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.
The HTC Inspire 4G offers world roaming capabilities, a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, text and multimedia messaging. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS are all onboard and as you might have gathered from its name, the Inspire is 4G capable. It's actually the first of 20 4G devices that AT&T plans to launch in 2011, but to be clear, the Inspire is running on the carrier's HSPA+ network and not its LTE network, which isn't expected to launch until the middle of 2011.
Still, AT&T says its HSPA+ network can provide data speeds up to four times faster than its 3G network and it has seen speeds up to 6Mbps. AT&T cautions that it is still enhancing its network and that there are a number of variables that can affect your results, and while absolutely true, we were disappointed with the speeds we got here in New York. A little H+ indicator in the phone's upper right-hand corner let us know we were on HSPA+, but we averaged download speeds of 1.38Mbps and upload speeds of 0.15Mbps. By comparison, we averaged 5.37Mbps down and 1.37Mbps up on the MyTouch 4G using T-Mobile's HSPA+ network.
In real-world use, loading Web pages and streaming media wasn't slow by any means, but again, we wouldn't exactly say it was speedy, either. We've definitely experienced faster on other 4G devices. CNET's full site loaded in 20 seconds, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 10 seconds and 11 seconds, respectively. Meanwhile, a 1,004K app downloaded and installed in 12 seconds. High-quality YouTube clips and Flash video took several seconds to load but played back without needing to rebuffer and with synchronized audio and video.
Hopefully, the speeds are better elsewhere, especially since the smartphone can be used as a mobile hot spot for up to four devices. Using the built-in Wi-Fi Hotspot utility, we paired the Inspire with our MacBook Pro to share the 4G connection. With slightly better download and upload speeds (1.75Mbps, 0.31Mbps, respectively), it took a minute and a half to upload a 4.1MB photo album and 12 minutes to download a 20-track album from iTunes. To use this feature, it will cost you an additional $20 per month on top of the required Data Pro data plan for smartphones, so you'll play $45 per month in total for 4GB of data. The 4GB applies to data consumed on all connected devices and overage fees will cost $10 per gigabyte.
Aside from the Mobile Hotspot app, the Inspire comes preloaded with a number of other AT&T services, such as AT&T Navigator, AT&T FamilyMap, and AT&T U-Verse Live TV, as well as a handful of HTC apps. Of course, there are plenty more apps available in the Android Market and Google just recently announced a Web-based Android Market, where you can more easily search for titles and download them to your computer. Here's a how-to guide on using it. With Android 2.2, you can now save apps to an SD card, but beware, like its other Android phones, AT&T has once again blocked the ability to uninstall its aforementioned services and has restricted third-party apps.
On the multimedia side of things, the Inspire 4G ships with the same media player as HTC's other smartphones. It features a Cover Flow-like interface and has the basic playback functions, such as shuffle, repeat mode, on-the-fly playlist creation. The music player has a built-in sound enhancer where you can access equalizer settings (headphones only ) or turn on Dolby and SRS surround sound. The latter is available in the video player as well. There is 4GB onboard storage and a preinstalled 8GB microSD card, though the expansion slot can support up to 32GB cards.
The Inspire 4G has an 8-megapixel camera with auto focus, dual LED flash, and HD video recording. As we mentioned earlier, the camera app offers new features and functions. This includes a built-in photo enhancer that allows you to add effects to your photos. The cool thing is that you can see and adjust the effects right on screen while you're taking the picture, instead of afterwards. You also get an adjustable scale for exposure, contrast and saturation, white balance controls, ISO settings, face detection, and geotagging.
We've been disappointed by HTC's cameras before, but the one on the Inspire delivers. Even in low-light environments and despite the lack of a dedicated capture button, picture quality was sharp with bright colors. Video quality was also quite good. There was some slight graininess to our HD clips, but overall clear and well-lit. The Inspire lacks a front-facing camera, so no video chat here.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1,800/1,900) HTC Inspire 4G in New York using AT&T service, and call quality was good. On our side, the audio was clear but not the cleanest. There was some hissing in the background that was particularly noticeable during lulls in the conversation but never distracting enough that we had to terminate the call. Friends were generally happy with what they heard on their end. A couple of people mentioned some garbling, but they seemed to be isolated incidents. We didn't experience any dropped calls during our testing period.
HTC Inspire 4G call quality sample
The speakerphone didn't produce the best sound. It was slightly tinny and weak. With audio at the highest level, there was just enough volume to hear our caller in a noisier environment. We had no problems pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
Though the Inspire 4G may not rock a dual-core processor like some of the upcoming devices, we found that its 1GHz Snapdragon processor kept the smartphone running smoothly. Apps launched quickly, and there was no lag when playing videos or games like Asphalt 5.
The HTC Inspire 4G ships with a 1,230mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6 hours and up to 15.5 days of standby time. The smartphone fell short of the rated talk time by half an hour in our battery drain tests. In general, we were satisfied with the battery life. With moderate use, we were able to get a full day out of a single charge. After using the mobile hot-spot feature for a couple of hours, we noticed that battery life reduced about 25 percent. According to FCC radiation tests, the Inspire has a digital SAR rating of 1.14 W/kg.