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By Thomas McKinnon 4 December 2009

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Nokia was on to something in the year 2000 with the 3310. It had the potential to be a really boring phone with its safe design and monochrome display, but it wasn’t primarily because it featured interchangeable covers.

Alas as phone interfaces and screens improved it was just easier to change your wallpaper than to change your cover when you wanted to personalise you phone. Well, as with any fashion, interchangeable covers are in vogue again. Samsung and HTC have both released mid-range devices with interchangeable covers, the Corby and the Tattoo respectively.

The Tattoo is particularly interesting because it’s powered by Google’s Android 1.6 OS. Surprisingly, as a mid-range device, it also offers all the UI goodness available on the HTC Hero, skinned with HTC’s Sense Experience.

Interface

HTC’s Sense Experience, first seen on the Hero, is superb since it offers seven customisable home-screens that can be populated with your most used apps. A number of the apps, like Peep (for Twitter) offer steaming updates to your home-screen and others such as the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings widgets allow you direct access to functions you normally have to dig deep for.

The device also offers easy access to settings and customisation features via a hardware menu button. This makes changing settings and switching between different scenes a breeze. Sense even grabs your Gmail and Facebook contacts and integrates them with your address book on the phone so that pics and other bits of info are available on your friends, adding greatly to the personal feel of the phone.

The platform’s media applications, pre-installed Google services and access to the Android market make it a pleasure to use. In fact the wide scope for customisation makes it incredibly flexible so that just a few adjustments to the settings turns the Tattoo into a youthful gadget, as opposed to the impressive productivity device it the Hero is.

Hardware

The Tattoo also features a respectable set of specification. All the latest connectivity options are on offer; Quad Band GSM, 3G HSDPA, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g and Bluetooth 2.0. It’s powered by the same 528 MHz Qualcomm processor as its three HTC Android predecessors. It offers a 3.5 mm jack, an accelerometer, a 3.2 megapixel camera and GPS support with A-GPS.

While the camera disappointed a little, being poor in low light conditions and lacking auto-focus functionality, we found it acceptable when used as a point-and-shoot device. The battery life was the real disappointment however, since it generally lasted only a day with regular use.

Touch experience

While the Tattoo can be commended for its OS offering and decent hardware, some sort of comprise was to be expected from a phone in its price bracket. Its touch experience was the casualty, being the first Android device to utilise a resistive, as opposed to a capacitive, touch-screen. Basically it’s activated via pressure rather than the electrical impulses in a human finger, making it a more clumsy technology. To make matters worse the Tattoo only has a 2.8" screen with a native resolution of 240 x 320, far smaller than the Dream, Magic or Hero.

This cramped touch experience is most obvious when typing messages. It’s near impossible to type messages in portrait mode, with the keys squashed far too close together. Landscape mode is better, but still not nearly as good as the experience on the Hero.

Interchangeable covers

The interchangeable covers and mid-range pricing of the Tattoo are obvious moves by HTC to entice a more youthful Android following. You can buy a number of stylised cases online from tattoomyhtc.com or even design your own cover. So while the idea is similar to the 3310, you’re not buying a cover from a hawker at the lights.

The concept is rather interesting but it would have been nice to have an extra cover or two straight out the box. Also you need to order the covers in Euro as there is no local store. This means that they’re a little pricey at around 12 Euro and there’ll be a 10 day waiting period. So we don’t envision someone buying three or four covers at a time.

Conclusion

While the touch and display size issues are rather annoying it’s important to remember that they have brought the price of an Android device into the mid-range market. For this reason the phone is well worth what you pay for it. The Tattoo highlights just how versatile and device agnostic the Android platform is becoming.

PROS
Uncompromised Android experience with HTC Sense Experience UI.
CONS
The touch experience isnt as good as previous HTC Android devices.
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