If Verizon's DROID brand is the Alamo (and at this point, it sure seems like it is), then the Incredible is Davy Crockett's trusty rifle Old Betsy (yeah yeah, I know he didn't he use it at the Alamo.)

The original Incredible was the best Android phone available when it stormed onto the scene in April of 2010. The follow-up Incredible 2 was still a hot-shot, though its 4" display and lack of 4G had it outgunned from the start, relegating it to a "high end of the mid-range" role in Verizon's Android lineup. And now, the Incredible 4G LTE is riding in with reinforcements - a modern S4 Snapdragon dual-core processor and Verizon's 4G LTE. But if you know anything about American history, you know where this analogy is headed.

Much like an old flintlock rifle, the Incredible 4G LTE is packing substantial firepower, but at this point, its adversaries are so numerous and better-equipped that, even when price is considered, it simply isn't competitive. I'm also guessing most 19th century firearms don't suffer from the world's creakiest, cheapest-feeling plastic chassis I've ever had the displeasure to hold, either.

Verizon, it's time to put the DROID brand down and succumb to the sweet goodness of a unified handset nation, and the Incredible 4G LTE proves that.

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HTC DROID Incredible 4G LTE: Specifications

  • Price: $149 (much cheaper elsewhere)
  • Processor: Qualcomm S4 Snapdragon MSM8960 dual-core at 1.2GHz
  • GPU: Adreno 225
  • Network Compatibility: Verizon CDMA 3G / 4G LTE via microSIM
  • Operating System: Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich with HTC Sense 4.0
  • Display: 4.0" S-LCD qHD 540x960 (275DPI)
  • Memory: 1GB RAM / 8GB storage (6GB usable)
  • Cameras: 1.3MP front, 8MP rear
  • Battery: 1700mAh, removable
  • NFC: Yes
  • Ports / Expandable Storage: microUSB / microSD slot
  • Thickness: 11.7mm (0.46")
  • Weight: 132g (4.7oz)

The Good

  • Battery life is great. Thank Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 processor. Even heavy users will manage a full day and change out of the Incredible 4G LTE.
  • I prefer the S-LCD display on the Incredible to the SAMOLED PenTile on the One S. Colors are more accurate (though much less vivid), it's decently bright, and it provides true qHD resolution. That said, it's not fantastic or anything.
  • Performance is solid, though everything feels a little less... smooth than it does on the One S or One X for some reason. That may just be placebo. I'm not sure.
  • If you want a small phone, it's small.
  • It has a removable battery and a microSD card slot (but so does the Galaxy S III).
  • The camera is probably better than anything else at the mid-range level.

The Not So Good

  • The Incredible 4G LTE has the worst build quality I have ever experienced on any modern smartphone (well, that isn't like a $200 Chinese knockoff). I have held better phones that cost much less. It's put together like the body panels on a late-model Chrysler LeBaron - you can feel the whole phone twisting when you torque it between your hands. It makes me sad just to hold it. It also has stupidly sharp edges around the display bezel. I can't see it even lasting a year, let alone the two you'll be stuck with it for.
  • I just can't recommend a $150 "mid-range" phone to anyone anymore. Especially on Verizon. It makes no sense. For $50 more, you can buy a Galaxy S III, or for the same price, a Galaxy Nexus. This phone exists only to get former Incredible owners to buy a crappy, middling smartphone that has a high profit margin for Verizon.
  • Sense 4.0 has its issues, and the legacy menu button that appears on most 3rd party apps thanks to the lack of a dedicated one on the Incredible 4G takes a sizable chunk of the already limited 4 inches of display space. This will probably be addressed in an OTA, but who knows how long that could take. There are Verizon bloat apps and tweaks, too - ugh.
  • 6 months from now, when everyone else has a Galaxy S III, a new iPhone, or some other cool new smart-thing, you're going to feel stupid.

Hardware

Design and Build Quality

Last year's looks wrapped around a McDonalds-toy-cheap plastic frame.

Let's start with the design. This is an ugly phone. Not EVO 4G LTE ugly, but ugly. The Galaxy S III may not be the prettiest handset ever devised, but at least it looks modern. The Incredible 4G LTE looks like a miniature, cheaper, plastic Rezound. The Rezound wasn't a good-looking phone to start with, and this just takes that un-prettiness and throws it off the polyurethane ugly tree, hitting every branch on the way down.

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The textured lines across the back of the phone are like perfectly designed grit and food-bit magnets, ensuring that everyone will know you enjoy your morning bagel toasted.

The odd shiny-plastic accent on the upper-left-hand side of the rear cover is there for... what purpose? I don't get it, HTC. It's like you started to make a shiny plastic phone for a second and then quickly decided not to. Fact aside that it's asymmetrical, and therefore looks even weirder.

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The front of the phone is less offensive, in that it looks basically looks similar to the front of most previous-generation HTC phones: boring.

Now for the build quality: it's awful. Really awful. When I took the Incredible 4G out of its box, I could swear I was using a phone that had been sat on by someone for 6 months. Every button-press, every squeeze, every attempt to put some kind of physical stress on the phone elicits a blood-curdling creak or snap. The battery cover pops into place in a very un-reassuring way, fits sloppily, and is annoyingly difficult to remove. Grabbing the phone at opposite corners and gently twisting it provokes a truly maddening groan from the cover as well as the battery, which doesn't exactly fit tightly in its housing.

Pressing the power button is an exercise in second-guessing - it provides basically zero feedback. The volume controls are much better in this regard, however. Overall, I get the feeling this phone just isn't built to last. In fact, it feels incredibly cheap. What happened to no "cheap, cheap" phones, HTC?

Performance

A speedy S4 dual-core and LTE leave little to be desired.

Theoretically, the Incredible 4G should provide basically the same performance as the One S. It uses the same processor, same UI overlay, and has the same display resolution. In reality, I feel like it stutters a bit more. Not enough to be annoying, I guess, but I did notice it. This is the same Snapdragon S4 (MSM8960) dual-core chip you'll find in the AT&T One X, T-Mobile One S, and all the Galaxy S III variants here in the US. It's obviously very versatile, and very powerful. So at least you have some peace of mind in terms of future-proofing. The Adreno 225 GPU also ensures you'll be able to play almost any game out there.

And, of course, you get Verizon's 4G, which has the most coverage of any LTE network in the US, by a lot. It even finally reached me out here in the suburbs north of Los Angeles. Speeds are, predictably, a lot better than 3G (with ultra-low latency, to boot).

Display

For the mid-range, the Incredible's S-LCD is a solid performer.

The S-LCD qHD panel on the Incredible 4G LTE is something of a redeeming point. For a 4" device, qHD provides solid pixel density that, while not on par with 720p phones of much larger size, allows a good amount of information on screen. The colors on the S-LCD are fairly accurate (greens look a bit dead), but they do get a little washed out when you really crank the brightness. Black levels aren't very good, especially when compared to any device with a display in the AMOLED family.

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The brightness levels are adequate, I'd say it gets roughly as bright as my One X, maybe slightly less. That does mean sunlight viewing isn't spectacular, though. As with most S-LCDs, viewing angles are very good, with minimal loss of brightness and almost no color distortion.

Battery Life

All-day battery, even with LTE.

It's really good. While LTE can be a bit of a juice-sucker, Qualcomm's S4 chipset has an integrated LTE radio and fully independent processing core management that provide the best battery life in the business. One day of heavy use should be easily achievable, and moderate to light users can probably squeeze almost two out without much difficulty.

The 1700mAh cell is removable, too, so you can carry a spare and basically guarantee you'll never be short on juice. It's not exactly of RAZR MAXX-proportions, but outside that device, there are few that will beat the Incredible 4G in this regard.

Storage / Wireless / Call Quality

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? YES, I CAN.

You get 6GB of internal storage that are usable, plus a microSD card slot. The problem, though, is that only 1GB of that 6GB is usable for apps. Which makes no sense. HTC's partitioning scheme is stupid and needs to stop - there is literally no advantage to laying out storage in this manner. You can, of course, expand the remaining 5GB of generic space with a microSD card (not included), but you're still stuck at that 1GB for apps.

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Wi-Fi performance is great, as it is on all these S4 devices, and so is Bluetooth. Call quality on the Incredible 4G was decent, but until we start using voice over LTE networks, the only real distinguishing mark here is volume. And the Incredible definitely gets very loud, louder than my One X, actually. I'd say abnormally so. It's almost like they're trying to sell this phone to people who can't hear very well.

Audio / Speaker

The sweet sound of sound.

The Incredible 4G has the same audio hub as every other MSM8960-based device out there, and it's a good one. You'll get great headphone audio out of it (I refuse to acknowledge or thank a certain "B" word for any of this), and I'm always OK with that. The external speaker, much like the earpiece speaker, gets very loud. What's that? I can't hear you over the sound of how hard Verizon is trying to market this to the "early bird special" crowd.

Camera

Not bad, but definitely not great.

The rear shooter on the Incredible 4G LTE is not the same one you'll find on the One X and One S - it is noticeably worse. However, it's not at all terrible. It's powered by a BSI (backside-illuminated) sensor similar (f2.2 compared to f2.0) to the one found in the One X and S, meaning low light performance should best most devices at this price point. For someone walking into a Verizon store and spending $150 on this, their very first smartphone, the results will probably impress. Compared to the Galaxy S III or iPhone 4S sitting across from it on their own display pedestals for a mere $50 more? It's not good at all.

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Compared side by side to its One series cousins, though, it's a little more respectable. It's obviously superior to the budget 5MP sensor you'll find in the One V, but when you put it against the One X, you'll see the difference. Images are noticeably less sharp, and graininess is present (in similar amounts as the One X). Colors are a little on the washed-out side - but there's one thing about the Incredible's camera that really bugged me: the auto-focus.

Every time you even twitch and move the sensor's field of vision a few pixels, it re-focuses. WHY? My One X does this to some extent, but its sensor seems much quicker about re-focusing, and it doesn't go to infinite focus every time and then shorten back up to the object it's shooting. Shoot times are pretty much comparable to the S4-powered One XL and One S.

Software

Sense makes sense for some, but still needs tweaking.

Having used Sense 4.0 a lot, I've developed a number of opinions on it. First, it's not bad. Despite some power users absolutely despising it, I think Sense is a perfectly good UI overlay, generally speaking. For first-time smartphone users, it's a little more friendly than stock Android, and I wouldn't call it bad-looking.

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There are a few flaws that have come to annoy me, though. Some specific to the Incredible, though others with Sense at large.

The recent apps button quickly became my "public enemy #1" on HTC's new phones - the legacy 3-dot menu button that appears in almost every 3rd-party app in existence (because they haven't changed over to the action bar menu button) is unbelievably annoying. On my 4.7" One X, it really bugs me. On this 4" display? It practically ruins the experience on some apps.

I actually decided to measure how much screen space you lose when it's there, and on the Incredible 4G LTE it comes out to almost .4" diagonally. So it's like you're using a 3.6" display in those apps instead of a 4" one. Don't get me wrong, the iPhone makes a 3.5" display work, but it also has a significantly higher pixel density (330DPI vs 275DPI). And while turning down the font size on the Incredible to "Small" in the display settings will give you more content in lists, it will also provide you crazy-bad eye strain. Here's a comparison between Twitter (medium font) on the Incredible 4G and an HTC One X (small font) with the menu button fix:

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Left: Incredible 4G, Right: One X (w/ menu button fix)

HTC has promised to fix this (and already has in leaked One X software builds) by allowing a setting toggle for the recent apps button to be used as a menu button instead, with a long-press for recent apps. Given how long it typically takes Verizon to roll out software updates, I'm not hopeful on this happening any time soon for the Incredible 4G, though.

Another problem with the Incredible's down-sizing comes in the form of the keyboard. The stock Sense keyboard on a display this small is terribad. Not only are the keys too close together, HTC's strategic placement of the enter / go / submit button at the bottom right corner of the keyboard right next to the numeric / symbol switcher has literally caused me fits of rage. It took me six tries to enter my Google account password because I kept hitting enter instead of the character switcher. Seriously, HTC - fix this.

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Verizon has also added to the annoyances on the Incredible 4G by using a persistent notification icon whenever Wi-Fi is turned off. Yes, off. It does this because it assumes (probably correctly) that a lot of first-time smartphone owners are going to buy this device, and they have no idea what the hell Wi-Fi is or why they should use it on their phone. An option to disable this would be nice for the rest of us, guys.

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Additionally, only one of the location services comes enabled by default. What is up with that? I had to go in and turn on everything except standalone GPS - even Verizon's network location service was disabled. And when you do enable them, every time you boot the phone, it warns you that your location is being used with a really scary message about people being able to see where you are. You can disable the warning, but I don't even know why it's there in the first place except as a tool to confuse the tech illiterate.

Verizon has meddled with the app drawer, too, adding a third bottom category for Verizon Apps. Great, so I know exactly where to find all that useless bloat I need to disable in the settings menu.

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Multitasking is still an annoyance on the Incredible 4G, as it is on any Sense 4 phone. RAM-heavy apps (eg, Chrome, Maps) seem to constantly have to reload content, and this means things like Pandora will randomly skip tracks, Maps will forget you had directions up, and background tasks like Tasker will be killed. For a novice user, it probably won't be too annoying. For someone who has used an Android phone that doesn't behave this way, it will at the least provide the occasional frustration.

Finally, HTC's App Associations menu that was implemented as a result of Apple's ITC lawsuit is present, too, so you can't leave an action unassociated (eg, launching web links) with an app by default - you have to choose one. Some people may not care. Some people may hate it with a fiery passion (Artem). I'll admit, it's kind of annoying, and it definitely removes a very useful native feature from Android.

Conclusion

The Incredible 4G isn't a truly awful phone to use, but it doesn't need to be to in order to get a "no sale" from me. I just can't in good conscience recommend it to anyone. Much like T-Mobile's myTouch (that name gives me the chills), the Incredible line is designed to increase carrier profit margins by providing unwitting (often older) consumers a subpar product at a premium price - in that most people will buy this phone at carrier retail stores for $200 with a $50 MIR they'll never send in. I don't really blame HTC for this (at least on the hardware side) - the Incredible 4G is decidedly more Verizon "DROID" phone than it is off-brand cousin to the One series.

Is there an audience for it? Sure. People that demand a smaller smartphone, people who believe "DROID" means anything, and people who can delude themselves into thinking saving money up front by buying mid-range hardware is "smart." It's not. Cost of 2 years of Verizon service aside, you'll likely end up replacing this cheaply built (or, as Mr. Chou would say, "cheap, cheap") phone before your upgrade cycle comes due. As for lovers of small phones, let's face it: if you really want a small Android phone with 4G, a microSD card, and a removable battery, I doubt anything I say here is going to stop you from buying this.

But if you have a relative or non-tech-savvy friend looking for a "good deal" on a smartphone, do them a favor - don't send them to a carrier store where a smooth-talking salesman is going to plop this thing into their unsuspecting hands at a completely unjustified premium. Convince them to spend the extra 50 bucks on a Galaxy S III (they'll learn to live with - possibly even love - the size), or go on Amazon Wireless and drop $50 on a Galaxy Nexus. It'll be better.

And hey, if someone really wants a small, simple-to-use smartphone, there's always that other option.

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