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HTC Inspire 4G review: HTC Inspire 4G

HTC Inspire 4G

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


HTC Inspire 4G

The Good

The HTC Inspire 4G is affordably priced and boasts a large display. The Android 2.2 smartphone runs on AT&T's HSPA+ network and offers mobile hot-spot capabilities. New HTC Sense provides faster boot time and other enhancements. It also has an 8-megapixel camera that takes excellent photos.

The Bad

The smartphone is rather large and heavy, and the battery cover is difficult to remove. We didn't experience great 4G speeds. AT&T blocks third-party apps. Lacks a front-facing camera.

The Bottom Line

Though dual-core phones are on the way, the HTC Inspire 4G stands as one of AT&T's best, high-end Android devices and is an incredible value.

The 4G wars are on, and the carriers are getting quite aggressive in their campaigns. Though a little slow to start, AT&T has finally joined the fray and announced at CES 2011 that it would launch its LTE network in mid-2011 and release 20 4G devices this year. The first of which is the HTC Inspire 4G.

Available starting February 13, the Inspire operates on the carrier's HSPA+ network (now recognized as 4G), which AT&T says can provide data speeds up to 4X faster than its 3G network. Unfortunately, we didn't experience anything close to that during our test period but that doesn't mean you should dismiss the Inspire 4G. The Android 2.2 device is very capable and comes packed with mobile hot-spot capabilities, the latest version of HTC Sense, a spacious 4.3-inch touch screen, and an 8-megapixel camera. When you factor that in with its affordable $99.99 (with contract) price tag, you have one great value buy. Though some might wait for the upcoming dual-core Motorola Atrix 4G, the HTC Inspire 4G gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

The HTC Inspire 4G follows in the large footsteps of the HTC Evo 4G and HD7, measuring 4.8 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide by 0.46 inch thick and weighing 5.78 ounces. The size certainly makes holding and carrying the device a bit of work, but nothing you can't get used to with some time. Plus, all things considered, it's still a pretty slim device.

Like the Evo 4G, the HTC Inspire 4G is quite a handful.

The Inspire features a 4.3-inch WVGA touch screen that delivers in sharpness and brightness, though colors do wash out a bit in bright sunlight. The roomy display makes it great for checking out Web pages and multimedia, and with the built-in accelerometer and pinch-to-zoom support, you can easily increase the viewing size. The touch screen was very responsive, as it immediately registered all our taps and smoothly scrolled through menus and lists. However, there was one instance where the screen got stuck in landscape mode, and we had to reboot the phone to correct the issue.

Below the display are the standard Android shortcuts: home, menu, back, and search. There's a volume rocker on the left side and a power button on top. Though the 3.5mm headphone jack has typically been on top of HTC's most recent smartphones, it is now on the bottom along with the Micro-USB port. Sadly, there is no dedicated camera button or kickstand.

On back, you'll find the camera and dual-LED flash, but HTC did a little something different with the battery door this time around. There are actually two removable pieces: one on the bottom and one on the right-hand side (when looking at the phone from the back). The former can be slipped off to access the SIM and memory card slots, while the latter provides access to the battery.

The battery door, pictured on the right side, is not easy to remove.

We have no problems that there are two compartments, but we do have an issue with the fact that it's so difficult to pry off the battery door. There's a little notch on the side that allows you to use your fingernail or the like to help pop off the cover, but you really need to put some muscle into it. After 15 minutes or so of failed attempts, we eventually used a coin to force it open. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, this is a minor issue, but it was frustrating nonetheless.

The HTC Inspire 4G comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a preinstalled 8GB microSD card, and reference material.

User interface
The HTC Inspire 4G ships running Android 2.2 and the newest version of HTC Sense. The Inspire is actually the first smartphone in the U.S. to feature HTC's revamped custom user interface. For anyone who has owned an HTC smartphone, the change may not be immediately noticeable, as the overall look of the UI is the same. You still get seven customizable home screens, the Leap screen function, which provides thumbnail views of all your home screens for easy access, and various widgets, such as Friend Stream and Group Contacts. At the top of each screen, there's also a pull-down tray where you can view alerts and notifications and access your most recently used apps.

What has changed about HTC Sense is that it's faster. HTC CEO Peter Chou said that with the new Sense you'd be able to use the phone within 10 seconds of booting it up (subsequent to initial setup), and we can definitely vouch for that. On previous HTC phones we've tested, there was a bit of wait time for the devices to boot up but with the Inspire, it was ready to go within a few seconds of turning it on. Also, general use and navigation felt snappier and more fluid.

There are other enhancements as well. You now get a unified inbox and new tools in the camera app, which we'll expand on in the Features section, but one other piece you should be aware of is HTCSense.com. This new site lets you register your smartphone, so you can back up and manage the contents of your phone. There's also a phone locator function that will set off the ringer (even if in silent mode) in case you've misplaced your handset and if it is lost or stolen, the site gives you the ability to remotely wipe your handset.

Though many have strong opinions about the worth of custom UIs, we're of the mindset that if they help the user experience and don't impede future updates, then there is no problem. So far HTC Sense has met those criteria and these new features are welcome and useful additions.

The HTC Inspire 4G offers world roaming capabilities, a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, text and multimedia messaging. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS are all onboard and as you might have gathered from its name, the Inspire is 4G capable. It's actually the first of 20 4G devices that AT&T plans to launch in 2011, but to be clear, the Inspire is running on the carrier's HSPA+ network and not its LTE network, which isn't expected to launch until the middle of 2011.

Still, AT&T says its HSPA+ network can provide data speeds up to four times faster than its 3G network and it has seen speeds up to 6Mbps. AT&T cautions that it is still enhancing its network and that there are a number of variables that can affect your results, and while absolutely true, we were disappointed with the speeds we got here in New York. A little H+ indicator in the phone's upper right-hand corner let us know we were on HSPA+, but we averaged download speeds of 1.38Mbps and upload speeds of 0.15Mbps. By comparison, we averaged 5.37Mbps down and 1.37Mbps up on the MyTouch 4G using T-Mobile's HSPA+ network.

In real-world use, loading Web pages and streaming media wasn't slow by any means, but again, we wouldn't exactly say it was speedy, either. We've definitely experienced faster on other 4G devices. CNET's full site loaded in 20 seconds, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 10 seconds and 11 seconds, respectively. Meanwhile, a 1,004K app downloaded and installed in 12 seconds. High-quality YouTube clips and Flash video took several seconds to load but played back without needing to rebuffer and with synchronized audio and video.

Hopefully, the speeds are better elsewhere, especially since the smartphone can be used as a mobile hot spot for up to four devices. Using the built-in Wi-Fi Hotspot utility, we paired the Inspire with our MacBook Pro to share the 4G connection. With slightly better download and upload speeds (1.75Mbps, 0.31Mbps, respectively), it took a minute and a half to upload a 4.1MB photo album and 12 minutes to download a 20-track album from iTunes. To use this feature, it will cost you an additional $20 per month on top of the required Data Pro data plan for smartphones, so you'll play $45 per month in total for 4GB of data. The 4GB applies to data consumed on all connected devices and overage fees will cost $10 per gigabyte.

Aside from the Mobile Hotspot app, the Inspire comes preloaded with a number of other AT&T services, such as AT&T Navigator, AT&T FamilyMap, and AT&T U-Verse Live TV, as well as a handful of HTC apps. Of course, there are plenty more apps available in the Android Market and Google just recently announced a Web-based Android Market, where you can more easily search for titles and download them to your computer. Here's a how-to guide on using it. With Android 2.2, you can now save apps to an SD card, but beware, like its other Android phones, AT&T has once again blocked the ability to uninstall its aforementioned services and has restricted third-party apps.

On the multimedia side of things, the Inspire 4G ships with the same media player as HTC's other smartphones. It features a Cover Flow-like interface and has the basic playback functions, such as shuffle, repeat mode, on-the-fly playlist creation. The music player has a built-in sound enhancer where you can access equalizer settings (headphones only ) or turn on Dolby and SRS surround sound. The latter is available in the video player as well. There is 4GB onboard storage and a preinstalled 8GB microSD card, though the expansion slot can support up to 32GB cards.

The Inspire 4G has an 8-megapixel camera with auto focus, dual LED flash, and HD video recording. As we mentioned earlier, the camera app offers new features and functions. This includes a built-in photo enhancer that allows you to add effects to your photos. The cool thing is that you can see and adjust the effects right on screen while you're taking the picture, instead of afterwards. You also get an adjustable scale for exposure, contrast and saturation, white balance controls, ISO settings, face detection, and geotagging.

The Inspire's 8-megapixel camera took excellent pictures.

We've been disappointed by HTC's cameras before, but the one on the Inspire delivers. Even in low-light environments and despite the lack of a dedicated capture button, picture quality was sharp with bright colors. Video quality was also quite good. There was some slight graininess to our HD clips, but overall clear and well-lit. The Inspire lacks a front-facing camera, so no video chat here.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1,800/1,900) HTC Inspire 4G in New York using AT&T service, and call quality was good. On our side, the audio was clear but not the cleanest. There was some hissing in the background that was particularly noticeable during lulls in the conversation but never distracting enough that we had to terminate the call. Friends were generally happy with what they heard on their end. A couple of people mentioned some garbling, but they seemed to be isolated incidents. We didn't experience any dropped calls during our testing period.

HTC Inspire 4G call quality sample Listen now:

The speakerphone didn't produce the best sound. It was slightly tinny and weak. With audio at the highest level, there was just enough volume to hear our caller in a noisier environment. We had no problems pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

Though the Inspire 4G may not rock a dual-core processor like some of the upcoming devices, we found that its 1GHz Snapdragon processor kept the smartphone running smoothly. Apps launched quickly, and there was no lag when playing videos or games like Asphalt 5.

The HTC Inspire 4G ships with a 1,230mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6 hours and up to 15.5 days of standby time. The smartphone fell short of the rated talk time by half an hour in our battery drain tests. In general, we were satisfied with the battery life. With moderate use, we were able to get a full day out of a single charge. After using the mobile hot-spot feature for a couple of hours, we noticed that battery life reduced about 25 percent. According to FCC radiation tests, the Inspire has a digital SAR rating of 1.14 W/kg.


HTC Inspire 4G

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8