AT&T boosts lineup with HTC Aria, Pantech Ease

Both phones go on sale June 20

AT&T might get its biggest headlines for its exclusive deal to sell the iPhone, but the company is bolstering its lineup with a new Android 2.1 smartphone exclusive, the HTC Aria, and the Pantech Ease messaging phone, which is focused on seniors.

Both phones go on sale Sunday. The Aria will sell for $130 after rebate with a two-year voice plan and a smartphone data plan from AT&T. The Ease, on sale for $70 after rebate, is for users who want a simpler phone with large fonts and easy-to-use buttons that does not require a smartphone data plan. The Ease has a two-year voice plan and a minimum $20-per-month messaging or messaging/data plan.

AT&T's announcement of both devices follows a trend by the largest wireless carriers to support dozens of devices for high- and low-end users. Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest carrier, has a similar strategy, recently launching both the HTC Droid Incredible smartphone and Microsoft's lower-end Kin One and Kin Two phones, which emphasize ease in texting and organizing social interactions.

The Aria has Android OS

The Aria includes a 5-megapixel camera and a 3.2-in. HVGA display. The camera includes autofocus and video capture.

HTC Aria
The HTC Aria smartphone

Users interact via a capacitive touch screen with pinch-and-zoom capabilities, but there are dedicated touch-sensitive keys for Home, Menu, Back and Search. In addition to Android 2.1 capabilities (it's the first AT&T device on Android to move to 2.1), the Aria relies on the latest version of HTC Sense to help users organize their most-wanted information on a home or nearby screen, giving access to Facebook, Twitter or Flickr updates in a single view. The home screen has seven panels, reached by swiping left or right.

AT&T noted that Aria is HSPA 7.2-compatible, giving faster access than typical 3G speeds in those areas where HSPA is fully rolled out. It also supports Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi b and g, and GPS.

It measures 4.1 by 2.3 by 0.46 in. and weighs 3.8 oz.

The smartphone runs a Qualcomm MSM 7227 processor, clocked at 600 MHz, substantially below the Snapdragon 1-GHz processor in the Droid Incredible and the 1-GHz speed of the Apple A4 chip in the iPhone 4.

A 2GB storage card is included in the microSD card slot in addition to 512MB of ROM.

The Aria's battery supports up to six hours of talk time.

Ease stresses simplicity

In contrast, the Ease has a 3.2-in. touch screen as well as a full physical keypad in a slider design. It is the first in a series of phones focused on simplicity from Pantech to include both a touch screen and physical keypad, following up on the Pantech Breeze that launched in 2008 and the Pantech Breeze II launched in May.

Pantech Ease messaging phone
Pantech Ease messaging phone.

AT&T said the Ease would serve all age groups but especially seniors, putting it at a different end of the age spectrum from Microsoft's Kin devices. The company emphasized the device's large font and easy-to-use buttons, including specialized buttons for Quick Contact or "Say a Command" for voice-activated calling.

Ease is also compatible with HSPA 7.2 speeds and includes an AT&T mobile browser for Internet surfing. Navigation is available for $10 a month.

Jeff Bradley, AT&T Mobility's senior vice president of devices, said the Ease represents AT&T's "commitment to meeting the needs of all AT&T customers." He called it the "first quick messaging phone targeted for simplicity seekers [that] fulfills our goal to create a highly functional device for everyone -- from children to great-grandparents."

Analysts said that a phone targeted at seniors could be a significant market opportunity for carriers. Iain Gillott, an analyst at IGR, said AT&T and Pantech worked together to develop the easy-to-use interface sought by seniors.

No size or weight figures were available on the Ease.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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