Smartphones

HTC Inspire 4G review: High-powered Android at a low-ball price

The HTC Inspire 4G is a high-end Android smartphone that is priced like a discount phone. Learn why it's such a bargain and the pros and cons of this highly-anticipated device.

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.

Photo gallery

HTC Inspire 4G: High-powered Android, low-ball price

Specifications

  • 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.

Standout features

  • 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.

What's wrong?

  • 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.

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Where to get more info

About

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 (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

9 comments
duncanting
duncanting

Does Android smartphone have the language recognizing software?

Chronister1701
Chronister1701

I purchased this phone two weeks ago. It performs solidly as a phone, internet is very satisfactory on wi-fi and mobile network, camera, FM radio, etc. all 110%. Am searching for a way to print to my network printer. Aside from that, it does have an odd quirk. Any pictures you take disappear from the gallery and phone file list if you turn the phone OFF overnight or longer than an hour or so. If you set the phone to disk drive mode, connect it via USB to your computer and view the images (in the DCIM) folder, once you disconnect the phone from the USB port, they are viewable on the phone again. Until it is turned off again. If the phone is left on continuously (or the battery does not go completely dead), the pictures remain. After speaking to AT&T and HTC, I exchanged the phone. The replacement was returned as it acted in like manner. AT&T suggested I get one from another source as the store I initially obtained mine from may have had a defective batch. The third one came from an actual AT&T store and I made sure the serial number and IMEI were vastly different. I took a couple of pictures in the store with the sales agent watching, went home to charge the battery, and turned it off overnight. The next morning, the photos again had vanished. HTC and AT&T hinted that this is an isolated incident, HTC offered to repair the phone, but I decided to keep it the way it is. Other than that little quirk, I really think it is a great piece of equipment - so, I will keep it anyway. If you have one, try shutting it off overnight. Don't worry, the images all return once viewed on your PC or laptop with the phone connected as a disk drive.

paulf
paulf

Well I have waited in the vain hope that a FM radio would be included, thats why I have not brought a I Phone. Oh well will have to still keep my Nokia 97 at least the radio and camera are terrific but oh boy it is frustrating with jam ups and slowness! Paul

bigbadfish63
bigbadfish63

I have it and it is a great Phone but the battery life Sucks!

jackie.cottrell
jackie.cottrell

I love this phone!! I love all the applications that you can download. There is a setting that you can adjust so it will allow app installations from other than the Android Market. I am currently using Amazon which gives you a free app everyday. I too have been having issues with photo's disappearing but it seems to be only those which I downloaded from e-mail or messages. I wonder if moving them to the sd card would stop it from happening??? I have Android version 2.3.3, htc version 2.1, baseband version 12.56.60.25U_26.10.04.03_M, Kernal version2.6.35.10-gc2564fb, build number 2.47.502.7 CL93396 release-keys, software number 2.47.502.7 and browser version WebKit/533.1

Chronister1701
Chronister1701

Hi, Paul -- If you open the apps page on the phone, it is in the 5th row, column3. To use it however, you cannot utilize the phone's speaker. It requires that you connect a set of headphones as it uses the length of lead (or wire) to the headphones as an antenna. It will not let you access the functionality of the radio until the headphones are plugged in. The FM radio's graphical interface is fairly nice and the audio quality is very decent on strong stations. Hope that helps. My neighbor has an iphone she purchased several months ago, and after some hands-on with my HTC Inspire, she is now wishing she would have waited for this phone. ---C

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