HTC Incredible S (unlocked) review:

Photo gallery: HTC Incredible S
Photo gallery:
HTC Incredible S

One of our favorite smartphones from 2010 was the HTC Droid Incredible. The smartphone’s zippy performance and polished user experience helped earn itself an Editors’ Choice Award. Obviously, its day has come and gone, but it’s not the end of the line. HTC unveiled the next-generation HTC Incredible S at Mobile World Congress 2011, revealing an improved though not revolutionary follow-up. It’s not available with a U.S. carrier yet, but HTC was kind enough to send us an unlocked model , which is available now for around $550. There is also a rumor that a CDMA version of the phone will surface at Verizon Wireless this summer as the Droid Incredible 2, so again, if you’re curious about what to expect, you can check out our preview here.

At first glance, the HTC Incredible S looks pretty plain, largely due to the fact that the controls beneath the display aren’t visible when the phone is turned off or in standby mode. It may not be very striking, but there’s also a beauty in its clean and minimalistic look. Plus, that’s not to say that the Incredible S is completely boring. If you flip the phone over, you’ll see that the back features a topographic design, much like the HTC Droid Incredible. It’s purely a cosmetic touch that may or may not appeal to your personal tastes, but as long as it doesn’t interfere with using the phone–and it doesn’t–then we’re OK with it.

The Incredible S measures 4.72 inches tall by 2.52 inches wide by 0.46 inch thick and weighs 4.78 ounces. It’s slightly bigger than the Droid Incredible but remains pretty sleek, thanks to the tapered edges. A nice soft-touch finish coats the back and sides of the handset.

The Incredible S gets upgraded to a 4-inch Super LCD.

Gracing the front of the phone is a 4-inch, 480×800-pixel Super LCD touch screen. It’s an upgrade in size and quality from the Droid Incredible, as the Super LCD technology offers better contrast and wider viewing angles than regular LCDs. We definitely noticed the difference, as text and images looked sharper and more vibrant on the brilliant screen, and it holds its own against the iPhone 4’s retina display and Samsung’s Super AMOLED touch screens. That said, the screen does wash out in bright sunlight.

The multitouch screen has a built-in accelerometer and proximity sensor and felt very responsive during our testing; launching applications, scrolling through menus or home screens, and using the pinch-to-zoom gesture posed no problems. Easing phone navigation is HTC’s Sense user interface, which brings a host of helpful interface tools and customization options. You can read more about HTC Sense in our full review of the HTC Inspire 4G. We have to say that HTC’s virtual keyboard doesn’t feel quite as fast as some of its competitors, but the layout is roomy and we found it easy to use.

Like the Droid Incredible before it, the Incredible S features an interesting topographical design on the back.

Below the display, you get the usual Android shortcuts–home, menu, back, and search. However, HTC has added a cool touch: when you rotate the phone to landscape mode, the icons also rotate. Is it an earth-shattering feature? No, but we appreciate the attention to such fine details.

On the left side of the phone, there’s a volume rocker and a Micro-USB port. The right spine is devoid of any controls, but we would have loved a dedicated camera button. The top of the device houses the 3.5mm headphone jack and power button, and sitting on the upper right side, just above the display, is the 1.3-megapixel front camera. On the back you’ll find an 8-megapixel camera and dual LED flash.

The HTC Incredible S runs Android 2.2.1, which is a bit disappointing, but the smartphone is due to get the Android 2.3 Gingerbread update during the second quarter of this year. Gingerbread brings such additions and improvements as better power management, NFC support, and Internet calling via SIP. For now, you’ll have to make do with Froyo, which really will take care of the major things, such as contact and calendar management, social networking integration, and a full Web browser.

In addition, there are core apps on the device to get you started, as well as some extras, including the Quickoffice suite, a Reader for Android app for e-books, HTC’s Peep Twitter client, an FM radio, and an alarm clock. As of this writing, the Android Market has more than 150,000 apps in its catalog, so if there’s something you need, there’s a good chance you’ll find it there. You can save apps to the phone’s internal memory (1.1GB) or to a microSD card.

As a phone, the Incredible S offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, and text and multimedia messaging. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS are all onboard, along with mobile hot-spot capabilities. The smartphone is 3G-capable with support for the 850/1700/2100MHz UMTS bands, compatible with T-Mobile’s 3G network. If using the phone with an AT&T SIM, you’ll only get EDGE speeds.

The smartphone’s multimedia capabilities aren’t that much different from the Droid Incredible’s. The built-in media player supports a variety of music and video formats, including MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, OGG, WMV, MP4, and 3GP. The music player has all the usual functions (repeat, shuffle, on-the-fly playlist creation) and features a Cover Flow-like interface. The Incredible S is also outfitted with SRS surround-sound technology and a built-in equalizer (in headphone mode), so you can enhance the audio.

We were pretty disappointed with the picture quality.

The camera remains the same at 8 megapixels, but the software now includes some extra tools, such as built-in effects. Unfortunately, picture quality fell a bit flat. Photos taken indoors came out rather dull and with a pinkish hue, and using the flash tended to blow out the picture. We had better luck using the camera outdoors, as colors were a bit brighter. The camera can record 720p HD video, and the quality was decent for a camera phone. An HDMI port would have been nice.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) HTC Incredible S using AT&T and T-Mobile service in New York, and call quality was OK. We didn’t notice any disruptive background noise nor did we experience any dropped calls during our review period. However, voices tended to sound a bit muffled, so at times we’d have to ask our callers to repeat themselves. Fortunately for our friends, they didn’t have the same experience; most reported good results on their end.

HTC Incredible S call quality sample
Listen now:

Speakerphone quality left much to be desired, as calls sounded pretty hollow. There was enough volume to hear callers in a slightly noisy environment, such as in a room with a TV on, but beyond that, the speaker tends to be drowned out. We were able to pair the Incredible S with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones to make calls and listen to music.

Using T-Mobile’s 3G network, CNET’s full page loaded in 1 minute and 15 seconds, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 9 seconds and 13 seconds, respectively. YouTube videos took just several seconds to load, including HQ clips, and played back without interruption. We loaded a couple of MPEG-4 videos from our personal library and they looked very nice on the smartphone’s Super LCD screen. The SRS surround-sound technology definitely brings a fuller and richer audio experience, particularly through headphones.

The Incredible S is equipped with a second-generation 1GHz Snapdragon processor and has more RAM than the Droid Incredible (768MB versus 512MB), and general performance on the smartphone was quite snappy. We didn’t experience too much lag, and even tasks like launching the camera felt quick.

The HTC Incredible S ships with a 1,450mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 10 hours (2G)/6 hours (3G) and up to 12 days (2G)/15 days (3G) of standby time. We were able to get 6.25 hours of continuous talk time over 3G in our battery drain tests.

In today’s market, the HTC Incredible S may seem a little underwhelming when compared with all the dual-core, 4G goodness coming down the pike. However, it’s important to remember that not everyone wants the latest and greatest, and it would be a shame to overlook the Incredible S based on the lack of certain specs, as it is an improved and refined smartphone.

We wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying the phone unlocked, since it’s a bit pricey for what you’re getting, but if the rumors about it being Verizon-bound are true, we think the Incredible S will make for a nice midrange option, as long as–and this is the key factor–it’s priced appropriately.