Consider it a preemptive strike on the next-generation iPhone. The Evo 4G packs practically everything a geek could dream of in a mobile device. Want fast data? This phone has 4G inside, boasting nearly five times the speed of 3G networks (where coverage is available). Wish you had a bigger screen for surfing the web and watching movies? This one is a mammoth 4.3 inches. Hate the crappy video quality of smart phone cameras? The Evo 4G can record 720p footage and even make two-way video calls.
However, this $199 superphone comes with some caveats. Sprint forces you to spend an extra $10 on the data plan, regardless of whether you live in a 4G zone. And if you want to turn the device into a mobile hotspot, you’ll need to spend $30 more per month. We also wish the keyboard was more accurate and that the battery lasted longer on a charge. But is the Evo 4G worthy of all the hype? Yup.
A slim and sturdy slate, the Evo 4G cuts an imposing figure but looks classier and is more thoughtfully designed than the HD2. It ditches physical buttons beneath the screen in favor of backlit capacitive touch buttons (Home, Menu, Back, Search), and it moves the narrow volume controls from the left to the right side, so you don’t have to reach around the device. However, the Evo 4G weighs more than the HD2 (6 vs. 5.5 ounces), which makes sense given Sprint’s device packs in a 4G radio. The HTC Incredible, which sports a brighter but smaller 3.7-inch screen, weighs only 4.6 ounces. The 3.7-inch Motorola Droid weighs 6 ounces, but that device has a slide-out keyboard.
Some may find the Evo 4G a bit large for holding up to your head to make calls, but we didn’t mind its size. Plus, the 4.8 x 2.6 footprint made it easy for us to make phone calls with the phone sandwiched between our shoulder and cheek, which is nice when you need both hands free. The 0.5-inch profile made it easy to slip the Evo 4G in a pocket, but you definitely know it’s in there.
Above the screen next to the Sprint logo you’ll find a tiny front-facing, 1.3-megapixel camera that can be used for two-way video calls, and above that is a narrow silver strip for the earpiece. The right side houses two slim volume buttons; the power button and a 3.5mm jack line the top; and a micro-USB slot and HDMI output are on the bottom (the HDMI cable is sold separately).
The gunmetal gray back of the Evo 4G features an 8-MP camera with dual LED flash, a speaker, and a nifty brushed metal kickstand. The kickstand not only came in handy for watching videos, but for using the phone as an alarm clock and for skipping tracks in Pandora without having to pick up the device.
Display and Audio
At 800 x 480 pixels, the resolution on the Evo 4G is the same as the 3.7-inch HTC Droid Incredible and Motorola Droid, so you’re getting the same amount of pixels per inch in a bigger space. The Incredible also has the advantage of an AMOLED panel for increased brightness, better contrast, and wide viewing angles. Still, the Evo 4G’s screen was plenty bright and crisp. A high-quality YouTube trailer of the upcoming Karate Kid remake exhibited plenty of detail and very good color saturation.
The speaker on the Evo 4G delivered impressive volume when we streamed some of our favorite Pandora stations, and it delivered loud and clear directions when using the phone as a GPS navigator.
Running Android 2.1, the Evo 4G benefits from HTC’s Sense experience. By default you get seven home screens. Swipe to the right once and you’ll find a Sprint screen with shortcuts to things like Sprint Navigator and Sprint TV; then a web bookmarks screen; and then Friend Stream (a flow of updates from Facebook and Twitter).
To the left of the main screen you’ll see a Favorites widget for quickly contacting your favorite people, as well as shortcuts for toggling the 4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS radios. Another swipe to the left launches your calendar, and yet another brings up a Google Search bar.
You can move any of these elements around or remove them altogether to make room for shortcuts or other widgets. Or you can experiment with Scenes, which personalize the Evo 4G with a wide range of themes. The Play scene, for instance, puts your photo album to the left of the main screen and the media player to the right.
Like other Sense-enabled Android phones, the Evo 4G features a Leap thumbnail view for easily switching between panels. To activate this view, just use a pinch gesture or press the Home button to shrink the seven home screens, then press the one you want to select.
How much you like the Evo 4G’s keyboard may come down to how fast you type. We like how large the layout is, especially in landscape mode, and appreciate that the haptic feedback is subtle. You can even get by thumb typing in portrait mode, so long as you stay within a moderate pace. When we typed quickly, however, we noticed that the Evo 4G produced more errors than the iPhone 3GS. When we typed the same phrase repeatedly using both devices, we noticed that many of the Evo 4G’s words were stuck together, which means the space bar didn’t register. (And this was after we used the keyboard calibration utility.) So the Evo 4G’s keyboard works fairly well, but speed typists might want to look elsewhere.
Specs and Performance
The Evo 4G almost gives netbooks a run for their money. Not only does it have a 1-GHz Snapdragon processor under the hood, it comes with 1GB of ROM and 512MB of RAM. Nearly everything action we performed happened instantly, whether it was launching our inbox or firing up the camera. When using Google Maps, the Evo 4G pinpointed our location and rendered a map of midtown Manhattan in less than 5 seconds. When we fired up a racing game, Raging Thunder Lite, the Evo 4G rendered the track with good detail and had no trouble keeping up with the fast-moving animation (even if we had trouble avoiding the wall). Sprint includes an 8GB microSD Card located underneath the battery, which you can upgrade to 32GB.
Web and 4G
The customized browser for the Evo 4G rendered pages quickly and offers pinch-to-zoom gestures. We also like the address bar on the top of the screen; you don’t have to tap the menu just to enter a new address. In general, Sprint’s 4G network supercharges the Evo 4G when you’re in one of the available markets (32 now but over 80 by the end of the year, covering over 120 million people). We were fortunate enough to do some testing in Chicago, which had very strong 4G coverage all the way from the airport to our downtown hotel.
Using the Speedtest.net app, we experienced download speeds ranging from 3.8 to 4.3 Mbps and uploads ranging from 988 Kbps to 1.1 Mbps. Compare those numbers to Sprint’s 3G network on this phone, which averaged 917.5 Kbps on the downlink and 435 Kbps on the uplink. So the Evo 4G is about 4.5 times faster when you’re in a 4G area. In real-world terms, the Evo 4G loaded the mobile version of the New York Times website in just 3 seconds, versus 11 seconds over 3G. We also uploaded a photo to Flickr using the 8-MP camera. Over 4G it took 50 seconds, and over 3G the time increased to 1:20.
Too bad 4G coverage isn’t great as you go further indoors. As we moved away from the entrance to our Chicago hotel, the 4G signal strength indicator dropped from 3 to 2 bars, and 4G dropped out completely when we went down one floor to a meeting room.
It’s not that the 3G speeds are bad—quite the contrary—it’s just that you get spoiled with 4G and want to be able to use it everywhere. There’s another benefit to using the Evo 4G in a 4G area: you get simultaneous voice and data, so you can be on a call while surfing the web or looking up a place to eat on Yelp. This capability is also available when you’re connected via Wi-Fi, but you obviously have a much shorter leash.
Although the Evo 4G has Flash Lite 4.0 support, it didn’t work well for videos or games. As expected, Hulu didn’t work (it’s most likely blocked for business reasons), but clips on other sites that did play looked like slideshows. We also noticed that sites with Flash ads loaded more slowly than other sites. The good news is that the much better Flash Player 10.1 should be coming to the Evo 4G, which promises improved performance. The bad news is that Sprint couldn't give us a timetable for this upgrade.
For an additional $29 per month, you can use the Evo 4G as a mini Wi-Fi router. The Sprint Mobile Hotspot app lets you connect up to 8 Wi-Fi devices at one time, whether it’s an iPad, notebook, or digital camera with a Wi-Fi card. When in 4G range, the Evo 4G didn’t exactly wow us. We saw a top speed on our Lenovo ThinkPad X200s of 2 Mbps, but the average was 972 Kbps. Uploads averaged just 328 Kbps. Over 3G, downloads and uploads dipped to a tolerable 746 Kbps and 320 Kbps, respectively, during a bus ride from New York to New Jersey.
Although you can't make calls while the Sprint Mobile Hotspot feature is active in 3G mode, if you get a call you'll be prompted to end your session if you decide to take it. Once we hung up, our notebook automatically reconnected to the Evo 4G, which is pretty cool.Still, the mobile hotspot service is worth the extra 30 bucks because it’s half the cost of what you’d pay for a dedicated connection card or mobile hotspot device like the MiFi. Just be sure to bring the charger (more on that later).
E-mail and Messaging
Setting up our Gmail account on this Google phone was a breeze (as it should be), as was configuring a separate Yahoo account. You also get Exchange support. We especially like how quick and easy it is to search your inbox. We just wish that the notification drawer showed you the icon for your e-mail provider, as it’s easy to confuse your accounts at a glance. The SMS app worked well, as did Google Talk.
Camera and Camcorder
The Evo 4G’s 8-MP camera captured sharp images indoors and out, provided there was a fair amount of ambient light. When we took pictures side by side with an iPhone 3GS, we noticed that the Evo 4G not only delivered more detail (which is to be expected, given the iPhone’s paltry 3-MP camera), but that the photo was brighter. The Evo 4G also put us closer to our subject without having to zoom in. The dual LED flash worked well in low-light, but tended to blow out subjects a bit.
As one of the first smart phones to record 720p video, the Evo 4G could undoubtedly stand in for a Flip camcorder when shooting outdoors. When we viewed footage of a busy street in midtown Manhattan, we could easily make out reflections in passing cars, and there was virtually no motion blur or pixelation. Indoors, the Evo 4G struggled; videos looked fuzzier even when we recorded near a window.
The Evo 4G offers a wide range of sharing options, including Facebook, e-mail, Picasa, Twitter, and YouTube.
Qik and Two-Way Video Chat
The built-in Qik app gives the Evo 4G the ability to stream the world around you and broadcast it to the web live. Well, sort of live; over 3G the feed on our desktop was a good two minutes behind the feed on the device. What makes this phone unique is that you can have mobile chats with other Evo 4G owners using the front-facing 1.3-MP camera. (We’re presuming the latest Qik app will make its way to other upcoming superphones with front-facing cameras, such as the Dell Streak and next-gen iPhone.) Note that you can’t make two-way mobile-to-PC calls.
Unfortunately, Sprint had not yet activated this feature during our testing, so we will have to update this review once it’s up and running. However, we did see a demo of Qik video chat in action earlier, and were impressed with the smoothness of the video. We also like that you could see yourself in a smaller on-screen window. Sprint had not confirmed if this feature will cost extra, but we’re expecting that it will since they’re calling it a “premium app.”
In addition to Sprint TV (pictured), the carrier bundles a few of its other apps. Nascar Sprint Cup Mobile lets you follow your favorite drivers, and there’s Sprint Football Live for checking out your favorite team. You also get Sprint Navigation. In addition, the Evo 4G comes with Qik, a Desk Clock app, Peep (a Twitter app), QuickOffice (for viewing MS Office files), and HTC’s weather and stock widgets.
The Android market now stocks well over 38,000 apps in a wide range of categories. All of the apps we tried worked fine, including Facebook, Pandora, TripIt, and Yelp. However, the market doesn’t stock many good 3D games (although Need for Speed Shift is coming June 4). Our biggest issue with the market is that it doesn’t support carrier billing, so you have to set up a separate Google account to download premium apps.
While we like Google’s free GPS app, we prefer Sprint Navigation on the Evo 4G for driving. It’s also free, and we like its friendlier interface and included traffic information. It took just under 15 seconds for the phone to calculate a route from New York City to central New Jersey. The female voice was also more natural-sounding than the one in Google Maps Navigation Beta. You can share your location and look up local businesses, but we prefer Google for these tasks.
Music and Video
Like all Android phones, the Evo 4G lets you download tracks or whole albums from Amazon MP3. The music player has a CoverFlow-like interface that displays album art but strangely limits you to portrait mode. If you touch the menu button you’ll see a range of options that you can slide through along the bottom of the screen, including genres, songs, and playlists. Those looking for old-school FM radio can get it by plugging in a headset. Reception was fairly clear in New York City, and the app was quick to jump to new stations when scanning.
Looking for high-quality video? Sprint has that covered with YouTube HQ. Movie trailers like The Karate Kid looked ten times better on this device than the iPhone 3GS. However, you won’t find an iTunes equivalent on the Evo 4G (or any other Android phone) for downloading premium movies and TV shows. Sprint fills the void somewhat with its Sprint TV service, which is included with the data plan. After some initial blurring, an episode of The Office looked decent. Strangely, this feature doesn’t work over a Wi-Fi connection.
Sprint will offer more details at launch regarding Evo 4G accessories, but we do know that the carrier will offer a car mount, and there are rumors that it will sell a video dock with HDMI output that also charges the device. You’ll also be able to buy protective covers. What we’d like to see is a case that doubles as a charger.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Over Sprint’s network the Evo 4G delivered good but not great voice quality in Chicago and New York. We noticed some fuzziness on our end of the line, but the volume was fairly loud.
After unplugging the Evo 4G at 9 a.m. and then using the device infrequently throughout most of a day over 3G (web surfing, e-mail, Sprint TV, camcorder) we had less than 10 percent battery life by 5 p.m. So if you’re looking for a phone that you can use into the evening without finding an outlet, this isn’t it.
The battery drained more quickly over 4G. The meter moved from the halfway point to less than 25 percent in about an hour. So when you’re within 4G coverage you’ll want to think twice about having this radio on when you don’t need the extra speed.
Pricing and Value
The Evo 4G costs $199 with a two-year contract (after a mail-in rebate). Don’t want to bother with the rebate? Buy the handset through retail partners like Radio Shack or Best Buy. A Simply Everything plan that starts at $69.99 includes 450 voice minutes plus unlimited web, texting, and use of services like Sprint TV and Sprint Navigation. However, you’ll also need to pay an additional $10 Premium Data add-on fee for this device, which presumably takes into account that you’ll be using services like two-way video calling and 4G (where available). Still, that $80 total is reasonable given that equivalent packages from AT&T and Verizon Wireless cost $10 more.
So what about that Mobile Hotspot service charge of $30? We think it’s fair given that Verizon Wireless was charging $40 for the same service before it decided to give it away on the slow-selling Palm Pre Plus.
The HTC Evo 4G is undoubtedly Sprint’s best smart phone to date, delivering nearly all the specs power users could possibly hope for in a well-crafted design. Though it may simply be too large for some, in many ways the Evo 4G is also the best Android phone yet, beating out the Droid Incredible because of its 720p video recording and 4G capability. Even if 4G hasn’t yet reached your neck of the woods, the Evo 4G is a killer device thanks to its zippy processor, huge display, and an interface that makes Android more intuitive and user-friendly. While the keyboard could be better and the battery life longer, the Evo 4G richly deserves our Editors’ Choice award. It’s a no-brainer for Sprint customers, and a tempting choice for those on other carriers. We just wish the device ran Android 2.2 now instead of later so you could enjoy Flash Player 10.1 out of the box. Although the next-gen iPhone is expected to boast a higher-res screen and match many of the Evo 4G’s features, based on what we (think we) know HTC’s superphone should have the goods to give Apple’s a run for its money.