Sprint HTC EVO 4G review: the untamable monster
Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege of having over a half dozen HTC handsets at my disposal. There are a few highlights in the mix, but none of them stand out like Sprint’s new HTC EVO 4G. Having attended Google I/O two weeks ago, I was among the lucky 5,000 who walked away with a shiny new HTC EVO 4G. I know, free gifts tend to skew reviews, but I promise to give you my fair and unbiased opinion about the handset. For the past week and a half, the HTC EVO 4G has been pulling its weight, serving as my main device on a day-to-day basis. Honestly, the EVO is a huge step up from my trusty T-Mobile G1, but the impressive spec sheet may not be exaclty what the doctor ordered.
If you haven’t read through the Sprint HTC EVO 4G’s spec sheet, you’re most likely in the minoroty on this site. The EVO is equipped with a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 1GB of ROM, 512 MB RAM, a huge 4.3 inch screen, and an 8MP camera capable of 720p video recording. The HTC EVO 4G also features a dizzying array of wireless connectivity, including FM radio, Bluetooth® 2.1 with A2DP Stereo and EDR, Bluetooth® 2.1 with A2DP Stereo and EDR, 3G chipset which supports EVDO Rev A , and all important name giving 4G chip for Sprint’s new 4G WiMax network. There’s no doubt that the EVO 4G is one of the most powerful handsets ever built, but how does all that power and long list of impressive features play out in the real world.
Many of you know that I still use my G1 as my regular handset, so moving up to the Sprint HTC EVO 4G presented a whole new world to me. When you first hold the EVO in your hand, the only thing you seem to notice is the 4.3 inch display which dominates the front side of the handset. Right below the screen are hour capacitive buttons (home, menu, back, and search). Above the screen, HTC has has equipped the EVO with proximity and light sensors, along with the 1.3MP front facing camera for video calling. Unlike the majority of HTC’s phones, the EVO 4G lacks and physical directional controls so you wont find a trackball or optical joystick on the front of the device. The top side of the phone features the 3.5mm headphone jack and the power button and on the right side you will find the volume controls. Along the bottom of the EVO is the microphone right next to the microUSB and HDMI ports. Flipping the phone over you will notice the red accented 8MP camera with dual LED flash and speaker near the top, an chrome HTC logo towards the middle. Sprint has placed their 4G logo towards the bottom, right above the brushed aluminum kickstand. Prying off the back cover reveals a bright red interior (similar to the DROID Incredible). Removing the 1500 mAh battery you will be able to access the microSD card which is held in place by an odd latch mechanism.
The overall design of the hardware is uniform and sleek. HTC designed the EVO with slightly sloping sides so that the phone appears less wide on the front than it actually is. This design trick works really well when you place the phone side by side with the Nexus One or the DROID Incredible, but once you hold the phone in your hand you really get a sense of how large the phone really it. As you might imagine, holding a phone with a 4.3 inch display may feel a little awkward, but that feeling soon becomes a distant thought when the screen is on and your flicking through your apps or playing one of the many 3D games from the Android Market. The 1GHz processor definitely has enough power for those looking to take full advantage of the more demanding apps on the Android Market. 3D games are smooth and web page load times are much quicker than what I have been used to with my G1. If you thought that surfing the web on the Nexus One with its 3.7 inch screen was enjoyable, the massive 4.3 inch display on the EVO will simply blow your mind. But video playback is where the massive display really comes into its own. 720p mp4 files are crystal clear and play without a glitch. Lower quality video looks great as well, though there are very few streaming media options in the Market that don’t look heavily pixelated on the large display. But honestly, the display is as much as a negative feature as it is a positive one. Using the EVO 4G is as much of a hassle as it is a pleasure. The beuaty of most handsets is that they can be operated with a single hand, but that is nearly an impossible feat with the HTC EVO 4G. You can manage single hand operation for a few seconds, but once you get into an app, you will find yourself holding the phone with one hand while using the other to navigate the touch screen. Fitting the Sprint EVO into your pocket is also a bit of a hassle. It’s nearly impossible to fit the phone into jeans pockets but a loose pair of Khakis or cargo pants/shorts should do the trick. Due to the large size, I actually found myself carrying the EVO in my hand a lot more since it was less of a hassle than trying to get it in and out of my pockets.
The HTC EVO 4G is equipped with an 8MP camera with dual LED flash on the back. For the most part, I’m sure that we all know that megapixels does not translate into better pictures, but the EVO does appear to have a leg up over the competition. The auto-focus lens does a great job of giving the user control. HTC’s camera app allows you to touch the screen to indicate what should be in focus. Surprisingly, the lens does good job of focusing on items as close at 4 inches from it. The focus precision allows you create some pretty dramatic images since it throws the background of the images out of focus. Indoor pictures come out sharp as well, but the sensors present high ISO does add in substantial graininess as your interior surroundings get darker.
The dual LED flash that HTC was equipped the EVO 4G with go an average job of lighting up dark subjects. Getting the flash to work just right is a bit hard. In a dark room you want to make sure that your subject is between four and six feet away from the EVO when using the flash. Anything closer than four feet will appear washed out, while anything further than 6 feet will appear too dark. I would recommend using the flash in indoor situations, even if there is enough natural lighting since the extra lights appear to reduce the amount ISO graininess from the sensor.
One of the unique features of the HTC EVO 4G is the inclusion of the 1.3MP front facing camera. QIK will be rolling out an updated version of their app this week which will support two way video calling but you may have hear that Fring beat them to the punch last week with their new Skype video calling integration. While everyone else will be able to do video calling, it’s just a bit awkward when you have to flip your phone back and fourth. The front facing camera will give you the same experience as you get with a web-cam on a computer. We tested out the QIK video calling when in New York city a few weeks back. The quality is much better than what Fring is currently offering, but you’ll be limited to video calling only with other QIK users. Fring’s Skype integration is a lot more practical, but we’re hoping Skype own video calling app update later this year will bring a much needed video quality boost.
Since the HTC EVO 4G is a monster or a phone, the camera wouldn’t be complete without the ability to record 720p video. Now, I’m not going to get into whole debate about quality of HD video, but I will point out that what you get with the HTC EVO 4G is not what you can expect form a dedicated 720p camcorder or even your new little SONY point and shoot camera you got your mom this past Christmas. Daylight video with the HTC EVO 4G comes out nice and clear. Just make sure you have a steady hand and things should come out exactly like you want. The only time you may notice some real quality issues is when you paly back the clips on an HDTV. Indoor video recording is a much different experience. With lower light levels, the EVO’s HD video sensor compensated by increasing the ISO, adding a lot a graininess. The resulting video is still decent, though you will be able to notice the lower quality even when playing back clips on the handset. Unfortunately, the EVO’s HD video recording feature is completely useless is low light situations. Things might have been a little different if HTC added a setting to enable the LED flash while recording video. For now, my recommendation would be to skip video recording when things are a little too dark and simply take a few pictures instead.
As we have come to expect with all new HTC handsets, the Sprint HTC EVO 4G comes with HTC Sense loaded on top of Android 2.1. I know, Android 2.1 is old news these days since Android 2.2 (Froyo) was just unveiled at Google I/O. HTC did announce that they will be bringing Froyo to all their 2010 Android phones before the ned of the year, so all we have to do is wait.
The latest version of HTC Sense has a few new tricks up its sleeve. As always, Sense integrated your Facebook information with your contacts, pulling in pictures, birthdays, and even your friends latest status updates. But in the past, all this information only lived within the contacts or people app. Now, HTC has added a new app and widget called FriendStream which pulls all the latest news from your friends on Facebook and Twitter and aggregates them all in one place. When you’re inside the application you can sort through all the updates and organize them by status update, links, or photos. HTC has also incorporated all your Facebook friends’ birthdays into the calendar.
Sprint TV, Sprint Navigation, and Nascar Sprint Cup Mobile appear to be unchanged form what we seen on the Sprint HTC Hero, but I thought I would mention that the NFL app has now been replaced with Sprint Football Live since Verizon recently signed a deal with the NFL to feature their official app for mobile. The only Sprint app really worth talking about is Sprint Mobile Hotspot. The HTC EVO 4G is Sprint first smartphone with their 4G WiMax integration, so they thought it would only be appropriate to included hotspot functionality so you can share those blazing fast 4G speeds. If you in one of Sprint’s 4g markets, you can connect up to eight devices to your HCT EVO. But is 3G is all you have, Sprint limits the number of connections to two. Not being in a 4G market, I can’t give any details on the reliability of the network or the download speeds, but I have used Sprint Hotspot over 3G quite a bit since I got my hands on the EVO. The first thing I actually used the app for was to download the OTA Android 2.1 update for the DROID Eris since the demo phone didn’t have a data connection. Download speeds over 3G seem to average 1.1 Mbps while uploads are around 350 Kbps. The speeds aren’t any higher than what I’m used to over wired or wireless tethering from my G1 on T-Mobile’s network, though it’s nice to know that the tethering option on the EVO 4G is officially sanctioned by Sprint and not a back door hack. If you do happen to find yourself in a 4G market, you should expect to get an average of 4-6 Mbps download speeds even though Sprint’s network can handle up to 10MBps bursts.
The 1500mAh battery can definitely keep up with medium to heavy usage. For me, an average day with an android phone includes 1 hour of music, 30-40 minutes of web browsing, one or two 22 minute TV shows, 20 minutes for gaming (I am really enjoying Home Run Battle 3D), 30 minutes of phone calls, 10-15 sms, and Twitter and Gmail access throughout the day. I typically unplug the phone at 7am and found that I still had 15-25% battery life when plugging it back in at 8pm. Keep in mind that I am not in a 4G market and that I manually se my screen brightness to 15%. If you use the preset brightness options with the Power Control widget you will notice a significant increase in power consumption from the display.
It’s really not an easy job, looking at the Sprint HTC EVO 4G with a critical eye. The phone has some much to offer, so much to love, but that does not mean it’s perfect in every way. For me, 4G and the 4.3 inch display are the two best selling point for the phone, but when you hold the EVO 4G in your hand, the benefits of the two features seem to melt away. The promise of 4G speeds on a mobile device is almost like a dream come true, but for most of us 4G is still a dream. Sprint is aggressively rolling out 4G in new markets right now, but their roll-out of new markets will still leave the majority of their U.S customers in 3G by the end of the year. On top of that, Sprint plans on charging an extra $10 for data service on the EVO since it has the potential to consume more data than standard 3G smartphones. Sprint is also planning on charging an additional $29.99 for the Hotspot app if you really want it.
The EVO 4G’s screen is both a blessing and a curse. Media, apps, and the internet look stunning on the huge display, but the EVO feels more like a small tablet than a phone. Apparently, HTC knew that people wouldn’t want to hold the phone all the time, so they included a kickstand for when the EVO gets a little too heavy. But if you can get past those two issues, the HTC EVO 4G offers one of the most amazing Android experiences available. Compare the HTC EVO to the original HTC Desire or the Nexus One and you can clearly see that the EVO is in a league of its own.
Maybe we should think of the HTC EVO 4G as a mythical monster. It’s incredibly fast and has some amazing powers that no one has ever seen before. It’s size is impressive, but unfortunately there is nothing you can do to tame the beast. Many will shy away from something this amazing simply because of the size, but there are those who are willing to take on the challenge and be known to others as the one who tried to tame the beast.