Hands-on with the AT&T HTC Aria

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Nintendo press conference, E3 2010

June 20th. That’s when AT&T gets the HTC Aria — a phone which, at least in my mind, is AT&T’s first to be powered by Android. What’s that you say? The Motorola Backflip was the first Android phone on AT&T? Sorry, I guess my mind has a tendency to block out tragic events.

With past sins forgiven, I was pretty anxious to check out AT&T’s second venture into Android territory. Our friends from HTC just so happened to be making a trip through my part of town. One quick jaunt over to their hotel lobby later, and I walked away with an Aria in tow. Expect a full review within a few days — but in the mean time, pop behind the jump for my first impressions.

The Looks:

Take the HTC Incredible, and make it a bit shorter. Flatten out the funky back, turn the red accents silver, and slap an AT&T logo on it. Ta-da! It’s the HTC Aria. (Only on the outside, of course; on the inside, they’re entirely different phones.)

Honestly, they could’ve called this phone the Droid Incredible Mini, and no one would have bat an eye (well, except for Verizon. They’d probably be pretty pissed.) Is that a bad thing? Not at all. Is it a good thing? Not.. really. Outside of the little bit of surprise flavor under the battery cover (in the form of a ridiculously bright red inner casing), the Incredible’s aesthetics were pretty generic; making it stout doesn’t change that.

With that said, there are just enough little touches here to boost the Aria’s visual appeal in places where its taller, Incredible-er brother falls short. The back is nearly identical to that of the HD Mini, complete with the intriguingly visible frame screws, and the handset’s silver accenting give it all a light touch of class. Like the Incredible’s hidden red inner-casing, the Aria features a blindingly bright yellow slab beneath its battery cover — which, unfortunately (or not, depending on how you feel about yellow), doesn’t show in the slightest when the cover is in place. In short: the Aria wouldn’t stand out in any crowds, for good or for bad.

The OS:

Like most HTC Android handsets these days, the Aria is running HTC’s custom UI, Sense, on top of Android 2.1. I’ve said it plenty of times before, but I’ll say it again for good measure: I love Sense. From a purely visual standpoint, it’s miles ahead of the default Android interface; toss in things like an improved touchscreen keyboard, fantastic HTC-built applications (like their Twitter app, Peep, and the custom-built media player), and (variably functional) Flash support in the browser, and it’s really just one of the best Android experiences you can have.

AT&T preloads the handset with a handful of their own applications, like AT&T Navigator (which is silly, given that Android 2.1 has free [and amazing] navigation), AT&T Hotspots, and AT&T FamilyMap. Unfortunately (unfortunAT&Tely?), these damned things can’t be removed. Given that all carriers seem to be doing this now, I can’t knock them too hard — but as a note to all carriers: Stop doing this. It sucks.

I haven’t spent enough time with the device to really declare how well it performs — but so far, so good. The Sense UI runs surprisingly silky on the 600 Mhz processor — something which, given the lagginess generally associated with the first software build of mid-range Android handsets, is nice to be able to say.

Other notes:

  • The Screen:At a resolution of 320×480, the 3.2″ display is markedly average on just about every front.
  • If you’re looking for a smaller phone, this one might fit the bill. While nearly identical in thickness (and shape) to the iPhone, it’s about 10% smaller on a height/width count. It is about as pocketable as candybar phones get.
  • Speakerphone: My testing of the speakerphone has been brief so far, but it seems plenty loud. It’s not deafeningly loud by any means, but it should be loud enough to be heard over road noise.
  • The soft touch coating on the back side is a nice.. erm, touch. That said, I’m a soft touch fanboy; if I could coat my own hands in soft touch so that everything in the world would be soft toach coated, I’d probably do it.

I’m off to run this thing through the proper paces for our full review. Got any questions about the Aria? Drop’em in the comments below, and I’ll try to answer them.

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