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If RIM got sick of hearing how buggy the first Storm was, then HTC must have gotten sick of hearing how homely and bulky its first Google Android phone was (the T-Mobile G1). The HTC Hero is thin, sleek and a pleasure to hold. At 4.5 by 2.2 by 0.5 inches, it's far narrower than the Storm 2 and far thinner than the Motorola Cliq.

The sharp, bright multitouch-screen lets you perform all the usual iPhone gestures for zooming in, panning and zooming out. Navigation is simple, and dedicated Home, Back and Menu buttons are always there to guide you. There's even a big, illuminated, clickable trackball.

The on-screen keyboard, with pop-up autocomplete suggestions, is as good as on-screen keyboards get. And while the Android store offers only a fraction as many apps as the iPhone store, there are still 10,000 apps to choose from. (They work on the Motorola Cliq, too.)

If Sprint has decent coverage where you live, and if you don't need physical keys, you may really love this phone. It has a 5-megapixel camera with autofocus and video recording, memory-card jack, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, Twitter and Facebook apps, visual voice mail — and Sprint adds free TV and turn-by-turn navigation. there you have it: three phones, back with a vengeance and a lot more polish. None is the iPhone, so you're missing out on the universe of accessories, not to mention the convenience of the iTunes music/TV/movie store.

On the other hand, the iPhone isn't the only yardstick of success. These phones are growing out of its shadow and learning to cultivate their own personalities. After all, they may say that everybody loves a winner. But they also say, "This above all: to thine own self be true."


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