Jul 08 AT 11:43 AM Guest Blogger 22 Comments

AT&T HTC Aria review

AT&T has been notably absent in the Android game, offering a pitiful offering of phones with the exception of the Nexus One… but that’s not really offered by AT&T. Fortunately for those AT&T users out there, there’s finally a crop of pretty good Android phones coming up, including today’s review: The HTC Aria ($130 with a two-year contract) finally brings a great entry-level (and beyond) Android phone to the Google-challenged carrier.

HARDWARE

The very first thing you’re gonna notice about the Aria is its compact size. In a world of ever expanding screens, HTC decided to go small with the Aria. Measuring 4.1 x 2.3 x 0.46 inches and weighing a mere 3.8 ounces (that’s with the battery in there), most mobile enthusiasts would scoff at the Aria. But as an entry-level phone, it’s awfully pretty, awfully small (sometimes we forget a major point of having a mobile phone is portability), and awfully light.

You’ve seen the pictures comparing the HTC Aria to a deck of cards, and that’s exactly what it feels like when you hold it in your hand. It’s tiny! I’ve got an EVO, though, which makes most phones look dwarven. Here’s the EVO, an iPhone 3GS, and the Aria in a side-by-side comparison:

Iphone EVO Aria

iPhone 3G S vs. HTC EVO 4G vs. HTC Aria

I absolutely love HTC’s choice to round out the sides and continue the matte finish all the way to the screen. It makes it incredibly easy to hold — you won’t be afraid of dropping the Aria while it’s in your hand because of that choice.

That being said, it’s not nearly as easy to take off the back cover to get to the battery. That might be a good thing for some, but I personally prefer a little more ease in removing the battery cover. As a side note, there’s a lovely shade of sports car yellow under the hood of the Aria. Being a geek, I notice and appreciate this small, eaningless detail, mostly because it’s cool looking and gives me something to show my non-tech-savvy friends. “But look! Underneath it’s yellow!” “Ooh.”

HTC Aria battery cover

The HTC Aria has some style under the hood.

On the front, we’ve got the HTC standard capacitive buttons for Home, Menu, Back & Search, as well as an optical trackpad (welcome due to the Aria’s smaller screen). It’s a good-looking phone.

Display So, there are a lot of larger, higher-quality screens out there right now, but the Aria’s 3.2 inch HVGA screen shows off HTC’s Sense UI nicely. The screen is crisp and clear, even at lower brightness settings. The capacitive touch screen responds swiftly. Other than that, it’s your standard fare.

Camera Here’s the deal: I’ve come to demand a flash on my cell phone cameras. Not being able to take pictures half of the day seems absolutely insane to me — especially if you’re a night owl. The 5 megapixel camera does its job just fine in daylight, but no flash really puts a damper on the camera for me.

To an entry-level smartphone user, it might be forgiven, but no flash these days is heresy, especially for those of us who don’t like toting around a myriad of media gadgets. The VGA camcorder is decent enough in the Aria’s price range, but nothing to write home about.

Here are two un-retouched comparison shots of the Aria (top) and the EVO (bottom):

HTC Aria photo

Sample photo taken with the HTC Aria.

HTC EVO photo

Sample photo taken with the HTC EVO 4G.

You can see an obvious difference. The EVO’s colors are richer and the image feels more robust and dynamic, though the Aria seems to show more true-to-life color saturation in its image. Interestingly, however, the EVO’s image has a little more noise in it than the Aria’s.

Storage So… I’m not exactly sure where someone made this decision along the way, but there’s a piddling 2GB MicroSD card included with the Aria. I am seriously disappointed in that. Most people have an iPod Nanos with larger storage capacities. Obviously, the solution to this issue is to buy a bigger MicroSD card (up to 32GB), but if you’re dropping $130 already on this phone, I’m not sure you’re gonna want to immediately turn around and spend more to make it mid-level functional in terms of memory.

Speaker/Sound The sound quality was okay, though I admittedly live in an area where AT&T’s 3G coverage isn’t fantastic. Out in Santa Monica, though, the phone made crystal clear calls (though when the wind acted up, I could hear it blowing into the mic, which I’m not a huge fan of). I have to say that I’m a bit jealous HTC included a beautiful little hands-free headset with the Aria that looks and sounds fantastic while driving around Los Angeles, not to mention works great while working out at the gym — where did that hands-free go for the EVO, HTC? The music generally sounds great, especially for such a small phone. Once rooms got crowded, though, it was definitely struggling to cut through the noise. But it’s not a deal breaker.

Battery Life The battery life on this little bad boy is pretty nice — I had the phone for two weeks to review, and got a couple days of basic use out of it. Using it heavily (I’m talking bringing it out of sleep every 5 minutes and playing around with it), I got about 5-6 hours out of it. There’s a 1,200mAh battery in there, so you’ve got some room to play with in terms of time. It’s very, very efficient.

SOFTWARE

Obviously, we’re all Android fans here, which means we’re also crazy about 2.2 (Froyo). But I’d be selling the Aria short if I didn’t mention how nicely 2.1 (Éclair for those of us pastry-minded users) works on it. It’s smooth, and I never had an issue while browsing, playing music, or playing games. Even though we’re all becoming rapidly used to a 1 GHz Snapdragon world, Android screams on the Aria’s 600MHz MSM7227, 512MB of ROM and 384MB of RAM. Really. When I put it through its paces, not once did I experience any notable lag. This little phone rocks.

It’s with great sadness, however, that we mention the dark side of the Aria. By no fault of the handset itself, its carrier AT&T has decided (like they did with the Backflip) to completely cut off third party, non-Market apps from the Aria. That’s right, ladies and gents. No Swype for you, at least not until it shows up officially in the Market. As a die-hard Swype user (I will never use a virtual keyboard phone without it), this is unacceptable.

I get that AT&T says it’s to keep their customers safe… but let’s get real. If you’re sideloading apps from third-party sources, it’s a good bet you know what you’re getting into. This is SO depressing, AT&T! Why would you remove something that’s not even auto-enabled in Settings upon getting the phone? Most people who will pick up the Aria won’t ever poke around in there, and even if they did decide to enable sideloading, the message about the dangers of loading third party apps would likely scare them off well enough to disable it again. Sheesh.

HTC Aria gaming demo

CONCLUSION

If you’re dying for an Android phone on AT&T, and you’re a serious enthusiast, then the Aria is not for you. The Nexus One is. That being said, if you’re an entry-level smartphone user who doesn’t care about sideloading third-party apps or taking pictures with a flash, then the Aria might in fact be for you. I can’t for the life of me understand the price — as a $130 price tag might be too steep for a phone that’s been kneed in the nethers in terms of Android. Sense UI tends to upgrade a lot later than other Android phones (so no 2.2 in the foreseeable future); and the iPhone 3GS got a super competitive new price point ($99) when the iPhone 4 launched. It’s not ‘crippled,’ but it sure ain’t the open source heaven us Android geeks know and love. Maybe ‘hobbled’ is a better word to describe what AT&T did to a perfectly capable
smartphone.

I can see someone like a mom, or a stylish yet non-tech-obsessed friend picking up the HTC Aria because it’s somehow adorable and totally sexy at the same time — but anyone who’s really into Android (or loves to have the latest and greatest) will pass on it. Which is a damn shame, all things considered. I think AT&T had a big chance to make the Aria a competitor in the hotly contested $99-$149 bracket, but blew it with the choice to remove the third party apps option. I guess we’ll be waiting a bit longer for a true, non-Nexus One Android option on AT&T (I’m looking at you, Samsung Captivate). Unfortunately, it’ll likely still be hobbled by AT&T’s decision to remove the option to enable third party app installation.

Review submitted by Ashley Esqueda, host of This Week in Mobile.

From time to time we invite guest bloggers to contribute articles about various Android topics. This is one of those times...

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  • http://Website Matt

    I see a price drop soon for this device once the Captivate hits AT&T stores on the 18th.

  • http://Website Bill

    A decent review. The Aria is my first smartphone. It is small, which I like since I keep it in my shirt pocket. Battery life is not as good as the SE phone that I came from, but it’s doing more all the time, too. The lack of non-Android Market apps is not an issue for me and that’s probably true for most regular, non-geek folks, too.

  • http://Website Ryan McKay

    As a user of this phone I’m pretty pleased with this guy. I’m on T-Mobile but my work is on AT&T. I’m known as the “android guy” in a sea of Iphone users at work. When given the chance between the Iphone or the Aria, I chose appropriately. :)

    This phone can have apps loaded without rooting or doing anything to your phone. AT&T still allowed you to put the phone in developers mode and you can install apps via ADB on the command line with no other modifications being made to the phone.

    The only catch for swype is the fact that you have to find an .apk file since the installer file will only download the apk from the net and attempt to install it by the phone, which thanks to AT&T obviously will not work.

    I can vouch for the speed of the phone though, I have widgets on almost every screen and it still has no lag. Great little phone.

  • http://Website zed

    especially combined with the news that phones under 1 GHZ likely won’t be seeing Android 3.0 (Gingerbread) – this has been dissmissed as gossip.

    • http://www.thisweekin.com/mobile Ashley Esqueda

      Zed ~ totally forgot about scrapping that part after I wrote my review! Wrote it the day that rumor came out and mailed it away before it was debunked. My apologies on that; next time, I’ll try to remember to shoot an email to Taylor about stuff like that. :)

  • http://Website ant

    so does this mean I can’t download PDANET for tethering because of att? I was going for the new samsung line and I’m hoping I could get pdanet…

    • http://Website Joe

      I have PDA net working on my Aria. No problem. Free version. I may have to upgrade to paid version for HTTPS sites.

      Anyone have the Sync that enables side loading software to the Aria? I know the version that alows this was short lived on the site.

      Please post a link to download if anyone has it.

      Thank you,

      Joe

      • http://Website Mike Carpenter (Enfadel)

        Would you mind posting where you got your pdanet download for the aria. I can only find the PC component and att is blocking the app in the market.

        • http://Website ronabong

          Just turn Airplane mode on and access market with Wifi. Then you can access most of the blocked apps from the market, including pdaNet.

  • http://Website watbetch

    I have to comment on the camera, which is like.. come on now. The HTC Evo processes images so much that it looks nothing like the real thing under certain conditions. It’s a move to cover up the mediocre 8MP sensor. The HTC Aria is more true to reality and it should be applauded for that.

  • http://Website Blue

    Had my Aria for two weeks and I really like it. Not sure why you’re complaining about the price; a little bit of digging will secure one for a lot less (I paid $50 through Amazon).

  • http://Website Eric Rossman

    I bought mine for $50 through COSTCO. After two weeks of ownership I have rooted the device (started with this link –> http://www.maggadget.com/how-to-root-htc-aria-guide/ ) and loaded the “HTC_liberated_rom” that cuts the AT&T crap-apps (although anyone could just uninstall the apps individually). I rooted mine initially so I could load live wallpapers.

    Point is:
    AT&T sucks for locking out sideloading for the non-enthusiast. The HTC aria is great for us geeks too :) . I accept the challenge AT&T (as I root right past their crap).
    I don’t know about you guys, but this geek prefers a mobile phone that actually fits securely down in a pocket. This geek really loves this fully featured and sexy little android.

    This is my first device with HTCTouch, I like the UI.

    Thank you HTC, and thank you-> thank you-> thank you -> Andriod-and-me for not being another iSheep fan-site.

  • http://Website benjamin

    My new unlocked phones is the best. Without it I would be lost. My HTC Aria is amazing. Being an unlocked at&t phones I can take it overseas and my kids absolutely love the touchscreen, apps, and games. I’m definitely surprising my wife with one for her birthday. I got my htc unlock codes from unlockthatphone.com, they are amazing and fast to get cell phone unlock codes. If you ever need any at&t unlock codes be sure to check them out. Even so the HTC Aria is sick and I would definitely recommend this to anyone who asks!

  • http://Website Gunar

    So how much memory does this phone have available to use for apps?

  • http://Incredible... MG!

    This phone is F/N INCREDIBLE! And I am an enthusiast, and an unlocking hacker geek-type at that. I’ve been an HTC WINMO fan since 5 generations ago beginning with the 8525. This is not only my first step into Android, but also my first step into a full touch-screen world. To say that I would never have even thought of owning a phone without a qwerty keyboard is more than true, not to mention I had/have the best physical keyboard on the planet with my Touch Pro2/Tilt2.

    Having said that, it is at the very least a miracle to have been sold by the SMALLEST of all Android full touch screen phone with the Aria!! I am so impressed. The size is perfect if you want something a little bit smaller. The screen in extremely responsive. Android and Sense UI are the best pair since…um…since the names “Bruce” and “Lee” were put together. The screen is so clear your forget its lower res then many of its OBESE cousins AND it gets all the same jobs done as those other phones do.

    The only setbacks I see are the quietness of the speaker and the lack of a flash. And YES, those two issues do cost the Aria a couple points. That being said, they are not deal-breakers in the least. Notice that I did not even mention the ‘side-loading apps’ issue as a setback. It would be great to have it available out of the box but if you wanna root your phone…its a very simple process and there is the whole Android world waiting to embrace you as they did me.

    In short, the Aris is the shiz for the biz.. OH, did i mention that I got if for FREE??!!! Yep, wirefly baby. Look ‘em up. All I had to do was pay for shipping. At the rate and fashion phones are being pumped out we’re headed right back to the days of Motorolas that we’ll need briefcases to carry them in again, “but at least they’ll have HD” (sarcastic voice). Eff all that noise. I do not care if its a 1.2″ screen or a 4.1233243″ EVO mini theater folks who cry about not having HD on their phones are wussies. Its a freaking gimmic to begin with. Until we have holographic projectors or virtual 3D on our phones you cannot tell the diff anyway. Stop complaining. ITS A PHONE!!!!

  • http://Website Nwright94

    2 words to bypass at&t’s sideloading restriction: HTC sync.

  • http://Website lauren jagger

    I absolutely love my aria and only got it bc of so many problems w the backflip so after 4 backflips that didn’t work right they finally sent me something differentnd I’m very pleases……finally. only defect that bothers me is no camera flash so def a.bummer. I switched from iPhone to android about a yr ago nd I love it and never ever ever go back.

  • http://Website Mary

    Love my HTC, my son loves his HTC. ’nuff said.

  • http://Website Jonathan

    http://www.androidcentral.com/sideload-android-apps-all-you-want-sideload-wonder-machine -> Sideloads anything. Don’t even need to root. Android FTW

    • http://Website Sassypants

      Comment

    • http://Website Sassypants

      Can you delete the at&t apps without fully rooting the phone?

  • http://skyfire lorrelle

    Love my HTC aria! Ive had it almost 3 months now. Though I’ve had pretty basic cell phones, mostly use camera.I really didnt think I would use this that much either, that is a Big Laugh….I’m on it alot..using the web. Playing games and taking pics, this camera takes fantastic pictures. I need only to get it unlocked. My husband will be getting one next year,he is like so jealous.. well, I’m hooked.