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Review: Sprint’s HTC Hero Is The Best Android Phone Yet, So, Should You Wait?

Each phone HTC builds with the Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Android operating system is remarkably better than the last, which puts HTC Hero coming out on Oct. 11 in the front of the pack. For those of you looking for a powerful, feature-packed touchscreen device, it should make your list of candidates, especially as a Sprint (NYSE: S) customer. However, knowing that each phone is an improvement on the last, it is also tempting to see what’s next.

Walt Mossberg, the WSJ’s top gadget reviewer, provides a full synopsis of the device here, and recommends it as well, calling the device “a worthy competitor to the iPhone, the BlackBerry and the Pre.” But quickly here’s here’s how the phone compares to previous Android devices:

The deal: Sprint will starts selling the phone on Oct. 11 for $180, and offer its standard $99 unlimited plan, which includes all-you-can-eat voice and data. It also includes all the snazzy Sprint services, like Sprint TV and NFL football. The next Android phone to hit store shelves in the U.S. will likely be from Motorola (NYSE: MOT), the company’s first. Called the CLIQ, T-Mobile will start selling it Oct. 19.

The major differences: The first thing you notice with the HTC Hero is the sophistication. The first time you pick it up, it feels substantial, not flimsy or plasticy, like previous versions. It has a five megapixel camera and a beautiful large screen. The user interface is also a work of art. Given that the Android OS is still not fine-tuned in terms of design atheistics, HTC has layered its own software on top called “Sense.” HTC is good at this and has worked its magic on other clunky operating systems in the past (Windows Mobile). The layer makes every single icon and feature on the homepages noticeably more sharp and beautiful.

HTC widgets: In addition to smoothing out the rough edges, HTC has also built a few widgets for the platform. None of them could be considered a killer app, but they’ll add some consumer appeal nonetheless. For example, users can now read their emails right from their homescreen. The emails show up almost like a stack of playing cards. After you read a few sentences, click to view more or flick it away to see your next email. A more innovative widget is called Footprints. Take a photo with the app; mark your location using GPS, and then rank it based on a five star scale, or enter other pertinent info, like websites or comments. Sense also allows you to use Microsoft’s Exchange service to synchronize mail, calendars and contacts.

No keyboard: One of the nice perks of the original HTC phone, the T-Mobile G1, is the physical slide-out keyboard. The MyTouch really suffers without one because the virtual keyboard is not easy to use for long messages. The HTC Hero has made a lot of improvements. There’s haptic feedback, which provides verification that you’ve touched the right key. There’s also two characters for each key. To access the other option, you long press on the key. On the MyTouch, you have to spend a lot of time flipping between two keyboards. Also, the Hero saves commonly used words, like your name.