Editor's note: the review below was conducted by our colleagues at CNET Asia in Singapore. Harvey Norman is the initially the exclusive retail partner in Australia for the Tattoo and HTC Hero (AU$799). Both will be in-store from November 27, however pre-orders are being taken now. Other retail distribution channels will be announced in 2010.
The HTC Tattoo is the fourth Android device from the Taiwanese company. That's quite a feat considering many phone-makers committed to the platform have not even released a single product. The Tattoo has one feature that sets it apart as an entry-level smartphone — a resistive 2.8-inch QVGA display. Let's see how this smaller, lower-resolution screen (compared with the 3-inch and larger HVGA panels) performs coupled with Google's mobile operating system.
The Tattoo's 106x55.2x14mm dimensions and 113g weight make it a compact and light device. The device is solidly built and we like how the rounded edges give it a nice feel in the hands.
Like most full-touchscreen devices, the front of the Tattoo is taken up mainly by the screen. This is a 2.8-inch QVGA LCD, similar to what you find in many older Windows Mobile smartphones. During our use, we found it sufficiently bright and sharp for reading text. Images also displayed nicely. Unfortunately, those who have used devices like the iPhone or HTC Magic, which come with HVGA (480x320) screens, may find the halved resolution on the Tattoo lacking. This can be felt mainly when browsing the internet and trying to type with your fingertips. More on that later when we discuss this smartphone's features.
You get the standard set of buttons for an Android phone. Aside from the Call and End keys, there are dedicated Home, Menu, Back and Search buttons under the display. A round directional pad is also found there which we felt worked well, thanks to its large circumference and prominent select button. The sides of the Tattoo are bare aside from a volume rocker on the left.
One of the designs available on the Garskin website.
Connectors on this smartphone include a mini-USB for charging and syncing on the base and a 3.5mm audio port on the top. This means you can use your favourite pair of headphones for music playback, a feature that will please those particular about earphone audio fidelity. Memory expansion is possible through a microSD card slot found on the left side under the back battery cover.
With the Tattoo, HTC has provided a way for users to personalise the chassis of the phone. Every single part of the external plastic shell is replaceable. You do that first by removing the battery cover, and from there, the front face plate and back base plate can be pried off completely. The company has partnered with gadget accessory company Garskin to sell replacement shells. The patterns are quite varied and you can even design your own from the Garskin website. HTC is giving users a redemption card in the standard sales package which entitles you to one free phone cover. If you want to buy more, they cost US$24.90 each.
Though the Tattoo is supposed to be a budget Android handset, HTC has put a lot of features in this upcoming mobile phone. It comes with HSDPA and Wi-Fi for high-speed data, Bluetooth and GPS for navigation. Powering the phone is a Qualcomm 528MHz processor found in many other high-end HTC phones, too, so that's good news for this entry-level handset.
One thing we really liked about the Hero, HTC's last Android device, was the Sense UI interface. This custom software comes with many useful widgets and integration of social-networking services into the contacts. The Tattoo will also sport Sense UI so many of those features will appear on this handset. One widget we did find missing was the Stock app — HTC probably assumed that those using the Tattoo aren't interested in the stock market.
Back to the matter of the 2.8-inch QVGA screen, it wasn't perfect, but it was better than we expected. For starters, HTC did a good job scaling down all its widgets to fit this screen, so the seven scrollable displays on the Home page can be well-utilised. For example, the People widget (which shows your favourite contacts so you can access them quickly) has contacts' photos that are noticeably lower in resolution compared with the Hero's implementation, but we could still make out the faces.
We did run into some problems with the browser. The small screen meant reading text required zooming into the page. This led to more scrolling just to read a news article or wiki. There was also some frustration when trying to tap on small links. In these cases, we ended up using our fingernails to do the job. This was possible because the LCD is resistive, not capacitive (which requires a fingertip skin contact) like other Android phones.
Somewhat frustrating as well was the on-screen QWERTY keyboard. Keys were really narrow, so typing with the tips of our thumbs became near impossible unless one held the device in landscape mode or had pointy fingernails.
Image quality was decent from the 3.2-megapixel camera. (Click here for original)
(Credit: CNET Asia)
Another consequence of the QVGA screen on the Tattoo is that fewer apps appear on the Android Market. Only programs which developers have tweaked to support multiple resolutions (introduced in Android 1.6) will be available for download. Though we didn't count exactly how many there are, some of our favourite games were not available. The excellent Twitter app Twidroid had not been ported over as well, last we checked.
A 3.2-megapixel camera is found on the back of the Tattoo. Remember, this is an entry-level handset so there's no autofocus or LED flash. It produced decent pictures though — just don't expect too much of it.
We were impressed with the battery performance of the Tattoo. With background data and Gmail syncing turned on, we got 2.5 days of use on a single charge. This included web surfing on HSDPA and some phone usage and texting. GPS navigation worked well with Google Maps but we don't recommend trying to use it for in-car navigation because of the small screen.
Voice quality was good and we didn't experience any dropped calls during our period of use. One thing that did poorly was the volume of the speakerphone. It was way too soft to be useful unless you were in a quiet room.
For an entry-level smartphone, the Tattoo met our expectations. It does everything you expect an Android device to do, and has great battery life to boot. The screen is a little small, but usable for the most part. Those with large fingers should really try it out at a store before deciding if they can live with the text input.
If you are someone who wants maximum mileage with your Android device, we advise spending a bit more for either the HTC Magic or Hero. This is mainly because developers have designed their apps mostly for HVGA screens for the Android Market.
But for those looking for a capable smartphone on a budget, the Tattoo is a great choice. In fact, we liked it more than the Touch2 which goes for a similar price. The compromises made in the Tattoo are acceptable considering the cost.