The HTC Inspire 4G is an absolute joy to use. Much of that joy is due to the outstanding HTC Sense user interface, which adds an extra layer of polish to all of that Android OS goodness so many of us enjoy. When you first turn on the device a short weather animation runs across the display. All of your contacts and social networking activity is one place (more on that in the communication section).
In every respect I found the Inspire to be perfectly responsive, carrying out my every whim almost before I expressed my desire. Part of that is due of course to the fact that the Inspire is the first 4G phone from AT&T, part is due to Android OS 2.2, and part is due to the 1GHz Snapdragon processor. Whether you’re doing something that’s device-intensive or network-dependent, you won’t be waiting on your phone because the Inspire 4G has plenty of power.
Call quality on the Inspire is simply outstanding. Some of my callers couldn’t even tell that I was using a mobile phone, and in every case I could hear and be heard perfectly. When I was outside, the only clue that gave me away was some emergency happening a few blocks away; though the party on the other end of the conversation could hear the sirens, they didn’t disrupt the call. Even when I had just one or two bars of coverage, when most other phones would refuse even to get a call through, the Inspire came through with flying colors.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work perfectly, and though it’s always a good idea to join Wi-Fi networks when they’re available, the 4G network is so much faster than what I’m used to with a mobile phone that it’s much harder to see the difference when I’m loading up a web page in the browser.
The portable hotspot feature works perfectly as well; my laptop was able to connect without any problem at all. The default setup includes a password; though it’s a simple one to guess, that’s better than leaving the personal network open by default. It’s easily changed of course, and it’s a good idea to do so.
The Android OS web browser is truly excellent, providing a rich experience. It seems slightly slower because it doesn’t display anything until the page fully loads, but that’s just a perception issue. Scrolling is very smooth, going in a straight line from side to side and up and down, even if you’re swiping haphazardly with your finger. Pinch and zoom to get either a full page view or a closer view, and everything looks great even when you’re zoomed in tightly on text or a photo. Even if you open multiple windows, performance is still blazing fast.
The email experience is just as good as you would expect on an Android device, though I still find it frustrating that I have to choose to show images each and every time I open a message. You can also choose the ringtone and/or vibration setting when you get a new message, and you can choose to receive just one notification or for every new message (if you’re a true email junkie like me).
Social networking on the Inspire 4G is just dreamy. With the Sense UI, all of your social activity is organized by person, not by network. That means that you don’t have to check Twitter, Facebook, text messages, etc. individually. It’s a huge timesaver, and works perfectly. When your contacts are first imported, you can link them to other social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
The phone does an excellent job of figuring out who is who, even if their Twitter names don’t quite match up with their real names. I was surprised to find that the Inspire was able to match everyone in my contact list perfectly except for one person, who uses his middle initial on Twitter. Getting his information linked up took just a couple of taps.
Now when I tap the People icon on the home screen, I get a more personalized contact list that shows what everyone is up to, instead of a sterile list of names. I know that Michael is eating lunch at his favorite restaurant, Matthew is in love with his latest device, and my best friend is raving about the new perfume she got for Valentine’s day. If I want to know more, I just tap on the name and I can send email, see their latest Tweets and Facebook posts, even view their photo gallery online. Tabs at the bottom of the page take me to other sections, such as call history and text messages.
There’s also the FriendStream app that ties everything together. Tabs at the bottom of the screen allow you to navigate from all updates to status updates, the latest photos and videos, lists, and notifications (so you can keep track of all of your @replies on Twitter and wall posts on Facebook). FriendStream makes everything so much easier that you’ll wonder how you lived without it–it’s so easy and fun that it might just be able to turn wallflowers into social butterflies.
The Inspire 4G is so much fun you may not want to get any work done, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t. The first thing you’ll probably notice is the desk clock app, which is accessible with a single tap on the clock on the home screen. It offers the current time and weather conditions, and tabs at the bottom allow you to switch quickly between that mode and the world clock, alarm clock, stopwatch, and timer. It’s very nicely done; just another example of HTC’s excellent attention to detail.
The calendar app is nicely polished, offering several different views such as a daily agenda, weekly layout, and monthly view. It also offers support for multiple calendars, which is great if you’ve set up individual Google calendars for family members or your business. There’s no memo pad or task management app included, though of course you can find whatever you might want on the Android Market.
The Quickoffice app is Microsoft Office compatible and plenty capable. It’s fully featured as well, allowing you to both view and edit your files. Obviously you won’t want to do a great deal of work on the Inspire since it doesn’t have a full physical keyboard, but it will certainly work for making changes and updates on files stored on the microSD card or emailed from your professional colleagues.
Both the Google Maps beta and the AT&T Navigator are included, and which app you want to use is based purely on personal preference. The Google Maps beta is particularly impressive, with the extra touchscreen gestures for panning and scrolling and the 3D buildings for select cities. All public transit stops are clearly labeled, and you can get directions by car, public transit, bike, or walking.
AT&T Navigator works well, and I especially like the voice search feature. It isn’t quite as polished as Google Maps, and is designed almost exclusively for driving directions, but it is a nice alternative. This app did find me faster than Google Maps, and with slightly better accuracy as well. You can get a free 30 day trial, buy a day pass for this service for $2.99, or subscribe for a $9.99 monthly charge.
If you want to have fun, the Inspire 4G has plenty to offer.
The included Music player is fairly basic, but easy to use. Sound quality is quite good, and I was impressed. There’s no distortion even at very high volumes, though the sound wasn’t quite as rich as I had hoped when I saw the Dolby logo on the back of the phone.
YouTube videos look fantastic, especially in full screen landscape mode. You can choose to view some videos in HQ high quality, and there’s no stuttering, lag, or artifacting to be seen here. Since the screen is so large and the viewing angles are so good (as mentioned earlier in this review) it’s easy for two or three people to cluster around the screen and share a video.
You’ll also find the Reader eBook app, which comes pre-loaded with several classic titles such as the Art of War, Dracula, Jane Eyre, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and White Fang. If you want to purchase more books, you’ll find that tapping the shopping cart icon takes you to the Kobo site. Of course if you want to read eBooks purchased from Amazon, you can get the Kindle app from the Android Market.
The Inspire 4G comes with a demo of Asphalt 5, a fun racing game from Gameloft. The sharp graphics and easy to use tilt controls give an excellent glimpse of the gaming fun to be had with this device. If racing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other great games on the Android Market, both free and paid.
The 8 megapixel camera takes great photos–you won’t miss a moment with this one, and you’ll probably never need to carry a separate camera except for any but the most important occasions.
The camera is always focusing as you frame the shot, so it can take photos very quickly. There’s still a small delay as the camera makes some very fast adjustments just as you take the shot to ensure the best photo quality, but it isn’t annoying or frustrating.
My only small complaint is that the rather excellent zoom feature is controlled by touching the screen rather than using the volume button as is common on many other phones. There were a couple of instances where the phone thought I was trying to change the focus position rather than zooming in or out.
There are twelve different photo effects included, such as depth of field, distortion, vintage warm and cool, sepia, solarize, and posterize. You can adjust the white balance and geo-tag your photos (on by default). There’s also a self portrait mode, a timer, and a face detection feature.
As you can see from the test photos, the results are truly excellent for a mobile phone camera. Sharing takes just a couple of taps and you can choose from a dizzying array of options, from simple email to uploads to Facebook, FlickR, Picasa, and Twitter. The photo gallery also includes several simple editing options, such as cropping and rotation.
You can add effects as well, though the ones in editing mode are different than the choices offered when you initially take the photo. Here your choices include auto-enhancement (which works very well), high contrast, glimmer, antique, even a basic white photo frame. If you choose to edit your photo, it automatically applies those changes to a copy of the original, so you can edit with abandon and not worry about making a mistake.
My testing shows that battery life on the Inspire 4G is rather good; I was able to go almost three full days before I got the 15% power level warning. I probably could have gone a bit longer with truly normal usage — of course I was snapping a lot of photos, using the GPS, downloading apps and playing games for review purposes.
There’s also a power saver feature that can really help extend battery life. You can set when the power saver features go into effect; by default that’s when the battery reaches 15%. You can turn off notifications, disable background data, turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth if they aren’t actively being used, turn down the screen brightness, disable animations, and turn off vibrating feedback.