Sprint will be getting the highly anticipated Android-based HTC Hero, sans the quirky form factor with which the device debuted in Europe with T-Mobile and Orange.

According to a press release, the Sprint Hero will be available at all Sprint retail locations and online beginning Oct. 11 for $179.99 after a $50 instant savings and a $100 mail-in rebate with a two-year service agreement. Pre-registration begins today online.

European & U.S. HTC HeroFrom pictures provided by Sprint, the U.S. version of the Hero does not appear to take the device’s European form factor, which included a unique beveled mouthpiece. 

Roger Entner, senior vice president of the communications sector for Nielsen IAG, said the U.S. version is a great improvement. “I have no idea why it was left out, but they got rid of a great big wart,” Entner said. “Ideally, you want to keep it flat. That bevel on the European version was just an admission that they couldn’t get the mic and voice quality right.”

Entner said the quality of the recent wave of Android phones has produced some possible competitors to the iPhone. “We’ll see if they’re competitive with the iPhone. They should come pretty close,” Entner said, adding: “Hopefully it means less iPhone envy on Captiol Hill.”

The HTC Hero features an integrated 5 MP camera and camcorder, Bluetooth 2.0, GPS, Wi-Fi, expandable microSD slot up to 32 GB, and integrated Facebook, Twitter and Flikr. The touchscreen phone is similar to the myTouch 3G, which T-Mobile USA launched in August. It doesn't have a physical keyboard.

Including the Hero, Palm Pre and BlackBerry Tour, Sprint now has three high-profile smartphone devices on its network. The carrier also offers what is considered one of the cheapest rate plans on the market. Sprint’s Simply Everything plan provides unlimited nationwide calling, texting, e-mail, data and navigation for $99.99 per month.

Sales of smart phones are growing while the general phone market has contracted, and Android is getting some momentum as the leading "open source" software choice. It's free to use for manufacturers.

Motorola Inc. has said it will have two Android phones on the U.S. market before the holidays, as part of its attempt to turn its business around. Verizon Wireless has confirmed it will sell one of them, but hasn't said when. Samsung Electronics Co. has also said it is making an Android phone.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report

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