What's Good: Powerful for a mid-range device; good camera; HTC's Sense UI a joy to use.
What's Bad: Small on-screen keyboard could be frustrating for those with large hands.
The Verdict: The Aria is a great little mid-range Android device on AT&T. Be sure to try out the on-screen keyboard before purchasing, and pick up a car charger while you're at it.
With new devices launching on a near-weekly basis, 2010 has been the year of Android devices. Much to the chagrin of some, AT&T has been left out of the high-end Android fold for some time now, despite the corporate promise of five Android devices by the end of the year. While Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile have picked up hot devices like the HTC DROID Incredible, HTC EVO 4G, Motorola DROID X, Samsung Vibrant, and the Samsung Epic 4G, AT&T hasn't seen a new unit since the Motorola Backflip launched earlier in the year.
Enter the HTC Aria, Big Blue's second Android device. With a 600 MHz processor and 3.2-inch HVGA display, it falls into the mid-range category, but it provides another choice for Android die-hards on AT&T. That being said, is it worth buying, or should you hold out for the remaining three AT&T Android devices?
Design & Features
I'm not sure how much of this is me experiencing overload from working with the EVO and Galaxy S' of the world, but when I pulled the device out of the box, my first thought was "wow, this phone is smaller than I thought it would be." The Aria is tiny for two reasons: (1) It's dwarfed by the high-end behemoths like the EVO 4G, DROID X, and Galaxy S series, and (2) while offering a reasonably sized display (same as Legend, Eris, and Hero), it's packed in a chassis that makes it look smaller than it really is.
The Aria is packaged in a medium-sized box that contains an AC adapter, USB cable, 3.5mm headset, and 2 GB microSD card. The device packs a 3.2-inch HVGA display, 512 MB ROM, 384 MB RAM, a 5.0-megapixel camera, and Wi-Fi connectivity. Measuring in at 4.09 inches long by 2.27 inches wide by 0.46 inch thick, the Aria tips the scales at 4.06 ounces, making it perfect for a purse or tight pocket.
The Aria offers few external buttons. The left side houses the volume rocker, while the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack can are on the top of the device. The camera and speaker are both located on the back of the device, while the optical trackpad, home key, menu key, back button, and search button are located on the front. Like other HTC devices of late, the Aria's internals are colored - but they're bright yellow instead of red. Unlike the other devices that have a color ring around the camera, you don't see Aria's color at all - it's completely hidden until you remove the battery cover. Though the Aria is primarily made of plastic, it has a sturdy, "well-packed" feel to it. I do have to say, though - given the fact that the Aria is essentially the US version of the Legend, I wish AT&T had opted for the unibody metal design versus the HD Mini design.
Usability & Performance
The phone runs Android 2.1 with HTC's Sense UI, and given the processor limitations, it's surprisingly fast. Unfortunately, you can't install non-Android Market apps, which may be a sticking point for the tech-savvy crowd. With a smaller display comes a somewhat cramped on-screen keyboard, and those with large hands may have trouble typing on the device. Admittedly, I'm spoiled by the roomy touchscreen keyboards found on the 4+-inch displays, but the Aria's keyboard gets the job done. It just took me longer than usual. After a few days of use (and not going back to larger displays, I might add), I was able to get the hang of the smaller screen. Despite the slowdown due to screen size, overall keyboard responsiveness was fantastic, with no lag whatsoever.
The Aria offers a 600 MHz processor, and if you remember the 528 MHz generation from last year (Hero, Eris), the thought of a sub-1 GHz processor might be enough to sway you away. Just like the Legend (which also offers a 600 MHz processor), the Aria is surprisingly peppy and was able to handle every task I threw at it. There are a few areas where I noticed the benefit of the faster processor, but for daily tasks, it's perfect. I attribute the speed boost to a combination of a slightly faster processor, Android 2.1, and a revised version of Sense UI. The Aria and the Legend are the first two sub-1 GHz Android devices that I would strongly consider carrying on a daily basis due to the strong performance.
The Aria ships with a 5.0-megapixel camera, and in testing, pictures shot in a decent amount of light came out surprisingly well thanks to autofocus. The Aria doesn't have a flash, so picture quality will decline as it gets dark. Editing options include brightness, contrast, saturation, sharpness, effects (grayscale, sepia, negative, solarize, posterize, and aqua), white balance, ISO, resolution, widescreen, quality, and self-timer.
I've been testing the Aria in the Charlotte metro area, and call quality has been good. Callers said that audio quality was strong on their end, and I experienced no issues during my testing. I took it to two known AT&T trouble spots, and was able to complete a call, despite having the occasional cut outs. The speakerphone is a bit more quiet versus other smartphones on the market, and gets worse when you place it on a desk, due to the camera being flush with the battery cover. While the speaker on the EVO 4G and DROID Incredible is located in the same place, the raised camera lens lifts the device ever-so-slightly off of the desk, allowing sound to flow.
Offering HSPA (7.2 Mbps) capabilities, cruising around the internet was snappy on the Aria. The CNN mobile homepage loaded in about six seconds, and the PhoneDog page loaded in about 18 seconds. The Aria offers a 1200 mAh battery with a rated talk time of 6 hours, and roughly 16 days of standby time. With moderate use including calling, text messaging, browsing the internet, using apps, and use of the Android Market, I was able to make it just over a full day before the device powered down. While battery life isn't spectacular when compared to some alternatives on the market, it's slightly better than other Android alternatives on the market. If you are a moderate to heavy user or someone who travels on a regular basis, be sure to pick up an extra battery and car charger before you travel again.
With Android 2.1, HTC's user-friendly Sense UI, a nice 5.0-megapixel camera, and an optical trackpad, the Aria is worth considering. Is it going to appeal to the high-end smartphone crowd? Probably not, and if you're used to high-resolution 4+-inch displays, 8.0-megapixel cameras, and voice calling, I would at least wait until the Samsung Captivate hits retail shelves before making a decision. That being said, there's a lot to like in the Aria - it's light and compact, offers a great deal of power given the small size, and provides reasonable battery life for an Android device.