HTC Tattoo could be the first 'real' free smartphone

Now that HTC has unveiled its fourth Android handset, one begins to wonder what is next for the Taiwanese company and indeed the Android handsets business as a whole. HTC was the first to release a phone running on Google's open smartphone operating system, and now that it has shown off the Tattoo (formerly known as "Click") the company appears to have foregone design innovation in favor of releasing a cheap device.

The HTC Tattoo has a 528 MHz Qualcomm MSM7225 processor with 256 MB RAM, quad-band GSM/HSPA/UMTS radios, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1, a 3.2 megapixel camera, 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD-expandable memory. But aside from HTC's Sense UI, which debuted in the Hero last month, the only noteworthy feature of the Tattoo is the ability for users to decorate its chassis with cosmetic designs -- not exactly Earth-shattering stuff.

HTC introduced the Tattoo today as the device that "brings Android to all," which could really only mean one thing: It will be cheap. Unfortunately, the company did not officially disclose today the pricing for the Tattoo, and only said that it will be coming to European markets in October with pricing determined by carrier. Telecompaper reported today that in Spain, the Tattoo will be available on Movistar, Vodafone, and Orange and will cost approximately €349 without contract. It is also expected to launch in France on Bouygues Telecom, but there is no word on pricing there yet.

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Since the cost is being left up to the individual carriers, many are expecting this to be the first Android device (and really, the first competitive smartphone) to be free with a carrier agreement.

As Engadget pointed out this morning, however, the device is equipped with a resistive touchscreen rather than capacitive. While this certainly lowers the bill of materials, the tradeoff here is that it also risks lowering the device's responsiveness and usability.

But the declining cost of entry for smartphones is one of the major reasons for their rising stake of the mobile phone market, which up until recently has been dominated by feature phones. The commanding price range thus far has been $89-$99 with the BlackBerry Curve, Palm Centro, and iPhone 3G selling in huge quantities. If the Tattoo breaks that price barrier as many expect it will, not only will Android experience a huge surge in users, but so too will wireless data networks and smartphones in general.

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