The first Evo on Sprint was an Android phone so groundbreaking and popular that it spawned a franchise. But follow-ups such as the Evo 3D and value-priced Evo 4G Slide, while good, just weren't as exciting. Well, there's finally a true successor to the original super phone, the HTC Evo 4G LTE ($199). This 4.7-inch Android stunner has the same great camera and crisp Super LCD 2 screen as the HTC One X for AT&T, but has some unique strengths. You get unlimited data, a built-in kickstand and support for Google Wallet. And later this year, the newest Evo will be the first smartphone to make HD Voice calls. Is this the Android to get for Sprint subscribers?
You could certainly be forgiven for mistaking the Evo 4G LTE as a Droid at first glance. After all, there's an all-black back and red accent for the kickstand. Regardless, this is a well-designed phone, with a solid anodized aluminum shell and machined metal silver sides that look elegant.
We have just two nitpicks with the design. First, the glossy cover on the top half of the back of the phone picks up fingerprints. Removing this cover lets you access the microSD card slot. Second, the capacitive buttons beneath the screen are dimmer than the ones on the One X.
Measuring 5.3 x 2.7 x 0.35 inches and weighing 4.7 ounces, the Evo 4G LTE is heavier but slightly thinner than the One X (4.5 ounces, 0.36 inches). Is having a built-in kickstand worth the weight? We think so, because you can prop up the phone for watching movies or when you want to use it listen to music. Just keep in mind that those with small hands may find this tall handset difficult to operate with one hand; we felt ourselves stretching to reach the power button.
We have mixed feelings about the dedicated camera key on the right side. It's easy to press and makes using the sharp and fast 8-MP camera feel like you're using a point and shoot.
Plus, you can jump to the camera at any time by pressing and holding this key -- but only while the phone is unlocked. Unfortunately, you can't long press the button to fire up the camera with the screen off.
A narrow black volume rocker lines the right side of the Evo 4G LTE, which is a little tricky to located because it's so neatly integrated into the design. Same thing goes for the microUSB port; you'll have to look for it on the left side.
The 4.7-inch Super LCD 2 screen on the Evo 4G LTE is one of the best displays you'll find on a smartphone. It delivered a bright picture (indoors and out) and great detail thanks to its 720p resolution. Text on NYTimes.com looked quite sharp way up close, and we enjoyed vivid colors and eye-popping graphics when watching the "Battleship" trailer on YouTube. We could easily make out individual drops of water running down Rihanna's face. Viewing angles are also plenty wide, too.
In other words, this is one phone you'll want to show off with the kickstand when watching movies.
The audio in that "Battleship" trailer wasn't very loud, but sounded clean. However, when we streamed Blink 182's "After Midnight" on Slacker, we got more oomph out of the back-mounted speaker. You'll get a better audio experience if you plug in some earbuds and use Beats audio, which you can toggle on and off in the notification drawer. With the setting engaged, Gavin Rossdale's gravely vocals on "Baby Come Home" sounded more present, and we noticed a sizable bass boost.
Software and Interface
As with the One Series, HTC's Sense 4.0 rides on top of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich for the Evo 4G LTE. Overall, it's a satisfying combination, with helpful features like full-size thumbnails in the recent apps menu for easier multitasking and the ability to easily add apps to folders you create. And this wouldn't be a Sense 4.0 phone without four shortcuts on the lock screen to launch directly into your favorite apps.
As expected, HTC's iconic weather clock takes center stage, but you can swap that out and decorate the other six home screens with all manner of widgets. The Agenda widget, for example, shows you upcoming appointments and the birthdays of your Facebook friends.
The notification menu is a little too clean for our tastes. We appreciate the ability to swipe alerts off the screen, but would like to be able to toggle the wireless radios from this screen, as you can with the Samsung Galaxy S III. We also wish that apps didn't automatically populate the home screens as you download them. That sort of feature should be opt-in.
HTC's keyboard on the Evo 4G LTE is serviceable, but not the best we've used. While the light haptic feedback felt good on our thumbs, it takes up a lot of vertical space, sometimes obscuring important content. We also noticed that we made more errors when typing with one finger than with two. We actually preferred the onboard Swype keyboard, which is smaller and lets you trace lines between letters to type quickly with one finger.
Specs and Performance
With a 1.5-GHz Snapdragon S4 processor under the hood and 1GB of RAM, the Evo 4G LTE is ready for anything. Even with several apps open we didn't notice any lag when popping back to the home screen or loading Web pages (over Wi-Fi). The 3D running game "Gravity Project" played smoothly when Slacker streaming in the background. There was only a slight delay when opening some of HTC's own apps, such as Mail and Calendar.
In terms of benchmark performance, the Evo 4G LTE can go toe to toe with any other Android phone. On the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the Evo 4G LTE notched a score of 5,450. That's more than double the Android average and higher than the One X (4,885), Samsung Galaxy S II (3,035) and Galaxy Nexus (3,164). On the An3DBench graphics test, the One X registered a very good 7,390. That's higher than the Android average (6,976) and slightly better than the One X (7,138). However, the Galaxy Nexus scored a higher 7,802.
Last but not least was the Quadrant test, which is a CPU, I/O, and 3D graphics benchmark. On this app, the Evo 4G LTE scored 4,736. That's lower than the One X (4,901), but beats the pants off the Galaxy Nexus (1,368) and the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx (2,452).
The Evo 4G LTE comes with 16GB of preloaded storage, which you can augment with a 32GB microSD Card.
Web Performance and (the Promise of) 4G
It might have 4G LTE in the name, but right now you can't get it. Sprint won't be rolling out its 4G LTE network until mid-2012 starting with just six cities (Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and San Antonio). After that, the carrier says it will cover 123 million people by the end of the year, growing to 250 million people by 2013.
That's great, but for now you're stuck on 3G speeds. Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless is in more than 230 markets, and AT&T has 35.
In a side-by-side test with the One X for AT&T, the Evo 4G LTE was more than 10 seconds behind loading the full desktop version of The New York Times. On mobile sites, the Evo and One X were closer, with the former taking 6 seconds to load ESPN Mobile, versus 4 seconds for the One X.
But that's not all 4G is good for. It took the One X just 10 seconds to download the 21MB "Angry Birds Space" versus about 2 minutes for the Evo 4G LTE. And when we fired up the latest "Batman" movie trailer, the Evo 4G LTE defaulted to standard resolution instead of high quality on the One X.
As expected, the Evo 4G LTE turned in 3G-like performance in Speedtest.net, ranging between 509 Kbps and 1.4 Mbps for downloads and a meager 447 to 659 Kbps for uploads.
Sprint has shown welcome restraint with the Evo 4G LTE, bundling only two of its own apps. Sprint Hotspot makes it easy to turn the handset into a mobile hotspot, enabling you to connect up to eight devices. You'll need to pay $30 per month though, and we wouldn't recommend doing that until 4G LTE service gets turned on in your areas.
The other app is Sprint Zone, where you can download Sprint recommended apps and check your account status. The Evo 4G LTE also has Google Wallet on board, so you can use the device as a debit or credit card at many participating retailers, such as CVS, Pinkberry, Radio Shack and many more. Sprint is the only carrier that offers this service.
HTC bundles a bevy of its own apps, including Mail (we like the threaded messaging), Media Share (for streaming media to DLNA devices) and HTC Watch for downloading movies and TV shows. The Music hub is especially compelling because it aggregates all of your music apps in one place for easy access. Sprint Music, SoundHound and TuneIn Radio are included out of the box, but apps you download like Slacker and Pandora automatically get added.
Camera and Camcorder
Having a dedicated ImageChip goes a long way. The HTC Evo 4G LTE's 8-MP camera can capture four frames per second, so you'll never miss a shot. In fact, while on a bus tour of New Orleans, we snapped shots of new homes built after Hurricane Katrina in a moving vehicle that looked as if were standing still. We also like the built-in HDR mode, which allowed the camera to bring out details that would otherwise be covered in shadows, such as the intricate carvings in a stone fountain. Although the iPhone 4S is better in low light, overall, the Evo 4G LTE's camera is excellent.
You can also have a lot of fun with your photos using all sorts of special effects, such as Vignette and Depth of Field. And we love the Panorama mode for stitching together beautiful wide-angle shots.
As for video, a quick clip we shot of a fountain in New Orleans was sharp, colorful and pretty smooth. We did notice some brief artifacts though when we panned up to the blue sky.
The 1.3-MP front-facing camera on the Evo 4G LTE delivered bright but slightly blotchy results when we made a video call over Wi-Fi using Google Talk.
A 2,000 mAh battery gives the Evo 4G LTE plenty of staying power. After 5 hours and 36 minutes of moderate to heavy usage, the phone still 11 percent juice left. That's pretty good endurance (the average Android phone gets 5:59), but we'll have to see how well the phone stands up once that 4G LTE radio gets put to good use. We'll update this review with more battery testing results shortly.
The HTC Evo 4G LTE is our new favorite Android phone on Sprint. It has a beautiful screen, a sharp and fast camera and longer battery life than the Galaxy Nexus, all wrapped in a head-turning design. HTC's Sense 4.0 software also adds appeal to the stock Android experience, making it more user-friendly. However, this handset is not quite Editors' Choice worthy because Sprint has yet to turn on its 4G LTE service. We simply don't know how well the network will perform, nor has Sprint said which markets will get lit up after those initial six cities. If you're on Sprint and like the idea of unlimited data, the new Evo represents a sound (and sexy) future-proof purchase, but a "coming soon" 4G promise rings a bit hollow at this stage of the game.