The HTC Hero smartphone takes the Google Android platform to new heights.

Featuring HTC's Sense user interface, the HTC Hero is feels like a proper rival to the Apple iPhone 3GS, leaving the T-Mobile G1 in its wake. The HTC Hero is available on contract from Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone.

Updated, January 7, 2010:

Widely known as the HTC Hero, the handset we tested came from mobile operator T-Mobile, which sells the product as the T-Mobile G2.

This Google Android handset is slimmer and lighter than its forerunner, the T-Mobile G1,, measuring 112x56x14mm and weighing 125g. It can be held comfortably in one hand, leaving your other hand free to navigate or type on the 3.2in touchscreen. It offers both 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity.

The Hero omits its predecessor's slide-out keyboard, and we found the onscreen keyboard that closely groups letters difficult to use, particularly in portrait mode.

HTC Hero review

When typing a long text or email, this could slow you down considerably. Thankfully, the touchscreen is responsive and we liked the haptic feedback on pressing a button.

The accelerometer allows the keyboard to be used horizontally, which makes for a more comfortable typing experience. It often took 10 to 20 seconds for the phone to register which way it was pointing and adjust the onscreen keyboard accordingly, however.

The user interface is clean and intuitive. Commonly used functions such as the browser, email, messages and contacts live on the home screen, and you can personalise these shortcuts to suit.

The Hero's browser is easy to navigate, while the touchscreen lets you scroll vertically and horizontally across pages and supports pinching gestures to control zoom.

Begin typing a URL in the address bar and the browser suggests websites based on your browsing history. Alternatively, you can use the trackball to navigate pages.

It took just a couple of minutes to synchronise the contacts list with the Outlook account on our PC; we could then archive mail, retrieve contact details and read, respond to and compose new email messages. Mail is displayed in threads in the form of conversations.

Other useful features include GPS, which enables basic navigation using Google Maps, a 5Mp camera with a video-recording function and a media player. The 512MB of internal memory can be expanded with a microSD memory card.

NEXT: Original full review