier than on the Galaxy. The oleophobic screen does work to some extent, even though it still collects fingerprints.

I like the Hero screen more, but your preference may vary.

Keys/buttons

Galaxy has a D-pad which makes it much easier to move the cursor while editing text than Hero's trackball. Definite advantage Galaxy.

Button ergonomics: after two weeks with the Hero and 2 days with Galaxy phones, it's much easier to push Galaxy's buttons by touch, than Hero's. This comes in very useful when it's dark or when operating the PDA for GPS navigation while driving.

The Hero has a Search button, which I sometimes miss on the Galaxy. The Galaxy has a dedicated camera button, but if the phone is locked, you'll need to unlock it for the camera button to work. This means that on the Galaxy, to take a quick picture when your phone is in standby, you have to long-press the lock button (1-2 seconds), then press the camera button, unless you lock the phone with the camera application active, just so you have it read for that instant shot. On a phone without a camera button, you'd still have to unlock the phone, then tap the screen to take a picture. Not much of an advantage for the Galaxy.

Usability

  • USB connector: placed at the top of the phone in the Galaxy, which gets the cable out of the way if you operate the phone on a desk while it's charging. Definite advantage Galaxy.
  • aesthetics: the Hero looks a bit more polished/sleek (I have the white teflon coating version), while the Galaxy has a more usual candybar shape. Slight advantage Hero, unless you hate its chin, but this is really a matter of personal taste. The Hero did get compliments from women. The Galaxy, not yet.
  • LEDs: the Galaxy has no LEDs. On the contract, the Hero has a LED that indicates its charging status, and the trackball glows nicely if there are events waiting for your attention (SMS/calls/emails etc. received while you were away from the phone). On the Galaxy, if you return to the phone after a while, you'll have to turn it on to see if anything happened. Definite advantage Hero.
  • access to cards: in both phones, you need to remove the back cover in order to access the microSD card, and you need to remove the battery as well in order to remove the SIM card.
  • the backcover is easier to remove on the Galaxy, but without it, the battery will easily fall off. On the Hero, the battery stays in place even with the cover off.

Battery life

MP3 playback battery life test

I have tested HTC Hero's battery life for MP3 playback as follows:

  • off: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, mobile Internet, autosync. The phone was on and missed two calls (from some $%@#^%$ telemarketers, I hope they die, become trees, get sent to the paper mill, and the donotcall.gov website gets printed on them).
  • apps running: Touch Input, Android System, Music, TuchFLO, Dialer (used ASTRO to kill the others. Now killing ASTRO itself... whop).
  • volume 25%, headphones plugged, USB disconnected, started test.

The phone started playing Prince - 1999 (album version) on repeat, using the Music application, at 00:43

  • at the 02h40m mark, the battery level was 89%
  • at the 13h37m mark, the battery level was 29%, and there was 1 missed call.
  • at the 14h59m mark, the "connect your charger" warning appeared (battery below 15%)
  • at the 15h05m mark, there was another missed call. The trackball kept glowing for 7+ minutes even after I acknowledged the missed call, which is a bug with the Hero (trackball keeps glowing a while after events are acknowledged). Due to lo battery, the upper-right LED kept flashing red. The same probably happened for the first call.
  • at the 17h37m mark, the music stopped. Pressing the Power button reset the phone.

Thus, the HTC Hero mp3 playback battery life, at 1/4 volume, on headphones, with everything but the phone turned off, and no calls, is around 18 hours.

By comparison, Kenneth Kwok's Samsung Galaxy mp3 playback time test produced a significantly lower value, 14 hours and 15 minutes.

Battery life with GPS usage

If you're a pedestrian tourist, you'll find the Hero a tad frustrating battery-wise. With the GPS and phone on, but everything else off, and taking occasional pictures, the Hero tends to last for 4 to 6 hours. I haven't yet tested the Galaxy on that front.

Call quality

I called 1-800-555-TELL and listened to news and stock quotes on the loudspeaker. The quality was excellent, with the T-Mobile signal varying from 2 to 4 bars. During each 10 minutes call, there was only one stutter. I did this twice, with both the H7 and H8 firmware.

GPS

In both phones, the aGPS seemed extremely fast. I wasn't very precise in the testings, but while in a moving vehicle, both phones got a fix (from a cold start, as far as I could tell) in under 20 seconds. By comparison, my standalone SiRFstar III unit took minutes to get a fix while in a moving car.

However, indoors, the HTC Hero got a fix WAY faster than the Galaxy, repeatedly. With both phones on the desk, and only "Enable GPS satellites" checked (no usage of wireless networks to determine location), the Hero gets a GPS fix in less than 30 seconds, while the Galaxy's satellite-based GPS was pathetic indoors: after 5 minutes, it still hasn't got a fix. With wireless network-based location enabled, it did get a fix in less than 10 seconds.

Software

Short story: the Hero has significantly better software: multi-touch support in the browser and image viewer, support for Flash in the browser, and the Sense UI.

The Galaxy has fewer hackers working on it. HTC devices are hacked all the time by XDA developers folks, and forum threads about them can reach monstrous sizes.

The "New PC Studio" synchronization software that comes with the Galaxy is notorious for being rubbish and didn't detect the phone (confirmed by other users). On my Windows XP, it crashed repeatedly, sometimes with error messages in Chinese, and generally, was crap.

The Galaxy can't receive firmware updates over the air; instead they need to be installed from the PC, via... New PC Studio. For how to actually update the Galaxy to the latest ROMs leaked by enthusiasts, check the Firmware update and rooting section in the Samsung Galaxy wiki.

The Sense UI has been criticized for its lag, but a recent HTC Hero lag fix update solves this problem.

The HTC Hero Theme

There is a mod for Samsung Galaxy, called GalaxHero, that looks similar to the actual Hero theme. However, it only has 5 home screens (the Hero has 7), there is no slider at the bottom of the screen indicated which screen you're in, and a small portion of the display is erratic at the top-right corner (partially over the clock).

Settings

The Sense UI comes with two more menus (Personalize and Social Networks).

A long press on the Power button offers two extra menu entries: Vibration mode and Mobile network (toggle) on the Hero.

Applications

The Hero comes with a improved standard applications, few new applications, and extra widgets:

  • World clock widget - you can to the home screen(s) as many clock widgets as you want, each configured for a different timezone. There are 12 clock styles to choose from.
  • Weather widget
  • Stock prices widget
  • Favorite contacts widget

The hero also ships with Teeter, an addictive labyrinth game with very cool haptic feedback. The game is copyrighted by HTC.

Camera

The camera app is much better on the Hero. In particular, it can disable the shutter sound, change photo resolution, white balance, brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness, and can set a self-timer for 2 or 10 seconds. It also supports geotagging, timestamping, effects (grayscale, sepia, negative), flicker adjustment (50 or 60Hz), and can control the metering mode (spot/center/average) and video quality (high/fine/normal/basic).

By comparison, the stock Android camera application only lets you geotag photos, select video quality (high/low), and toggle the flash (auto/on/off). However, there are free camera applications that provide functionality similar to the HTC Hero camera. Still, there appears to be no way to disable the shutter sound on the Galaxy.

Dialer

The Sense UI Dialer combines dialing by number with dialing by contact name, while you press the same digit keys. For example, pressing 64 will also bring up contacts whose names start with "ni" (6=MNO, 4=GHI).

HTC Hero virtual keyboard

Everyone seems to love the HTC keyboard, and I thought the Android one was inferior, but practice has shown that I made fewer typos on the stock Android on-screen keyboard in portrait mode than on Hero's Sense UI keyboard (!). Also, the Android keyboard conveniently replaces the "Enter" key with a contextual key (e.g. the magnifying glass for search). This makes it easier to type something, then "Enter", and have the default action done. On the Hero, you type something, then you look for the default action button/icon (which may be obscured by the keyboard, so you have to minimize it.

Anyway, you can install the HTC Hero keyboard on any Android.

Youtube application

The Youtube application on the Hero plays videos by default in high quality. On the Galaxy with the default firmware, you have to choose "Watch in high quality" every time. Newer firmwares fix that.

See also

Here is another comparison between Samsung i7500 Galaxy and HTC Hero.

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