HTC was the first smartphone manufacturer to work with Google, and its experience shows. In the past three years, the company has grown from being a bit player in the small smartphone space to a leading phone manufacturer with close to 10 percent of the market. A dedication to the user experience may be the reason why. The HTC Inspire 4G is the company’s first 4G device on AT&T, but it may be the best Android device on the carrier to date.
Features and design
The first thing you’ll notice about the Inspire 4G is its screen size. Measuring 4.3-inches across, the 480 x 800 pixel screen is extremely responsive and seems to be coated to allow easy finger sliding and resist smudging (to a degree). While it’s not the brightest screen we’ve seen, it gets bright enough to view in most outdoor conditions. Above the screen is a very nice and easy-to-press power button that also unlocks the phone.
The rear of the unit is a deep maroon color, and almost has a tapered, rounded look to it, though some of the design choices are a bit odd. The round 8-megapixel camera noticeably bulges from the back, and is surrounded by a small rear speaker and a bright dual-LED flash. Gray patches appear on the right of the phone, bottom, and surrounding the rear LED flash. The bottom pulls off to reveal a SD card (it comes with an 8GB card) and SIM slot. If you manage to pry off the side, it holds the battery.
We’re a bit puzzled why HTC has chosen to omit a front-facing camera as well, though we’re guessing it was in an effort to keep the already large unit as small as possible. The speaker placement is probably a product of this minimalist philosophy as well. The tiny rear speaker does the majority of the work, but it is easily muffled by your hand or anything the phone happens to be sitting on. Luckily, the bottom of the unit has a nice audio jack for headphones or external speakers. With a good pair of headphones, the audio from the device is on par with many MP3 players. If only Google would develop some decent audio software.
Overall, the unit feels solid and has a decent weight to it. Most of the “negative” features are more strange than truly bothersome.
Don’t worry fellow geeks, we won’t forget about you. The Inspire 4G runs on Android 2.2 (Froyo), has a 480 x 800 pixel screen, a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255 processor in it, and 768MB of RAM, which will come in handy when you’re multitasking. It has 4GB of internal storage and comes with an 8GB SD card for music and media. Its battery is rated at 1230 mAh.
Android and HTC Sense
Though the Inspire runs Android 2.2, thanks to HTC Sense, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Every Android manufacturer likes to tweak the user experience by changing fonts around, messing with icons, and manipulating menus, but HTC is one of the few that seems to have a method behind its madness. The vast majority of changes HTC makes in Sense…well…make sense. From the flip clock, to the customization options, to the fun and functional widgets preloaded on your phone, the features and apps HTC has added to Android make it prettier and friendlier to new users. When someone new to smartphones buys an HTC device, they already have four home screens filled with some basic items they may want to use along with instructions on how to add more and customize the phone. That’s helpful.
There is a downside. While we like most of HTCs changes, the company is venturing a bit too far in some areas. For example, on the Inspire 4G, users can sign up to back up their contacts on HTCs service and can browse an HTC store for apps. This would be great, except Google already backs up contacts with its service and already has an Android Market. Having more stores is confusing and odd, especially since HTC’s offerings still feel unfinished. Luckily, they are easily ignored.
Call quality on the HTC Inspire 4G is great; let’s get that out of the way. We had no issues taking or making calls in New York City. Like all HTC Android devices, there is a large phone button at the bottom center that brings up the dial pad and recent calls. The dial pad is large, and its buttons are easy to press. The default Android contacts menu is a bit preferable to HTC’s version, which auto-calls any name you click on instead of bringing up a profile page. Still, what is here works just fine once you get used to it, and certainly looks a lot nicer than the stock version of Android 2.2.
Apps and Web browsing
Like all Android phones, the Inspire 4G comes with the Android Market and a number of apps. The flashlight app, upgraded calendar, and HTC music apps are especially nice and outshine Google’s own products.
With that said, we wish that HTC wouldn’t agree to put apps on the phone that are not removable. A Blockbuster Video app comes preloaded on the Inspire and there is no way to remove it, just as there is no way to get rid of some of the preloaded AT&T apps, Asphalt 5, or QuickOffice. It’s forgivable to preload apps that we don’t want, but don’t make it impossible to remove them. Last year, the Droid Incredible came with permanent apps like Skype that actually never stop running in the background and tend to drain the battery. We haven’t found any battery-hogging apps running in the background of the Inspire 4G yet.
We tested the Inspire 4G on AT&T’s 4G HSPA+ network in New York City, but didn’t have much initial luck attaining high speeds. At last count, we averaged just under 1Mbps download speeds and about 100Kbps upload speeds — nothing to write home about. However, since having 4G doesn’t cost anything extra or appear to drain your battery extremely quickly like Verizon’s 4G LTE service, it worked pretty well. We experienced decent speeds most of the time and had no problem downloading a few music albums to the phone and streaming some podcasts and HD videos.
The 8-megapixel camera on the Inspire 4G is solid. HTC’s cameras tend to pull in more light than most and the camera will auto-focus before you press or hold the shoot button, which is on-screen. We also liked HTCs library of added effects. Most of them are goofy, but we all like to have fun once in a while.
Mostly, HTC seems to understand touch interfaces better than Google does. Touching any object on the screen will make the camera auto-focus on that item and the zoom controls on the left are touch friendly as well. You just tap at your desired level of zoom. Google’s default camera controls, by comparison, are archaic.
The Inspire can also capture 720p video.
It’s about average for a smartphone. HTC rates the device for 360 minutes of talk time and 15.5 days of standby. After a couple months, you will have to charge your phone every day, like we all do, but it seemed to hold up pretty well even when we had a lot of GPS and data heavy services running in the background.
The HTC Inspire 4G is a fantastic Android phone and at $99 with a two-year contract (half the price of the Motorola Atrix) it’s one of the best values on AT&T. HTC reps have told us that it will get an Android 2.3 upgrade fairly soon as well, which will be great. Recently, HTC stock was valued higher than Nokia or RIM. With devices like this and HTC Sense, we can see why.
- HTC Sense is great for new and experienced Android fans
- Low $99 price
- 4.3-inch screen is spacious
- No front-facing camera
- Speakers are a bit weak
- Battery cover is difficult to remove
- Still runs Android 2.2