What's not: Can't install non-market apps, battery life could be better.
Reviewed June 21, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Honey, who shrank the HTC Incredible? That was my first thought when I saw the diminutive (by touch screen smartphone standards) HTC Aria on AT&T. My second though was shared by everyone in our office: it's cute. Though the design is distinctly industrial modern and masculine, the Aria's proportions and rounded edges make it seem friendly and inviting. The Aria is a mid-range Android phone that won't dethrone the Nexus One (also made by HTC), but it is affordable and full-featured. The Aria has a 320 x 480 pixel 3.2" capacitive multi-touch display, a 600MHz Qualcomm CPU and the usual wireless radios-- 3G HSDPA 7.2 Mbps, WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS. The phone has a 5 megapixel autofocus camera and a microSD card slot. It runs Android OS 2.1 Eclair with HTC Sense software.
Unlike the Motorola Backflip, AT&T's first Android phone, the Aria lacks a hardware keyboard, but it shares a flaw with the Backflip: you can't install non-market apps. That means you can download applications from the Android Market on the phone, but you can't install apps you've gotten elsewhere, such as beta applications that are available on websites but not the market. For the average user this likely won't be an issue, but for power users and developers it's certainly a drawback.
Otherwise it's a standard Google phone with Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, Gtalk, Google's voice search, Google's excellent Webkit-based web browser with pinch zoom and the Android Market. HTC's Sense software is on board for an improved home screen experience with 7 screens and widgets for weather, Friendstream social networking and more. AT&T hasn't bloated the phone terribly, and their apps are mostly useful: AT&T Navigator, AT&T Hotspots, AT&T Family Map and Mobile Video (the new name for CV). Less useful AT&T software includes Mobile Banking, YP Mobile, AT&T Maps (a mapping app with no spoken navigation that's free but is redundant since the phone has Google Maps), and AT&T Radio. The Amazon MP3 app is pre-installed on most Android phones, but it's absent here. Third party software titles include QuickOffice for viewing MS Office files, Facebook and a PDF viewer.
The HTC Aria has touch sensitive buttons and a tiny optical joystick that work well.
The Aria has very good call quality and slightly better than average reception. It manages -5 db better signal than our iPhone 3GS, but isn't quite as good as the Nokia E72. With mid-quality coverage the phone managed good data speeds up to 2.5 Mbps down according to the Speedtest.net app and the phone never dropped to EDGE nor did it drop a call. The speakerphone isn't very loud and it sounds tinny. We had to keep the windows rolled up and the radio turned off to hear spoken GPS navigation directions with the volume set to max. Call recipients said we sounded good over speakerphone, and they couldn't tell we were using that feature.
Build quality is good though it's no high end Nexus One or Motorola Droid. The phone is made of plastic but it feels solid enough. The soft touch back feels good in hand, and that back wraps around the edges of the phone. When you pry it off you'll see bright yellow innards in opaque and translucent plastics. The microSD card slot is under the back cover but you need not remove the battery to swap a card.
The 5 megapixel autofocus camera takes pleasing shots and focus speeds are reasonable. It can also shoot VGA video, but there's no flash so forget nightclub shots. There's no dedicated hardware button so you'll use an on-screen shortcut to launch the camera. You'll use your finger to select the focus point in the viewfinder and press and hold to take a shot. The camera app has a healthy selection of settings for autofocus on/off, face detection, shutter sound, image quality, ISO, white balance, resolution and self-timer.
Though the mid-range 600MHz CPU lacks the wow factor of 1GHz Snapdragon and Hummingbird processors, the Aria, much like the MyTouch 3G Slide which shares the same CPU, moves along nicely. We experienced no slow downs or annoying pauses, even with many applications running in the background (see our video review).
The HTC Aria is a budget-priced Android smartphone that feels anything but budget. It's fast, the multi-touch display is responsive and easy to use despite its relatively small size, the camera is quite good and you get a few high end goodies like an optical joystick and touch sensitive rather than mechanical front buttons. Unlike Android phones that shipped just a few months ago, it runs a very recent version of the Android OS and that gets you spoken directions in Google Maps, an improved UI and more. AT&T's bloatware levels are reasonable here and the phone isn't absolutely littered with programs you'll likely never use, but we still don't like AT&T's blocking non-market apps. That just doesn't fit Android's image as the open, geeky and fully customizable smartphone platform. The Aria's biggest problem? The re-issued iPhone 3GS 8 gig running iOS 4 has a more chic and pricey casing, the draw of iTunes apps and a lower price.
Price: $129 with a 2 year contract after rebates. $379 without contract.
x 2.3 x 0.46 inches. Weight: 4.05 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band world phone 850/900/1800/1900MHz with EDGE and 3G HSDPA 7.2 Mbps on AT&T's 850/1900MHz bands.
Camera:5.0 MP camera with autofocus lens (no flash).
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice command software and FM radio included.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.1.
Software:Android OS 2.1 (Eclair). HTC Sense UI software. Full Google software suite including their Webkit-based web browser, gmail, email, Google Maps, Google Talk, YouTube Player, news widget, car mode, voice dialing and voice search. HTC Sense software includes UI customizations, Peep, Friendstream and widgets for weather.