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Verizon unveils Hero-like, $100 Android phone

Nov 5, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 16 views

Verizon Wireless announced its second Android phone, the $100 Droid Eris, which is based closely on the HTC Hero and its Sense UI. In related news, HTC is upgrading the Hero to Android 2.0, and Motorola announced a Europe-destined multi-touch, GSM version of the Droid called the Milestone.

The Droid Eris — which for those of you keeping score at home, appears to be the rumored HTC Desire — will be available tomorrow along with the much hyped Droid by Motorola, but for half the price. The phone appears to be nearly identical to the HTC Hero, which was introduced this summer by Orange in the U.K., and adopted by Sprint. The only major difference, apparently, is the Eris' slightly thinner, but boxier case, and some redesigned button controls (see phones side by side below).

Verizon's Droid Eris (left) and Sprint's HTC Hero (right), both by HTC
(Click on either to enlarge)

Compared to the Droid by Motorola, the Eris has a smaller (3.2 inches), lower resolution (320 x 480) capacitive touchscreen, and it lacks a slide-out keyboard. In addition, the Motorola model's 550MHz ARM Cortex-A8 based CPU is considered more powerful than the 528MHz Qualcomm MSM7600 used in the Hero and Eris, despite the similarity of the clock speeds.

The Eris is sold with an 8GB card, or half the flash memory provided by Motorola's Droid, but four times the memory offered standard with the Hero. Like the Hero, the Eris provides 288MB RAM, and 512MB internal flash, and the 8GB microSD card can be swapped out for up to 16GB, half the limit touted for the Mot phone. In addition, the Eris ships with the earlier Android 1.5 (Cupcake) instead of this fall's version 1.6 (Donut), or the new Android 2.0 (Eclair) that is offered with the Motorola Droid.

Otherwise, the feature comparison is surprisingly similar despite the $100 difference in price. (Sprint's Hero, by the way, is now available for $180, or $80 more than the Eris).

Like both the Droid by Motorola and the HTC Hero, the Droid Eris offers WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, GPS, digital compass, and even a five-megapixel camera. A 3.5mm headset jack and a USB port are also provided, and cellular network support is listed as including CDMA dual-band 800/1900MHz and CDMA2000 1xRTT/1xEVDO rev. A.

(For a more detailed list of Eris features see the HTC Eris link at the end of the story, or look to our initial coverage of the HTC Hero, here.)

Sense comes to Verizon

Unlike the Droid by Motorola, the Eris offers the HTC Sense UI, which is layered atop the Linux-based Android operating system. The Sense UI offers a seven-panel wide home screen studded with customizable widgets, as well as a "Scenes" feature that enables users to spin off multiple home screens, each with different widgets and shortcuts, says Verizon. In addition, users can set up customized profiles and other user-specific functions.

HTC Sense is also said to offer unified messaging features for managing and integrating phone calls, emails, text messages, photos and other data. For example, users can organize interactions by person, accessing access text messages, e-mails, phone calls, Flickr streams, and Facebook updates from a single contact card.

The Eris also provides a full HTML browser with Flash Lite capabilities, as well as "seamless compatibility with Google services like Google Maps, Gmail, Google Search and more," says Verizon.

HTC preps Eclair for Hero, raises questions on "Dragon"

In other HTC news, the company recently announced on Twitter that the HTC Hero and its Sense UI will be receiving an Android 2.0 (Eclair) update soon, skipping over Android 1.6. This would seem to suggest that the Droid Eris, too, might also soon offer the latest, greatest Android, which Verizon ships with the Droid by Motorola.

Meanwhile, rumors about an upcoming Android version of HTC's hot new Qualcomm Snapdragon-based Windows Mobile phone, the HD2, called the HTC Dragon, were thrown into question by recent comments from the company's CEO. As reported recently on our sister site, WindowsForDevices, CEO Peter Chou told Forbes that HTC has no plans to make an Android version of the HD2. Still, Chou seemed to keep his options open by saying, "Technically, we could make the HD2 an Android phone, but I have to take care of Windows Mobile."

If the HTC Dragon is for real, it is likely to offer the Snapdragon, but it may be sufficiently different in design from the HD2 to enable Chou to say it's not the same phone. Stay tuned.

Mot's Droid packed off to Europe as the "Milestone"

While Motorola's much-hyped Droid will start shipping tomorrow on Verizon Wireless' U.S. network, along with the Droid Eris, a new GSM-enabled version called the Milestone is heading for Europe, Motorola announced this week. The company did not mention carriers or ship dates, but said the Milestone will first appear in Italy and Germany.

The phone appears to be identical to the Droid except for the quad-band GSM radio. However, one more differentiating feature also jumps out: the Milestone offers a "multi-touch and pinch display," with "pinch and zoom web browsing," says Mot.

This may be great news for European users, but why isn't this iPhone like capability also available on the Droid? Well, as it turns out, it just may be, at least on one app called Picsay. Neither Verizon or Motorola are saying much about it, however, perhaps to avoid running afoul of Apple patents.

Verizon's Droid by Motorola

That is the speculation of PC World's Harry McCracken, anyway. In a recent review, McCracken had noted that the Droid lacked the iPhone's multi-touch input, only to be surprised today when he read a story by Rob Jackson in Phandroid, pointing out that the Droid's Android image editor, Picsay, uses multi-touch. This, together with the Milestone announcement, would suggest an underlying capability of the Droid that is not being implemented elsewhere.

McCracken confirmed the discovery, noting that Picsay let him control the Droid using more than one finger at a time, including the ability to "zoom in and out of images by pulling and pinching them." In other Droid apps, users must "double-tap to zoom in, or use zoom/shrink buttons that appear in the lower left-hand side of the screen," writes McCracken.

He then speculates that Verizon Wireless, Motorola, or Google are wary of running afoul of Apple's multi-touch patents. Yet, he also cites Engadget's Nilay Patel as saying pinching and pulling are not likely to be covered by the patents. One point in favor of that argument: the Palm Pre, which offers multi-touch and pinch/zoom capability has yet to be sued by Apple on that score, despite the ongoing battle between Palm and Apple over iTunes sync.

Early Mot Droid reviews: "a killer phone"

With our without multi-touch, McCracken liked the Droid by Motorola, by the way, as have most reviews we've seen. eWeek's Michelle Maisto has rounded up two very favorable reviews meanwhile. One is from the New York Times' David Pogue and the other is by the Wall Street Journal's Walter S. Mossberg.

According to Pogue, the Droid isn't an iPhone killer, but he was said to have enthused "it's certainly a killer phone." Pogue went on to write, "Motorola's new team faced a spectacularly difficult task and did a spectacularly great job."

Mossberg, meanwhile, called the phone "the best super-smart phone Verizon offers, the best Motorola phone I've tested and the best hardware so far to run Android."

Over at Gizmodo, meanwhile, Matt Buchanan dubbed the Droid "the best phone on Verizon, and with Android 2.0, the second best smartphone you can buy, period." The other, of course, is the iPhone 3GS. As with many reviews, this one went gaga over the quality of the display and the overall design, as well as the vast improvements to Android 2.0. Like several reviewers, Buchanan notes, however, that the keyboard is only mediocre, and he absolutely slams the camera on both hardware and software fronts. Still, all this pales in comparison to the Droid's other benefits, he concludes.


The Droid Eris by HTC will be available, along with the Droid by Motorola, in Verizon Wireless Communications Stores and online tomorrow, Nov. 6. The Eris will sell for $100 after a $100 mail-in rebate with a new two-year customer agreement on a voice plan that an includes an e-mail feature or e-mail plan, says Verizon. As with the Droid by Motorola, the mail-in rebate is offered in the form of a debit card.

More information should be available at Verizon tomorrow, here. Meanwhile, more tech information may be found at HTC, here.

HTC's tweet about its Eclair upgrade for the Hero should be here.

The PC World story on the Droid's multi-touch capability should be here, and the Phandroid story on the same topic should be here. Additional speculation on why the Droid is differs from the Milestone in this regard can be found on the Engadget website, here.

eWEEKs round-up of Droid reviews may be found here, and its slide show investigation of the Droid should be here.

Gizmodo's Droid by Motorola review should be here.

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