Dell Aero Android phone enters smartphone frayIn this week's Thrifty Tech column on technology options on a college budget, we take a look at the Dell Aero -- the latest Android phone on the market, which is available for $100 upon signing with AT&T.

Perhaps we're a bit too Apple-happy here at Money College, seeing as we just can't stop talking about that newfangled iPad and it's smaller, call-making brother. (Peep the logo -- telling, right?) Of course there are more smartphones out there, and we don't like showing our bias. One of these days, we'll talk Blackberry, but today, let's talk Android.

Androids have a bunch of different designs, run on multiple cellular networks, and many are less expensive than the iPhones. The newest phone to add to the pile is the Dell Aero. The initial sale price for the Aero is $100 if you sign to AT&T, making it an affordable option for students. So what is this thing all about, anyway?
Hardware
The Aero is tiny. Dell's website calls it "one of the lightest Android smartphones." It comes equipped with a 5MP camera with 8X zoom. So it's a tiny phone with a solid and tiny camera. And the design is like the iPhone's little brother with buttons on the side. Check.

Software
The design is nice, but it doesn't account for what really makes a phone: what goes on inside it. Here are some of its highlighted features:
  • Access "anywhere": First thing's first-- the Aero has access to both WiFi and the AT&T 3G network.
  • Unique UI: The Aero UI doesn't have the same design or feel as the other phones running Android. Instead, it looks quintessentially Dell -- like, the Dell of the "dude, you're getting a Dell" era.
  • Multitasking: Obviously, Dell picked up on what Apple had initially missed. The Aero offers the ability to toggle multiple apps at once.
  • Flash: Ah, the big sell: Flash capabilities. The Aero boasts the ability to watch Flash videos.
  • Media player: The Aero serves as an MP3 and video player.
  • Messaging: And of course, the Aero offers MMS, SMS, and e-mail services.

Possible drawbacks

Since we haven't had the opportunity to get our hands on the Aero, we turn to our pals at Engadget for a more thorough look. According to an early hands-on test, Joshua Topolsky and the guys at Engadget had a few complaints.
  • Where's Google?: Engadget pointed out that unlike other Android phones, their rendition didn't come with a few Google-centric apps, including Google Maps, Gmail, and the Android Market. However, AT&T quickly noted that the Android Market would, indeed, be included in the phone, which means that presumably, the Google apps will be available, as well.
  • Typing troubles: Topolsky seemed to struggle with the phone's digital keyboard. The video in the Engadget review shows him struggling to type simple words. Again, since this is an early model from March, it very well could be fixed at this point.
  • U-G-L-Y: Topolsky and the Engadget staff called the Dell software skin design "boring." Of course, this is a matter of personal taste, but Dell's design is certainly different from the other Android phones.

But since the guys at Engadget didn't look at a final version, the Aero very well could've been changed between then and now. Ultimately, you should go out to the local AT&T store and play around with it. If it's a solid phone for $100, you very well could have a good deal on your hands.

For more options on the back to school mobile phone hunt, we recommend checking out the Engadget back to school guide for mobile phones.

Got a hot, cheap-tech tip, question or comment? Write to Evan Minsker via our e-mail address, MoneyCollege@WalletPop.com.

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