HTC Inspire 4G (AT&T) Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Enhanced HTC Sense interface; Excellent audio quality; Mobile hotspot app; Sharp 8-MP camera and 720p camcorder

The Cons

Slow data speeds for 4G phone; Narrow, stiff volume button; Relatively short battery life; Difficult to re-attach battery cover

Verdict

HTC and AT&T have delivered a very capable Android phone at an affordable price, but we wish the data speeds were faster.

The HTC Inspire 4G is a lot of firsts rolled up into an elegant package. It's AT&T's first 4G phone, which you can use as a mobile hotspot, and it's the first handset with a 4.3-inch screen available on the network. Last but not least, the Inspire 4G is the first U.S. device from HTC that's compatible with htcsense.com, where you can track your device if it's lost or stolen and even remotely wipe the data. Sounds pretty good for 99 bucks, right? We put this smart phone to the test to find out if it's truly a big-screen bargain.

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Design

If you're going to carry around a 4.3-inch smart phone, it had better feel solid. And the Inspire 4G delivers, with a unibody aluminum design that feels sturdy but measures a slim 0.46 inches thick. Still, 4.3-inch phones aren't for everyone. Although this 5.8-ounce handset weighs less than Sprint's EVO 4G (6 ounces), it's still pretty hefty. We also had to stretch our finger to press the power button, which sits on the top left side of the phone.

The front of the device, rimmed in black, sports the 4.3-inch Super LCD display (800 x 480 pixels). This screen looks sharp and bright, but viewing angles are narrow compared to Super AMOLED panels and Apple's Retina display. Beneath the screen are four capacitive buttons for Home, Menu, Back, and Search. The left side of the phone houses a narrow and somewhat stiff volume rocker control.

The back of the Inspire 4G sports a protruding 8-MP camera lens, dual-LED flash, and speaker (which supports Dolby Mobile and SRS Wow sound). In addition, you'll find two charcoal panels. The battery cover on the side was more difficult to pry off and attach than we'd prefer. The other panel, which hides the microSD card and SIM card, slid down fairly easily.

A microUSB port and 3.5mm headphone jack line of the bottom of the Inspire 4G. What you don't get (unlike the Evo 4G) is a front-facing camera for video chats, a kickstand, or HDMI output. For this price, we can live with those omissions.

Software and Interface

HTC has enhanced its Sense interface for this Android 2.2 phone. The first thing we noticed was a new Personalize button right on the home screen. Pressing this took us to a menu that lets us choose multiple Scenes, add widgets and other shortcuts to the seven home screens, and tweak ringtone and notification sounds. We found the Scenes to be the most useful. The Social option, for example, puts a Friend Stream widget front and center for quickly posting updates, while Work places your next appointment on the first screen, and your e-mail is just a swipe to the left.

As with all HTC Android phones, the Sense software lets you see all of the home screens with a pinch gesture. Sense also surfaces social networking info right within the Contacts app, including a person's last Facebook update.

       

HTCSense.com

A first for the U.S., the Inspire 4G integrates with HTCSense.com. This site allows users to locate the device on a map should it be lost or stolen. From this site you can also trigger the phone to ring loudly, as well as send a message to the phone (such as "Please return"). If these methods don't work, you can remotely lock the device and wipe it, all while forwarding calls and texts to another phone. We'll update this review once the Inspire 4G goes live on the HTCSense.com service February 13.

Specs and Performance

The Inspire 4G packs a 1-GHz Snapdragon processor, 768MB of RAM, and 4GB of ROM. The device ships with an 8GB microSD Card, and it accepts up to 32GB.

In our testing, we opened and closed multiple apps with little to no lag. The device also blazed through 3D games such as the Asphalt 5 demo. Another sign of this handset's speed: The camera up opened and was ready to fire within 3 seconds.

The only issue we encountered was a wonky accelerometer; twice the Inspire 4G got stuck in landscape mode, and only resetting the phone fixed the problem.

The Inspire 4G was above average in graphics tests, and excellent in CPU tests. In An3DBench, the Inspire scored 6,280, about 900 points above average, but 600 points below the Nexus S (6,853) and 1,100 points behind the Motorola Droid Pro (7,352). However, the Inspire's Linpack score of 37.58 was the highest we've seen to date, blowing past the Evo Shift 4G (29.7) and the T-Mobile G2 (28.7). Likewise, its Benchmark CPU score (2,230.3) was well above the average (882.9), the myTouch 4G (2,190), and the Evo Shift 4G (1,702).

"4G" Data and Mobile Hotspot

Although this is the first AT&T smart phone to tap into the carrier's HSPA+ network, the Inspire 4G's data performance didn't exactly inspire. When combined with Ethernet or fiber backhaul, AT&T told us that speeds up to 6 Mbps are possible. However, during our testing in New York City and parts of New Jersey, we never saw download speeds faster than 1.7 Mbps (according to the Speedtest.net app), even though the phone displayed HSPA+. The Inspire 4G averaged 930 Kbps downloads and a measly 135 Kbps on the uplink. By comparison, the T-Mobile G2, which also uses HSPA+, achieved downloads as high as 3.1 Mbps and much faster uploads of 1.3 Mbps.

In addition, the Inspire 4G wasn't any faster than the AT&T iPhone 4 when we loaded the same web pages side by side in two different locations. In fact, the smart phone's average load time overall was nearly a second slower than the iPhone 4. We're assuming (and hoping) that AT&T hasn't turned on the necessary backhaul yet in our neck of the woods, because right now the 4G part of the Inspire 4G's doesn't hold water.

Average Web Page Load Times

If you pay an additional $20 per month, the Inspire 4G doubles as a personal hotspot, letting users connect up to five Wi-Fi devices. For that fee you get an additional 2GB on top of the 2GB included with the phone's data plan. The device got respectable throughput on our ThinkPad, ranging between 1.3 and 1.5 Mbps on the downlink, and 0.32 Mbps uploads on average. Still, these speeds pale in comparison to Sprint and T-Mobile, never mind Verizon's blazing 4G LTE network. Again, we're hoping that the network improves.

Apps

AT&T bundles a fair amount of its own applications. The selection includes AT&T Family Map (for keeping tabs on family members), AT&T Code scanner (for comparison shopping and looking up codes you find in magazines), and AT&T myWireless (for staying up to date on your account). AT&T Navigator ($10 per month), provides turn-by-turn navigation, but Google Maps does this for free. We tried to use AT&T U-verse Live TV, but the program rarely loaded over cellular connections--we just stared at a spinning circle in the bottom right corner--and it doesn't work via Wi-Fi.

HTC throws in a bunch of its own apps as well, including FM Radio (most popular stations sounded clear in New York), Flashlight, HTC Likes (for sharing app recommendations), News & Weather, and Stocks.

Music and Video

The Inspire 4G uses Dolby Mobile and SRS WOW HD to enhance audio playback when you have a pair of headphones plugged in. You'll see the option to turn on either of these technologies when playing back music--but not both at the same time.

We found the SRS setting did a better job of enhancing audio tracks such as The Bravery's "Split Me Wide Open," while the Dolby setting just deepened the bottom end and otherwise made the music sound muddy. You're better off engaging Dolby when watching videos, especially action flicks with lots of explosions. Although you can activate these settings without headphones, we didn't notice much of a difference through the Inspire 4G's loud but tinny speaker.

To download premium content you can choose from Amazon MP3, which is nicely integrated into the music player, or Blockbuster for movies (powered by Roxio Now). New releases during our testing included The Social Network and Red (both $3.99 to rent, $17.99 to buy).

Camera and Camcorder

HTC has spruced up its camera app by adding a bunch of fun filters you can apply while taking your shot. These options range from Distortion and Depth of Field to Sepia and Posterize. Outdoors, the 8-MP camera on the Inspire 4G snapped a print-worthy photo of a bare tree against a blue sky. Indoors, however, images came out fuzzy, even with a fair amount of natural light. Engaging the flash helped but resulted in a yellowish cast.

To test out the 720p camcorder we shot some footage outdoors in central New Jersey. Colors were well saturated but we noticed some visual tears in the middle of the screen, as well as some blurriness when trying to capture moving cars. Overall, though, the quality is quite good for a $99 smart phone.

 

Call Quality and Battery Life

Because of the narrow earpiece, we found that the Inspire 4G had a small sweet spot for hearing other callers clearly. However, overall call quality was satisfactory in both directions. In fact, callers said we sounded as good as when we used our office line. On our end, we heard some fuzziness between words, but we could easily make out all of the words spoken.

Sadly, the Inspire 4G packs a relatively low-capacity 1230 mAh battery, compared to 1500 mAh for the Evo 4G. So we weren't surprised when this smart phone lasted only 4 hours and 48 minutes in our battery test. (This test involves surfing the web over 3G/4G with the screen on 40-percent brightness.) So even if you assume the true runtime is 5:06, that's 22 minutes shorter than the Android category average, and well behind other 4.3-inch phones such as the Evo 4G (5:48) and Motorola Droid X (7:42).

Verdict

The HTC Inspire 4G is certainly one of the better Android phones you can buy in this price range. For $99, you get a large display for surfing the web and watching videos, mobile hotspot capability, and a sharp camera and camcorder. And music lovers will definitely dig the SRS WOW sound. Still, we didn't see 4G speeds in our tests, and we have a couple of complaints about the design of this handset (narrow volume rocker, annoying battery cover). For now, $99 4G phones such as the T-Mobile myTouch 4G and T-Mobile G2 are a better deal because they offer faster data speeds. Overall, though, the Inspire 4G is a good value for AT&T customers, and it will hopefully get better as the carrier continues its 4G buildout.

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Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier AT&T
Form Factor Candybar Touchscreen
Operating System Android 2.2
Networks UMTS/HSDPA/HSPA+: 850/1900MHz, GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
CPU Qualcomm QSD8255, 1GHz Snapdragon
RAM 768MB
Internal Memory 4GB
Memory Expansion Type microSD Card
Display (main) 4.3" WVGA (480x800) super LCD display
Display (secondary)
GPS Yes
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth 2.1 EDR
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Camera Resolution 8 MP
Talk / Standby Time
Ports 3.5mm headphone
Ports microUSB
Size 4.84 x 2.68 x 0.46 inches
Weight 5.78 ounces
SAR Rating (Head)
SAR Rating (Body)
Company Website www.wireless.att.com