If you want a real smartphone on AT&T, your choices are the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 3GS. Right?
Wrong! After some quirky experiments like the Motorola Backflip, AT&T has begun making available new smartphones like the HTC Aria. And it’s running Android, which differentiates it from the iPhone and gives it some unique edges. Let’s take a look.
HTC Aria Hardware
HTC makes some of the classiest phones on the market, and the HTC Aria is no exception. The Aria cuts a slim figure, and the whole front of the Aria is a glass sheet, with an optical trackpad where the iPhone’s home button would be and which i s used to position the cursor when typing, and it’s also used in some games.
The back of the unit is rubberized, and has a nice “grippy” feel to it. The Aria’s carrier branding is subtle and doesn’t spoil its aesthetic, and the metal screws on its back give it a sense of ruggedness without being loud or unclassy.
Unlike with the iPhone, you can pop open the HTC Aria’s case to replace the battery. And since its storage is based on MicroSD cards, you can upgrade its storage without having to buy a new phone. The HTC Aria comes with a 2 GB MicroSD card, but you can use up to 32 GB cards in it — I just put in the 8 GB card that I had from a different phone.
HTC Aria Software
The HTC Aria runs Android, Google’s open-source alternative to the iPhone’s iOS. It’s customized with the HTC Sense interface, which makes Twitter- and Facebook-ing easy and has a sleek, striking black aesthetic.
Android has thousands of apps, and you can download them straight to your phone with the Android Market. Its selection isn’t as good as iOS’, especially in the area of games, but if the Aria is your first Android smartphone you’re sure to find apps that delight you.
HTC Aria Downside
The Aria’s main weaknesses are with its apps. Thanks to AT&T, not only is it loaded with a bunch of redundant, undeletable “garbage” apps that are tied into AT&T services, but you can’t install apps by tapping on links on the Internet — only the Android Market will work.
HTC released a version of its HTC Sync Windows desktop software that allows you to install apps through it. But it was pulled within a few days, and you’ll be lucky if you can find it online now.
It’s not a major weakness — pretty much anything you could want is in the Android Market right now. But it is an annoyance, whether you work around it or do without. And it feels like a petty move for AT&T, even if their other smartphones — like the iPhone — have the same limitation.
If your last smartphone was an iPhone, and you’re thinking the Aria looks like a cheaper alternative, you’re likely to be disappointed with it. It has its own apps, including a bunch of “name brand” ones. But it doesn’t run iPhone apps, and it’s harder to sync it with iTunes. Plus, the Android OS works differently from iOS, and while it allows you greater control it’s reportedly less intuitive.
If the HTC Aria is your first smartphone, though, you’ll probably be thrilled with it and its pricetag: free to first-time AT&T customers, or $50 for an upgrade through retailers like Amazon. And by choosing an Android smartphone, not only do you get access to thousands of apps and to features that aren’t on the iPhone, you also make your next smartphone purchase easier. Because iOS phones only come from Apple, but Android phones come from multiple companies, and they come in all shapes and sizes … even ones that are reminiscent of the iPhone, like the HTC Aria is.
What do you think? Do you have any recommendations? Post your thoughts in the comments … just remember to be civil about it. And whatever smartphone you use, have fun with it!