The EVO's going global with Sprint's latest smartphone, the HTC EVO Design 4G. While this Android handset looks like a slightly larger version of the HTC Rhyme on Verizon, this EVO adds global connectivity and 4G speeds for a reasonable $99 (with two-year contract and mail-in rebate). Read on to find out how this mid-tier phone stacks up against the competition.
At first glance, the EVO Design 4G looks like the HTC Rhyme minus the polarizing purple exterior. But closer inspection reveals key differences, including a larger 4-inch display that occupies most of the face, leaving just enough room for a thin earpiece and the 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera. A barely there black matte aluminum strip wraps around the front, forming a thick brushed aluminum band in the rear with an etched HTC logo. Surrounding the metal are two black matte soft touch panels. The bottom panel slides off, revealing the 1520 mAh battery, while the top panel houses the 5-megapixel rear camera and a slim speaker.
The EVO Design 4G has four capacitive buttons beneath the touchscreen (Home, Menu, Back, and Search). The power button and headphone jack sit on top of the phone while a micro-USB port and the volume buttons rest on the left.
At 4.8 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches and 5.2 ounces, the EVO Design 4G is smaller and lighter than the 4.8 x 2.4 x 0.5, 5.6 ounce EVO 4G, but the latter sports a bigger 4.3-inch screen. The Samsung Nexus S 4G, which has a 4-inch display like the EVO Design, is thinner (0.4 inches) and lighter (4.6 ounces). The HTC Rhyme is also thinner (0.4 inches) and lighter (4.7 ounces) but has a smaller 3.7-inch screen.
Display and Audio
The 4-inch 960 x 540p glossy Super LCD qHD touchscreen display was bright with vibrant color, and at 411 lux, was much brighter than the Galaxy S II (284 lux), but still a bit below the iPhone 4 (511 lux) and iPhone 4S (549 lux), not to mention the LG Marquee (684 lux). However, we noticed some noise when watching The Avengers trailer on YouTube. Thor's usually stunning crimson cape was diminished by pixilation, as were night scenes. We were still able to get some enjoyment from the bright explosions, billowing with plumes of black, orange, and yellow.
Despite the small rear speaker, LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" came through loud and clear on the EVO Design 4G. It wasn't enough to fill a small room, but placing the phone on a flat surface amplified the sound enough to be passable. As the catchy dance tune played we heard crisp vocals from DJ Redfoo and DJ SkyBlu. However, there was little to no bass and the synthesized instrumentals sounded somewhat tinny.
HTC's multitouch keyboard offered a reasonable amount of space between keys and strong haptic feedback. It only took a few text messages to establish a reasonable speed on the standard keyboard. As with other HTC Android phones, you can long press certain keys to enter characters without having to switch over to the symbols menu.
Software and Interface
The EVO Design 4G runs Android Gingerbread 2.3 with HTC Sense 3.0. As usual with Sense, a large clock sits at the top of the lock screen display nestled between the Sprint logo and the date. Icons for Phone, Mail, Camera, and Messages reside at the bottom above a large silver ring. Users can either pull the ring up to the center of the screen to unlock the phone or pull one of the icons into the ring to activate that app.
Sense's trademark seven home screens are front and center on the EVO Design 4G. The primary screen features the large clock/weather widget along with a number of icons (Messages, People, Mail, Market, Voicemail, and Camera). A small bar with buttons for Applications, Phone, and Personalize rests at the bottom, a fixture on all the screens.
The majority of screens are packed full of widgets and apps, leaving precious little space; fortunately, you can remove them. One screen features a large Bookmark widget while another holds the FriendStream widget (pictured below). The Calendar widget (pictured below) has been replaced with an Agenda widget that displays upcoming dates including birthdays, events, anniversaries, and appointments. Another screen features the People widget along with shortcuts for toggling 4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. The remaining two screens features a music player while the other has the Google search bar and icons for the Sprint Zone, TeleNav GPS, HTC HUB, and NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile.
Mini-notifications for mail, Twitter mentions, signal strength, and battery life are located in a bar at the top. Swiping down on the bar reveals the Notifications Shade with tabs for Notifications and Quick Settings, as well as a listing of recently used apps. This feature makes it pretty easy to multitask.
It wouldn't be an HTC phone without a few of its proprietary apps. We spruced up the Sense interface with a few new skins and widgets courtesy of HTC Hub. Instead of trying to peruse the 500,000 apps in the Android Market, HTC Likes let us browse through popular apps chosen by the HTC community. Our favorite app was Reader, an eReader that boasted smooth page-turning animation with quick load times. Powered by Kobo, there were scores of free eBooks to choose from, including classics like "The Scarlet Letter" and "Dracula." If we wanted something more contemporary or not listed under eBooks, we could access the store and purchase a new tome.
Sprint preinstalls a number of its own apps, including Sprint Mobile Wallet for one-click payments at such retailers as Namco Wireless and SkyMall. We checked out our data usage and located nearby Sprint stores using Sprint Zone. Should you decide to take a trip out of the country you can activate international service and get helpful travel tips from Sprint Worldwide.
Entertainment-focused apps include Sprint Music Plus, which allowed us to access our existing music collection as well as purchase new tracks and ringtones from the Sprint Music Store. Similar to Pandora is Sprint Radio, a free service that has more than 60 channels of music. For a monthly $5.95 monthly subscription, users can get Sprint Radio Extra, the commercial-free version of Sprint Radio. We really enjoyed watching full lag-free episodes of "Phineas and Ferb" and "The Millionaire Matchmaker" on Sprint TV & Movies App.
Third-party apps include Gmail, Google Talk, and Amazon MP3.
The EVO Design 4G's single-core 1.2 GHz Qualcomm MSM8655 processor with 768MB of RAM turned in some pretty solid scores. On the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the phone notched 2541, well above the EVO 4G Slide (1,702) and Nexus S 4G (1,688) and the LG Marquee (1,602). However, the $99 dual-core Atrix 2 on AT&T scored higher (2,863).
The EVO Design lost some footing on the An3DBench graphics test, scoring 5,975. That's better than the LG Marquee (4,897) but lower than the 6,266 average for Android phones and behind the Nexus S 4G (6,785). The Atrix 2 registered a sky-high 7,136 on the same test.
Overall, the Design 4G showed no signs of lag when launching apps or switching between applications. The camera took only two seconds to launch, and navigating between home screens was a breeze.
The EVO Design 4G comes with 8GB of storage that can be expanded to 32GB by switching out the microSD card located under the battery.
Web Browsing and 4G
Browsing the web on the EVO Design 4G was fast and responsive. The mobile version of The New York Times took between 3-5 seconds to load while the mobile version of the ESPN.com took between 5-7 seconds. The Nexus S 4G was slightly faster in some instances taking between 4-5 seconds on any given site.
Once the pages were fully loaded, gestures such as scrolling and pinch-to-zoom were seamless. We really liked that we could navigate between windows by zooming out of the current window and cycling through all our open windows.
On Speedtest.net, the Design 4G averaged 7.1 Mbps download speeds and 1.4 Mbps upload speeds, blowing past the EVO 4G's download range of 3.8 to 4.3 Mbps and the 988 Kbps to 1.1 Mbps upload range. The Samsung Nexus S 4G was also on the low end of the scale with 3.6 Mbps average downloads. The newer Galaxy S II averaged 4 Mbps downloads and 1.5 Mbps uploads.
The EVO Design HTC 4G mobile hotspot capability can support up to eight devices. Just keep in mind that the additional service will tack another $29.99 on to your monthly bill.
Camera and Camcorder
The Design 4G's 5 megapixel rear-facing camera took sharp photos with bright colors in both indoor and outdoor settings. The phone captured impressive shots of a chalk-drawn mural as dusk fell. In a side-by-side comparison with the EVO 4G we noticed the Design 4G gave us sharper, clearer images, especially in dimmer settings. The Design 4G also proved faster than the original EVO in terms of shooting speed.
The 720p video the Design 4G recorded of downtown New York City had rich accurate color with clear detail. The footage stream stuttered when we zoomed in, but we could easily make out the dents in a van passing by, steam rising from the street, and the folds in a sweatshirt from more than 10 feet away. The SRS audio enhancer function provided loud and clear audio.
The 1.3-MP front-facing camera was bright but somewhat grainy. When we video chatted via Skype, our caller reported a reasonably clear image with loud audio. However, they noticed a fair amount of blur when we moved.
Call Quality and International Plans
Voices came through loud and clear on the EVO Design 4G. Even when we were placed on speakerphone, we could easily hear our caller sing "His Eye Is On the Sparrow," though the song sounded somewhat hollow. Our caller barely heard the background noise from the bus we were riding.
Sprint's international rates vary by country, so you'll definitely want to check out the rates before placing a call or streaming video overseas. Data pricing is a flat $0.019/KB, but the voice plan fluctuates. In the United Kingdom, it's $1.29 per minute with international roaming charges while in Japan and Sweden, voice calling jumps to $1.99.
Sprint claims the EVO Design 4G's 1520 mAh battery can get up to 6 hours of talk time. The phone lasted 5 hours and 25 minutes during the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing via 4G). That's 5 minutes short of the 5:30 Android average. The EVO 4G lasted 5:39 while the Nexus S 4G clocked in with 5:32.
EVO Design 4G Vs. The Competition
If you want Sprint's unlimited data plan but a purer Android experience, the $99 Samsung Nexus S 4G is a better choice, but you'll have to settle for 480p video. The LG Marquee on Sprint boasts a brighter display but poor battery life. Sprint customers can also pick up the $99 8GB iPhone 4, which offers a better selection of apps but much slower data speeds.
Those who prefer a physical keyboard will want to opt for either the $99 HTC Shift 4G or Samsung Epic 4G. If you're not wedded to Sprint, the AT&T Atrix 2 offers dual-core power and a crisper screen for the same price as this EVO.
The $99 HTC EVO Design 4G takes some of the EVO 4G's best features and puts them in a smaller, sleeker package. This Android phone offers snappy performance, fast 4G speeds, and 720p video recording, plus world phone capability. Our only major complaint is the relatively short battery life, but this handset wasn't far off the Android average. Overall, the HTC EVO Design 4G is a very good choice for budget-conscious shoppers.