HTC’s challenge: what price a Hero?

Yesterday’s launch of the Hero and Tattoo revealed an unexpected turn of events with HTC choosing to offer its newest smartphones only for outright sale through mass market retailer Harvey Norman rather than through any one mobile phone carrier.

This is the first time in Australia that HTC has trodden the retail-only path. All of its previous smartphones offered through at least one carrier and have often been exclusive to a single telco including the first-gen HTC Dream (available only through Optus).

HTC’s retail-only play allows almost anyone to buy the unlocked Hero for use on their network of choice provided that network isn’t Next G – the Hero supports only 2100MHz and 900MHz as 3G HSDPA bands not Telstra’s 850MHz service.

However sidestepping the carriers also means losing the subsidised contract-based plans which make the high-priced handsets – $799 rrp in the case of the Hero – more affordable through monthly repayments.

Carrier plans can also provide buyers with a wide range of voice+data bundles at various price points – a scenario that’s especially useful for mainstream shoppers who may be new to the world of smartphones.

(Indeed this is doubly important for ensuring that less tech-savvy buyers are aware they need to pay extra to upgrade their current voice-only phone plan to include a suitable monthly data component).

On the Whirlpool community forums APC found that Aussie Android fans who’ve been holding out for the Hero had mixed feelings about HTC’s decision to kick off with retail-only sales.

Some welcomed freedom of choice rather than mandatory network lock-in while others considered the Hero’s high outright cost and lack of subsidised plans would deter buyers.

“I think it’s great that the Hero isn’t locked to any particular network” said Whirlpool member Ragnar. “I haven’t gotten a phone through a phone carrier in many years. I’ve always sourced unlocked phones and bought them outright. I really hope this is that start of a revolution in phone sales in Australia where people can go into a retail shop check out a bunch of phones and then buy one simple as that!”

Jazacoop saw the news as more of “a bittersweet outcome”. “Whilst it gives us the freedom to buy it unlocked and outright and use it with whatever carrier we’d like we also miss the opportunity get a subsidised handset on a contract (which is probably what many of us were after).”

“Carrier exclusive deals are bad” observed TwistedD “but at least you usually get a choice of plans. A retail exclusive of a handset is a horrible idea in my opinion. I am not opposed to the idea of handsets being available unlocked from retail outlets but an ‘exclusive’ means if want an Australian Hero we pay $800. It is a lot easier for people for justify $100 a month for their mobile service than paying $800 in one hit just before Christmas.”

All the same you won’t need to pay full price for the Hero – online stores already have slashed the smartphone’s sticker by over $100.

Local online store MobileCiti lists the mocha-black Hero at $689 unlocked with stock due to arrive “on Monday 23 November 2009” according to its Web site.

MobiCity has the unlocked Hero in both mocha-black and pink for $709 while Melbourne’s OrganiserWorld lists the Hero for $749.

There’s also the option of buying overseas although HTC is quick to warn of the associated risks – ranging from lack of local warranty support (the phone would have to be returned to the store for any warranty repairs) to a possible inability to call 000 under certain circumstances such as when there’s no SIM card in the phone.

UK store HandTec has the Hero in white mocha-black and pink all unlocked for $549 (£304 ex-VAT) plus an additional $63 (£35) for FedEx delivery to Australia totalling $612.