Though AT&T has offered several Android smartphones on its lineup for a year now, they haven’t offered anything that stands out above the crowd. Any Android phone on the network up until this point has been a “me too” device, something that was only offered as a way of appeasing the few smartphone owners that weren’t interested in iPhones. It also gave them a bragging point that they had a lineup that featured a phone with every single smartphone OS platform (Apple, Blackberry, WebOS, WP7, Symbian, and Android).
Now that iPhone exclusivity is gone, the game has changed and AT&T knows this. Thus we are now seeing a whole lineup of 4G-capable Android phones with top-of-the-line specs and reasonable prices getting launched, so AT&T can be truly competitive with the other networks. After all, now the network has to rely on other things to keep its numbers up.
So without further adieu, we intro the HTC Inspire 4G on AT&T, the very first phone that the network is attaching the “4G” moniker to. Everyone has their own ideas about what 4G actually is, and if the current AT&T network can even be considered real 4G. The answer is yes, it IS technically 4G, but it’s not going to be running on the LTE network that’s slated to come out later this summer.
On top of the 4G debate, is the Inspire 4G actually worth considering? Is it a legit post-iPhone contender that will likely be butting heads with the likes of the EVO 4G and HTC ThunderBolt? Let’s find out.
Unboxing the Inspire 4G
We had the opportunity to unbox the Inspire 4G and get some good first impressions of the device in the video below.
Overall, my first impressions of the phone were good, though the 4.3” screen is not for everyone. Small hands need not apply, that’s for sure. Otherwise, a very solid phone with a battery cover (door?) that is nearly impossible to open and close without worrying that you’re going to break the cover.
Design and Hardware of the Inspire 4G
Since the Inspire 4G — a revamped US version of the Desire HD — will be the first one on AT&T to bear the name of the high-speed network it is using, there’s a lot of pressure on the landmark handset to get it right.
In terms of overall design, for starters, HTC sure did get it right. HTC excels at phone design by sticking with what works, and branching out for unique unibody aluminum exterior with the classic industrial silver and gray look is a wonderful design choice that’s both elegant and durable, and appears to be one of HTC’s lasting trademarks over the last couple years. By that, I mean that I can recognize an HTC phone from far away without squinting, because of its design.
Let’s look at some of these elements one at a time. The aluminum backing is a smart choice when you’re trying to design a phone with durability in mind, but there are some side effects. The phone weighs more than the average, and aluminum generally attenuates the cell phone signal (especially if designed poorly). In my review I determined that the wireless connections were never an issue, though I can attest to the additional weight.
I’ve always felt that one of the biggest factors that you need to consider when shopping for a new phone is the comfort level when you first use it. There are just simply some phones that feel more at home in the palm of your hand than others, and the Inspire 4G is a wild card because of its large 4.3” Super LCD screen. The screen makes the phone so wide that unless you have larger hands, it doesn’t feel natural to hold. I consider my hands to be average-sized, and it’s on the borderline comfort level for me. Fortunately HTC contoured the back of the phone so it tapers off the sides instead of opting for the boxy feel, which helps the phone fit in the hand as well as it could given the circumstance. But still, a lot of people pass on the Inspire 4G because of the size.
The screen itself uses HTC’s new Super LCD resolution, which is basically its version of Samsung’s Super AMOLED and Motorola’s qHD displays. The screen is very bright and easy to see, and when I viewed the screen outside in the sunlight, I could still see almost everything decently. In comparison with many other phone screens it’s rather tolerable in the daylight.
A major flaw in the design of the phone is the battery access panel in the back. Since the phone is unibody, the usual back door battery cover style was replaced by an access flap that once open will allow the battery to slide right out of its lair. The key phrase is “once open”, because it was much easier said than done. It was incredibly difficult to not only open the door, but put it back on and have everything click in and have it look like it’s completely closed.
At least the SIM card and MicroSD card access doors are on the bottom of the phone, making it much more easy to slide off and access these when needed.
Beyond the issue with getting the battery out, I have high praise for the Inspire’s sleek look and solid feel. The wild card, as mentioned earlier, is your personal comfort level with the wide 4.3″ display. While having the larger screen makes your usual Android apps a much more awe-inspiring (pun not intended) experience because of the extra real estate to take advantage of, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons together. The phone is wide, and it’s heavier than many of its rivals. If you can’t properly grip your phone and it keeps slipping out of your hand, the large screen will only serve to annoy you over the course of time, and heavier phones may also be an annoyance to you and your hand muscles.
- dimensions of phone: 4.8 x 2.7 x 0.46 inches
- weighs 5.8 ounces
Our final verdict on the design: Comfortable for large hands, but many of you will find it to be just a tad too wide. It is on the weighty side for non-QWERTY phones. However, it is one of the most attractive phones I have used on AT&T in quite some time. Just pray you don’t have to take the battery out on a regular basis.
Software and OS of the HTC Inspire 4G
The Inspire 4G is the very first phone released on AT&T that uses Android 2.2, better known as Froyo. In the tech community, no Android phone is acceptable that doesn’t have at least Froyo, if not even newer. There are several reasons for this: a true Flash Player is finally supported, the web browser is now much faster than before, offers better battery life due to better task management, and there are now more options to keep your personal and work information secure.
Now that the Inspire 4G has received Froyo, now we have seen several devices on AT&T receive the update as well. The ATRIX 4G, Samsung Captivate and HTC Aria all now offer this update, which means AT&T has finally caught up to the rest of the US carriers in their Android selection.
In addition to using Froyo, the Inspire 4G uses HTC’s trademarked Sense User Interface. Sense is my personal favorite UI for Android because of its ease of use, vast amount of widgets and customizable content, and it doesn’t cause the phone to get bogged down and slow.
Sense has been around for a few years, and is actually used for other OS platforms such as the old Windows Mobile and the new Brew MP. The brilliance in the UI is that no matter what platform gets used, the Sense remains the same. When I used the Brew MP-powered HTC Freestyle, I noticed it was much easier for me to learn the OS because I already felt familiar with it. That’s the beauty of Sense – a universal feeling to the user interface.
Along with HTC’s most recent offerings on Android, Sense has some new enhancements that make the experience even better. A new icon graces the bottom left corner of each home screen panel that looks much like paint and brush, which takes you to a full menu of customization options. This menu lets you change Scenes (different sets of home screen panels, apps and settings that you can change to when your situation and needs change), wallpapers, widgets, and skins, and you’re given several other options as well. If you don’t find what you want or need, HTC also offers additional content that can be downloaded directly into the phone. Simply click on the included link to HTC’s database, where you will be able to surf through everything HTC has to offer.
The new Sense also gives you the ability to rearrange your home screen panels. Sick of seeing the large clock/weather widget on the main page, but still want it sticking around just in case? Just change which screen panel is home.
HTC also makes a few tweaks to other programs within Android itself. For example, HTC opts to use its own version of the music player, camera, and web browser to name a few. There are also a few other features that you’ll find on the Inspire that aren’t guaranted to show up on every Android.
Final verdict on OS/Software: My absolute favorite UI keeps getting better, and helps the Inspire 4G perform admirably.
Cool features on the Inspire 4G
The very first feature that adds to the phone’s cool factor is the mobile WiFi hotspot feature. This is, again, AT&T’s first venture into this category, with MiFi being the only exception, having become widely available only within the last few months.
The Mobile Hotspot feature takes the Inspire’s 4G connection speed and broadcasts it out as if it’s a wireless router, allowing up to 5 devices to simultaneously connect to the signal and access the AT&T 4G mobile broadband connection. This could include your iPad, laptop, Wii, or any other WiFi-capable device.
Just don’t go too crazy on the internet, though — you’re forking out $45 for 4 GB data per month, which isn’t much if you’re streaming video and music like mad. Just be very careful about when and how much you use it, and make sure you keep a close eye out on your monthly internet usage so you don’t go over. If you do, don’t fret too much: it’s $10 for each GB increment you go over. Obviously, don’t make a huge habit of it.
Another wonderful feature that, in my honest opinion, should be included on every single phone made today (both feature phone and smartphone alike): the Blocked Caller app. This is found on very, very few devices (none actually come to mind right now) and hopefully this is a predicator of things to come. The app does exactly what it sounds like it does. You add an unwanted number on the list, and every call that number makes to your phone goes straight to voicemail, thus leaving you from being disturbed by that person.
Frankly, the blocked caller list is a bit of a surprise to me because AT&T offers a similar program that blocks specific numbers from calling your phone (or conversely allows only specific numbers to call it) called Smart Limits for $5 per month. Having such a feature on the network’s phones will surely cannibalize sales of that particular plan (As a side note, the Smart Limits will do much more than just block calls — it will also put restrictions on your kid’s phone use, time of day, etc.).
How annoying is it to get a new smartphone and have to worry about finding a way to transfer your old phonebook over to it? Sure, there are different methods of doing so (for instance, I prefer backing up my contacts through Google, and then it automatically syncs with whatever smartphone i’m using at the time), but HTC threw in an app that lets you transfer your personal data from one phone to another using a bluetooth connection. Personal data includes contacts, texts, and calendar events. This feature is offered when you first set up your Inspire, and can be accessed at any time in the app tray.
Note: Not every phone will be supported, but there’s a very good possibility that if you already use a smartphone, its personal data can be transferred over using this method. If it can’t, it’s still easy to transfer contacts via SIM card or go to your local store to have them transfer it for you.
In helping you keep your data easily backed up, HTC has created its own website dedicated to this very purpose called htcsense.com. You’ll be invited to set up your very own Sense account when you first start up your Inspire, and then you’ll have access to it through the phone and your computer browser.
When thinking about this service, think of an HTC version of MobileMe that is completely free. You can sync your contacts and texts, and even use it to locate your phone. You can also purchase apps online and download them direct to phone, though this isn’t as impressive now since the Android Market came out with the same thing. Still, HTC is working to create a seamless transition for you in case you change phones or your Inspire ends up lost.
Performance of the AT&T Inspire 4G
We admit, the Inspire 4G is not the most powerful smartphone on the planet. With the introduction of dual-core CPU units such as the Tegra 2, a single-core 1 GHz CPU is beginning to feel somewhat inferior.
But here’s the deal: firstly, the Inspire 4G is only $99 with contract on AT&T; this is still a bargain when compared to other similar-spec’d phones, and if you want the extra power then shell out the extra $100 to get the Motorola ATRIX 4G. Secondly, a single-core 1 GHz CPU, especially when paired up with 768 MB RAM, is still plenty fast for the vast majority of phone shoppers. Unless you are going to be doing any sort of gaming beyond the usual Angry Birds, the Inspire will be quick and powerful enough to handle almost all of your needs.
I was happy with the processing speed and power of the Inspire 4G. While it’s not the most powerful on the market today, it’s also not being compared to devices that may be more powerful since it’s in a different price bracket. Most of the phones (regardless of carrier) in this price range are definitely similarly spec’d. The iPhone 4, which only beats the physical hardware specs of the Inspire in its frontward-facing camera and Retina Display, is still $100 more.
Also, I had no problems in making phone calls and sound quality on both ends of the conversation was good enough to be uneventful (meaning, no complaints at all on either side of the line).
However, the “4G” branding on the Inspire may be technically correct according to the ITU because it includes HSDPA+ 14.4 Mbps max download speeds, but it sure doesn’t live up to the name because it doesn’t get anywhere close to those speeds. Also, I can’t forget to mention that HSUPA is present on the phone but is at present time disabled (there are some technical reasons why this is so, and we have been told that the HSUPA should be running within a couple months). So when I attempted several speed tests, I was getting 3-4 Mbps down (granted, I do live in an area that doesn’t offer the fastest speeds possible) and a mere 300-500 kbps up.
So the HTC Inspire 4G on AT&T has been a tough one to judge overall, because as a phone and Android device I found the Inspire to be top-notch, and one of my absolute favorites to use. It’s a gorgeous phone with beautifully bright screen, plenty of screen space to work with, and runs HTC Sense with Froyo on it. The aluminum exterior unibody shell makes me feel as though the phone will last longer than a few months with hardy use.
There’s plenty of storage space with MicroSD, a fast processor with abundant RAM, and a high-res 8 MP camera with HD video recording. I experienced much better battery life on the Inspire than on earlier Android models. The mobile hotspot is also included which is one of my must-have features in a smartphone, for my needs.
But on the other hand, much of your opinion of the phone will be different depending on if the phone feels too large for your hands and how good or bad AT&T coverage is in your area. For me the coverage is good, but I don’t think we are getting the fastest 4G speeds possible in my area. The lack of high-speed uploading is worrisome to me, since I rely heavily on uploading videos and files on a regular basis. I also would have liked to see a mini-HDMI jack somewhere on the Inspire.
All in all, I consistently am impressed with the amount of TLC that HTC likes to put into its phones. The Inspire 4G is one such phone that left me impressed. No, it’s not perfect, but it is definitely one of the best Android phones you can find on the market today for $100. If it lacks some features you need in a phone, keep searching the higher-end models on all networks. But the Inspire certainly covers almost everything else that is important.
Check out the full video review below!
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