So look, it's pretty obvious at first blush -- this is essentially an Android-infused HD Mini with a few chrome accents, a yellow interior (that no one will ever see, sadly) and a reworked button panel. While we certainly appreciated the HD Mini back at Mobile World Congress, we're going to hand the overall design award to the Aria; the silver faux screws on the rear, power strip at the top and volume rocker on the side are pure class, and the vivacious innards tickle us far more than they truly should. In a world where it's practically guaranteed that the next great smartphone will also be the most humongous smartphone, it's actually a breath of fresh air to see someone going in the opposite direction. The Aria is as cute and nimble as it is sexy, a lovely combination that we weren't sure existed prior to writing this review.
Measuring 4.1- x 2.3- x 0.46-inches and weighing 3.8 ounces with the 1,200mAh battery installed, the phone is light and tight in every respect. We also adore the matte black rear that both rejects fingerprints and slides easy in and out of the average denim pocket. We will
say, however, that the über-glossy display (a 480 x 320 resolution capacitive touchpanel) was a tad too glossy when taken outside, and even with the brightness jacked, we had to squint to make out text when perusing Twitter updates under the blazing North Carolina sun. We've also got mixed feelings about the button layout beneath the LCD; the optical trackpad works well enough (though we'll confess to missing the tactility of a trackball), but the capacitive buttons just don't do it for us. We're huge fans of feeling buttons depress, even if it's subtle, and we instantly wished that the home, menu, back and search buttons were more like those found on Huawei's S7
. The haptic feedback definitely helps in letting you know if your input has been recognized, but we'd still prefer physical keys for easier use when not looking directly down at the handset.
As if you couldn't tell, we're pretty big fans of the design here. Sure, we would've preferred a slightly more dense resolution than HVGA, and a couple of customizable rocker buttons around the edges would be the answer to a good many fantasies, but all in all, you won't be turning the Aria down based on build quality alone. So, if all that's kosher, how's the software? In a word... actually, scratch that. This aspect is far too complicated to sum up in a single word, and the love / hate relationship we've discovered here simply deserves a longer explanation.
For starters, we're huge fans of the HTC-built Sense
overlay on top of Android 2.1. Having seven home panels (as opposed to five), a dedicated phone button at the bottom and an array of gorgeous widgets to choose from are real boons, and it's easy to miss these little things when using a stock Android build. By and large, we were shocked -- shocked
-- by how quickly this phone hummed along. Given that Qualcomm's 1GHz Snapdragon
was nowhere to be found (the Aria is outfitted with a 600MHz MSM 7227 alongside 512MB of ROM and 384MB of RAM), we didn't expect much on the speed front. Talk about having expectations shattered. Even with a host of apps running in the background and home screens loaded with apps, we never experienced any notable lag when going from screen to screen or app to app. We were continuously impressed with how quickly the screen recognized our swipes, and it's safe to say that you're getting every last ounce of power from this 600MHz power plant. We even dialed up a few YouTube HQ videos over 3G while having a smattering of apps open in the background in an attempt to slow it down -- needless to say, our experiment failed in spectacular fashion.
But for all the speed that's here, there's one thing that just grates our nerves to no end: AT&T's meddling. Sure enough, it's impossible to sideload apps onto the Aria. For those unaware of the terminology, this means that the only way you're getting apps onto your Aria is by downloading straight from the App Market. If you download an app from the web, have one emailed to, etc., you can forget about tossing it onto your SD card and using ASTRO File Manager to install it. There's simply no option whatsoever to allow app installations from "Unknown sources," an option that's very much in place on the Nexus One and other non-tweaked Android phones. We tried to sideload an app using the method above just for kicks, and we were greeted with an warning that our phone wouldn't allow such shenanigans, period. We're guessing that AT&T is trying to prevent its users from installing software that could potentially wreck their handset (and in turn, their AT&T experience), but not even giving users the option
is absurd. There's no two ways about it. If you buy the Aria, you're buying a phone that strictly blocks a major avenue for installing apps. It's sad, and frankly, unacceptable.