HTC Hero and the US version of the Legend, theHTC Aria ($130 with a two-year contract from AT&T; price as of 6/14/10) is the second Android phone to land on AT&T. While it doesn’t have the beefy specs of the HTC Droid Incredible (on Verizon) or the HTC EVO 4G (on Sprint), the Aria should satisfy AT&T customers holding out for a full-featured Android device.
From the moment you first pick it up, you can tell that the Aria is a solidly designed phone. Shaped from a single block of aluminum, the Aria has a seamless, smooth surface with separate front and back pieces. You could drop this thing and it wouldn’t dent (though I wouldn’t recommend testing that out). Hardware-wise, it is practically identical to the Legend with the same display, battery, processor and camera. The only difference is the lack of a camera flash.
While the phone looks more or less like your typical HTC-designed phone, there are a few subtle, unique design elements. There are four holes in each corner of the soft rubberdized back, exposing the alloy-finished fasteners that hold the Aria together. Like the Droid Incredible’s fire engine red innards, both the Aria’s battery and plastic internal structure are brightly unicolored–this time in mustard yellow.
Like RIM, with its most recent BlackBerry models, HTC made the switch to an optical trackpad rather than a physical trackball. This is a welcome update as trackballs tend to get dirty or fall out. I found the trackpad nicely responsive as I quickly scrolled through the Aria’s menus. I don’t usually rely on trackpads/trackballs for navigation, but it is a useful alternative.
Alongside the optical trackpad, you’ll find the usual touch-sensitive hardware buttons: Home, Menu, Back and Search. The left spine of the phone houses an oblong volume rocker while the right is clean of any buttons (that’s right, no dedicated camera key). On the top of the phone, you’ll find the 3.5-mm headphone jack as well as the power button. At the bottom, there’s the Micro-USB connector for both data transfer and charging.
The Aria has a bright 3.2-inch HVGA display, nicely showcases the attractive HTC Sense skin over Android 2.1. The capacitive, multitouch screen is quite responsive as well; a light flick was all it took to flip through my various homescreens.
I’ve been spoiled by HTC’s 1GHz Snapdragon processor-powered phones, but I found that the Aria’s 600MHz processor (the same processor found in the Legend and the T-Mobile myTouch Slide) performed speedily enough with moderate data use.
Out of all of the custom skins for Android, HTC Sense is definitely my favorite. It is the easiest on the eyes, and it doesn’t bog down the operating system by trying to do too much. The latest iteration of Sense features Leap, which is essentially an elegant way of handling multitasking; it’s actually a bit reminiscent of Palm’s WebOS deck-of-cards visualization. Pinch anywhere on the homescreen, and you’ll jump to seven thumbnail versions of your open pages. From there, you can go to any of those open applications or close out of one.
Friend Stream, HTC’s social network aggregator, allows you to view your friends’ status updates, shared links, and pictures all in one seamless view. Supported social networks include Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and others. I find such social network feeds a bit annoying–do I really need to see everybody’s tweets and Facebook status updates all mixed up together? But I suppose if you’re an avid social networker, seeing all of these updates in one place is useful.
One especially cool feature in HTC Sense: You can tap and drag to highlight a block of text and either look up a word in a dictionary or translate it via Google Translate. Along with the standard Android applications, such as Gmail, Google Talk, and YouTube, the phone offers HTC’s Twitter app (Peep) and its photo-geotagging app (Footprints). There are also a few AT&T apps thrown in there including AT&T Hotspots, AT&T Maps, AT&T Navigator and others.
As I’ve mentioned in other HTC handset reviews, I’m not a big fan of HTC’s Sense music player. It’s not that it doesn’t work well as an actual music player, it’s just that it isn’t all that, well, pretty. The album art doesn’t take advantage of the EVO 4G’s large display while the app is in Now Playing mode; it remains thumbnail-size. The Sense player is slightly more attractive than the bare bones Android player, but I prefer iTunes or Palm’s WebOS player.
Check back tomorrow for evaluations of the Aria’s camera, video capture and performance as well as a full rating.