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Sprint Set to Sell Android HTC Hero

HTC Hero
Holding out for a Hero?
Source: Sprint

Sprint will begin selling the HTC Hero in October -- the third Android-powered smartphone to become available in the U.S. and the first one offered by a carrier other than T-Mobile.

Beginning on October 11, customers will be able to purchase the HTC Hero through Sprint (NYSE: S) retail channels and at Best Buy for $179.99, after $150 in rebates, and with a two-year service agreement. Pre-registration begins today at the Sprint Web site. Sprint, the nation's No. 3 mobile carrier, is currently the exclusive network for the Palm Pre, which garnered positive reviews but has generally failed to meet analysts' sales expectations.

The touchscreen HTC Hero is Sprint's first smartphone running on Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) open source mobile platform. It's also the first Android phone with a redesigned user interface. Called HTC Sense, the new user interface offers a multi-panel, customizable home screen with Internet-based widgets.

The Sense interface is designed to let users personalize various aspects of the experience and streamlines contact information, with analysts saying the Hero is the first Android handset to deliver on the initial promise of Android -- using the open-source platform to create a unique user experience.

One Sense feature, called Scenes, lets users set up home screens organized around work, social, travel and play. For example, a work Scene can be set up to include stock updates, work e-mail and calendar; a play Scene could have music, weather, and a Twitter feed' or a travel Scene could offer instant access to the local time, weather and maps.

The Hero also includes an application called HTC Footprints that's designed to let users chronicle their special moments by capturing a digital postcard on their phone. Once captured, Footprints provides the capability to take notes and an audio clip of a favorite restaurant, for instance, while identifying its specific location with GPS coordinates.

Other features include a 5-megapixel camera, a 3.2 touchscreen with pinch-to-zoom capability, Bluetooth 2.0, visual voicemail, GPS, Wi-Fi and e-mail and messaging support through POP, IMAP and Exchange Active Sync accounts. It also synchronizes with built-in mobile services including Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail and YouTube.

"Sprint and HTC are helping to drive openness and innovation in the mobile industry with the introduction of the Android-powered HTC Hero," Andy Rubin, vice president, mobile platforms at Google, said in a statement. "As the world's first open mobile platform built with the Internet in mind, Android provides to consumers the same Internet services they have become accustomed to on their desktop PC."

The only other two Android powered handsets on sale in the U.S, both offered by T-Mobile, are the T-Mobile G1, launched over a year ago, and the myTouch 3G, which came out Aug. 5.

Google's open-source mobile OS Android, however, is expected to gain momentum with a host of handsets coming for the holiday season. For instance, Motorola (NYSE: MOT) is holding a conference Sept. 10 at which it will reveal details about its upcoming Android-powered phones.

Android itself is undergoing an aggressive series of updates. Its first update, dubbed Cupcake, raised Android to version 1.5, and is slated to be soon followed by Donut, version 2.0, and Éclair -- though timing on the future versions hasn't been disclosed.

The upcoming release of the HTC Hero comes as key industry players gun for the top spot in the lucrative smartphone market by introducing significant upgrades to their respective operating systems along with major handset launches.

In June, Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) introduced the Pre, based on its webOS software. The handset maker is also ramping up an app store called Palm Catalog and is expected to release more webOS handsets in the fourth quarter. Sprint is currently the exclusive carrier for the Pre, while AT&T is the sole carrier of the iPhone.

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) began selling the iPhone 3GS on June 16, and the next day upgraded the iPhone OS to version 3.0, with 3.1 expected out this month. It will also begin selling the iPhone in China as early as next month in a three-year deal with China Unicom.

Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) is slated to release the update to the touchscreen Storm 2 next month, is working with Verizon Wireless to open an app store and is on tap to offer a new mobile browser next year.

Nokia (NYSE: NOK) just disclosed details about a new mobile Internet device, the N900, running on its new open-source platform Maemo 5 and is planning to offer a netbook called Nokia Booklet 3G later this year. It also unveiled a new line of music smartphones.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is set to roll out a slew of phones powered by the latest version of Windows Mobile, version 6.5, on Oct. 6.

Carriers and handset makers listed for Microsoft releases in North America include AT&T, Bell Mobility, Sprint, Telus and Verizon Wireless, and phone manufacturers HP, HTC, LG Electronics, Samsung and Toshiba.