Review: HTC Inspire 4G

Today I was lucky enough to get my hands on an upcoming handset for AT&T, the HTC Inspire 4G. While the specs might be pretty similar to the HTC EVO 4G on Sprint, this phone is a whole different visual animal. It sports a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, a 4.3 inch LCD screen, runs Android 2.2, but with the newer version of HTC’s custom skin, SenseUI.

My main problem with this phone has nothing to do with the device itself. The name, and inevitable marketing, is entirely misleading. AT&T has decided to follow in the footsteps of T-Mobile, which is to confuse customers as much as possible. Let’s be clear about something: As far as I’m concerned, this phone is NOT 4G. Both T-Mobile and AT&T are now claiming their HSPA+ network to be 4G, which it really isn’t. Essentially, the “G” stands for Generation, which is a frustratingly vague term. HSPA+ is only an improvement on the existing 3G technology, whereas Verizon and Sprint have actually starting building a whole new network from the ground up. AT&T is still in the process of building a true 4G network, just like Verizon’s LTE. They dubbed this phone to be their first 4G phone despite the fact that it is not LTE compatible. This annoys me immensely.

As far as the average user is concerned, it is faster than the other smartphones AT&T has and is faster than the 3G competitors on Sprint and Verizon. We’ll get to the numbers in a little bit. For now, HSPA+ does beat up other 3G networks, but falls short in the 4G arena, making this phone far from future-proof. In a year or so, when LTE is more readily available, you’ll be missing out on quite a bit of speed. Now, back to the phone.

This phone is just plain sexy. The unibody construction just looks gorgeous from all angles. As much as I adore my EVO 4G, it looks clunky next to the Inspire. It’s frighteningly skinny, yet in no way feels like you are going to break it. The solid metal construction is a much better build quality than many other phones out, even high end models like Samsung’s Galaxy S line. As you can see above, the phone has an 8MP camera with dual LED flash. It takes very good pictures and records in 720p. The back has a solid matte finish, and while it’s a bit heavier than an iPhone, it feels very good in your hands (cue the inappropriate jokes). I also like how the bottom part of the back pops off, allowing you access to the SIM and microSD card without taking the battery out. Big plus, but the battery still poses its own issues, which we’ll get to in a moment.

I did have a couple complaints about the hardware, most nit-picky, but one a big design flaw. I don’t like how the headphone jack (standard 3.5mm) is at the bottom of the phone, next to the charging port. It seems much less natural than the top placement that most phones and mp3 players have. I didn’t like how much the camera sticks out past the rest of the body, made me afraid to put it down face up, as I don’t want to scratch the lens. Also, the speakers are not very loud at all, nowhere near the volume of its EVO brother.

The huge design flaw of the Inspire is the battery cover. There’s a small plastic cover that fits around the volume rocker on the side that conceals the battery. Despite the little groove to place your nail in, getting it off is an absolute pain. Literally. My nail bent backwards trying to pry it off. I got to the point where I considered getting my knife out to pop it open so I could turn the thing on, but didn’t want to damage the phone. The only way I could manage to get it was to get my nail completely inside the groove and then slide it to the corner and then pull. It was painful, but I finally got it. It’s rare that HTC has such a design flaw, and especially one that will leave the sides of most people’s phones completely scratched up. The battery then slides in sideways, which is kind of cool, but totally not worth it.

It’s difficult to review the software of this phone without going into large rants about Android, fragmentation, and the definition of open-source. So I’ll just focus on the SenseUI customizations. This is the first time I’ve been able to experience the newest version of Sense, and it’s even better than the versions I’ve already loved. All of the software tweaks look gorgeous, and there’s a lot more customizations than before. In addition to making the different Scenes (different “profiles” of setups for your widgets) more accessible, HTC added in additional skins, allowing you to change the color scheme and even the shape of some widgets. Some schemes had curved edges to the HTC included widgets, some had them the squared off. Some changed the colors, and my favorite gave everything a wood grain finish. All the skins look amazing and it’s a feature that would normally require some rooting to acheive.

Beyond the aesthetic changes, there are a lot of functionality oriented tweaks. Those familiar with Android are used to the pull-down notification pane for their emails and texts. While this is still there, the pane adds a row for the recently opened apps at the top as well, making it easier to switch between them. You can still hold the Home key to see the 8 most recent, like other Androids, but this is even more convenient to me, though I would like the option to put Wifi, Bluetooth, and other toggles in there as well, like Samsung’s skin. The camera interface is also changed a lot. The zoom bar is always visible on screen while not being obtrusive, and the flash and settings windows are easy to get to. The fun effects, like Distortion, Grayscale, and Negative, are also very easy to access.

I had to do some speed tests to see firsthand if the Inspire was worthy of the 4G title. I compared the Inspire to my HTC EVO side by side for the 3G test. The Inspire killed the EVO and then some. Both phones had 3 steady bars where I did the 3G tests, and the Inspire was in HSPA+. The EVO turned out an average of 400 or so kbps on the download, 200kbps upload. The Inspire rounded out around 2800kbps down, but the upload fluctuated between 120-320kbps. However, if AT&T is going to try to play the 4G name game, it will need to produce a lot more. When I popped on the 4G on my EVO, it sky rocketed to an average of 5300kbps down, 980kbps up, leaving the Inspire in the dust. So for most people in the country, AT&T’s faux-4G will work very well; I won’t down play it’s every day speed. But overall, I think it’s premature of AT&T to call anything 4G.

Wrap Up
If you’re looking for a really high-powered Android phone on AT&T, the Inspire is a great choice. It is an absolutely gorgeous device, even if it sacrifices a bit of accessibility for the sake of looks. There’s nothing cheap about this phone, except its price. Despite the fact that this hardware on most other companies would cost you $200, this guy will go for only $100 with a contract ($450 without) on AT&T and it launches this Sunday, February 13th. Definitely the phone to go for, if you don’t want to drop the $200+ for the soon-to-be released Motorola Atrix.


1 Comment »

  1. Matthew said

    Something I would like to mention with this is that this would have been a great time to introduce the phone with a forward facing camera. Also, side loading the battery is cool and all (and yes, I concur it is a pain to open), but the design also makes it impossible to use an extended-life battery. Considering it's only a just over 1200 mAh battery on a 4.3″ LCD display, I can only imagine battery life is going to suffer.

    And speaking of side loading, AT&T has once again continued to not include the option to install 3rd party apps (side load them), much like what they did with the Aria.

    Now that the iPhone isn't exclusive, I do look forward to them lifting the glass ceiling on all other phones, and having them get some great Android phones. Hello Motorola Atrix 🙂

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