The AT&T 8525 (a.k.a. HTC Hermes) made waves by being the first carrier-offered UMTS/HSDPA smart phone in the States, which brought fast, broadband-like connection speeds to this Windows Mobile device. Also, as the successor to the AT&T 8125, the 8525 upped the ante with a 2-megapixel camera, Bluetooth 2.0, and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g). Despite being somewhat bulky and expensive, it's an attractive all-in-one solution for the power business user, offering great call quality, good talk time battery life, and a solid set of productivity and connectivity tools. In addition, AT&T Wireless released a rebranded version of the 8525 (from Cingular to AT&T) in May that added support for push-to-talk, AT&T Video, and AT&T Music. (Current 8525 owners can download the software upgrade from HTC's Web site.) The carrier will also release a Windows Mobile 6 update for the smart phone in Q3.
We were pleasantly surprised with the AT&T 8525's design. Pocket PC phones are typically clunky and unwieldy, so we were expecting the same of the 8525, but we found the smart phone's design to be quite manageable. At 4.4x2.2x0.8 inches, the 8525 certainly isn't compact by any means, but it's thinner than the AT&T 8125 and fits comfortably in the hand. The 8525 is attractive, with a polished, charcoal-gray color scheme, and also has solid construction. Our only complaint is the device is on the heavier side at 6.2 ounces, so you may grow tired of holding it up to your ear after a while (Bluetooth headset, anyone?). It'll also add some weight if you're carrying it in your purse, and it makes for a tight fit in a pants pocket. On the other hand, it's no bigger than other Pocket PC phones out there, including the Palm Treo 700wx (5.1x2.3x0.9 inches; 6.4 ounces) and the HP iPaq hw6925 (4.6x2.8x0.7 inches; 6.3 ounces).
A 2.8-inch diagonal touch screen dominates the face of the AT&T 8525 and displays 65,536 hues at a 320x240 pixel resolution. Colors are vibrant and rich, and text and images are sharp--all of which contribute to a great viewing experience, whether you're looking at Web pages, videos, or documents. While you can navigate the menus and input information via the touch screen, the 8525 also is adorned with other controls and shortcuts for operating the smart phone.
Above the screen are status LEDs, the quick-launch keys to your inbox, and the Internet Explorer mobile. You'll also find two soft keys, the Talk and End buttons, a Start menu shortcut, an OK button, and a five-way toggle below the display. Unfortunately, the layout of this navigation is pretty cramped even for our small hands, so we imagine it will be more problematic for users with larger fingers.
Fortunately, you're not doomed to rely on these tiny controls to work the device; HTC added a handy scroll wheel on the left side of the 8525, which we absolutely love since it allows for easy one-handed use. Similar to the trademark BlackBerry scroll wheel, it lets you browse through the various menu options and applications while depressing it to select an item. The wheel also doubles as a volume controller while you're on a phone call. Other buttons on the left spine include an OK key, a push-to-talk button, and a microSD expansion slot.
Along the bottom of the unit, you will find an infrared port, a latch to release the battery cover, a reset hole, a mini USB port, and a stylus holder that sits off to the bottom-right corner of the 8525. One note about the battery cover: it's quite flimsy, and though there aren't too many reasons to take it on and off, take care when you do so. The right side holds the Power button, a one-touch key to launch the Communication Manager, and the camera activation key.
The camera lens is located on the back of the 8525 along with a self-portrait mirror, a flash, and a lever for switching between portrait and macro mode. As with the 8125, the placement of the camera button mimics the feel of a real digital camera when you hold the handset horizontally. Just be careful not to push up the screen when you're gripping the phone this way, which we did on a couple of occasions.
Speaking of which, once do you slide the screen over, you are presented with a nice, full QWERTY keyboard for all your messaging needs. The bubbly keys are tactile and large, and the backlighting is bright enough for typing in dark environments. Our only complaint is that the two soft keys above the keyboard are too close to the bottom edge of the screen, so you end up smashing your thumb against the front cover. That said, we still found it comfortable to hold while messaging, and the screen orientation also automatically switches from portrait to landscape mode so you can enjoy more screen real estate.
Finally, the AT&T 8525 comes packaged with an assortment of accessories, including a belt holster, a stereo headset, a USB cable, an AC adapter, an extra stylus, and reference material.
The AT&T 8525's biggest claim to fame is that it's the carrier's first UMTS/HSDPA smart phone. What does that all mean? Here is some background information to dispel some of this cell phone alphabet soup. UMTS, which stands for Universal Mobile Telecommunications System, is a 3G technology and successor to the GSM standard, while HSDPA, an acronym for High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, is a 3.5G technology and the successor to UMTS. Still lost? OK, the bottom line is both technologies are designed for better mobile phone performance by bringing broadband data speeds to your phone. While UMTS enables streaming video and broadband Internet access with transfer speeds around 2Mbps, HSDPA improves upon that performance with the potential to hit up to 14.4Mbps. In reality, you'll average more in the 400Kbps to 700Kbps range, but still, the AT&T 8525 has the potential to be a fast and powerful smart phone.
That said, the AT&T 8525 is designed to be a workhorse for the power user and is equipped with all the features to do so. Providing the muscle behind the machine is a 400MHz Samsung processor, 128MB of ROM, and 64MB of SDRAM, while Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC Phone Edition acts as the brain. You get the Microsoft Office Mobile suite with full editing capabilities and a PowerPoint presentation viewer. The ClearVue PDF viewer also is onboard for opening PDFs, and you get all the standard PIM functions, including calendar, contacts, tasks, and notes. As we mentioned earlier, AT&T plans to offer a Windows Mobile 6 upgrade in Q3 2007.