Verizon Droid Incredible 4G LTE Review: Runt of the Litter

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

If you want a smaller smartphone without sacrificing high-end specs and the latest software, your only good option until recently has been the iPhone, with its 3.5-inch display. But now, there’s the Droid Incredible 4G LTE, an HTC phone available from Verizon Wireless for $150 with a two-year contract.

The new Incredible–the third in the series, and a sequel to last year’s Incredible 2–has a 4-inch display, which is larger than the current iPhone, but still has the distinction of being easy to use with just one hand. That’s more than you can say for behemoths like the HTC One X (4.7 inches) and Samsung Galaxy S III (4.8 inches).

(MORE: Droid Incredible 4G LTE for Verizon: A Smartphone for Normal Hands)

And yet, the Incredible packs a punch with its dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor. The chip zipped through high-end games such as Backstab, and maintained smooth framerates in Minecraft: Pocket Edition and Gun Bros. Though I didn’t do extensive battery testing, I never had problems getting through the day with the Incredible, which promises about nine hours of talk time. Remember, a smaller screen means lower battery consumption during use.

Best of all, the Incredible runs Android 4.0, which is much smoother than any previous version of the software. Of course, HTC has slathered the phone in its Sense interface, which adds some exclusive widgets, re-tools some of the menu layouts and has a helpful lock screen that lets you quickly jump into favorite apps. I’m still not in love with Sense–certain menus have too much lime green, and overall it lacks the minimalist coolness you get with a pure Android device such as the Galaxy Nexus–but this version doesn’t feel too bloated, and it rarely stuttered.

I wish I could say HTC spared no expense on the Droid Incredible 4G LTE’s 8-megapixel camera. Unlike HTC’s One X and Evo 4G LTE, the Incredible lacks an ImageChip processor, so it’s not as quick to start up, and can’t take photos in bursts. Still, cameras have always been a strong point for HTC, and the new Incredible is fast on the shutter and takes gorgeous photos, even indoors with no flash. For bright settings, the camera offers an HDR mode to bring out shadows and highlights (though this mode slows down the image processing), and the phone can also capture photos and video at the same time.

The Incredible’s design lacks the premium touch you’d expect in a high-end device. Like its predecessors, the new Incredible is clad in cheap plastic, with a removable back panel that covers roughly half of the phone. You’ll feel some flex every time you squeeze that panel, and if you grab the phone in just the right place, it creaks. By today’s standards, the Incredible is also chunky at 0.46 inches thick. It’s as if HTC stuck too close to the Incredible’s original design, instead of modernizing it.

It’s not all throwbacks, however. All of HTC’s newest phones abandon the dedicated search button on the hardware, and replace the menu button with one for multitasking. Press it, and a list of your most recent apps comes up. It’s a nice thought, because a lot of people don’t know you can hold the home button on most Android phones to bring up a similar multitasking menu. But on HTC’s phones, the missing menu button causes problems. It’s still a crucial element for Android apps, so a lot of them show a long black bar at the bottom of the screen, with the menu command in the middle. It’s a waste of space.

There’s one other thing that really bothers me about the Droid Incredible 4G LTE, and it could be a deal breaker if you use lots of apps: Though the phone has 8 GB of built-in storage, apps can only use 1 GB of that space. You can install a MicroSD card for more space, but then you have to deal with moving apps onto the card, which isn’t an option for every app. Over two years of ownership, the Droid Incredible’s meager app storage allotment could be a major headache.

At $150 with a two-year contract, the Droid Incredible 4G LTE aspires to be a high-end smartphone in a smaller package. On specs and software, the phone achieves that goal, but the slightly lower price is all too evident in the phone’s design and compromised storage. An extra $50 of build materials might have made this phone great. Instead, it’s a decent option in a woefully uncrowded field of smaller, high-end smartphones.

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