HTC has played the biggest part in bringing Android to the masses. If you want a new operating system to take off, you need to gain some degree of market base, which is why the HTC Tattoo is exciting. Like the Huawei's T-Mobile Pulse, the HTC Tattoo is pitched as an entry level device, for those that can't afford a premium phone like the HTC Hero.
It is no surprise to see the Tattoo coming from HTC: they have a history of producing various formats of Windows Mobile devices so are ideally placed to repeat this operation for Android. The HTC Tattoo, then, follows the inoffensive design lines of preceding HTC touch devices and at first glance could easily be taken as a Windows Phone.
Although it is an entry-level or "mass market" device, the build quality is still good. Plastics are used throughout, but they are free from creaks and it looks smart. A range of custom covers will be available with the option of designing your own through tattoomyhtc.com; ours simply had an Android popping his head out of the back cover, the cuddly little chap that he is. The HTC Tattoo measures 106 x 55.2 x 14 mm, so is relatively compact.
The front sees the usual range of controls: Home, Menu, Back and Search sit paired on two rocker keys under the screen, with a central four-way/ok controller flanked by the calling keys. The action on the buttons is reasonable, if a little shallow, although those with bigger hands might find that bending your thumb to use them is a little uncomfortable.
The locations are reasonable too but you'll probably find in one-handed use that reaching the extreme left or right key (Home and Search respectively), depending on which hand you are holding the phone in, is difficult. The four-way controller might not actually get much use, but can slide through the HTC Sense homepages or up and down menus as you see fit without touching the screen, perhaps overcoming some of the niggles with screen responsiveness.
The left-hand side of the phone sees a volume rocker. The top of the phone gives you the 3.5mm headphone jack and around the back is the 3.2-megapixel camera, sans flash. On the bottom is the bespoke USB connection, which we have found will accept a standard Mini-USB in absence of the supplied cable.
The screen is the area where the HTC Tattoo really differentiates itself from the HTC Hero and other Android devices released so far. The HTC Tattoo comes with Android 1.6 (Donut) which supports a wider range of screen resolutions than previous versions, which is where HTC really save the money in this model.
The screen is a 2.8-inch QVGA 240 x 320 pixel resolution display and it is resistive - quite a drop down from the impressive screen found on the HTC Hero. The operating system, Android with HTC Sense sitting on top, is essentially the same but the experience is quite different.
Being a resistive display means that you lose the multi-touch support that gives the Hero such a good browsing experience. It also means that general navigation of the user interface loses the precision and immediacy that the best devices have. It means you'll spend more time poking the screen to elicit a response and scrolling isn't as accurate as you'd like it to be.
That said, Android and HTC Sense have been well designed for touch control, so this isn't a throwback to the bad old days of Windows Mobile: it still all works as it should, with HTC Sense binding together the Android experience.
We won't go into detail in HTC Sense here, but if you haven't heard about it, we'll run through the highlights. You get five homepages and the ability to flick left and right through them. They can be customised to your liking, adding HTC widgets for major applications like weather, email, Twitter, etc as well as Android widgets or shortcuts to people, applications, bookmarks and so on.
You also get Scenes, so if you want a different homepage selection for work, home, travel or whatever, you can do so. Android already pulls on your Google account for calendars, email and contacts, but Sense takes it a step further, giving you the option to pull in Facebook and Flickr too. It links Facebook and Google contacts, giving you a rich contacts experience, with easy access to an individuals updates, photos and so on. It doesn’t go quite as far as Motorola's Motoblur, but as a front end to a phone, we can only say that HTC Sense is the way modern mobile phone should be.
You still get those Sense quirks that don't quite work, like arriving at a "live" widget and finding it isn't updated, so you have to then wait for the refresh before you get the current information, but the same is true of the Hero. You'll also get the occasional pause on opening your more information-intensive apps, but nothing devastating.
But the biggest thing you'll notice is the step down in quality that dropping to QVGA resolution brings. The screen isn't as sharp as we'd quite like and the smaller size means less space for widgets overall. It also means that you'll need to view text larger for it to be clear enough to read.
However, if you haven't been living with a higher resolution device, then this isn't something that will really bother you and it competes with other compact smartphones, bringing with it both the customisation advantages of the Android platform and the friendly and fun HTC Sense.
But not so fast. As this is a Donut (Android 1.6) device with a lower resolution, there is a marked difference in the Marketplace too. For those that don't know, the Android Marketplace is where you go to pick up applications. The combination of Donut and QVGA mean that at present not all the apps are available yet. Developers have to recompile their app for 1.6 (which shouldn't be a problem) as well as make any changes to the user interface to it works with the screen. It's a process that will take time, but at the time of writing, most of our favourites have not yet made an appearance.
The Browser is good, but really misses multi-touch. It is fast enough, but you are dependent on double tap zooming or zoom buttons at the bottom the screen. The low resolution also means that you need to zoom a lot, because you can't read the text.
The smaller size and resistive screen also have an impact on the keyboard experience. You get HTC's keyboard with suggestions, which will smooth out the majority of spelling mistakes, but if you have big fingers, even the landscape QWERTY can be a little small. One advantage though, is that if you have fingernails/false nails (girls, I'm talking to you) you'll be able to bash out messages using the tips of your nails, something that the Hero won't let you do.
The hardware specs are comprehensive however. You get HSPDA, you get Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well as an FM radio, a commuter favourite. You also get lots of sensory awareness including GPS, accelerometer and a digital compass, so as far as smartphones go it ticks all the right boxes.
To expand the memory there is microSD card slot hiding under the back cover, which you'll need to store all those pics, videos and music that the Tattoo is waiting to take on. Battery life is fairly average for a connected touch device, giving you about 5 and a half hours of talk time and 20 days on standby. In practise, once you start drawing on all that data you'll be charging it every night.
Overall the HTC Tattoo experience is a good one. Sure, it is a noticeable step down from the Hero and rightly so. You don't get the same touch response and it doesn't look as sharp as the Hero. The keyboard experience isn't as good (with a caveat on long nails) and the browser doesn't have the same natural experience without multi-touch.
But you don't lose out on the spec sheet, meaning that you'll still be able to take advantage of all the smartphone goodness you are looking for with all the Android customisation to make the phone your own, once the Marketplace catches up. The icing on the cake is HTC Sense, which we love.
If you are looking for an affordable and friendly entry to the Android world then the HTC Tattoo is worthy of consideration, but if you can stretch to the Hero, you'll get so much more out of it.