The Teen Review: AT&T HTC Inspire 4G
The first two months of 2011 have been pretty big ones for AT&T– first in January they announced their first three 4G phones at CES and then releasing the first two of them last month—the HTC Inspire 4G and the Motorola Atrix 4G. For the last two weeks we’ve been testing the first of AT&T’s 4G phones, the HTC Inspire 4G, and we gotta say for the carriers first 4G phone its pretty impressive.
What are you waiting for? Read on for our full teen review.
Design and Screen
The Inspire’s screen is almost bigger than the ENTIRE iPhone 4!
The Inspire 4G is pretty much AT&T’s version of Sprint’s first 4G phone, the EVO 4G, and like the EVO, the design and screen of the Inspire are just amazing.
When you first pick up the Inspire you quickly realize just how HUGE this phone is. Even after using the EVO numerous times before, everything just felt so much bigger here– though that overwhelming feeling goes away pretty quickly after a little bit of use. In fact we quickly came to appreciate the extremely spacious 4.3 inch screen. While it’s not as sharp as the Atrix’s 4 inch screen or the iPhone 4’s 3.5 inch screen, everything looked pretty incredible— YouTube, websites, Facebook, pictures, games– and typing was equally great. I usually use an iPhone 4 as my main phone so I’m pretty used to typing on touchscreen keyboards, but even people I showed the Inspire to who normally use BlackBerry keyboards loved the spacious keyboard on the Inspire.
And in terms of the design of the phone, it’s incredibly thin and feels great in your hand (assuming you don’t have really small hands, in that case we recommend you try this out in a store to make sure it works well for you). Just like the G2 and EVO, the Inspire is everything you’d expect design wise from a new HTC phone– it’s a phone that when you hold it feels like something valuable and not just a bunch of cheap plastic.
Now while all this is nice and good we did have one issue with the design and screen. We kept seeing the digitizer (the touch part of a touchscreen– it generally looks like bunch of dots in neat rows) under the screen, sometimes even when the screen was on. This in most cases wasn’t too terrible but it was pretty frustrating if you look at the screen from the wrong angle, in which case you can see some of the dots and is pretty distracting.
Overall though, we really liked the Inspire 4G’s screen and design.
The Inspire, again like the EVO, packs an 8 megapixel camera with dual flash and HD video recording and like the EVO the pictures and videos we shot with the Inspire’s camera were pretty impressive. If it wasn’t for its lack of an optical zoom (something that’s lacking on pretty much all camera phones today mainly because these zooms, while sharper than the more common digital zoom, would require the phones to be much thicker), we’d say this camera could very well replace any traditional digital camera. The pictures and videos we took were just that good.
We also really loved the built-in photo effects like depth of field, sepia and distortion which allow you to play with the shots for more professional (or fun) looking pics (we really loved depth of field for those looking which gave us more control of the focus of the camera). Throw in the one-click uploading to Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, Flickr or YouTube and the camera becomes even more powerful.
Here are a couple of sample shots we took with the Inspire’s camera. As you can see for yourself, they came out pretty great (click to enlarge).
One thing we did wish the Inspire had: a front camera for video chat like other 4G phones (why all 4G phones don’t have this standard we don’t know).
Software/HTC Sense 2.0
As you’ve probably seen on most Android phones from pretty much every manufacturer seems to put on their own type of software “skin” to further customize and differentiate their phones from the competition. While we understand why they do this, a lot of the times some of these “tweaks” end up being more harmful than they are helpful particularly when compared to Google’s un-customized, stock Android experience (like on the G2 and Nexus S). We really loved using the clean Android on the G2 but even we must admit the work HTC’s done here with their new Sense 2.0 is pretty impressive.
Not only did things run incredibly quick (no doubt thanks to the software being optimized to take full use of the Inspire’s 1 GHZ processor and 768 MB of RAM), but this new Sense offers a whole bunch of new features that make using an Android phone much more enjoyable.
A few of the new Sense 2.0 features include:
- Pinch-to-zoom to switch home screens and browser tabs— great news for anyone with a ton of apps on their home screens or those who want a cool way to switch tabs in the browser (all you do in both is pinch all the way out as if you were zooming out on a picture).
- HTC Sense.com— the ability to track down a lost phone from any computer like Apple’s Find My iPhone app. All you need to do is go to HTCSense.com, log in and just like that you can see exactly where your phone is, make it ring at full volume— so you can better find it if it fell out of your pocket and into the couch– or even remotely lock and delete your stuff from it in case you actually lose your phone. Heck, you can even set it to forward all your calls and messages to a new number all right from your computer.
- HTC Sync– For easily syncing your contacts, photos, videos and music with your Windows computer (you can even import playlists with your songs from iTunes).
- Friend Stream—This is HTC’s way of keeping your social networks in order, one app all your friends and networks. While we like the idea of linking all this info together (particularly when syncing your contacts with your Facebook friends so you get all that info in one place), I personally found things got too cluttered when you began to combine more than one network and preferred just using the regular Facebook and Twitter apps to keep connected. Though if you’re the type of person that loves having everything as organized and condensed as possible, this may be perfect for you.
- HTC Hub—This is HTC’s custom Android Market where you can completely customize your HTC phone to your heart’s content. Skins, wallpapers, widgets, ringtones– they’re all here and a click away from downloading onto your phone. This also goes together with a second app called HTC Likes, which features some of the Android Market apps that HTC recommends.
Underneath HTC Sense is Android 2.2 that we all know and love. Unfortunately, there are a lot of “crapware” (or AT&T specfic apps like AT&T Navigator, a demo of the racing game Asphalt 5, Blockbuster, AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T Family Map and AT&T Live TV) preloaded on here, and you cannot delete them from your device. Sure it’s not a deal breaker, but sometimes we found the apps slowing things down and would’ve really loved to just remove them.
Media and Call Quality
One of the major down spots on the Inspire for us had to be the media playback and call quality. Calls made using the handset itself sounded fine, but once we tried to go on speaker everything sounded really low and weak even on the highest volume. The same is true for when we played back YouTube or listened to music. Using headphones everything was solid but once we went to speaker things were just too low.
What made things worse here is we expected the sound experience on the Inspire to be much better than your average phone as this packs some pretty powerful audio features like built-in Dolby Mobile and SRS Surround Sound. For the most part we really couldn’t find any real difference when we used either of these features in the Music app– both on speaker and with headphones– compared to music on an iPod, and this also ate at the battery life (there were times where it helped, but mostly no difference). Speaking of battery life….
The Inspire is a beast with its 4.3 inch screen, powerful 1 GHZ processor, Dolby Mobile and SRS Surround Sound, and of course, 4G. All this running constantly with some multitasking of apps you’d think would completely kill the battery . Fortunately that wasn’t the case and we were able to get a pretty solid days use in before needing to find an outlet (from about 7:30 AM to 4 PM). We do wish it ran a little longer (our iPhone generally gets us about 1-2 hours more), but overall for how smooth things were running it was pretty solid.
AT&T’s HSPA+ 4G
Out of all the features of the Inspire, the biggest is its support for AT&T’s 4G HSPA+ network. Like all of AT&T’s 3G phones, the Inspire was pretty fast no matter what were doing with it— streaming Internet radio, watching live TV and YouTube, browsing the web, etc. Thing is, when we compared it to our iPhone 4 there were many times where we found the iPhone 4 tying or flat-out beating the Inspire 4G in network speed all over the place. Sites and videos loaded faster on the iPhone, and when we ran speed tests the iPhone was most of the time much, much faster than the Inspire (sometimes even picking up 5 Mbps when the Inspire was just getting 2 Mbps). We ran these tests all across the New York City area and again, the iPhone 4 just seemed to be faster.
Of course the Inspire 4G wasn’t slow by any stretch and if you weren’t looking over to time it against an iPhone you’d be more than happy with it (and AT&T has even said they plan to release a software update over the coming months to make data on the Inspire even better and faster).
Note: even though this is “4G” it will not work on AT&T’s “other”, faster 4G LTE network launching this summer. Like T-Mobile, AT&T has re-branded their faster 3G network as 4G (or 4G HSPA+) which is what the Inspire uses. To use the LTE network you’ll need a phone that supports LTE like Verizon has with the upcoming HTC ThunderBolt.
So if you’re looking for a new phone should you go with the Inspire 4G? Even with some of its faults we still really loved using the Inspire 4G and it’s definitely up there as one of AT&T’s top phones. It looks good, it’s fast, and supports AT&T’s current latest and greatest network. And at $99.99 on a two-year contract and data plan from AT&T ($70 with a new upgrade from Amazon) it’s also one of the best deals out there today for AT&T customers.
What do you think– you gonna get the Inspire 4G as your next phone? Want something a little smaller? Share your thoughts in the comments.
The HTC Inspire 4G is available now for $99.99 on a two-year contract and data plan from AT&T.