Now that AT&T has lost its exclusive grip on the Apple iPhone in the US, the company is looking to attract new customers by jumping on the Android bandwagon. The wireless carrier has landed two of the most anticipated Android devices of early 2011 - the Motorola Atrix 4G and the HTC Inspire 4G. While labeling these devices "4G" is a bit of stretch, both are high-powered smartphones that will fuel AT&T's Android mission.
The HTC Inspire 4G combines the best qualities of my two favorite HTC devices from 2010, the HTC EVO 4G and the Google Nexus One. The design is also very similar to the new HTC Thunderbolt on Verizon. However, the distinguishing factor of the Inspire is that it costs a lot less than all of its high-powered Android cousins, all of which retailed for $200 or more at launch. AT&T is launching the Inspire at $99 in order to win over more Android fans to its network.
Here's my look at how the Inspire measures up.
- Carrier: AT&T Wireless
- OS: Android 2.2 (Froyo), and HTC Sense UI
- Processor: 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (QSD8255)
- RAM: 768MB
- Storage: 4GB internal, 8GB microSD (expandable up to 32GB)
- Display: 4.3-inch WVGA with 800×480 resolution
- Battery: Lithium-ion with 1230 mAh capacity
- Ports: micro-USB, 3.5mm audio jack
- Weight: 5.78 ounces
- Dimensions: 4.8 x 2.7 x 0.46 inches
- Camera: 8MP with auto-focus, dual LED flash, and HD video capture
- Sensors: Accelerometer, A-GPS, digital compass, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor
- Keyboard: Virtual QWERTY
- Networks: GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900 MHz, HSPA+ 850/1900 MHz
- Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1
- Tethering: USB + mobile Wi-Fi hotspot
- Price: $99 (with 2-year contract)
Who is it for?
Smartphone users who want a top-tier Android experience with a large screen (4.3 inches), large virtual keyboard, and HTC's excellent Sense UI software will be very happy with the Inspire 4G. Of course, you also need to be in an area that has good AT&T 3G coverage (or, better yet, an area covered by AT&T's new HSPA+ network). If you don't mind the bulkiness of the Inspire, then the phone's hardware design will impress you with its unibody aluminum frame. Business users who need a powerful, reliable device for heavy daily use should like what they find in the Inspire.
What problems does it solve?
The biggest problem that the Inspire solves is the price barrier. Most of the high-end smartphones of this caliber start at $200. The fact that this device offers as many top-notch features as it does and costs half that will definitely appeal to many. Of course, never forget that the monthly data plan for any smartphone is going to cost far more than the smartphone itself over the course of a two-year contract. The other breakthrough with the HTC Inspire is that it is one of the first truly high-end Android phones on AT&T. Plus, it's the first AT&T device to offer the mobile Wi-Fi hotspot feature.
- Excellent screen - The most striking feature of the Inspire is the 4.3-inch touchscreen. The extra screen real estate makes it easier to read text, better for viewing photos and videos, and provides more room for typing on the virtual keyboard. The screen itself is also bright and vibrant, although not quite as bright as the iPhone 4 or the Samsung Galaxy S series.
- Sturdy, attractive design - The unibody aluminum frame on the Inspire gives it a very high-quality, sturdy feel. It feels much higher quality than the Samsung Galaxy S models and their shining plastic finish or even the HTC EVO with its shiny plastic bezel around the edges. The Inspire has the same square form factor as the EVO, but it uses an aluminum frame that is reminiscent of the Nexus One and the HTC Desire. (In fact, the Inspire 4G is nearly identical to the Desire HD.)
- HTC software - For all of the Android OEMs (Motorola, Samsung, LG, and Dell) other than HTC, I have repeatedly said that they should get out of the UI business and stop adding custom skins to Android. In all cases, they'd be better served by just running the stock Android OS. The only exception is HTC with its Sense UI, which adds some additional elegance to Android, in most cases, and offers a great set of additional Android widgets that look great, are highly functional, and don't cause a major hit to battery life.
- AT&T's Android naughtiness - As with AT&T's other Android devices, the wireless carrier makes some distasteful modifications to Android on the HTC Inspire. AT&T disables the ability to install applications that aren't in the Android market, it loads a bunch of its own AT&T software and services on the device, and it does not allow you to uninstall any of the AT&T software apps.
- Big and heavy - If you've never handled the HTC EVO 4G before, then the first time you pick up the Inspire it will feel really big and a little heavy. After using it every day for a week or two, you'll forget about it and think it's not much bigger than other smartphones. However, there's no denying that this phone is bigger and heavier than almost any other smartphone on the market (see the comparison photos with other devices in our Inspire photo gallery).
- A few missing features - The Inspire does not have a front-facing camera for video calls, does not have a Mini-HDMI port for video-out, and does not feature the latest and greatest Qualcomm CPU. It also lacks HSUPA support (for faster uploads), which means that this "4G" device can only upload photos and videos at about half the speed of the "3G" iPhone 4, for example.
Bottom line for business
If the oversized form factor doesn't bother you and none of the missing features are that important to you and AT&T works well in the areas you need, then the HTC Inspire 4G offers a high-end Android smartphone at an up-front price that you can't beat for a device of this caliber.
I hope that HTC and/or AT&T will do a firmware fix to enable HSUPA for the Inspire, and I hope that AT&T will eventually see the error of its ways and unleash Android from the distasteful restrictions that it has imposed upon it. Otherwise, there's a lot to like about the HTC Inspire 4G, especially at $99.
Where to get more info
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks.