Review: HTC Hero from Sprint - Page 2

By Lisa Phifer

November 05, 2009

Wi-Fi Is a Mixed Bag

With Wi-Fi, the Hero starts off strong, but then – frankly, we were a bit disappointed. Like most smartphones, the Hero can notify when WLANs are available. Just pull down on the home screen notification to view a list of SSIDs (below), choose the desired WLAN, and off you go.

Hero Wi-Fi, Click to Enlarge

If the WLAN is unsecured, the Hero tries to associate and remembers the SSID. If the WLAN uses WEP, WPA-PSK, or WPA2-PSK, it first prompts for a key (again, saved for future use). But when the WLAN uses WPA/WPA2-802.1X, things get a bit more complicated.

The Hero's 802.1X supplicant supports EAP-TLS, PEAPv0, PEAPv1, and EAP-TTLS. However, we only used PEAPv0 successfully. Despite a Security Certificates panel, we could not add a client certificate for EAP-TLS or a server certificate for any EAP. As the most common EAP, PEAPv0 is a good start, but we'd like to see more – or at least better 802.1X documentation.

Once associated to any WLAN, the Hero displays status, speed, channel, signal strength, and leased IP address. If the connection is lost, the Hero tries to auto-reconnect to any SSID used in the past. So far, so good. But we could not see any way to prioritize SSIDs or require manual connection (short of deleting past SSIDs).

Fortunately, the Hero offers more control over Wi-Fi/3G roaming. A Sleep Policy determines whether Wi-Fi is disabled when the Hero's screen blanks, when it is plugged into a power source, or never. The Hero always prefers Wi-Fi where available, reverting to 3G whenever Wi-Fi is lost. Thus, if your Wi-Fi radio turns off when the screen blanks, the Hero roams to 3G. If you want to keep the Hero on Wi-Fi longer, change your Sleep Policy.

The Hero does not officially support Ad Hoc mode, but this can be accomplished by first "rooting" the phone and then editing Wi-Fi config files manually or using Android-Wifi-Tether. We did not have root access to our demo unit, so did not try this. However, the next release of Android (not yet available for the Hero) will support not only Ad Hoc mode, but also PPTP, L2TP, and IPsec VPNs.

Aside from EAP-TLS, we had no trouble associating to more than half a dozen 802.11g and 802.11n APs of different makes and security settings. Our Hero routinely connected at the top 802.11g rate of 54 Mbps, sticking to that rate at reasonable distances. However, when we tried to measure Wi-Fi throughput, we ran into a snag.

Throughput measured using local file transfer varied by client and direction. The Greyhound FTP client consistently averaged 6.4 Mbps (down) and 5.12 Mbps (up), while AndFTP averaged 2.88 Mbps (down) and 1.44 Mbps (up) – same files, same server, same dedicated AP. Either way, these numbers fall far short of most 802.11g clients.

As a sanity check, we ran Xtremelabs tests over Wi-Fi, through broadband, averaging 3.5 Mbps (down) and 1 Mbps (up). Similar speed tests on a Wi-Fi laptop yielded 5x that throughput, suggesting that Hero tests were not constrained by our broadband link. In the absence of better test tools for Android, we can only conclude that today's Hero apps are more capable of 3G/802.11b-like throughputs than 802.11g.

The Bottom Line

After a few weeks with the Hero, we were sorry to see it head back to Sprint. The Hero's Wi-Fi slowness bothered us less than its touchy virtual keyboard – perhaps with more time we'd master that. But given several smartphones at our disposal, we found ourselves choosing the Hero to check e-mail and IMs and to stay entertained and informed on road trips. Ultimately, the Hero was a reliable, easy-to-use on-the-go communicator that adapted to us like no other smartphone has.

Lisa Phifer owns Core Competence, a consulting firm focused on business use of emerging network and security technologies. Lisa has been testing mobile wireless phones since the late '90s, when she learned to "type" e-mail using Graffiti on her first GSM-connected Palm Pilot.

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