The HTC Hero may not be the nicest looking phone on sale, but it is certainly one of the most exciting, and that is due in part to the combination of HTC’s own know-how and the brilliance of Android. However, besides the quirky design, the Hero wasn’t the cheapest phone on the market and for an operating system to gain widespread acceptance you need to build up a range.
Even the Motorola DEXT is quite expensive, so the market was crying out for something cheaper. The Tattoo is HTC’s answer, looking even nicer than the Hero with a more logical key layout and fixed D-pad navigation button. You can also change the covers.
Changing covers is one thing, but finding something you like can sometimes be rather tricky. High street retailers are hardly interested in giving away valuable selling space for inexpensive covers, and nobody should ever buy the cheap tat on a market stall that will fall to bits in weeks. HTC solves the problem of finding cool covers by allowing you to design your own online, upload a photo if you so desire, and then await delivery of an official cover that is totally unique to you.
To begin with, the phone comes with two rather more sedate covers to keep you going. At the beginning, you’ll be simply wanting to get to grips with Android.
The Tattoo ships with Android OS 1.6, which is gradually being rolled out to Magic users on Vodafone and will be the version that comes with Sony Ericsson’s somewhat more expensive Xperia X10 next year. The HTC Hero still uses 1.5, although an update to 2.0 is on the cards.
You don’t need to worry too much about the version for now, especially when it is newer than the award winning Hero. All of the good things you may have heard about Android are here, and the phone doesn’t skip on features. There’s 3G, high-speed data, GPS and Wi-Fi. In fact, all of the things you got on the Hero.
Firm to the touch
What you don’t get is a capacitive touchscreen, meaning you won’t enjoy nice multi-touch tricks like zooming in and out on the web browser by giving the screen a pinch or pull. The resolution of the display is lower too, which is noticeable (especially if you have used another Android phone) but not so bad as to ruin the experience. The graphics aren’t as slick, and you’ll need to zoom in a little more on the web, but everything is still usable.
It’s also quicker to move around the screens than on models with higher resolution displays with many more pixels to manage.
The pixels are also down on the camera, with the Tattoo losing the 5-megapixel autofocus camera and getting a 3.2-megapixel fixed focus one instead. Imaging wasn’t the strongest point on the Hero and it’s fair to say that it is even worse here.
What the Tattoo is all about is ease of use, handling email, contacts and – thanks to the addition of HTC Sense – keeping updated with your social networking data. This includes the TouchFLO front-end that has nine horizontally scrolling panels that can show widgets, links and applications for easy access. It’s quick and incredibly adaptable.
From the moment you switch the Tattoo on for the first time, you’re asked to sign up or login to your Google account (it’s a necessity), then add your details for Facebook, Flickr and Twitter if you use them. From then on, you can quickly see the latest tweets in HTC’s own ‘Peep’ application (but you can also get something more advanced from Android Market), while Facebook content is integrated with your contacts.
If you’re a regular Facebook user, this means that you’ll not only get photos added for your contacts, but the usual status updates and notifications of when new photos are added, which can be viewed like a normal photo gallery. With so much going on, the Android system where you pull down a notification bar at the top of the screen gives you the ability to respond to all the updates immediately or flick them back up to the top for reading later. It’s a far better solution than the usual pop-up windows that show once and then disappear for good when you close them.
Google manages your data in the ‘cloud’, which means everything is uploaded and downloaded to Google. All of the contacts and calendar appointments on the phone are in fact being pulled down from Google. If you lose your phone, all the personal data on there (excluding photos, unless you’ve uploaded them to an online gallery) is safe and will be put back on any replacement Android phone.
A suite of Google applications includes Google Talk, Google Maps and Google Mail. You can also use the internal email client to pick up other accounts using Microsoft Exchange, POP or IMAP.
However, it makes more sense to set up your Gmail account to collect mail there, and then use the many different filters for multiple accounts. This has the added benefit of offering up incredible SPAM protection.
The browser includes many additions from HTC, including Flash and visual bookmarks.
Android Market now has a better way of categorising and searching for apps, split between free and paid-for. There are now loads of apps to choose from.
The Tattoo is a great looking phone and a welcome addition to the Android family, and while it doesn’t have the most responsive screen compared to other Android offerings, it still incorporates all the best things the OS has to offer.
Let’s begin by stating what you don’t get on the Tattoo over the HTC Hero: no capacitive touchscreen and no multi-touch. That’s it. The camera is down to 3.2-megapixels and the screen has a lower-res QVGA display, but you get everything else, from 3G and HSDPA to Wi-Fi and assisted GPS. You get the same HTC Sense add-on to manage Facebook, Flickr and Twitter content, plus the nine-panel TouchFLO front-end and enhanced web browser. Throw in the customisable replacement battery covers and the lower price and the Tattoo is another clear winner from HTC.