As many of you probably know, there are many cool cell phones and smartphones launched for the European and Asian markets that never make their ways Stateside. However, sometimes we get lucky and get a sample device to check out, and this time around, our friends at eXpansys USA hooked us up with the HTC Tattoo. The Tattoo is an entry-level smartphone running Android 1.6 and HTC Sense, and offers a cool personalization option to custom design your own cover and make your phone one-of-a-kind. It's also aimed at budget-conscious customers, as you can get the device for free with some carriers, but you also sacrifice some features, such as a high-resolution screen--and, of course, that discount only applies if you live in Europe or Asia. At around $300 unlocked, we don't think the HTC Tattoo is really worth it for North American customers. You can get something like the HTC Droid Eris or the Motorola Cliq XT with more features without breaking the bank.
Measuring just 4.17 inches tall by 2.17 inches wide by 0.55 inch thick, the HTC Tattoo is quite a petite handset. It reminds us a bit of the HTC Touch, though slightly thicker and heavier, and we wouldn't call it the sexiest device in the world. However, what makes the Tattoo different from most phones (and also sheds light on the meaning of its name) is that you can customize the cover with your own design. You just head on over to the HTC Tattoo salon where you can either select from one of many predesigned covers or create your own. Just be aware that these custom covers cost around 11.99 euros (around $16 U.S.) each.
To keep the overall cost of the phone down, there are some trade-offs, the most notable being screen quality. The Tattoo's display measures 2.8 inches diagonally and has only a 240x320-pixel QVGA resolution. The smaller size and the lower resolution definitely don't make it easy on the eyes. Text can be pretty minute and images look quite pixelated, with dull color. The onscreen keyboard is also difficult to use, since the small screen creates a cramped layout.
It's a far cry from what we've seen lately from such models as the Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Incredible, but we also understand that the Tattoo isn't meant to be in the same league as those devices.
Below the display, there are a handful of hard buttons: home, menu, back, search, Talk and End keys, and a D-pad. In addition, there's a volume rocker on the left side. On top of the device, you'll find the 3.5mm headphone jack and on the bottom there's a Mini-USB port. As usual, the camera is located on back with the microSD expansion slot behind the battery door.
The HTC Tattoo comes packaged with a wall adapter, a USB cable, a wired headset, a 2GB micrsoSD card, and reference material. Since the phone is available only in Europe and Asia, you will need to buy an international adapter to plug into North American outlets. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The HTC Tattoo runs Android 1.6 with HTC Sense, much like the HTC Hero. We're not going to go into every detail of the OS and Sense here, so please check our review of the Sprint HTC Hero for a more in-depth description.
We tested the quad-band GSM (850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) HTC Tattoo in New York using AT&T service and call quality was good. On our end, the audio was mostly clear, with just the slightest hint of a background hiss, but no voice distortion. Friends also reported mostly positive results, though one caller said we sounded a bit robotic. Speakerphone quality wasn't anything to write home about. Though clear and loud enough to carry on a conversation, there was a bit of that hollow sound that we've experienced many times before with speakerphones. We had no problems pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
Unfortunately, the Tattoo doesn't support North American 3G bands, so you're stuck with surfing on EDGE speeds. CNET's full site took 1 minute and 20 seconds to load, and CNN and ESPN's mobile sites came in 15 seconds and 20 seconds, respectively. Fortunately, Wi-Fi is an option on the Tattoo so you don't always have to rely on a cellular connection, which is good, because waiting for YouTube videos to buffer and load over EDGE was not our favorite way to pass time. Our own MP4 videos played back without a hitch, but, again, the lower-resolution display degraded the experience a bit. Audio quality was good, though, through our Bose On-Ear Headphones, providing fairly rich and balanced sound.
As for the Tattoo's 3.2-megapixel camera, it does a fair job. Objects in photos came out mostly clear, but there was some slight softness around the edges. Also, colors had a bit of an amber/burnt tone to them. Video quality was pretty blurry, but it's workable if you're in a pinch.
Despite packing just a 528MHz processor, the Tattoo handled most tasks without problem. There were times when the smartphone took a few seconds to respond, particularly when using the multimedia apps, but overall, it's a pretty zippy device. The HTC Tattoo features an 1,100mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6.5 hours and up to 14 days of standby time. We are still conducting our battery drain tests but will update this section as soon as we have final results.