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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

HTC Inspire 4G is sleek and fast Android on AT&T

2

March

My first thought when picking up the HTC Inspire from AT&T was just that it just feels really good in your hand. It's very thin and sleek, with a slightly rounded back covered with a matte finish that gives it just enough texture for better grip without making it hard to slip into your pocket. At just .46 inches thick and 5.78 ounces, the Inspire becomes the sporty 2-door model that replaces yesterday's 4-door sedan, the EVO.

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And it's not just the exterior that makes the Inspire better. What's under the hood is better too. The Inspire runs on an upgraded 1GHz Snapdragon processor running Android 2.2 and HTC Sense. It ships with 768MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage and an 8GB microSD card (upgradeable to 32GB) to complete the package.

The 4.3-inch WVGA display is big and bright and the touch response is very snappy. I'm used to using an iPhone 4 so I noticed right away that although the display is sharp and has excellent detail, it's not as good as the display on the iPhone. The display's size, however, is a big upgrade from my iPhone's 3.5-inch screen. Game and video play are very smooth, although the speakers sound kind of tinny despite the advertised Dolby, and SRS WOW HD surround-sound effects. The Inspire also has dual mics for noise cancellation features.

The Android interface is growing on me, and the enhancements provided with HTC Sense 2.0 especially nice. HTC Sense includes great features that silence your phone when you turn it over, make it ring louder when it's in a purse or bag and can help you locate your phone if misplace or wipe it clean if it's stolen.

The interface is loaded with helpful widgets that can be customized to provide all kids of information. Quickly check the weather, add a contact, view a photo album, update your Facebook status and more, all with a quick swipe to the next page. The widgets save you tons of time. The phone ships with an impressive array of apps, including some good ones that are home-grown by AT&T.

screen_shot_2011-03-01_at_9.42.23_pm.pngClose integration with Facebook and Twitter and your contacts provides attachment of real-time status information, so when a friend calls and it's their birthday, you know (in case you forgot). One feature I find clever is the "Scenes" customization settings that provide different sets of wallpaper, widgets and shortcuts to match a theme. Choose themes like Social, Travel, Work and Play to instantly set up your phone for your current activity.

The Inspire comes with an 8-megapixel color camera with auto focus and flash and an HD 720P video camera. I really love that the video camera cannot be used when holding the phone vertically because I'm sick of seeing vertical videos! The camera app for both stills and video really shines, especially as I compare it to the iPhone 4, because it provides for so much more control over the image. You can adjust the white balance, change the resolution, adjust exposure and color and even choose an ISO. Even the video camera lets you choose different resolutions so you can make smaller movies files for uploading.

There is a built-in self-timer and a cool "self-portrait" mode that detects your face and automatically fires the camera when you hold it out for that long-armed shot of yourself. A set of special effects filters, such as depth of field, vignette and distortion (samples shown below) provide some creative control right in the app. All of these things make the camera experience much more robust than what I have on my iPhone 4. I can accomplish all of it using additional apps, but should I have to?

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As it was with the EVO, however, the camera's image quality is fine in good light but really lacking in low light with lots of noise in the images. It doesn't look like this has improved at all from the EVO so HTC really needs to work on it.

Advertised as a 4G phone, the Inspire runs on AT&T's HSPA+ network. The whole 4G thing is kind of a big mess right now and although tons of phones are coming out labeled as 4G they technically aren't running on true 4G networks. This isn't just the case with AT&T but it's true with Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile too. The other broadband technologies, WiMAX and LTE, are in the same boat. They're basically faster versions of 3G and on all networks the coverage is pretty spotty. The industry really needs to get it together and work this out, but I digress.

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The good news is, the AT&T 3G network has consistently been rated with the fastest data speeds and their HSPA+ speeds are even faster. When I was on HSPA+ the connection was very zippy. For comparison I tested my iPhone 4 over AT&T 3G and the Inspire on AT&T HSPA+ (results above). As you can see the Inspire had a much faster download speed than the iPhone 4. I also tested the MacBook Pro on Verizon FIOS over WiFi and then the MacBook using the Inspire in WiFi HotSpot mode (results below). With people talking about mobile broadband networks approaching wired broadband speeds, I thought it would be good to show a real broadband connection for comparison. Using the phone as a HotSpot is a nice feature but the speed was noticeably slower and without an unlimited data plan it would be costly as your only Internet connection.

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One important thing to note...when AT&T upgrades their network to the faster LTE 4G later this year, the Inspire will not be able to take advantage of it. So if you're a speed freak, you may want to wait.

All-in-all the HTC Inspire is a slick phone and a great value at $99.99 with a new 2-year contract. The hardware is snappy, the interface is fast and it's loaded with tons of great features. And for most people, the data speeds will be a major upgrade.

[Last modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 6:57pm]

    

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