Review: AT&T HTC Aria – Does this small Android smartphone pack a big punch?

Image of the HTC Aria Android phone for AT&T. The smallest Android phone yet.
Image of the HTC Aria Android phone for AT&T. The smallest Android phone yet.

You could consider the AT&T HTC Aria a smaller version of the HTC Legend, with out the slightly protruding chin. The Aria is the carrier’s first HTC Android device, which is appealing on its own as customers have since seen devices like the Sprint HTC EVO 4G and Verizon HTC Droid Incredible going live on competing carrier’s networks. The Aria is not the powerhouse the aforementioned devices are, but what the Aria lacks in specs it makes up with its size. Its small size, that is. Is the Aria a good enough device to compete with the likes of the Samsung Captivate, AT&T’s newest addition to their Android family, and furthermore, who is the Aria aimed for? Read on to find out, and we’ll give you all the nitty-gritty details on HTC smallest Android device.

Image of the HTC Aria Android phone for AT&T. The smallest Android phone yet.AT&T HTC Aria
Now available for 129.99 w/ 2-year contract

Specifications (Specs – sheet)

  • 3.2-inch capacitive display (320 x 480)
  • 600 MHz Qualcomm MSM7227 CPU
  • 5 megapixel camera
  • 3G data connectivity
  • WiFi (b/g)
  • GPS (aGPS)
  • Android 2.1 with HTC Sense UI
  • MicroSD card slot that supports 32 GBs (2GB card pre-installed)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Optical trackpad

The Good

  • HTC Sense is a great customized skin for Android
  • Hot-swappable microSD card (don’t have to remove battery to remove microSD cards)
  • Small form factor fits perfectly in the hand
  • Sleek design
  • Awesome battery life
  • Bright yellow accents under the battery cover
  • Structural pieces (screws) as design elements
  • Best budget Android phone on AT&T

The Bad

  • Typing on the screen is somewhat difficult at best, frustrating at worst
  • HTC Sense can slow Android updates dramatically
  • Screen might be too small for some people
  • No dedicated camera shutter button (optical trackpad doubles as shutter button)
  • Lower-end processing power might be an issue for more demanding users

Hardware

Image of the HTC Aria Android phone for AT&T. The smallest Android phone yet.The HTC Aria is a pretty tiny phone, and coming in at about 3.5 inches tall, you won’t be mistaking this for any other HTC device. Decked out in black and chrome, the Aria is one sexy device. The four screws on the back of the handset give almost an industrial look, but nothing too much. The design aesthetics are simple and well thought out, something we’ve come to expect from HTC. And of course, they nailed it.

It’s almost funny to see such a small device with the same screen size as the G1, MyTouch 3G and Hero. It really allows you to see just how small the screen is, when it was a decent size just two years ago. It’s just slightly bigger than what you’ll find on Motorola’s mid-rage devices like the CLIQ XT, and it’s no X10 Mini, so when compared, the Aria’s display is just right. We’re now flooded with much larger screens, and I frankly need a screen that’s at least 3.7 inches now. But that doesn’t mean that the Aria isn’t an enjoyable experience. The fact that it is so small is what makes it enjoyable.

On the Aria’s front, you’ll see the standard Android buttons, home, menu, back, and search, which are all capacitive. Below, you’ll find the optical trackpad that we’ve seen on the HTC Legend. I was initially skeptical about the optical trackpad, but after using it a while, it’s just as usable as a standard trackball would be. I just wish you could unlock the phone with it. The bottom houses the charging port, a hole for a lanyard, as well as the microphone hole. Left side houses the volume rocker, that’s almost flush to the screen, but not hard at all to press. On the top, you’ll find the power button, as well as the 3.5mm headphone jack. The Aria lacks a dedicated camera button, but we won’t deduct a point since is performs decently.

On the back of the phone you’ll find four chrome screws on all four corners, that I initially thought you’d have to take out just top open the back. That’s definitely not the case, an you can pope the back off with a slight groove in the back plate on the top of the device. The back is where you’ll (obviously) find the camera, and a chrome speaker grill. It’s made of a soft-touch material to ensure a good grip and won’t easily slip off of a surface. When the back is removed, you’ll notice that the charging port protrudes from the bottom, you when putting it back on, you have to set it into the bottom first to make sure the port is in place, and then snap it closed. It may seem harder from the sound of it, but it’s not.

You know how if you take off the back plate of the HTC EVO 4G or the Droid Incredible, only to find everything behind it is a stark red? Well this is the same for the Aria, only it’s a stark yellow. If you though the Aria was small, just take the back off of it to truly see just how damn small the thing is! Something I thought was pretty interesting with the Aria is when you take the back off of it, the volume rocker comes with it, revealing just two yellow buttons that truly do the volume controls. Don’t think I’ve seen that on a phone before.


Software

Image of the HTC Aria Android phone for AT&T. The smallest Android phone yet.Well, where do we start? The Aria comes with HTC’s Sense UI, which to some is the way Android should be experienced. It provides an extensive about of optimizations and sexi-fying to the stock Android UI, as well as many customized apps and widgets. Like the Droid Incredible, the Aria is running on Android 2.1, and once you’ve seen Sense on one phone, you’ve seen it all.

Sense gives you seven different homescreens to customize to your heart’s content. You may not feel that you’ll need seven, but Sense is very widget friendly, and HTC provides tons of widgets in all sorts of sizes to cover every screen given. Sense also allows something that you won’t find with the stock Android experience when it comes to widgets. The ability to have them scroll. It may not be such a big deal to some, but HTC’s Twitter widget is by far the coolest I’ve ever seen, and the nicest to look at. The Twitter application, Peep, that comes pre-installed isn’t the most functional, but it has enough features to keep the heaviest of tweeters happy.

Image of the HTC Aria Android phone for AT&T. The smallest Android phone yet.Another cool feature that the Sense UI brings with Android 2.1 is the Leap feature, allowing you to see every homescreen with a pinch of the current screen. You can also access leap by pressing the home button twice. It’s definitely one of the coolest features HTC added with its Sense UI for Android 2.1, and it’s also just darn convenient.

Other cool additions include FriendStream, the HTC social networking aggregator, which will allow you to see all updates from networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. I can see how some people may like this, but I’d much rather have individual widgets. Unfortunately, HTC only provides a Twitter widget (Peep). I found FriendStream to be more annoying than anything – having to scroll through about 10 different status updates of my friends saying, “Getting ready for work!” before I could get to the first tweet was annoying.

There are many features HTC’s Sense provides, but one of my favorite additions is the keyboard. It has been replaced with a customized keyboard, which is much more accurate, and much easier to use than the stock Android keyboard. With the Aria’s small screen, HTC’s keyboard is much-needed, but it can still be pretty dreadful if you’re typing a long email. What I’d really like to see is the Droid X‘s awesome multitouch keyboard on the Aria.

HTC Sense is a great customized UI for Android, but has its drawbacks. Those drawbacks are thankfully few and far between, but the one that gets me every time is that custom skins like Sense tend to delay Android OS updates as the manufacturer has to get the skin working perfectly with every new version of Google’s mobile OS. With every new version of Android, the first devices to get the update will be stock Android devices. The update delays for skinned versions of the OS can  can get annoying, which is why I prefer my Android naked, but it’s easy to see why it may not be that big of a deal to others. HTC Sense is a wonderful overlay of Android, and it’s actually hard to say bad things about it.


Image of the HTC Aria Android phone for AT&T. The smallest Android phone yet.Web Browser, Multimedia, Camera and Video

Web browsing
The Aria’s web browser is the same as you’d find on any other HTC Sense device. It’s no stock Android web browser, though. HTC has provided quite a few tweaks to the web experience, and most additions are very welcomed.

First off, the browser supports Flash Lite, which will allow you to watch some Flash content on websites. Not everything works, but it’s better than nothing. You can also disable Flash altogether if you’d like.

When hitting menu, you’re given a couple different choices than you’d see on a stock Android device. If you want to add a bookmark, you can do that easily by hitting menu, and selecting Add Bookmark. This can only be done from the menu, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but stock Android devices allow you to do this from the progress bar at the top without hitting menu.

Speaking of bookmarks, it’s pretty nice. Sense allows you to view and customize your bookmarks better than any other Android skin. You’ll find the web browser one of the most enjoyable things on the Aria, as long as you can handle staring at such a small screen.

Multimedia
HTC has also revamped the Android music player, making it much nicer to look at, and providing many slick features. The music player lets you see the music you’re playing with the Album artwork, which allows you to skip songs if you swipe it. You can also share the song you’re listening to over Bluetooth, or any application you have installed that supports it, as well as automatically make the song your ringtone. Although, when I tried to do this, a notification popped up saying that only files of 300KB or less can be set as ringtones. Not too big of a deal, just go grab RingDroid from the Android Market.

Camera
Image of the HTC Aria Android phone for AT&T. The smallest Android phone yet.The Aria sports a 5 megapixel camera, and it performs pretty well. That said, you may still want to keep your point and shoot nearby if you’re planning on a photo shoot of any kind. With no flash on the Aria, the camera really needs optimal lighting conditions to produce a good photo, but that’s not to say the camera is at all bad.

The camera gets the job done rather well, but the real winner is the software HTC has put into the camera app, which is easy and intuitive to use. Like stock Android (with the exception of Froyo), the controls are hidden on the left side, and you can easily access them by either tap the tab or drag it over.  There you’ll find the standard contrast, saturation, and sharpness controls, as well as brightness and filter controls.

The HTC Sense Camera app also supports touch to focus, allowing you to tap on a particular part of the screen, and have it focus there. You can also change from camera to camcorder from the settings as well. Video performs well, yet only records in VGA resolution. You’ll find similar settings as you would with the camera.


Image of the HTC Aria Android phone for AT&T. The smallest Android phone yet.Call Quality and Battery Life

Call quality on the Aria is acceptable. It may have not been the best experience, but I didn’t get one dropped call, and for the most part, all calls came out loud and clear. There were sometimes I could hear quite a bit of background noise from the other person, but it never took away from the over all conversation. I didn’t test the call quality out very long, but it’s definitely acceptable, and San Francisco is known for notoriously bad reception with AT&T, so you may have better luck if you live elsewhere.

Battery life was overall good, possibly even “great” for an Android phone. I had multiple apps running, and surfed the web heavily, yet saw minimal battery drain rates. If you continue with your heavy usage throughout the day, that may change drastically. Standby time on the Aria lasted about two days without dying, which was damn impressive. It’s nice not having to think about keeping your smartphone charged at all times. But, I should mention that the multi-day standby time was achieved with virtually no applications running, so standby time may differ for some users. Overall, the battery life should suit your needs, as long as you let it rest a little here and there.


Image of the HTC Aria Android phone for AT&T. The smallest Android phone yet.Wrap up and Final Thoughts

The HTC Aria is not going to suit the needs of a power user, plain and simple. But, it will be just fine for your average consumer who wants to do some web surfing, light emailing, and listen to music. It has enough power to handle everything that Android has to offer without a hitch, but heavy usage may just kill the little guy before the day is over.  The best way I could describe the Aria is a portable media player that just so happens to make phone calls. It’s a device that won’t replace any of your existing electronics, but that’s mainly because of its screen size. It may not appeal to those looking for a bigger screen, obviously, but there’s good change you’re already looking at the Captivate before the Aria if screen real estate is what you care about.

In the end Aria is one cute phone, very pocketable, and looks great thanks to HTC’s awesome eye for design. The three best Sense phones available in the US are all apart of the same family, the EVO, the Droid Incredible, and the Aria. This is definitely the phone to get if you’re looking for a cheaper Android device, and it would be highly recommended over the Motorola Backflip. If you’re looking for a cute, small, yet powerful enough smartphone, you may have found your dream phone in the Aria.

  • @hardiksjsu

    Clearly shows your bias towards Android. Has this been a Nokia phone, Intomobile would have pounced on the shortcomings and highlighted them in the title.
    I don't think i need to give any examples here, as there are plenty all over the site.

    You know what i am talking about, don't you?

  • Rod Scott

    Sounds like an awesome device. Need to check it out in my nearest AT&T store.

  • benjamin

    My new unlocked phones is the best. Without it I would be lost. My HTC Aria is amazing. Being an unlocked at&t phones I can take it overseas and my kids absolutely love the touchscreen, apps, and games. I’m definitely surprising my wife with one for her birthday. I got my htc unlock codes from unlockthatphone.com, they are amazing and fast to get cell phone unlock codes. If you ever need any at&t unlock codes be sure to check them out. Even so the HTC Aria is sick and I would definitely recommend this to anyone who asks!

  • Laura

    What are the screws called??

  • Brothersjojo

    Love the aria. Especially going from iPhone 3g to this. I don’t regret one bit. And when I download a song me and my friends don’t have to crowd around the phone… the speaker is plenty loud and fills the room with no problem. It will b tough to give this phone up when the time comes. Will defiantly get another HTC android powered phone.

Back to top ▴