HTC Evo V 4G (Virgin Mobile) Review

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Pros: Plans start at just $35 per month; Glasses-free 3D screen and 3D camera are fun; Android Ice Cream Sandwich plus Sense software; 4G speeds on Sprint's WiMAX network;

Cons: Bulky build; Short battery life

Verdict: The HTC Evo V 4G delivers cheap unlimited data and Android Ice Cream Sandwich for Virgin Mobile customers, making this smartphone a good bargain.

The EVO 3D from Sprint was the first smartphone in the U.S. with a glasses-free 3D screen -- and now, the same device has made its way to Virgin Mobile, now dubbed the HTC Evo V 4G. The novelty of 3D has worn off, but that's not why you'd want this phone, anyway. It's all about what you'll be paying: as little as $35 per month for unlimited data, plus $299 for the handset itself. No contract required. That sounds pretty good for an Android phone running Ice Cream Sandwich with a 4.3-inch qHD display, 1.2-GHz Snapdragon processor and 4G speeds via Sprint's WiMax network.

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Design

The Evo V 4G is swathed in a soft-touch rubberized material that's textured on the back, making it easy to grip. With the phone flipped over, you'll see a red metallic band that wraps around two 5-megapixel rear cameras for recording 3D video. The right side of the handset houses a volume rocker toward the top, while the bottom right side sports a dedicated camera shutter button as well as a switch that let us quickly toggle between 2D and 3D modes. The power button and a headphone jack sit on the top edge of the smartphone.

As with the Evo 3D, the HTC Evo V 4G lacks a dedicated HDMI port. The handset does support HDMI, but you'll need a micro USB to HDMI MHL connector to be able to get video output.

On the device's front, four capacitive buttons sit along the bottom of the display. A 1.3-megapixel, front-facing camera sits in the top right corner of the phone.

Measuring 4.96 x 2.56 x 0.48 inches, the 6-ounce Evo V 4G is identical to the Evo 3D in size and weight. It's slightly thinner and taller than its predecessor, the HTC Evo 4G (0.48 versus 0.5 inches). However, the phone is rather bulky for today's standards -- consider the HTC One S, for instance, which also sports a 4.3-inch screen. HTC's second-in-command flagship phone is taller than the Evo V 4G (5.15 versus 4.96 inches), but also much thinner and lighter (0.3 inch, 4.2 ounces).

Display and Audio

The HTC Evo V 4G features a parallax barrier 3D display similar to the Nintendo 3DS, but it still has decent 2D picture quality. Whether we were indoors or outdoors, the phone's 4.3-inch qHD (960 x 540 pixels) screen offered bright images.

Surfing on word-heavy websites such as the NYTimes and Laptopmag was pleasant as the Evo V 4G rendered the text crisply. Additionally, we observed vivid colors when we played back 720p videos recorded with the integrated camcorder and watched an HD trailer for Pixar's "Brave" on YouTube. However, viewing angles are narrower than the latest Android phones.

We played the catchy alt-rock song "Gold on the Ceiling" by The Black Keys through the Evo V 4G's back speaker, and the band's driving guitars and pounding percussion adeptly filled a small room, helped along by SRS virtual surround sound. Plugging in our headphones gave us the option to tweak equalizer settings.

3D

Clearly 3D was a main selling point in the HTC Evo 3D, and while the Evo V 4G drops the feature from its name, it remains a key attribute of the phone. It was quite neat to fire up special 3D content and witness the display automatically kick in with the effect. We also shot several photos and videos with the phone's dual-lens camera out the back, and friends and family were always amused at seeing the results that jumped out at them on the screen in three dimensions -- without dedicated glasses.

Software and Interface

The Evo V 4G runs Sense 3.6 on top of Android 4.0.3, and given that the phone came out before the Ice Cream Sandwich operating system hit the market, it's a bit of a hybrid oddity. With the onset of Ice Cream Sandwich, HTC apparently developed two concurrent versions of Sense: Sense 3.6, intended for legacy HTC devices lucky enough to get the upgrade to ICS, and Sense 4.0, the same skin on top of the manufacturer's One lineup.

Even though both overlays run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the two builds have pronounced differences. For instance, instead of the three buttons on the ubiquitous Android System Bar (Back, Home and Recent Apps), you still get the four virtual buttons that lets you navigate to Home, Menu, Back and Search, the same ones seen on Android devices before the Ice Cream Sandwich release.

Initially, it was a little disorienting to see Android 4.0 features on a phone with the form factor of an Android device pre-ICS, but we adapted, trying out features like taking screen shots on the handset by pressing the home button and power button simultaneously.

Beyond this, Sense 3.6 still includes the familiar HTC clock and weather widget, but now you'll find the launch bar at the bottom of the screen. The menu button is right in the center, flanked by two customizable shortcut buttons. We also created folders on our main screen according to how we liked to organize our apps -- another Ice Cream Sandwich-only feature.

To access the multitasking feature within the Evo V 4G, we long-pressed the home button. When the apps we had opened appeared in a list, we swiped to the left or right to use the built-in task killer.

As always, we tapped once on the home button within the main home panel to activate our HTC phone's carousel of home screens. Long-pressing within a panel brought us into the Personalize options, where we tweaked widgets, apps and shortcuts.

Keyboard

The keyboard on the HTC Evo V 4G boasts a Swype-like capability called Trace, a feature that let us draw a continuous line from letter to letter to form words. This was especially helpful in portrait mode -- naturally, in landscape mode we had a larger layout to work with and hit the right keys more often. Whether we used portrait or landscape, however, we appreciated the gentle haptic feedback as we hit each character.

Specs and Performance

The Evo V 4G's 1.2-GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor (buffered by 1GB of RAM) performed adequately during our testing. In real-world usage, we switched between apps fairly quickly and animations played back fluidly. However, on the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the Evo V 4G notched a modest 2,211 points, slightly below the Android average (2,383 points). The older Motorola Triumph for Virgin Mobile scored 6,444, while the value-priced LG Viper 4G LTE for Sprint outpaced the Evo V 4G with a score of 7,421.

The graphics scores were slightly better, with the Evo V 4G registering 7,158 on An3DBench. That beats the category average of 6,968 and the Motorola Triumph (6,444) but lags behind the Viper (7,421).

Overall, the Evo V 4G didn't exhibit much lag, which is an accomplishment as the phone's Sense overlay does take up a chunk of its system resources. The Evo V 4G comes with 4GB of internal memory, which is expandable up to 32GB via a microSD card.

Web and 4G Data

The Evo V 4G's 4G speeds on Sprint's legacy WiMAX network were decent in New York City. On three occasions Speedtest.net registered above 8 Mbps downloads, and the handset averaged 6 Mbps. However, we noticed that speeds dropped off when we moved away from windows and further indoors. In our normal seat deep inside our office, the download speed dropped to 0.10 Mbps, which was abysmal. Upload speeds averaged 824 Kbps, which is about right for WiMAX technology.

Overall, we enjoyed the Web-browsing experience on the Evo V 4G. Mobile sites, such as CNN.com and ESPN.com, loaded in five to 10 seconds, while the full desktop version of NYTimes.com loaded in 13 seconds. Sometimes, however, the Evo V 4G would lose its 4G connection and compel us to scan for the network manually and reconnect afterwards.

Voice and Data Plans

Considering no-contract plans offered on small carriers in the U.S, Virgin Mobile's is the cheapest of all. On its most basic plan, the carrier offers unlimited data and messaging, as well as 300 anytime minutes, for just $35 per month. By comparison, the most basic plans on Metro PCS, Boost Mobile and Cricket Wireless are in the $50 to $55 range per month (Cricket's is $55/month), though these carriers offer unlimited minutes with those plans.

To share its data connection, the HTC Evo V 4G can operate as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five devices. A quick tap on the dedicated app instantly turns the hotspot on, so users don't have to dig through the phone's menus looking for the feature. The service costs an extra $15 a month for 2.5GB of data. If users exceed this threshold, they may experience slower speeds.

Apps

HTC bundles its usual Sense-modified apps on the Evo V 4G, including Mail, Browser and Music. One program we particularly like is Friend Stream for social networking; this let us keep tabs on the latest updates from our Facebook, Flickr and Twitter accounts. HTC Hub let us browse through popular apps handpicked by the HTC community.

Of course, the Evo V 4G is a child sprung from the marriage between phone manufacturer HTC and carrier Virgin Mobile, and the latter pre-loads the Evo V 4G with its own proprietary apps as well. These include airG, a chat service, and Virgin Mobile Live, a music-streaming app.

Camera and Camcorder

Back when it was new, the Evo V 4G's photo quality may have been considered top-notch, but by today's standards, they are just decent. Although the dual 5-MP cameras captured some rather bright images, we were less than impressed by their lack of detail. We snapped a 2D photo of a cluster of blossoms laid out by our local flower market, and could barely make out the labels for each type of flower being sold.

Indoors, the dual flash worked fairly well as long as we stood pretty close to the subject. HTC also includes a wide range of settings and effects to help you tweak your photo on the fly. You can apply fun house-like filters such as Distortion by accessing Effects found on the upper right corner of the display within live camera mode.

The Evo V 4G recorded stutter-free 720p videos through the pair of rear-facing cameras, but we had some problems with lighting when we moved from brighter to darker areas. Overall quality, however, was passable. Though the videos could have been sharper, they provided a reasonable amount of detail and the built-in microphone was quite sensitive, accurately recording the environment's ambient noises.

We tested the 1.3-MP front-facing camera by conducting a Skype call with a co-worker over 4G. She said we looked a little pixelated and we thought her image could have offered better detail, too. Even worse, during our attempts to call, the connection dropped twice. However, audio was accurate on both ends.

Call Quality and Battery Life

In general, call quality was clear in both midtown Manhattan and the Upper West Side. Our friend said we sounded "pretty good," but the overall quality was "a bit scratchy." On our end, we heard a little fuzziness and static, but it didn't affect our call to the extent that we couldn't conduct a two-way conversation.

In terms of battery life, the Evo V 4G offers a 1730 mAh battery, which disappointingly lasted only 3 hours and 56 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test; this is well below the 5:35 Android average. (We will re-test the phone to confirm its endurance.)

Verdict

The HTC Evo V 4G is essentially a repackaged Evo 3D, now available through Virgin Mobile. And while it's not the most cutting-edge device in terms of specs, it is a compelling bargain. For less than half the cost of what you'd pay per month on other carriers, you get an Android Ice Cream Sandwich phone with good performance and 4G speeds. The WiMax network isn't the fastest, but overall the Evo V 4G is a good value.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier Virgin Mobile
Form Factor Candybar Touchscreen
Operating System Android 4.0
Networks
Data Mobile WiMAX
Data EV-DO Rev. A
CPU 1.2-GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor
RAM 1GB
Internal Memory 4GB
Memory Expansion Type microSD Card
Display (main) 4.3" qHD Capacitive Display
Display (secondary)
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth 2.2.17
Wi-Fi
Front Camera Resolution 1.3MP
Camera Resolution 5 MP
Talk / Standby Time Battery Talktime: 360 minutes (6 hours) Battery Standby Time: 300 hours (12.5 days)
Ports microUSB
Ports 3.5mm headphone
Size 4.96 x 2.56 x 0.48 inches
Weight 6 ounces
SAR Rating (Head)
SAR Rating (Body)
Company Website http://www.virginmobileusa.com/cell-phones/htc-evo-v-phone.jsp