The U.S. gets it first taste of the new HTC Sense
and AT&T's 4G network

HTC Inspire 4G

The HTC Inspire 4G is AT&T's first foray into 4G data, and the carrier picked a very nice package for the debut.  The Inspire is beautifully constructed with high-grade materials, and it shows the world that the Captivate wasn't just a fluke -- AT&T is seeing the light and getting on board with Android in a big way.

But like everything else, it's not perfect.  Hit the break and see my impressions of the HTC Inspire 4G after using it for a week, and decide if you like what you're seeing.

When we first got the Inspire 4G Phil had a look at it and gives us a bit of a walkthrough.  You can read about that here, and the video itself is below.


YouTube link for mobile viewing

The Hardware

The Inspire 4G makes a very good first impression.  It's basically the same phone as the Desire HD, which is a very good thing to be.  Its aluminum unibody construction -- as in a single piece of metal -- is sleek, and it gives everything a solid look and feel. But because of the unibody shell, the battery door and SIM card cover are difficult to remove.  As in VERY difficult.  Having a device with a removable battery, then designing things so removing the cover is as hard as a Chinese puzzle, is a pet peeve of mine, so please, allow me to rant just a bit.  And yes -- it is that hard.

Battery door  battery door removed

battery cover in place

Everything else about the phone's design is very well done.  The camera lens does protrude a bit, much like the Evo 4G, so you'll want to watch for scratches. But the placement of things like the microphones (there are two for noise-cancellation), the earpiece speaker, the volume rocker and the power button (thanks for putting that on top where it belongs HTC) are all easy to reach while holding the phone. And they extend away from the phone's body just enough to find them by feel, but not enough to constantly get "bumped" accidentally.

I can't seem to grab some phones without hitting the volume rocker or power button (hello, Nexus S), and there's none of that with the Inspire.  The only other thing I can say I'm not feeling is the 3.5 mm headphone jack placement on the bottom of the phone.  That's starting to become a trend, and my guess is it's a conspiracy by Bluetooth manufacturers to force me to stop using wired headphones.  Or possibly that's where it fits best -- I'm sure it's one of the two.

Camera  bottom

buttons  earpiece

power button  USB port

volume switch

The pictures really don't do the Inspire justice.  This is one you need to hold in your hand to appreciate the design, and I'm sure a salesman at your local AT&T store would be happy to oblige. 

That leaves us with one last thing about the build of the phone to discuss -- the size.  The Inspire is a big phone.  It's 4.84 inches in height, 2.68 inches in width, and 0.46 inches thick (123 x 68 x 12 mm) and weighs 5.78 oz (164 g).  It's really no bigger (and in some areas it's not as big) as the Evo 4G but size still may be an issue for you.  I'll say right here that I think the Inspire is a great phone, and one of the nicest I've used -- but I couldn't use it as my daily device simply because of the size.  You may feel different, and sales numbers from the Evo and the Droid X tell me that many of you do.  I simply want to remind anyone considering this one to think about it, and decide if you can deal with a phone this big.

full frontal  rear

high light

In the specs department, the Inspire 4G is no slouch.  It's not the game machine that some other phones will be, but for those who don't need an Xbox 360 in their pocket, the Inspire proves, that great software on top of good hardware can make for a better user experience than raw horsepower can.  

Under the hood you have essentially the same hardware that the MyTouch 4G debuted:

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255 @ 1 GHz
  • 768 MB RAM
  • 4 GB ROM, 1 GB available for applications
  • 4.3 inch capacitive LCD display @ 480x800
  • 8 MP (rear) camera with 720p video capture
  • Android 2.2.1
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n WiFi
  • FM radio (87.5-108MHz) with RDS
  • AGPS
  • 1230 mAh removable (good luck with that) battery
  • GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz
  • UMTS 850, 1900
  • HSPDA, HSUPA*, HSPA+

*Technically, the Inspire 4G is fully HSUPA compliant, but AT&T has said the Inspire 4G is incapable of HSUPA.  This is a software limitation.

And the benchmarks:

 


YouTube link for mobile viewing

The Inspire has the second generation of the Snapdragon processor, and it's very good hardware.  Unless you're interested in the future of gaming on Android, this hardware will do everything you need.  I know we're all tired of hearing and seeing Dungeon Hunter come up, but the Inspire 4G handles it just fine.  Of course if you want extreme performance, you might want to rethink and buy the Atrix.  It's going to do animation and 3D better than the Inspire 4G will.

What I liked most about the hardware:

  • The construction materials.  Use Aluminum, manufacturers -- learn this please.  Hold an OG Droid, or a Nexus One, or the Inspire 4G.  It feels good.  Then hold my Nexus S.
  • The camera.  I liked it enough to have it's own section below.
  • The "protrusion length" of the controls.  The barely there thing works well.
  • 768 MB RAM.  HTC realizes 512 isn't enough when applications are pushing things to the max.  It's the PC hardware race all over again.

Where I feel it's lacking:

  • No front facing camera.  To me, it's a gimmick I'll never use, but for many it's a great addition, and one they should have the option of using.  On the flipside, AT&T knows more than anyone what happens when you overload a network.  See below.
  • No HSUPA.  Queue Keyshawn Johnson -- "Come on, man!"  Hey, AT&T: It's your network, and I really do understand what you're afraid of, but you did advertise this one as being 4G.  Most of us don't care what technology it is, or what you call it, as long as it's fast.  When you cut it in half and advertise it as fast, we get cranky.
  • The headphone jack is on the bottom of the phone.  This just bugs me when the phone's so big, and they still couldn't find a way to put it up top.  Yes it works fine, and I'm probably being nit-picky, but that's what I'm supposed to do -- find the little things that you might not while holding the display unit.
  • The battery cover.  I'm thinking it has to be such a tight (and solid) fit for normal operation, because of the contacts.  With a tight fit, the battery won't be sliding back and forth fiddling around with the power.  If you break the contacts, the phone won't power up.  If the battery door isn't tight, the contacts won't mate.  Whatever the reason, they should have engineered it just a bit more.  Maybe that was a Friday project.

The hardware works as it should.  Phone calls are clear on both ends, WiFi is strong and solid, the FM radio works as well as the clock radio on my nightstand does, and there were no showstopping bugs from anything during my time with it. 

Battery life is relatively poor, but you should expect that with a small battery and a big screen.  The location and method of holding the battery is going to make an extended model a bit of a trick, and swapping batteries is never going to be fun with the way the battery cover fits.  Stay close to a charger.

The Camera

The camera on the Inspire 4G is a big improvement over the usual HTC fare.  It's 8 megapixels, has a dual flash, and captures video in 720p. And it does it well.  I'm a point-and-shoot kind of guy.  Digital photography is a lot of fun, but fiddling and adjusting settings are things I leave to others.  I admire you guys who can do it well, but I need a camera that works good when I push the button, and the Inspire 4G delivers.  The stills look as good as any entry level point and shoot camera, and the video looks better.

I <3 Zombies  Beanie Babies

Touchpad price score  Sleepy kitty

 

The only thing lacking is the sound.  I expected better, especially with the "Dolby mobile srs wow HD label" on the back.  I am definitely not wowed.

The camera software is done nicely, as is usual from HTC.  You have several filters installed, and you can touch focus on any area in the viewfinder.  It also has all the usual settings for resolution, geotagging, and photography functions, and they all work as they should.  It's safe to say this is the best camera we've seen on a HTC device yet.

filters  Still settings

Camcorder settings

 

The software

 Homescreens

The new HTC sense is still HTC Sense.  The home and launcher is seven screens on which to place very large and beautifully done widgets, that hooks deep into the operating system.  Besides the addition of a dedicated reader and bookshelf application/widget combo and the new customizations menu, you won't find much difference on the surface between the last iteration and this one. 

My bookshelf widget  Personalization menu

Once you dig a little deeper, you'll see some changes.  The biggest thing the end user is going to notice is the HTC Hub and HTC likes apps.  HTC likes is simple enough, it's an app that helps you find other apps.  I don't see the need, but maybe you will -- different strokes for different folks and all that.  HTC hub on the other hand, a whole lot of you are going to love it.  If you like to download media and fiddle with the look of your homescreens, switch themes, or use custom ringtones you'll love HTC hub.  There are literally hundreds of wallpapers, themes, widgets and sounds to play with, and all are free downloads from HTC. 

HTC Likes  HTC Hub

apps and plugins  ringtones

Scenes  skins

sound sets  wallpapers

widgets

The new HTC Sense really shines in the performance department.  When combined with the new Snapdragon, and 768 MB of RAM it's a real treat to use.  Even if you're not a fan of HTC Sense you will appreciate the level of polish and responsiveness of the Inspire 4G's user interface.  I'm sure there are a lot of minor differences spread through out the new HTC Sense, and we'll have to discover those as we use it.  Just know that while it stays faithful to what we've seen before, it does it all smoother and faster than we're used to.  The bar has been raised Samsung and Motorola, and if you insist on giving us skinned Android you need to make it at least this good.

I don't want to skip over HTCSense.com.  While it's not as flashy as HTC hub, it's a great addition to Sense.  From HTCSense.com you can locate, lock and wipe your phone should you lose it.  You can also forward messages and calls from one number to another, which is awful handy if you're unable to use your phone for any reason.  You'll sign in during the setup and then you use the web interface to administer your Inspire.

HTCSense.com

 

Hackability

HTC continues its love/hate relationship with the "Android is open" crowd once again with the Inspire 4G.  Once hacked and everything is unlocked, the partitions and methods HTC uses with Android on the Inspire are really familiar to anyone whose dug into an HTC device before.  The hard part is the journey there.  Not that rooting the Inspire is hard, but it uses methods and tools the average Android fan isn't going to be familiar with, and there's plenty of room for error.  Most people will look through the method, and say forget it due to the complexity of it all.  And that breaks my geeky heart. 

Once properly rooted, it was a matter of flashing a couple files via a custom recovery to have it HSUPA capable. I was prepared to be buying this one, but reverting things back to stock was a simple affair as long as it's done in the correct order.

Bottom line -- you're going to have to learn a bit to root and hack the Inspire.  That's not such a bad thing, but it may not be what you're used to.

Wrapping it all up

While there's competition coming right around the corner, this is the best phone on AT&T, and the first phone I've used that is a true competitor to the iPhone for the average consumer.  It's no "iPhone killer", because that doesn't exist.  But it's easy to use, looks great, is well built and provides a great user experience -- some things we don't always see with other phones.  I've enjoyed my time with it (something that isn't always true) and would recommend it to anyone who was comfortable with the size, and knows they will be able to use a charger when they need to.

HTC has done this one right.