Try to find the HTC Gratia Android phone on HTC’s official website. If you’re browsing from the UK, you’ll struggle – it doesn’t appear on the company’s list of phones available in the UK. And yet here the little chipper of a Google blower is, on sale and all. Is it any good? Is this HTC handset worth splurging on now with the affordable HTC ChaCha around the corner? Answers, answers, all here in our HTC Gratia review.
We were more than a little surprised by the quiet announcement of the HTC Gratia late last year. This low end phone was only slightly more advanced than the super popular, super cheap HTC Wildfire – and now that’s got a sequel, the HTC Wildfire S, the Gratia feels a bit like a lost sheep.
For the unacquainted, the HTC Gratia is to all intents and purposes a European version of last year’s HTC Aria, released on AT&T in the US – a tiny phone with a mere 3.2-inch touchscreen that feels even smaller after a year of 4-inch phone after 4-inch phone hitting the shelves.
It is however, not a petite phone. At 11.7-mm thick, the HTC Gratia is a bit chunkier than you’d expect – and the sloping sides and four recessed screws on the back giving it an ungainly bulging effect don’t help matters.
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That said, the volume rocker gets the job done, and we do like the optical trackpad. Like the one on the original HTC Desire, it lets you highlight text quickly and easily, and without accruing the grit, wear and tear of a physical trackball like on the HTC Hero. There’s no physical camera button, and nor is there a flash on the back for the camera, but we’ll come back to that shortly.
If you’ve used a HTC Hero or HTC Legend Android phone before, you’ll know what to expect from the display on the HTC Gratia: it’s the same size and resolution at 3.2-inches and 480x 320. That’s about par for the course for a low price smartphone these days, so we can’t really grumble: it’s certainly easier on the eye than the super grainy panel on the HTC Wildfire, and just as responsive as you’d expect for typing and zooming in and out of web pages.
That said, the colour quality from the LCD screen pales in comparison to the AMOLED display on the HTC Legend: it’s just acceptable, and that’s it.
Contrary to HTC’s website specs, the HTC Gratia actually runs the more recent Android 2.2 rather than 2.1 build of Google’s mobile OS, which offers speed improvements running apps, and a handy mobile Wi-Fi hotspot feature for hopping online with your laptop (or HTC Flyer) wherever your phone has a 3G signal. With a lowly 600MHz processor inside however, the HTC Gratia doesn’t support Adobe Flash streaming video, one of the big boons of Android 2.2 on more powerful handsets.
For better or worse, you’re also looking at the stock HTC Sense experience on the HTC Gratia too. For the uninitiated, Sense is a slicky, user friendly interface HTC’s plastered over the top of Android, with its own QWERTY keyboard and contacts amalgamation. It’s certainly our favourite Android skin of any manufacturer, and on cheap phone like the HTC Gratia, serves to make Android a bit more comprehensible to newcomers who were just after a cut price iPhone alternative. There’s rarely any lag – it certainly feels a lot faster than the HTC Wildfire.
However, this is not the same version of HTC Sense running atop HTC’s other most recent Android efforts, the HTC Desire HD and HTC Desire Z. You can’t customise the Sense dock, use its mapping service (which works without 3G) or the handy Find My iPhone-style tracking feature.
There’s no pre-installed app for media streaming to other Wi-Fi devices either. All in all, after the inroads HTC has made with recent releases, HTC Sense feels rather cursory here – in fact, as far as we can tell it’s very similar to the 2.2 update on the original HTC Desire (which you can read about here).
One final note: the HTC Gratia has not been locked down to only accept Android Market apps, as the HTC Aria is in the US. It’s as open as any other Android phone, and you can get your downloads from wherever you like.
Camera, call quality and battery life
We can’t grumble too much about the camera on the HTC Gratia. It is what you’d expect from a tiny HTC smartphone: it’s fast and focuses well, but comes away with unflattering results, compounded by the lack of a flash.
Call quality however is perfectly acceptable from something so tiny, and not plagued by the tinny, rattling noise you’d expect from the form factor. Battery life too is respectable: we found the HTC Gratia lasted a solid two days of use. This is the one reason we’d opt for this over the HTC Legend, though if you’ve already adjusted to the new reality of charging your smartphone every night, this may not be an issue.
We were surprised by the sheer number of phones HTC unveiled at Mobile World Congress last month, and their nearing release makes the HTC Gratia a difficult sell. Add to that, the superior and almost identically sized HTC Legend (now also on Android 2.2) sells for around the same price – if you can find it in stock, it’s the better option.
Unless of course, if you need a small phone with a longer battery life – only then might the HTC Gratia might be the way to go.