HTC Gratia review: HTC Gratia

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The Good HTC's Android enhancements; Appealing design; Accurate track pad.

The Bad Underpowered processor; Camera performance; Some normal HTC features missing.

The Bottom Line It may be underpowered and lack cutting-edge features, but the Gratia's brilliant, customised interface works wonderfully with Android 2.2 to create an appealing, mid-range smart phone that's perfect for casual users.

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8.3 Overall

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As Nokia's Stephen Elop will tearfully tell you, the Android assault is occurring on all fronts. At the top end of the market we've got dual-core monsters such as the LG Optimus 2X and the Motorola Atrix, while at the humbler end of the spectrum there's the Orange San Francisco and LG Optimus One.

Google's domination of smart phones is gathering speed, and long-time accomplice HTC has now beefed up its mid-range with the Gratia -- a repackaged European version of its US-based Aria, which launched in June last year.

The HTC Gratia can be purchased outright for around £300. At the time of writing, details of contract prices weren't available, but we'd guess the phone will be in the £20-25 per month bracket.

Tiny Temper

The Gratia may not occupy the same lofty perch as its stable mate the Desire HD, but you wouldn't know that from the build quality of the device. In typical HTC fashion, the Gratia feels solid and robust, and despite its tiny dimensions possesses a reasonable heft, tipping the scales at 115g. That's nothing compared to big-screen behemoths like the Samsung Omnia 7, but when compared to similar-sized handsets it's pretty weighty.

The Gratia's touch-sensitive track pad allows for precise text editing.

The plastic battery cover engulfs the phone, covering its sides, top and bottom. This design can make accessing the battery, microSD card slot and SIM card slot somewhat awkward -- a considerable amount of pressure has to be applied to one corner of the phone to get the cover to pop off -- but it successfully avoids the unwelcome prospect of creakiness when gripping the device tightly. Compared to the fussy and ill-considered compartments on the Desire HD, the Gratia is more intelligently designed.

The Gratia also has a touch-sensitive track pad, which allows you to scroll between home screens and accurately select portions of text when composing an email or text message.

Turn of the screw

The only element of the Gratia's appearance that doesn't sit well with us is the strange screws which appear on the back of the device. At first it seems they're holding the battery cover in situ, but with the back off, it's clear they form part of the phone's internal shell. Although we dare say some will find them appealing, in the same way that the bolts on the Motorola Defy turned (admittedly dorky) heads, they're certainly an acquired taste.

Elsewhere, the Gratia's 3.2-inch capacitive display seems weedy when placed alongside the vast screens of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc or Motorola Milestone 2, and is more in line with past Android classics such as the HTC Hero. The small display has allowed HTC to make this phone truly pocket-sized, however, and as a result it fits snugly in the palm of your hand too.

A whole lot of Sense

Laid over the core Android operating system is HTC's beloved Sense user interface. It's unquestionably one of the better manufacturer 'skins' available right now, and although the version loaded on to the Gratia is missing some key elements -- such as integration with HTC's cloud-based service -- it retains the vital bits of functionality and the famously polished design.

Sense's custom widgets are useful in ways HTC's competitors have been desperately trying to emulate for months. The friend stream (which collates all of your social networking updates in one scrollable widget) and combined email inbox allow you to access information without having to open applications or even flick away from your home screen.

There are seven home screens to play with, and you can streamline their functionality by adopting the preset 'Scenes' option, where different home screens are configured for specific activities (work, social, travel and so on).

HTC prides itself on smart design and other elements of the Gratia's OS back this up. Turning over your phone when it starts to ring silences it, for example. Another plus point is the ease with which it's possible to link your contacts with their social network profiles -- something that has been attempted by rival interfaces such as Motorola's Motoblur, but with much less success.