Ready or not, smartphones have officially entered the third dimension with the EVO 3D, the first handset in the U.S. with a glasses-free 3D screen. However, Sprint's $199 follow-up to the hugely successful EVO 4G isn't just about adding an extra dimension to pictures, videos, and movies and games. This sequel packs in a dual-core Snapdragon processor, sharper screen, and smarter HTC Sense software in a sleeker design. So does the EVO 3D represent a bold new frontier for superphones or is just a gimmick?
Some smartphones with 4.3-inch screens feel unwieldy or slippery, but the EVO 3D's nicely textured, ridged pattern feels good in your hand. The sides and top have a soft-touch finish that feels rubberized. While the 6-ounce EVO 3D weighs the same as the EVO 4G, it's slightly taller and thinner (0.48 vs. 0.5 inches). The HTC Sensation 4G for T-Mobile is lighter and thinner (5.2 ounces and 0.44 inches), but then again the Sensation doesn't pack two cameras for capturing 3D video. The multicolor aluminum back of that device has a little more flair, but the all-black EVO 3D has a nice understated elegance to it, including a red accent around the dual lenses.
The EVO 3D's design differs from the EVO 4G in a couple of key ways. First, the bottom-right side of the device has a shutter button for the camera, as well as a switch that lets you toggle between 2D and 3D modes. The right side also houses dedicated volume buttons, which we prefer, and up top you'll find the easy-to-press power button and headphone jack.
What's missing? A dedicated HDMI port. You'll need to spring for a cable (about $39) that attaches to the microUSB port on the left side of the phone. You also don't get a kickstand, which many EVO 4G fans loved. The front of the EVO 3D has four responsive capacitive buttons beneath the display along with a front-facing camera.
Display and Audio
You might think that having a parallax barrier 3D display (similar to the Nintendo 3DS) negatively impacts 2D image quality, but that's definitely not the case with the EVO 3D. This phone's 4.3-inch qHD (960 x 540 pixels) screen delivered a crisp and bright picture both indoors and out. Text looked sharp on websites such as NYTimes.com (pictured), and the display fits more info on the screen at once than 800 x 480-pixel, 4.3-inch phones such as the LG Revolution. The EVO 3D also offered vibrant colors and fine details when we played back 720p videos recorded with EVO 3D's camcorder, as well as when we watched the Green Lantern trailer in high quality on YouTube.
When we pumped The Bravery's "Above and Below" through the EVO 3D's back speaker, it easily filled a small room. When you place the phone on a desk, the sound amplifies even more, though you'll need to dial down the volume to avoid distortion. The SRS enhancement setting made audio sound less distant, and if you plug in headphones you can tweak the equalizer settings.
Sprint likes to think of the 3D part of EVO 3D as a bonus, but it's in the phone's name for a reason. When you play 3D content, the 3D effect on the display automatically kicks in. Is it gimmicky? Kind of. Is it fun? Yes. When we shot 3D photos and pictures with the phone's dual-lens camera and then showed them off to friends and family, most of them were pleasantly surprised to see a phone do 3D without glasses.
While there's definitely a narrow sweet spot for getting the best effect, it was nice to see a shot of flowers pop. We could definitely see some depth to the image. However, if you tilt the phone from side to side, you get an effect not unlike those old baseball cards that showed two different pictures depending on how you held it.
To get your 3D movie fix, Sprint pre-loads the EVO 3D with a copy of The Green Hornet 3D, stored on the phone's memory card. Unfortunately, you have to sign up for an HTC Watch account (HTC's video store) in order to access the content. Worse, the EVO 3D couldn't download the necessary license that would allow us to enjoy the movie, although Sprint says that our issue was likely related to our device having a demo account. The bundled Blockbuster on Demand app provides 3D titles as well, but we didn't see a special section for these titles. A search for 3D delivered no results, either.
We had better luck with the bundled demo of the Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem 3D game. The 3D effect is adjustable right on the playing screen, and we found slinging webs at the bad guys to be immersive without being distracting. The EVO 3D also has a Gameloft Storefront on board for purchasing additional 2D and 3D games (including GT Racing Motor Academy). Titles cost $4.99.
For captured 3D video, you can share it on YouTube, which has an increasing selection of 3D trailers and user-generated 3D content. When we tried to play a video on an HP Envy 17 3D, it displayed a split-screen version of our EVO 3D's footage. However, the notebook did accurately display 3D photos, which really popped when we donned the 3D glasses. A picture of a young girl playing on a tire swing really came out in the foreground. Those who own 3D TVs can output user-generated 3D video--but not premium content--to their set via an optional HDMI cable.
Overall, the EVO 3D does a pretty good job with 3D photos and homemade videos, and the gaming experience is better than we expected. However, Sprint and its partners should make it easier to find premium 3D movies and TV shows.
Software and Interface
The EVO 3D runs Sense 3.0 on top of Android Gingerbread (OS 2.2.3), and the changes to the lock screen alone will make many want to buy this smartphone. Similar to the HTC Sensation 4G for T-Mobile, on the home screen and you'll find four shortcuts that you can drag into a circle to launch those apps right away. For example, you can go right into your Gmail inbox, start the camera, or fire up the phone dialer all with a swipe. This saves time, and is really a game-changer for Android phones as far as we're concerned. Within the Personalize menu you can assign different shortcuts than the default choices.
The lock screen isn't static either. There are six options from which to choose in the Personalize menu, including an animated weather screen, photo album (with floating pictures), and Friend Stream for reading updates from your social networking friends and followers.
HTC's Sense continues to do several other things well, such as providing helpful widgets on its seven customizable homescreens. These screens now have a carousel-like 3D animation when you zip through them quickly, which helps show off the smoothness of the EVO 3D's dual-core processor. Sense has other smarts, such as the ability to answer a call while navigating without leaving the map, flipping your phone to silence it, and FriendStream for integrating social updates from Facebook and Twitter.
There's one part of the EVO 3D's interface that bothers us, and that's All Apps. When scrolling up or down, the screen would automatically move a whole page at a time, making it difficult to move our finger to a specific app icon.
HTC's keyboard has added Swype-like capability with Trace, a feature that lets users draw a line between letters to quickly type. The software comes in especially handy when typing in portrait mode, since we made more mistakes than we liked when pecking with two thumbs. The larger landscape layout proved more accurate. In both modes we appreciated the subtle haptic feedback.
Specs and Performance
The 1.2-GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor and 1GB of RAM inside the EVO 3D proved swift in our testing, enabling nifty animations as well as fast app switching. On the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the EVO 3D scored 2,269 versus 1,715 for the Sensation 4G, which is surprising because they have the same processor.
The graphics scores were pretty close, though, with the EVO 3D notching 6,996 and Sensation hitting 7,072. Still, the Nvidia Tegra 2-powered T-Mobile G2x scored a much higher 11,074 on the same test and a higher 2,442 on the CPU portion of the Benchmark app.
Overall, the EVO 3D didn't exhibit much if any lag, which is no small feat because the Sense overlay does take up some system resources. If you do start to run out of memory, the built-in Task Manager comes in handy for closing apps. The phone comes with 4G of internal memory and an 8GB microSD card is included, which you can expand up to 32GB.
Web and 4G Data
The EVO 3D's 4G speeds were plenty fast in New York City where we conducted the bulk of our testing. On four occasions Speedtest.net registered above 8 Mbps downloads, and the handset averaged 6 Mbps. However, as with most Sprint 4G devices, we noticed that speeds dropped off steeply as we ventured away from a window and further indoors. Towards the back wall of our office the download speed dropped to 2.6 Mbps. Upload speeds averaged 828 Kbps, which is what we expect from Mobile WiMax technology.
We enjoyed the web browsing experience on the EVO 3D, especially the way HTC displays open windows in a Cover Flow-like fashion. Mobile sites such as ESPN.com, CNN.com, and Yahoo.com, loaded in 5 to 8 seconds, and the full desktop version of NYTimes.com took only 11 seconds. We suspect that this quick time has more than something to do with the extra rendering power a dual-core CPU provides. Our only major 4G complaint is that sometimes the EVO 3D lost its 4G connection and forced us to manually scan and reconnect to the network.
As with the original EVO 4G, you can use the EVO 3D as a mobile hotspot for up to eight devices--if you're willing to spend an extra $30 per month. The good news is that Sprint doesn't cap the data when you're connecting over 4G.
HTC bundles its usual suspects on the EVO 3D, including the gorgeous Weather app, as well as Friend Stream and Peep for social networking, an FM Radio, and News and Stocks. One handy addition is Mirror, which leverages the EVO 3D's front-facing camera, great for checking your teeth before heading into a big meeting or blind date.
The more ambitious HTC apps offer premium content, including Reader (powered by Kobo) for downloading and reading eBooks and the HTC Watch service for premium movies ($3.99 to rent, $14.99 to own). As mentioned above, it's annoying that you can't download flicks over 4G; you must use a Wi-Fi connection. The selection totals 389 at the moment, which isn't a lot of titles, but at least the Top 10 list includes fairly recent movies such as The Fighter and Eat Pray Love. There were only 13 TV shows available ($1.99 a pop).
As you might expect, Sprint brings a lot of its own apps to the table, too, including Sprint Mobile Wallet, Sprint Radio, Sprint TV & Movies, and Nascar. Some of the more compelling third-party apps include Polaris Office, Qik Video, the 3D Games store offered by Gameloft. Sprint Navigation is included, but we suspect most will stick with Google Navigation.
Camera and Camcorder
In 2D mode, the dual 5-MP cameras on the EVO 3D captured bright and detailed images outdoors. A photo of two children hugging on a bench easily uploaded to Facebook and impressed some friends. A separate shot of flowers taken at a nearby market looked colorful but somewhat soft due to shadows. Indoors, the dual flash worked fairly well so long as we were close to the subject. HTC includes a wide range of settings and effects to help you get the best shot--or get the most laughs with a funhouse-like filter such as Distortion.
Smooth and stutter free is how we like our 720p videos on smartphones, and the EVO 3D didn't disappoint. While the device had a little bit of trouble moving from brighter to darker areas and back again--the overall quality impressed. We could easily make out the folds in the shirt of a man passing by and noticed very little pixilation. The microphone also proved quite sensitive, recording the surrounding environment quite well.
If you're using a notebook with a 3D display, check out a sample 3D video from the HTC Evo 3D.
To test out the front-facing 1.3-MP camera, we conducted a Qik call with a colleague over 4G. She said we looked a little blocky, as did she, but the audio came through clearly on both ends. The quality was certainly better than what we've seen other phones that have Qik pre-installed. Nevertheless, we'd like to see Sprint and HTC update the EVO 3D to Android 2.3.4 so users can make video calls using Google Talk.
Call Quality and Battery Life
The EVO 3D delivered clear calls in both New York City and New Jersey. One caller who answered on a landline said we sounded "normal," which is good because at first she didn't know we were calling from a cell phone. On our end we heard some fuzziness on the line, which was especially pronounced when listening to hold music when calling a doctor's office. Some words got broken up as well when we dialed 1-800-TELL-ME and tried to listen to the news.
Sprint has heard the complaints about the EVO 4G's short battery life, packing the EVO 3D with a high-capacity 1730mAH battery. Unfortunately, the phone failed our battery test to its completion, but if we extrapolate the results the EVO 3D should last 7 hours and 46 minutes. That's plenty of endurance to get through the day and well above the 5:49 smartphone average. However, keep in mind that recording 3D video zaps the battery quickly, as does viewing 3D content for extended periods.
It's a bit of a stretch to call the EVO 3D a breakthrough, especially since there's not a lot of premium 3D content yet. The ecosystem will need to catch up to the hardware, just as in the TV world. However, the 3D camera is a fun converstation starter on this handset, and Sprint has improved upon its flagship phone in practically every other way. You get faster dual-core performance, a sharper screen, and impressive 4G speeds--all wrapped up in a sleeker, easier-to-grip design. Google purists will gravitate towards the Nexus S 4G, and some may want to wait to see how the upcoming dual-core powered Motorola Photon 4G stacks up to this device. But right now the EVO 3D has the best combination of hardware and software for Sprint customers.