Sprint to launch its first Android phone, the HTC Hero

Sprint Nextel will become the second U.S. carrier to launch a smartphone based on Google's Android platform, following T-Mobile USA, when it releases the HTC Hero next month. Although rumors have been stirring since late August that Sprint would launch the Hero, and Sprint previously confirmed plans to support Android devices, the carrier had not released specifics until now.

Sprint's decision to launch an HTC-made Android device gives another boost to the Taiwanese handset maker, which manufactured T-Mobile's first two Android phones, the G1 and the myTouch 3G. The move also comes as more handset makers and carriers are getting into the Android game. Motorola will unveil its first Android offerings next week, and T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless are widely expected to sell Motorola Android phones by the end of the year.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said that the carrier decided to adopt Android because the platform and devices had matured. "So it's a combination of the platform and the applications, as well as the maturity of the hardware, if you will, the devices that Android is being offered on, and say now it's ready," he said in an interview with FierceWireless in July. "We didn't want to launch a new platform with its brand before it was really ready for primetime. We thought a year ago it was premature, and we don't any more."

HTC first unveiled the Hero in June, and the phone is the most customized HTC Android phone to date. The key differentiator is HTC's Sense UI, which sports several features including putting a contact's photo alongside their text messages, emails and call history in a single view. Similar to  the Push Internet feature that HTC unveiled at Mobile World Congress, Sense will allow users to have customizable, push-based widgets such as weather, Twitter and email.

The Hero has a 3.2-inch HVGA display, GPS, a digital compass, gravity sensor, 3.5 mm stereo headset jack, WiFi capabilities, a 5-megapixel, auto-focus camera and expandable microSD memory. The Hero also has a dedicated search button that allows users to search contacts, emails or other areas on the phone.

Sprint will launch the Hero Oct. 11, and the phone also will be available in Best Buy stores. The phone will cost $179.99 (excluding taxes) with a two-year contract and after $50 instant savings and a $100 mail-in rebate.

For more:
- see this release
- see these photos
- see this video
- see this comparison chart (PDF)

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