HTC Tattoo review
We review the HTC Tattoo, the cheapest Android-based smartphone to date
Verdict: The cheapest Android smartphone so far keeps most of the best from phones costing considerably more.
Price: Free with contract or £280 SIM-free
Pros: Android 1.6 OS, Sense UI, WiFi, GPS, HSDPA 3G, 3.5mm audio jack plug
Cons: Resistive screen isn't as sensitive as it could be, poor battery life, processor seems a bit underpowered
Design: Corporate grey, but you can rebuild it!
Operating System: Android 1.6
More Info: HTC website
While several companies are now offering a varied range of Android smart phones, they all have one thing in common – they're expensive. Devices from HTC, Motorola and Samsung which use Google's clever operating system have all been premium devices, but the HTC Tattoo is the first attempt at an entry-level Android.
To keep costs down, HTC has made a few compromises, but with the latest version of Android on board, plus HTC's well-regarded Sense user interface, HSDPA 3G, WiFi, GPS and a 3.2 megapixel camera, compromise has been kept to a minimum.
The HTC Tattoo is one of the smallest Androids we've seen so far at 106x55x14mm and 113g. Style-wise it has more in common with HTC's Windows Mobile handsets such as the Touch Cruise rather than its Android predecessors with their odd little chin.
Below the screen are a couple of rocker buttons for home, menu, back and search, plus a circular D-pad (which we seldom found use for) and call start and stop buttons. On one side there's a volume rocker and there's a 3.5mm headphone jack on top.
The HTC Tattoo also sees the return of alternative covers, with a selection of different colours and styles available, plus the option to design your own and order it online from www.tattoomyhtc.com for around £13.
The 2.8in resistive touchscreen features 240 x 320 pixels and though it's only 0.4in smaller than the HTC Hero, it's a very different and inferior beast. It's resistive, rather than capacitive, and therefore less sensitive to the difference between brushes and presses. Using the onscreen keyboard proved especially tricky, even in landscape mode, and despite the presence of haptic feedback, optional sound cues, word prediction and spell correction, we still found ourselves getting very frustrated at the amount of typing errors we made.
Interface and operating system
The HTC Tattoo uses the latest 1.6 'Donut' version of the Android operating system, which updates the 1.5 'Cupcake' as well as HTC's attractive Sense user interface.
There are seven home screens which can be personalised with any of the Android widgets available on the menu, which includes handy, always-on Twitter and email apps or others downloaded from the Android Market which incidentally has a new, cleaner look. You can also use 'scenes' – timed themes with arrangements of widgets to suit your lifestyle, such as work-oriented widgets during the week, automatically switching to a leisure-themed scene over the weekend.
Other new features include a new quick search box which makes it easy to search through all your apps and memory, battery usage indicator and some changes to the camera software.
The Android browser seems much the same as on previous models, which is to say it's okay, though not the best out there. You can have up to four windows open at once and copy and paste text, plus there's a quick sharing option for whatever page you're viewing but you still have to jiggle the screen to bring up the zoom buttons.
The 3.2 megapixel camera shows some improvement on the typical HTC fare but it's far from being a world-beater. It starts up quickly (about three seconds) and maximum picture resolution is 2048x1536 pixels but there's no flash, no shutter button (you use the D-pad) no autofocus and precious little in the way of extras, though there is geotagging and a timer.
The Android 1.6 updates are welcome, but not radical – there's now a zoom bar on the left of the screen, an onscreen switch that makes it quick and easy to switch between stills and video and an onscreen link to your gallery.
Picture quality isn't bad within its limitations, though you'll need to be careful with your light at either end of the spectrum, since it tends to bleach out very easily with bright light.
Viewing video is a bit of a disappointment after the sharp detailing of the likes of the Hero and the iPhone, but you can watch MPEG-4, H.263, H.264 and WMV9 formats and there's an option to stretch clips to fit the screen, which lowers the overall quality, but makes them easier to view on the smallish 2.8in LCD screen. For music there's an attractive icon-based interface and all the usual search and sort options, plus it can handle MP3, AAC(AAC, AAC+, AAC-LC), AMR-NB, WAV, MIDI and WMA9 formats.
There's a paltry 512MB of memory on board but it comes with a 2GB microSD card (hot swappable, but it's under the back cover) and the option to expand it up to 32GB.
However, we got occasional but persistent screen lag when viewing video, as well as using Google Maps and the browser, suggesting that the 528MHz Qualcomm processor may be struggling a bit with the demands placed on it.
As we expected, battery life on the HTC Tattoo is less than great, though it didn’t do too badly for a well-specced smartphone, giving us around a day and a half of moderate to heavy use.
The HTC Tattoo is a good attempt to produce a more affordable Android phone. It's compact, and nicely stocked with options, though inevitably there are some frustrating compromises, notably the cramped onscreen keyboard, and limited quality camera. However, it does manage to pack in virtually all the good things we've come to love about Android and HTC's Sense UI, including its multiple home pages with changeable widgets, and of course the Android Market. They've included some nice social networking integration too. - If you're looking for Android on a budget, look no further.