Since the iPhone 3GS launched, I’ve been an iPhone guy. I watched anxiously as Apple unveiled the iPhone 4 and I quickly decided to make the upgrade, selling my 3GS for more than the contract price of my iPhone 4 and locking in with the devil that is AT&T. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have looked back had HTC not offered to send me an Inspire 4G for review. I was perfectly content with the iPhone and the iOS platform. The moment I got my first Android notification, though, my cozy, hyper-industrial Apple world came crashing down and I’m going to have a hard time going back.
Though my intro was mostly about the software decision between the iOS and Android, there is a lot to be said for the actual HTC Inspire handset. The phone is a good bit bigger than the iPhone in every dimension, which also means a bigger screen. When it comes to handsets, I can’t honestly say I think bigger is better. The extra screen real estate feels unnecessary, even if it is nice for streaming video. The Inspire sports an 8.0-megapixel camera capable of shooting HD video as well as stills. The phone comes standard with an 8GB MicroSD card, which you can expand as you like. The camera on the Inspire is quite good. The pictures show up crisp and bright, even in many low-light situations. The best part, though, is the wide range of features available from the camera application. There are sliders for sharpness, saturation, contrast, and exposure. There’s a white balance tool, ISO control, options for geo-tagging, and a whole list of distortion effects you can preview while you set up your image. In short, it’s the best camera app I’ve seen and the handset hardware is beefy enough to back it up. I really only have two complaints about the hardware on the HTC Inspire. First, the headphone jack is on the bottom of the phone. It’s inconvenient and annoying, especially since I connect my phone to my car via the headphone jack for music. When the headphone jack is up top, I can set the handset in a cup-holder and see what’s playing. Not so when it’s on the bottom. Secondly, the battery door is harder to remove than a chastity belt. I spent roughly ten minutes trying to get the thing off when I first received the phone and I nearly ripped my thumbnail clean off. One of the selling points of removable batteries is convenience when you need some extra juice. In this case, it is inconvenient, and battery life is one place the Inspire could stand to improve.
The HTC Inspire ships with Android 2.2 running the HTC Sense UI. Personally, I love the look. The colors are crisp and bright, the menus are responsive, and Sense not only allows the UI to boot faster, it also gives centralized mailboxes and access to HTCsense.com, a site that allows users to backup their phones and use location-tracking software to find a lost handset. On the whole, it’s a nice package, though the custom UI thing kinda stinks if you decide to switch Handset manufacturers. As tough a time as I had going from iOS to Android, I’d hate to think I’d be temporarily stymied again by going from Sense to a standard Android UI.
The real beauty of the UI is in the details. The notification bar, for instance, is probably the single best feature of the phone. With as many apps as I run on my iPhone, I miss notifications constantly. My Words with Friends doesn’t update or I don’t see a badge on my SMS app. I miss my AP news updates nearly every time they pop up. With the Sense notification bar, that just doesn’t happen. Notification icons remain on the bar until you open the appropriate app and find the notified item (i.e. an SMS notification will remain in the bar until you navigate to the new message, not just the app). Several applications make excellent use of this feature. I used an SSH client, for example, that left an icon in the notification bar to let me know that I was still connected to my host. It’s a really fantastic way to keep important information from getting lost and something I will sorely miss if I go back to the iPhone.
Widgets are another great feature of the Sense UI. I love having a small Facebook feed on my homepage or the large Twitter widget just a swipe away. Again, it’s about having quick access to data that more closely mimics my experience as a computer user. When I want that information on my laptop I can just switch between Google Chrome tabs. The same feels true on the Inspire, and that’s a really good thing.
The OS isn’t without its problems, though. Several applications wouldn’t close or stop correctly, to the point that I had to force quit them in the settings menu. It’s nice to have that functionality available, but I would like to use it less often. The MOG music app, for instance, would resume playing any time I received a notification after pausing the application. Not good. The phone’s proximity sensor also doesn’t perform well during phone calls. I’ve hit the speaker button with my cheek multiple times to my hearing’s detriment. Also - and this is just a point of personal frustration - the phone shipped with a tactile feature enabled that allows the user to switch to speaker phone by flipping the phone over. That’s all well and good when it’s on a desk, but it happened when I was holding the phone on several occasions and I could not, for the life of me, figure out why. I finally Googled the issue and then had to do another search just to find where the setting was hidden so I could disable it.
Lastly, I cannot overstate the beauty of pushed emails. I know, people have been getting pushed email for a very long time, but I became so accustomed to the iPhone batching method that I had all but forgotten what I was missing. I love getting email the minute it hits my inbox. I love it.
On the whole, the Inspire performed very well. Though we are about to see dual-core phones hit the market in the next couple weeks, the 1GHz Snapdragon was plenty fast for anything I tried. The phone is billed as a 4G device but it’s really running HSPA+ and doesn’t feel much, if any faster than my iPhone. When LTE rolls out later this year there should be some difference, but I live in a market that likely wont’ see LTE for another two to three years at best. I didn’t experience any dropped calls during my use and most anyone I talked to was complimentary of the call quality. Battery life leaves a little to be desired, but with a removable battery an serious mobile user has options to counteract the problem. At a $100 price point (with contract) I would imagine this will be a very popular handset. It looks great, has a very nice feature list, and provides great value per dollar. Even though this review is up, I’m still using the handset today. I like it well enough that I hacked my iPhone SIM into the device and haven’t really used my iPhone at all in the past two weeks. If I’m totally honest, this is the first phone that has made me seriously consider dropping the iPhone, permanently.