At CES 2010, AT&T announced it would introduce an HTC Android phone this year. True to its word, it just unveiled the HTC Aria. Similar to the HTC HD Mini in design, the Aria runs on Android 2.1 with HTC's Sense user interface and includes a good deal of features for its size. It's certainly not the most powerful Android device on the market--power users might want to wait for the recently announced Samsung Captivate--and we're upset that AT&T has once again blocked third-party app downloads. However, the Aria is a solid midrange smartphone that's certainly better than the Motorola Backflip, AT&T's other Android offering. The HTC Aria costs $129.99 with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate. We think it should cost a bit less--$100 would be the sweet spot--but its price isn't unreasonable.
Though the smartphone design trend appears to be moving toward "bigger is better," the HTC Aria is representing for the little guys. At just 4.1 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and weighing 4 ounces, the Aria stands in stark contrast to the HTC Evo 4G . While you might not get that ginormous screen that the Evo has, the Aria's petite size makes it easy to slip into a pants pocket and more comfortable to hold as phone.
The Aria's screen measures 3.2-inches diagonally and has a 320x480-pixel HVGA resolution. It's not the biggest or sharpest display we've ever seen, but it's clear, bright, and surprisingly adequate for use in most tasks. The Aria's capacitive touch screen supports the pinch-to-zoom multitouch gesture, so if you have any problems seeing something on the display, you can easily magnify it. The only issue we ran into with the display is using its onscreen keyboard as it's pretty cramped, particularly in portrait mode; however, with the built-in accelerometer, you can rotate the phone and use the landscape keyboard that has slightly more room.
HTC Sense provides you with a nice user experience on the phone. You have seven home screen panels that you can customize till your heart's content with such widgets and shortcuts as the Friend Stream, Group Contacts, and weather. You can even switch "Scenes" to customize another set of panels based on themes--such as work, play, travel, and social. Though the Aria supports the Leap screen that shows a thumbnail view of all your home screens, it does not offer live wallpapers.
Below its display are four touch-sensitive buttons--home, menu, back, and search--and an optical joystick. There are no buttons on the right side, but there is a volume rocker on the left. There's also a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack on top and a Micro-USB port on bottom. The camera is located on the back, while the microSD and SIM card slots are behind the battery door. Despite the screws on the four corners, you can pull off the back cover. It requires a little work to pry off, but there's a small divot on top of the device to help get you started. Also, like the HD Mini, the interior of the phone is yellow.
AT&T packages the HTC Aria with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 2GB microSD card, a wired stereo headset, and reference material. For more add-ons, see our cell phone accessories, ring tones, and help page.
Despite its diminutive size, the HTC Aria is a well-stocked smartphone. The handset runs on Android 2.1 with the HTC Sense user experience, but HTC has not announced plans for an Android 2.2 Froyo upgrade for the Aria yet. However, according the company, it is working closely with Google and its partners to bring updates as soon as possible. That said, HTC representatives said they expect some of these update during the second half of the year.
With the Aria, you get the usual Android staples such as Gmail, Google Talk, Google Maps Navigation, a dedicated YouTube app, and QuickOffice. HTC throws in a couple of its own extras as well, including its Twitter app, Peep, and Footprints, as does AT&T. The carrier includes some apps for its services such as AT&T Navigator, Yellow Pages Mobile, AT&T Radio, AT&T Family Map, and MobiTV. However, note that a majority of these apps require a monthly subscription--for example, AT&T Family Map costs $9.99 per month--though some have a complimentary trial period.
You can find more apps in the Android Market, but unfortunately, you won't be able to download any non-Market apps to the phone. As it did with the Motorola Backflip, AT&T removed the Unknown sources option in the Applications settings menu that would let you install third-party apps, such as Swype Beta for Android--an app that would be incredibly handy on the Aria. This limitation is incredibly annoying, especially when other carriers don't put the same restrictions on their Android phones.
The Aria's phone features include quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, speed dial, smart dialing, voice commands, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging. The phone also has Bluetooth 2.1 with support for stereo Bluetooth, but as a limitation of Android 2.1, you can't voice dial over Bluetooth.
The Aria is a 3G device and also has integrated Wi-Fi. It comes with Android's WebKit HTML Web browser, which is quite capable in functionality and performance. It supports multiple windows, Adobe Flash Lite, and it includes the recent feature where you can look up words and phrases in the dictionary or Wikipedia by performing a long-press over some text on a Web site. You can also select a whole paragraph to send to Google Translate.
With the phone, you can stream multimedia content over 3G and Wi-Fi. Like other Android devices, the Aria comes with a dedicated YouTube player as well as a built-in music and video player. HTC Sense does a good job of making the music player's interface more attractive compared with the stock Android player. It supports a number of file types, including MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, OGG, WMV, MP4, and 3GP, among others. It also has an FM radio.
The Aria's 5-megapixel camera has a good range of options, including settings for brightness, contrast, saturation, ISO, and effects. However, it doesn't have a flash, so the quality of photos taken indoors is a bit degraded with a duller, dreary effect. The Aria's video quality wasn't bad, though its picture could get a bit blurry during action sequences.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1,800/1,900MHz) HTC Aria in New York using AT&T and its call quality was mostly good. Calls made with the sounded slightly harsh on our side of the conversation and had the occasional background hiss. We were still able to continue with our conversations, but the experience certainly could have been better. Meanwhile, our callers raved about the audio quality on their end, noting the crispness of calls right away. Its speakerphone quality was quite decent with ample volume, and we had no problems pairing the phone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Active Bluetooth headphones.
AT&T's network provided us with reliable 3G coverage throughout Manhattan, with decent speeds. CNET's full Web site loaded 21 seconds, while CNN's and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in 9 seconds and 10 seconds respectively. With Adobe Flash Lite support, YouTube clips played back with no problem from the Aria's Web browser. It took just a few seconds to load over 3G with continuous playback, but the quality was pretty murky. We had a similar experience when watching MobiTV clips. Our own MP4 videos played back beautifully with synchronized audio and picture, and thanks to the 3.5mm headphone jack, we were able to plug in our Bose On-Ear headphones and listen to songs in comfort and with good sound quality.
The Aria is equipped with a 600MHz Qualcomm MSM 7227 processor, and the smartphone ran like a well-oiled machine during our testing period. It might not have the speed of the Droid Incredible has, but the device was responsive with minimal lag.
The HTC Aria ships with a 1,300mAh lithium ion battery that has a rated talk time of 6 hours and up to 15.5 days of standby time. The smartphone gave us 6 hours of continuous talk time in our battery drain tests. Anecdotally, with moderate use and from a full charge, the Aria's battery barely made it through a workday, so we'll be keeping an eye on that as we continue with our tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Aria has a digital SAR rating of 0.95-watt per kilogram and has a Hearing Aid Compatibility Rating of M3/T3.