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AT&T 8525 review: AT&T 8525

AT&T 8525

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
9 min read

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.


AT&T 8525

The Good

The AT&T 8525 is the first UMTS/HSDPA smart phone to be offered in the United States. It has integrated Bluetooth 2.0, Wi-Fi, and supports AT&T's new music, video, and location-based services. The Windows Mobile device also has push e-mail capabilities, a 2-megapixel camera, a spacious QWERTY keyboard, and good call quality.

The Bad

The AT&T 8525 is on the heavier side and the navigation array is a bit cramped. The smart phone is also pricey.

The Bottom Line

For the ultimate road warrior, the 3G-enabled AT&T 8525 provides the speed, the power, and the productivity tools to get your work done on the go.

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.

The AT&T 8525 features a new scroll wheel that makes it easy to navigate the device with one hand.

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.

Get your thumbs ready. The 8525 boasts a spacious, full QWERTY keyboard.

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.

Though the microSD format isn't widespread, we still appreciate the expandable media.

With the full QWERTY keyboard, an obvious draw for the 8525 is e-mail. Outlook Mobile is included, and push e-mail capability is available through several solutions, including AT&T Xpress Mail, Good Mobile Messaging, and Microsoft Direct Push. Contact your friendly IT staff for help setting up your corporate e-mail (Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes). The 8525 also can access personal e-mail accounts (POP3 and IMAP4), and AT&T has recently updated the Xpress Mail so you can do the entire setup right on the device. We tested this feature by trying to configure our Yahoo account, and after downloading the Xpress Mail application and entering our user ID and password, we started receiving our messages within 15 minutes. The AT&T 8525 also supports instant, text, and multimedia messaging.

As for voice features, the AT&T 8525 is a quad-band world phone so you can use it almost anywhere in the world. The 8525 is scheduled to have push-to-talk capabilities, when AT&T activates this feature for the phone in early 2007. The address book is only limited by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts), and can store up to 12 numbers for a single entry as well as home and work addresses, an e-mail address, an IM screen name, a birthday, and a spouse's name. For caller ID purposes, you can pair a contact with a photo, a caller group, or one of 31 ringtones. You also get a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, and voice dialing. Though not available at launch, the AT&T 8525 now supports push-to-talk capabilities. PTT plans start at $9.99 per month, and with it, you can instantly see the availability of your contacts before calling them and make individual or group PTT calls.

Aside from the above, the AT&T 8525 offers the full gamut of wireless options--Bluetooth 2.0, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), and infrared--all of which you can manage via the Comm Manager utility. The 8525 supports a number of the latest Bluetooth profiles, including A2DP for stereo headsets, dial-up networking, wireless headsets, and car kits. You also can use the Bluetooth to connect to a GPS receiver and take advantage of AT&T's new location-based service,TeleNav GPS Navigator, and get driving directions and color maps right on your device. The service costs $9.99 per month for unlimited use or $5.99 per month for up to 10 trips.

The AT&T 8525 features an upgraded 2-megapixel camera with a built-in flash and self-portrait mirror.

As an all-in-one device, the AT&T 8525 boasts a nice set of multimedia capabilities to handle your entertainment needs. Windows Media Player 10 Mobile is onboard so you can listen to your favorite MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, and AMR music files; you also get album art, and WMP 10 Mobile is compatible with all PlaysForSure online stores. The smart phone can handle MPEG-4 video streaming, and if you have TV shows recorded on your Media Center PC, you can transfer them to your device for on-the-go viewing. In addition, the 8525 now works with the AT&T Video and AT&T Music services. Boasted by the 3G support, you can watch clips of The Daily Show, Access Hollywood, ESPN sports highlights, and a few other videos, as well as purchase songs from independent music services, such as Napster to Go and Yahoo Music. AT&T Music also includes streaming XM satellite radio, music videos, and MusicID for identifying song titles and artists.

The 8525 has shot some impressive photos with sharp edges and bright colors.

The 8525 features an upgraded camera over its predecessor. While the AT&T 8125 sported a 1.3-megapixel lens, the 8525 bumps it up to 2 megapixels and offers eight capture modes: photo, video, MMS video, contacts picture, picture theme, panorama, sports, and burst. For still images, you can take photos in several resolutions, ranging from 160x120 to 1,600x1,200 pixels, and four quality settings (basic, normal, fine, and super fine). You also get an 8x zoom (though not available for all resolutions), a self-timer, various effects, and white balance and saturation settings. The options are a bit more limited in video mode, but you can record clips with sound in MPEG-4 format and choose from one of four resolutions (128x96, 176x144, 320x240, and 352x288). Video quality was as we expected from a camera phone, which is to say, not great. It's fine if you're in a pinch and really need to capture something, but definitely not worth ditching your camcorder over. We are more impressed with the photo quality as the images boasted sharp lines and bright colors.

We tested the AT&T 8525 (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE; UMTS; HSDPA) in San Francisco and call quality was excellent. Despite some very minor background hiss, we could hear our friends loud and clear, and our callers were particularly impressed with the clarity of sound and said they couldn't tell we were using a cell phone. Better yet, activating the speakerphone didn't have an adverse effect on the audio and volume was more than adequate. We also were able to pair the smart phone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset without any problems.

We enjoyed fairly snappy performance from the AT&T 8525. We were able to stream video without a hitch, though the quality wasn't the greatest. Music playback was decent via the phone's speakers but much improved once we plugged in the stereo headset.

The AT&T 8525's battery is rated for 4 hours of talk time and up to 8.3 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get a solid 6 hours of talk time before calling it kaput. According to FCC radiation tests, the AT&T 8525 has a digital SAR rating of 0.34 watts per kilogram.


AT&T 8525

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 7