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Friday, July 6, 2012

Droid Incredible 4G LTE review: Verizon gets an excellent smaller-sized Android phone

It's hard to underestimate the value of brand loyalty. Just ask Verizon Wireless. It's with satisfied Incredible and Incredible 2 owners in mind that the carrier is promoting the Droid Incredible 4G LTE, a 4-inch, $149 device that -- as you may have guessed -- rides along VZW's fast LTE network.

Interestingly, the Incredible 4G LTE is landing at a time when many consumers might have preferred, say, the HTC One X. In fact, though, Verizon's decision to instead update the Incredible (also made by HTC) introduces a rather enviable proposition to Verizon customers. Remember that in a short matter of time, the Samsung Galaxy S III will soon make its debut at Verizon, at which point, it's expected to become the network's premiere smartphone. Still, its large size will deter many shoppers, and when viewed through this lens, the Droid Incredible 4G LTE begins to make sense. Put simply, it's a compact handset that stands as the antithesis to the assumption that size equals power. While the handset doesn't quite approach the capabilities or elegance of the One X (or the One S, for that matter), the latest Incredible is a worthy successor and deserves consideration as your next smartphone -- regardless of your current provider. Read on to learn why.

Go ahead and raise your hand if you were surprised that the Rezound wasn't christened as part of the Incredible lineup. Given the cosmetic similarities, you'd be forgiven. Perhaps it was the phone's larger 4.3-inch display that ultimately dictated its fate, but Incredible fans will be pleased to know that the industrial design of the Droid Incredible 4G LTE is remarkably similar to its forebears. The phone maintains roughly the same dimensions and weight as the previous iterations, and features bold, beveled lines around back. Purists will appreciate that the original Incredible's red accents have returned, which are evident on the front speaker grille, the power button and camera pod.
Thankfully, the latest Incredible is remarkably more comfortable to hold -- especially in comparison to the first generation -- as the beveled edges now flow into gentle curves along the side that allow the phone to fit naturally in one's palm. The soft-touch rear cover has also gained a nice textured finish, which adds to the overall visual appeal and makes the handset easier to grip. HTC has also updated the capacitive navigation buttons, which now fall in line with the scheme of the One lineup.
DNP HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE review a compact superphone debuts at Verizon Wireless
While the external changes to the Droid Incredible 4G LTE are rather modest, the real story lurks within -- and it's a thriller. Based on the Snapdragon S4 from Qualcomm, the phone sports a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU and an Adreno 225 GPU. We'll discuss performance details a bit later, but quite simply, the phone offers a lot of power in a little package and feels every bit as snappy as the dual-core One X and Galaxy S III. It's very impressive.
Naturally, a smartphone is only as good as its display, and the Droid Incredible 4G LTE doesn't disappoint. While some may be put off by its smallish size, just as many will view the 4-inch screen as the phone's most compelling feature. Like the HTC One S, the Incredible offers a qHD (960 x 540) display, and while the resolution isn't exactly cutting edge, it's a great fit for a screen of this size. The end result is a pixel density of 275ppi, which is slightly better than the One S. Thanks to the S-LCD screen, text is very sharp and crisp, viewing angles are admirable and color reproduction is solid. The display is also reasonably usable in direct sunlight. Only in comparison to the S-LCD 2 screen of the One X does the new Incredible appear to be anything less than excellent.
DNP HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE review a compact superphone debuts at Verizon Wireless
Sadly, you won't find anything like the Infinity screen on the One X and One S, which gently drapes over the phone's edge. Here, your fingers will rub against the phone's frame. While the Droid Incredible 4G LTE is a solidly built phone, small touches like this reinforce the impression that it doesn't reach the fantastic engineering heights of the One lineup. That said, the design is also more functional, as the device offers an accessible 1,700mAh battery and removable microSD storage. Users will need to handle the rear cover gently, however, which includes a built-in NFC antenna along with raised contact points that appear somewhat fragile. While the stock rear cover doesn't support inductive charging, the phone contains the necessary contact points. FCC documentation also hints at the functionality. So, perhaps we'll see HTC introduce a separate cover to make inductive charging possible.
In terms of amenities, you'll find the power button, 3.5mm headphone jack and a secondary microphone up top (which allows users to record sound in stereo), a volume rocker on the right-hand side, the primary microphone on the bottom and an MHL-capable micro-USB port situated on the left-hand side. There's also a handy charging / notification light, which is hidden just above the Verizon logo on the face of the phone. Positioned to the right of the camera pod on the rear is a speakerphone.
HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE
Pricing $199 on-contract before $50 mail-in rebate
Dimensions 4.8 x 2.4 x 0.46 inches (122 x 61 x 11.7mm)
Weight 4.66 oz. (132g)
Screen size 4.0 inches (102mm)
Screen resolution 960 x 540 pixels (275ppi)
Screen type Super LCD display
Battery 1,700mAh
Internal storage 8GB (5.21GB available)
External storage MicroSD, none included
Rear camera 8MP, AF, LED flash
Front-facing cam VGA
Video capture 1080p
Radios CDMA 800 / 1900MHz; LTE 700MHz
Bluetooth v4.0
SoC Qualcomm MSM8960 (Snapdragon S4)
CPU 1.2GHz dual-core Krait
GPU Adreno 225
WiFi 2.4GHz: 802.11b/g/n; 5.0GHz 802.11a/n
Operating system Android 4.0.3
Performance and battery life
DNP HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE review a compact superphone debuts at Verizon Wireless
Don't be fooled by the small size of the Droid Incredible 4G LTE, because this one runs with the big dogs. Like the US variants of the One X and Galaxy S III, the phone includes a wicked fast Snapdragon S4 from Qualcomm. Granted, the dual-core CPU within the latest Incredible runs at 1.2GHz -- compared to 1.5GHz in its larger brethren -- but it contains the same Adreno 225 GPU and real-world performance is comparable.
Benchmark tests reveal a similar story. For example, within Quadrant, the new Incredible's slower CPU is evident, but it also boasts significantly faster memory that helps it best even the mighty Transformer Prime tablet. In Vellamo, the Droid Incredible 4G LTE outperformed the quad-core HTC One X -- which features NVIDIA Tegra 3 internals -- and fell just behind the dual-core One X and Galaxy S III.
HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE HTC One X (AT&T) Samsung Galaxy S III (AT&T)
Quadrant 4,247 4,784 5,084
Vellamo 2,045 2,259 2,153
AnTuTu 6,001 6,956 6,713
SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms) 1,871 1,453 1,926
GLBenchmark Egypt Offscreen (fps) 56 56 54
CF-Bench 7,778 9,479 9,439
SunSpider: lower scores are better.
As we've alluded to, the real-world performance of the latest Incredible is buttery smooth: boot times are quick, apps are summoned without hesitation and the web browser is utterly fluid. Put simply, it's a joy to use.
The story with Verizon LTE is generally consistent and two-fold: excellent data speeds and miserable battery life. While we never experienced the insanely fast speeds that many have come to expect (performance averaged 13Mbps down and 6Mbps up) the latest Incredible offers battery life that's a refreshing departure from the norm. In our standard rundown test, the Droid Incredible 4G LTE eked out a solid seven hours and 15 minutes of runtime, which matches the excellent longevity of the Droid 4. Similarly, the phone managed to get 52 hours of uptime from a single charge with moderate use. While the Incredible's battery life doesn't approach the high mark set by the Droid RAZR Maxx, it offers a respite from the constant search for power outlets. And at the end of the day, that's all that really matters.
DNP HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE review a compact superphone debuts at Verizon Wireless
The Droid Incredible 4G LTE is a remarkably solid performer as a phone. While it doesn't quite approach landline quality, it's easily one of the better experiences we've had with a mobile device in quite some time. In all cases, voices were remarkably clear -- even at low volume -- and we were able to carry on a natural conversation without straining to hear the caller or struggling to properly position the earpiece. Similarly, others commented on the clarity and depth of our voice.
With respect to navigation, we're happy to say that the latest Incredible was able to detect GPS satellites nearly instantaneously.
DNP HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE review a compact superphone debuts at Verizon Wireless
If you're familiar with Sense 4, the Droid Incredible 4G LTE offers very few surprises. The skin was developed by HTC independent of Google's work with Android 4.0, and while it remains a significant departure from Ice Cream Sandwich, the overall experience is attractive, intuitive and responsive. For the purposes of this review, we'll focus on the software that's specific to the latest Incredible, but if you're unfamiliar with Sense 4, be sure to check out our full review of HTC's latest skin.

Upon first boot, you'll be greeted by a setup wizard that prompts first-timers to select their default language, configure Verizon's Backup Assistant Plus service (a freemium offering, which can be skipped), setup various email accounts and enable their Google account. As you'll see, the setup wizard also beats users over the head with the fact that their phone can be used to track location. Indeed, in the next step you'll be asked to configure which location services -- Verizon, GPS and Google -- to enable. Lastly, users are given the option to view basic tutorial videos. Once that's out of the way, you'll be delivered to the home screen, where the default wallpaper is quick to remind users that this is, indeed, a Droid. As you'd hope, you can easily switch to HTC's own themes, but by default, it's all rather heavy-handed with Verizon's own brand. The phone even goes so far as to play the familiar "Droid" sound with each new message. It's a not-so-subtle way of turning users into walking advertisements.
Fortunately, Verizon exercised restraint with its bundled apps. That's not to suggest that the phone is pristine, however, as you'll discover a few applications that essentially amount to advertisements. These include two games, Let's Golf 3 HD and Real Racing 2, along with Amazon Kindle, Amazon MP3, Slacker Radio and Slingbox. With respect to the games, these are merely shell apps that weigh in at less than 1MB and immediately prompt users to download approximately 600MB worth of data. As a bit of an insult, both games are merely playable demos, so it's hard to argue that they add any value to the phone. Slingbox is a similar story, as the included "app" merely prompts users to sign up for the paid service and download the software.
DNP HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE review a compact superphone debuts at Verizon Wireless
With respect to Verizon's own software, you'll find My Verizon Mobile for quick account access, NFL Mobile, V Cast Tones (for those who still pay for ringtones), Verizon Video, visual Voicemail -- a $1.99/month service -- and VZ Navigator. There's also a Mobile Hotspot app, which more or less exists for those who can't find the toggle within the settings menu. Those who need to keep close tabs on their data usage will also find a small widget from Verizon for this purpose, which links to the My Verizon app.
None of the bundled apps can be uninstalled, but HTC's software allows users to selectively disable unwanted titles, which keeps them out of the launcher. In this sense, it's rather unoffensive as each application's footprint is so small, but several of the apps are annoyances just the same.
DNP HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE review a compact superphone debuts at Verizon Wireless
We've good news and bad news to share with respect to the camera in the Droid Incredible 4G LTE. First, the bad: this phone's camera isn't the same as you'll find on the One X and One S. It's inferior. On the upside, however, the camera is still quite excellent in its own right. While the One X features an f/2.0 lens, you'll find an f/2.2, 28mm setup here. Both 8-megapixel cameras contain backside illuminated sensors and are rather comparable with respect to daylight and indoor photography, but the One X is noticeably better when it comes to low-light scenes.

All told, the camera captures an impressive amount of detail with admirable color reproduction and delivers fantastic results at the press of a button. Most users will be rightfully thrilled by this camera, and our only nitpick is an excessive amount of sharpness that's discernible when images are viewed at full size.
The greatest differentiator between the camera of the Droid Incredible 4G LTE and the One lineup is the exclusion of HTC's ImageSense processor. While you'll find roughly the same set of software features, the real magic of HTC's imaging capabilities happen on the processing level, and it's absent on the latest Incredible. Not only does ImageSense affect overall image quality, but it has a bearing on the camera's real-world functionality as well. For example, while the Droid Incredible 4G LTE can capture roughly three images per second, the HTC One series can process twice this in the same amount of time -- all thanks to its hardware. In terms of software, you'll find the same set of shooting modes, which include the ability to capture HDR imagery, gyroscope-assisted panoramas, close-up and low light scenes, along with landscape, portrait and a few others. You'll also find the ability to apply Instagram-like filters to images, along with basic crop and rotation tools.
The Droid Incredible 4G LTE once again impresses with its 1080p video capture, which records at a smooth 30fps with stereo sound. We would like to see more refinement with respect to the image stabilization feature, however, and while the auto-focus during recording is a nice feature, you'll likely need to tap-to-focus during the clip in situations where you transition between close-up and distant subjects. Like with the One X and One S, you'll find the ability to easily capture widescreen (3,264 x 1,840) images while recording 1080p video.
DNP HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE review a compact superphone debuts at Verizon Wireless
At first blush, it's easy to say that Verizon made a crucial misstep by excluding the One X from its lineup. While it's difficult to quickly dismiss that claim, the Galaxy S III will no doubt satisfy a large number of customers in search of a large and powerful smartphone. And besides, the Droid Incredible 4G LTE is a strong addition to Verizon's lineup, as it offers nearly all of the power and functionality of a premiere Android superphone, except in a smaller form factor.
As is, the purchasing decision for Verizon customers is now clear and distinct: those who want a best-of-breed smartphone with a large display should choose the Galaxy S III, while those who want nearly the same level of performance within a smaller enclosure should choose the Droid Incredible 4G LTE. Naturally, the Galaxy Nexus remains a solid option for those who insist upon stock Android above all other considerations, and the Droid RAZR Maxx is a competent performer for those who demand maximum battery life.
While the One X would still be a welcome addition at Verizon Wireless, the carrier now has an incredibly strong portfolio of Android smartphones that cater to a wide variety of desires. If you're currently on the hunt for a compact smartphone that offers world-class performance, you've reached your destination.


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