Android Device Review: the AT&T HTC Aria Mobile Phone

With all of the current buzz over Android phones with ~4″ screens like the Incredible, Xperia X10, Galaxy, Desire, and EVO 4G, it’s easy to forget that sometimes less can be more; sometimes less is actually more desirable. Take the HTC Aria for instance. Measuring a diminutive 4.1″ long x 2.3″ wide x 0.46″ thick and weighing 3.8 ounces with battery installed, the Aria is the perfect size to tuck into a smaller pocket or the smallest of evening bags. Its matte black plastic backside is covered in that wonderfully grippy material which rejects fingerprints and offers a bit a traction on slick surfaces. The front appears to be mostly shiny (fingerprint loving) screen; although there are obviously buttons on the front, they are integrated so that the only one immediately noticeable is the circular optical touchpad. The Aria sports a 600 MHz processor, 512MB ROM, 384MB RAM, it comes with a 2GB microSD (expandable to 32GB), and it has a 3.2″ 480 x 320 resolution capacitive touch screen. Before anyone gets snarly about the screen resolution, realize that HVGA (Half VGA) actually looks pretty darn good on such a small screen!

It’s not quite a fair comparison to put the Aria next to the non-Android iPhone 4, but because they’re well known I’ll include it; as you can see, the Aria is noticeably smaller.

The Aria is also more compact than the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G, an Android device which also sports the same resolution 3.2″ screen — even if that is where most comparisons would end.


Operating System Android™ 2.1
Touch Screen Yes (Capacitive)
Screen Size 3.2 inches
Band HSPA/UMTS/EDGE/GPRS/GSM; Dual Mode UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA (1900/850MHZ) & GSM/GPRS/EDGE (Quad band 850/900/1800/1900MHZ); HSDPA/UMTS (3GPP Release 5 Compliant; 7.2 Mbps Enabled) EGPRS Functionality
Integrated GPS Yes (GPS/AGPS)
Processor 600MHz
Camera Resolution 5 megapixels
Video Camera Yes
Speaker Phone Yes
Expandable Memory Capability 32GB
Memory Card Type microSD
Bluetooth® V2.1
Hearing Aid Compatible HAC M3 – T3 Class
MP3 Player Yes
Mobile Internet Yes
E-mail Sync Yes
FM Radio Yes
Talk Time Hours (up to)6 hrs
Stand By Days (Max) 15.5 days

So let’s take a quick look at the Aria’s hardware …

The Aria’s body is composed of plastic, metal and glass. It feels solid in hand, and when squeezed it does not creak … but when you torque the phone’s body a bit the rear battery cover will start shimmying off. This is a minor annoyance as most people don’t make it a habit of torquing their phones, and a side benefit is that this does present another way to remove the rear battery cover. You’ll see in a bit why this might come in handy.

The power button (you can barely see it here) is on the upper right edge of the decorative chrome bar above the ear speaker. Four capacitive buttons lie directly below the screen (Home, Menu, Back and Search); when you press them, you are rewarded with a slight vibration in confirmation (haptic feedback); they will also glow white when the Aria’s screen is on.  In the bottom center lies the circular digital touchpad.

Just as it did on the Droid Incredible, the circular digital trackpad appears very iPhone-like at first, but it is capable of much more than mere presses to change screens; the touchpad functions like the clunky directional pads of PDAs past and the rollerballs on some of the more recent Android (Nexus One, for instance) or Blackberry phones. This digital touchpad is much more elegant and responsive than a rollerball, and it won’t fill with dirt and debris or get knocked off.

On the left there is a volume rocker bar.

On the bottom is a standard microUSB sync & charge port, a lanyard hole and a microphone hole.

The lanyard and microphone holes are easier to see in this photo.

And here’s a better shot of the Power button.

The right side is left plain.

Flipping the Aria over, the removable back is revealed. Behind the grille is a speaker, and to its right is the 5 megapixel camera’s lens; unfortunately there is no LED flash.

I do like that to focus on a specific place in a photo you can tap on the screen, but in order to snap photos you have to click the center of the touch pad. I found this to be a huge pain because invariably it made me shake the camera, which sometimes made my photos blur ever so slightly. A better solution would have been for the camera to allow me to tap an on-screen button. Since most photos taken outdoors in good light are always going to be acceptable on any mobile phone’s camera (and the Aria’s are no exception), let’s take a look at a situation when it is a little bit tougher to take good photos — indoors with natural light. I thought the Aria performed quite well. All three of these photos are thumbnails; if you click them they will enlarge, and if you click them once again you’ll see the full size photo.

Daisy sleeping under the table; poor light

indoor photo; no alternative light

indoor photo; no alternative light; closeup

The four metallic screws in the battery cover’s corners are just for appearances, so don’t worry — you will not need to carry a special tool to remove your SIM or memory card.

The Aria has a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you’ll be able to use all of your favorite earphones.

The Aria’s back comes off in a similar fashion to last year’s HTC Snap and this year’s Droid Incredible; in other words, you have to insert a fingernail and peel that sucker off. Without resorting to the possibility of breaking a nail even while holding my tongue “just so”, the easiest way I have found to remove the Aria’s back is by laying the phone on a flat surface, grasping the sides of the battery cover / case with my left hand, and pressing down on the speaker grille with my right hand’s pointer finger. Like magic, the two pieces will separate. … Or you can torque the phone as I mentioned near the beginning of this review, and the cover will start to shimmy off. 😉

I first experienced HTC’s flashy new colored battery compartments on the Droid Incredible, and the Aria carries on this welcome new tradition; it’s a shame that no one will ever see these brilliant interiors! Here is the Aria’s Ferrari Yellow interior and translucent “engine compartment”. After seeing the Incredible’s Ferrari Red interior and now this, I think it is safe to assume that someone at HTC is an F1 fan.

The Aria has a 1200mAh Lithium Ion battery, and during the review period I was able to consistently get a full day’s use from the phone. I use Google Sync, the WiFi was always on, and most of the time I kept Bluetooth off. I used the phone to check email, surf a bit, update Twitter, check Facebook, reply to Gear Diary chats on Yammer, download a few apps and play a few games.  I thought the battery life was impressive! The Aria does not have the animated wallpapers that so many HTC Android phones come with, which is probably a good thing; not having them (and therefore not feeling like I just had to use them) is likely why my battery life was so good! 😉

The Aria is lovely to look at and to hold; it satisfies the gadget magpie in me. Incidentally, I had wanted to check out the HD Mini (a Windows Phone) when it was announced earlier this year, and except for the operating system and a few bottom row button differences, these two devices are essentially identical.

Hardware aside, the most important factor when considering the Aria is how it performs as a phone. Call quality on the Aria is quite good, with no static or dropped calls. I am a heavy speakerphone user, and I found the Aria’s to be adequate but not the best.

So let’s talk about software. The Aria runs Android 2.1 (Eclair), but the latest version — 2.2 (Froyo) — is already making an appearance on some other HTC Android devices. There’s no word yet on when (or if) Froyo will be offered on the Aria, but I would say that based on prior comments by HTC, an upgrade is likely.

Because this is a smaller screen than so many of the latest phones, people with larger fingers may feel a bit cramped on the keyboard in portrait mode …

It should be easier to tap out messages in landscape, however. Surfing on the Aria is satisfactory, especially on PDA optimized sites …

The screen is a little cramped for non-optimized browsing, but being able to pinch and zoom with finger gestures makes everything manageable.

People who are used to buying AT&T branded devices won’t be surprised to see that there are a bunch of programs pre-installed including AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Hot Spots, AT&T Maps, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Radio and MobiTV. Several of these require separate subscriptions, and none can be deleted.

That’s a bit annoying in and of itself, but it gets extremely tedious when you realize that the phone is also locked down so that you can’t add any apps which aren’t in the AT&T Android Market. Generally on Android devices you can go into Settings/Applications and check the box telling the phone to let you install from “Unknown Sources” (meaning non-Market Apps), but the Aria does not allow this option at all. This is a HUGE fail. Are you listening AT&T? HUGE FAIL!!

Non-Marketplace application installation shortcomings aside, I find the Aria to be an incredibly solid Android phone. It is snappy to use, looks great, feels great, has a gorgeous screen, and I would buy one in a minute … except for the fact that AT&T is telling me I am not allowed to add Swype or any other app that they haven’t offered from their Marketplace. For that reason alone I’d prefer an unlocked version of the Aria or something similar if I had my credit card ready today. But those who don’t enjoy adding every new app they hear about are likely to not care, and they are the ones I would whole-heartedly recommend this phone to.

The HTC Aria is available directly from AT&T, but you can also purchase from other AT&T resellers.

MSRP: $329.99 without contract; $129.99 with 2-year contract and internet rebate

What I Like: Solidly built; looks great and feels good in hand; zippy performance; functions as a great phone as well as PDA

What Needs Improvement: AT&T needs to loosen the reigns and allow the installation of non AT&T Market apps

Categories: Reviews

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10 replies

  1. Looks like a perfect mini phone when you need something light in the pocket but still able to run a full list of Android apps. I love to add this to my arsenal of mobile devices. Great writeup.

  2. I played with one the other day. I immediately loved the small size, though at first the “small” screen scared me till I realized it was physically bigger than my old Mogul screen and with better resolution.

  3. RT @GearDiarySite: Android Device Review: the AT&T HTC Aria Mobile Phone

  4. It's cute and tiny but locked tight! 😛 RT @GearDiarySite: Android Device Review: the AT&T HTC Aria Mobile Phone

  5. Love the yellow under the cover. RT @GearDiarySite: Android Device Review: the AT&T HTC Aria Mobile Phone

  6. Android Device Review: the AT&T HTC Aria Mobile Phone | Gear Diary

  7. RT @geardiary: It's cute and tiny but locked tight! 😛 the AT&T HTC Aria Mobile Phone — oh, that kind of device 😉

  8. Nice writeup. Completely agree on the inability to remove non-essential AT&T apps and the ability to add non-Market apps. Assuming the Aria operates in a similar fashion OS-wise to my AT&T Captivate, in order for me to do a screen capture, I have to either install the Android SDK, set up USB debugging and run a tool PC-side to get a screencap, or else root the phone to be able to install something like DropCap2 or similar capture app. Ridiculous! I’m not sure how much this is Samsung’s choice on my phone versus AT&T’s Android policy.

    Question: How easy is it to customize the theme on the Aria? I can’t on my Captivate customize colors, such as the task bar and such the way my coworker can with his Droid X, though I’m not sure how much of that is a function of the Samsung TouchWiz 3.0 on my phone. Speaking of colors, I do like the colorful interiors. The yellow provides a nice contrast to the typically black items one normally sees.

  9. @Francis — it is a nearly perfect mini-phone. I like it much better than many of the smaller phones I have used, but the inability to use non-AT&T Marketplace Apps is a killer. :-/

    @Steven — isn’t it funny how easily our perceptions of what is too big or too small changes? Above all else, this is a great pocket-size phone with excellent speed and a beautiful display.

    @Bryan — you’ll notice that I just used my camera for all the screen shots? 😆 I truly wish that other OSs would take a hint from Apple and make screenshots easy to do.

    As for your second question, I apologize but that is not something I tested, so I can’t respond.

    And yes, I truly like the race-inspired (I’m guessing) interiors as well! :-)

  10. HTC Aria $100 at the Shack after coupon code RSSAVE100. Check out Geardiary's Aria review here