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HTC Tattoo indelibly marks your flesh with cut-price Android goodness

HTC is bringing Android to the people with the HTC Tattoo, an inexpensive Android touchscreen phone you can customise with switchable covers featuring your own snaps

Despite its open-source origins, phones with the Google Android operating system don't come cheap. Even the proto-droid T-Mobile G1, with its Neanderthal looks, will still fleece you of £27.50 per month on an 18-month contract. HTC hopes to remedy that with the HTC Tattoo.

The Tattoo is an inexpensive phone that still has the Sense user interface we loved on the incredible HTC Hero. We're already Android fans, but Sense adds heaps of good stuff to the basic little green robot package, such as a better on-screen keyboard and the ability to merge your Facebook and Flickr contacts and photo albums with the contacts on your phone -- although we're waiting for HTC to confirm which of the Hero's features will make it to the cut-price Tattoo.

The Tattoo will also have a switchable cover, which is always a fun tweak, and HTC will be offering an online service where Tattoo-ists can make covers from their own images, or choose from a collection of pre-designed covers. HTC tells us turnaround for custom covers will be two weeks, but we're still waiting to hear how much the covers will cost, and the order site isn't up and running yet.

The Tattoo will have a 3.2-megapixel camera -- the same resolution as the HTC Magic. There's also a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can use your own headphones, which the Magic doesn't offer. Unfortunately, it looks like the Tattoo will lack the usual Android trackball -- a nubbin we just love to rub -- and have a four-way navigation pad instead.

There's 7.2Mbps HSDPA on board for fast downloads over 3G, as well as Wi-Fi, and expandable memory thanks to a microSD card slot. GPS and a compass will get you into all those augmented-reality apps, which you can download along with heaps of others from the Android Market. And in a thrilling Android first, it'll have the most underrated feature in showbusiness: an FM radio. Tattoo, we're falling a little bit in love with your reasonably priced body.

The Tattoo will be on our shelves at the beginning of October and we'll let you know prices as soon as we have them.

Update: HTC tells us the Tattoo will cost from free on a £25-per-month, 18-month contract, which we think is pretty freaking great. No word on which networks it'll be available on.