The 4G wars are on, and the carriers are getting quite aggressive in their campaigns. Though a little slow to start, AT&T has finally joined the fray and announced at CES 2011 that it would launch its LTE network in mid-2011 and release 20 4G devices this year. The first of which is the HTC Inspire 4G.
Available starting February 13, the Inspire operates on the carrier's HSPA+ network (now recognized as 4G), which AT&T says can provide data speeds up to 4X faster than its 3G network. Unfortunately, we didn't experience anything close to that during our test period but that doesn't mean you should dismiss the Inspire 4G. The Android 2.2 device is very capable and comes packed with mobile hot-spot capabilities, the latest version of HTC Sense, a spacious 4.3-inch touch screen, and an 8-megapixel camera. When you factor that in with its affordable $99.99 (with contract) price tag, you have one great value buy. Though some might wait for the upcoming dual-core Motorola Atrix 4G, the HTC Inspire 4G gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
The HTC Inspire 4G follows in the large footsteps of the HTC Evo 4G and HD7, measuring 4.8 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide by 0.46 inch thick and weighing 5.78 ounces. The size certainly makes holding and carrying the device a bit of work, but nothing you can't get used to with some time. Plus, all things considered, it's still a pretty slim device.
The Inspire features a 4.3-inch WVGA touch screen that delivers in sharpness and brightness, though colors do wash out a bit in bright sunlight. The roomy display makes it great for checking out Web pages and multimedia, and with the built-in accelerometer and pinch-to-zoom support, you can easily increase the viewing size. The touch screen was very responsive, as it immediately registered all our taps and smoothly scrolled through menus and lists. However, there was one instance where the screen got stuck in landscape mode, and we had to reboot the phone to correct the issue.
Below the display are the standard Android shortcuts: home, menu, back, and search. There's a volume rocker on the left side and a power button on top. Though the 3.5mm headphone jack has typically been on top of HTC's most recent smartphones, it is now on the bottom along with the Micro-USB port. Sadly, there is no dedicated camera button or kickstand.
On back, you'll find the camera and dual-LED flash, but HTC did a little something different with the battery door this time around. There are actually two removable pieces: one on the bottom and one on the right-hand side (when looking at the phone from the back). The former can be slipped off to access the SIM and memory card slots, while the latter provides access to the battery.
We have no problems that there are two compartments, but we do have an issue with the fact that it's so difficult to pry off the battery door. There's a little notch on the side that allows you to use your fingernail or the like to help pop off the cover, but you really need to put some muscle into it. After 15 minutes or so of failed attempts, we eventually used a coin to force it open. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, this is a minor issue, but it was frustrating nonetheless.
The HTC Inspire 4G comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a preinstalled 8GB microSD card, and reference material.
The HTC Inspire 4G ships running Android 2.2 and the newest version of HTC Sense. The Inspire is actually the first smartphone in the U.S. to feature HTC's revamped custom user interface. For anyone who has owned an HTC smartphone, the change may not be immediately noticeable, as the overall look of the UI is the same. You still get seven customizable home screens, the Leap screen function, which provides thumbnail views of all your home screens for easy access, and various widgets, such as Friend Stream and Group Contacts. At the top of each screen, there's also a pull-down tray where you can view alerts and notifications and access your most recently used apps.
What has changed about HTC Sense is that it's faster. HTC CEO Peter Chou said that with the new Sense you'd be able to use the phone within 10 seconds of booting it up (subsequent to initial setup), and we can definitely vouch for that. On previous HTC phones we've tested, there was a bit of wait time for the devices to boot up but with the Inspire, it was ready to go within a few seconds of turning it on. Also, general use and navigation felt snappier and more fluid.
There are other enhancements as well. You now get a unified inbox and new tools in the camera app, which we'll expand on in the Features section, but one other piece you should be aware of is HTCSense.com. This new site lets you register your smartphone, so you can back up and manage the contents of your phone. There's also a phone locator function that will set off the ringer (even if in silent mode) in case you've misplaced your handset and if it is lost or stolen, the site gives you the ability to remotely wipe your handset.
Though many have strong opinions about the worth of custom UIs, we're of the mindset that if they help the user experience and don't impede future updates, then there is no problem. So far HTC Sense has met those criteria and these new features are welcome and useful additions.