evo 4g review hero
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The Sprint EVO 4G makes history by being the first 4G Smartphone available in the U.S and it is arguably very attractive for many reasons. Its design is great, it has a sharp high-resolution LCD display, a powerful processor, and an uber-fast internet connection that can be shared with other devices. What’s not to like? Well, maybe the weight or the fact that you have to pay an extra to benefit from 4G, and also pay another premium to create WiFi hotspots. This is a question of balance and compromise, so let me tell you how the HTC EVO 4G worked for me over the past couple of weeks. Ready?

Context: usage patterns vary as much as fingerprints. We all have our own way to use the electronics that makes our lives better, that’s why it is often impractical to write a dogmatic review that says “buy or not”. However, I found it much more useful to tell you what I do with these devices and how it worked for me. From there, I sincerely hope that you can extrapolate how it will work for you.

I typically check my email often with Exchange, and I reply moderately because a virtual keyboard is not as productive as a physical one. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but I rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are important or not.

Technical Highlights

Droid Incredible EVO 4G
Android 2.1 + HTC Sense Android 2.1 + HTC Sense
3.7″ AMOLED 480×800 4.3″ LCD 480×800
Qualcomm 8650 SnapDragon, 1Ghz Qualcomm 8650 SnapDragon, 1Ghz
512MB RAM 512MB RAM
8GB of internal storage + microSD slot 4GB microSD card
8 Megapixel camera 8 Megapixel camera
3G, Wifi b/g, BT 2.1+EDR, aGPS 4G, 3G, Wifi b/g, BT 2.1+EDR, aGPS
FM Radio FM Radio
TV Out (microUSB) TV Out (HDMI)
Carrier: Verizon, 3G speeds Sprint
4.6 x 2.3 x 0.47″, 4.6oz 4.8 x 2.6 x 0.5″, 6oz
1300mAh battery 1500mAh battery
Droid Incredible Review

Physical Design


Here’s what the EVO 4G looks like in the real worldBody: The HTC EVO 4G is a very solid phone that is well built. The front is made of one piece of glass, while the back has a texture that feels leather-ish. The volume button is the only one on either the left+right side, so there’s no accidental button action while you hold it in your hands (that used to be an issue with HTC phones). The four tactile buttons at the bottom work well – no problem there. I like the fact that the USB port is at the bottom instead of on the side. It is just easier to use the phone while it is charging.

evo 4g review usb charge
Isn’t micro-USB just great?Now, the big display/body does add some weight: at 6oz (170g) it is significantly heavier than the 3GS or the Incredible (4.7oz/133g) but in practice, the excessive weight doesn’t feel so bad, possibly because it is spread out on a large surface. However, this is pretty the limit of what I would accept to carry in my pocket.

Finally, I really like the little kickstand in the back to use the phone as a TV, or as an alarm clock. The stand seems really solid. You can check our photo gallery to see for yourself, but I’ll tell you what you can’t feel for yourself: HTC has used quality materials.

Display: One thing that I often point out is how thin (in width) many phone designs are. The phones look good and all, but it is a drag on keyboard interaction because the keyboard keys are smaller. Well, the EVO 4G has a very comfortable 4.3″ display (800×480), and I love it, even if it is not perfect: the colors pop, and the contract is very nice … when you are indoors. Outside on a sunny day, it can be really hard to read, even at full brightness. The glass makes the display very shiny, which only adds to the problem. Overall, the phone still is usable, but it can be frustrating at times.

Update: a previous version of this post said that this was an OLED display. This was a mistake. I’ve fixed it. Thanks to our eagle-eyed reader who promptly put me back on track.

No optical trackpad: Unlike many recent android phones, there’s no optical trackpad on this phone, and quite frankly, I don’t miss it. When I try to place the text cursor in between two letters of a word, the arrows at the bottom of the virtual keyboard do wonders.

Basics

evo 4g review dialer
Dialing is super easy. Finding contacts tooDial a number: Dialing a number is easy: the phone app is launched via a dedicated button at the bottom of the homepage and upon launching it, you will be presented with a dialpad and the last few numbers that you interacted with. If you want to search for a contact, you will have to use the dial pad, instead of a keyboard to enter the first few letters of the name. It doesn’t sound very sexy, but I found it to be very effective.

Wireless reception: In the office, we got 2/5 bars on the Sprint Network. My advice is to forget all the “best coverage” talks, and do some homework. Ask your friends & family how good the Sprint network is for them. This is totally dependent on where you live/work.

Calls audio quality: I found the sound to be decent, but a little soft on the volume. Unlike the Droid Incredible, I doubt that the EVO 4G can be heard in a noisy restaurant, and even less in a club.

evo 4g review virtual keyboard
The EVO 4G (left) clearly has a more comfy keyboard than the HTC IncredibleVirtual Keyboard: Thanks to the 4.3″ display, the keyboard is very comfortable and my rate of typos has gone down big time (from the Incredible). I can type as fast or faster than I would with the iPhone, but overall, this is obviously slower than typing on a real keyboard (the Blackberry 8900 being my ultimate reference). The HTC Sense keyboard is different from the original Android keyboard because it is a l
ittle more fancy. You can press and hold a key to select an alternate character (numbers, special characters…) which is great, but the “hold” period is too long (2 sec). Also, the additional info is a bit of a visual pollution. If there’s a way to choose between the HTC keyboard and another one, that would be great.

evo 4g review copy paste
The Copy/Paste works well, but could be perfectedCopy/Paste: Back in the Nexus One days, the Copy/Paste was ridiculous at best. You could only copy from an edit box, and stuff like emails or web pages were outside of the copy/paste realm – and that’s probably where you would need it the most. Well, this works now, pretty much in the same way that the iPhone has introduced it: click and hold to make delimiters appear. Move them around to select your text, then click on the “Copy” icon. Click&hold… and paste. Easy.

evo 4g review web
Web browsing is excellentWeb Browsing (Excellent): The browsing experience on the EVO 4G is excellent. The browser gets some credit of course, but the larger display gets even more credits for this. Reading news and navigating around is great and the larger screen makes multi-touch gestures easier. When you resize a page, the browser will reformat the text to wrap around the edges of the screen. While this makes things effectively easier to read, it also moves stuff around, which is annoying if you are trying to zoom to a specific location (this is true for the Maps application too). I’ll survive. If you are curious, Google Docs work in reading mode only.


In this video, you’ll the browser in action, but also that
Background apps can slow things down quite a bit
Flash (Nop): Flash is not supported at all in this phone, and even stuff like flash banner ads don’t seem to work. You’ll have to wait for the Android 2.2 update before getting something new on that front. Now, even with partial Flash support on the HTC Incredible, I didn’t feel like it was helping. Performance issues are still plaguing flash, so we’ll have to wait for 2.2 and the most recent version of Flash 10.1.

Email / Account Sync

USB Sync: Most people would think that it should be possible to sync their computer emails with a smartphone. Well… no. Android relies on an internet connection to synchronize emails from popular web providers. If you are using Outlook Express, you are a bit our of luck for now. GMail is not surprisingly the best supported service, but Yahoo, Hotmail and others will work with POP. Note that it is possible to sync contacts and calendar items via USB.

evo 4g review email
Overall, the email experience is OK.
I’d like the search to be integrated in the Mail app
Push-Email: once connected to the internet (via 4G, 3G or WIFI), the phone can receive emails “as they arrive”, aka “push email”. This is great if you want to use emails like SMS message (except cheaper) — it works just as advertised. I’m personally using Exchange, but GMail should have this capability as well. POP3 account can’t push email, but IMAP could get closer to that. Take a look at what your provider supports.

Overall, the email experience is good, with the exception of the email search, which is part of the universal search instead of being embedded in the Mail app (Mail, not GMail!). If you want to search for an email, click on the “search” button at the lower right of the phone and type a search phrase. The search results will show contacts and other things first, then you should see a “Mail” option at the bottom. It’s not very convenient, but believe me, it’s a whole lot better than no search at all.

evo 4g review accounts
Select web services can be synchronized.Accounts Sync: This phone can synchronize with many types of accounts. Right now, I see Facebook, Exchange, Flickr, Google and Twitter. That’s not a bad start. If your favorite service isn’t in there yet, chances are that it has an Android app. If not, well… there’s the browser. Thanks to the sync, you can have a unified feed of what’s going on with your friends. I found the Friend Stream widget to be “so-so” – the design could be better, and there’s not enough information displayed at once. I have removed it.

Computer Sync (Basic, simple)

evo 4g review usb connection
What do you want to do over USB?When the HTC EVO 4G is connected to a computer, you can also mount it as a USB disk to copy files manually or to use Windows’ photo/music synchronization scheme. This is great and that’s certainly something simple that I wish the iPhone/iPad had.

Connectivity (Excellent)

evo 4g review 4g 2
For 4G, Sprint is the only game in town…4G: as its name indicates this phone connects in 4G, which is in this case WiMAX.With WiMAX, the EVO 4G can reach real-life speeds of around 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up, it will blow away 3G any day of the week. The downside is that 4G is not deployed everywhere yet, and in cities like our beautiful San Francisco, it will come “sometime in 2010″ – there are pockets though.

Simultaneous voice and data: With 4G, you can download stuff and talk on the phone at the same time. This seems like a “duh”, but CDMA networks like Sprint or Verizon always had that problem. Well, WiMAX is Not CDMA. That said, if you connect back to 3G because 4G isn’t available, the simultaneous voice+data becomes an issue again. 4G is a $10/mo plan upgrade.

evo 4g review hotspot
This is the setup screen to share your internet connection with your
own WIFI Hotspot (hot!)
WIFI Hotspot: It costs $30/mo (too much), but the thing that is really cool with the EVO 4G is its ability to share an internet connection by creating your own WiFi hotspot. You don’t need to connect the phone via USB, there’s nothing to install… it just works (on Macs too). It’s true that by doing so, you will probably end up using more juice, but for casual users, it’s not that bad and more serious users can either plug it to USB to charge and still share the connection with up to 9 devices — or use an external battery like the HyperMac that we have reviewed recently. I think that Sprint should look at the usage stats and lower the price in the future.

Real unlimited bandwidth: Last and not least, Sprint allows real unlimited bandwidth usage in either
4G or 3G. This is quite a contrast when you compare it with AT&T last price changes. For practical purposes, I can’t say that AT&T’s plan are bad. It’s true that most users use less than 200MB (they say 98%), so in the end, a large chunk of their user base will spend less. But iPad users who like to download or watch videos on the go might not be so happy about this.

To be fair, Sprint has a lot of excess capacity for now, so they can afford it. As more users use the network, we will see how the company will react, but at that point, it will be a good problem for them to have.

Update 6/8: some users have reported having Wifi issues, while others say that it works fine for them, read our EVO 4G wifi issue post

Photo and Video (Very good)

evo 4g review photos
Photos taken during daylight are very good. Photos: In broad daylight, photos are excellent (for a phone) and the shutter speed is fast – no complaints at all. In a dim lighting environment, this is going to be more challenging. Photos will get blurry, unless you use the flash – in which case, make sure that the subject is 1.5 yards or more away, or the powerful flash will wash out the photo. Overall, I can’t complain, the 4G is definitely among the higher-end camera-phones. I have uploaded some Evo 4G photos samples in our Flickr account.

evo 4g review camera live
The camera app worked just fine and is fast when there’s plenty of lightVideos: I was a bit surprised to see a 720p video option in the camcorder menu, so I went for it. Obviously, this is not the 720p that you will see in HD trailers. Instead, the 720p video is a little choppy. Instead I much prefer the 800×480 resolution that manages to get a consistent 30fps frame rate. There is also a 640×480 4:3 format if you are so inclined. Again, videos taken in broad daylight will fare better. For this test, I went to shoot a few videos early in the evening when light is more dim. Check ourEVO 4G video samples in our Flickr account.

Front Camera: Fring is currently the video-chat application of choice on the EVO 4G. It works OK, although I noticed that there was some noticeable lag, may be a couple of seconds. It reminded me of when MSN messenger just got video. But, one has to start somewhere, and it’s free.

Performance

Linpack: 6.5-7Mflops the EVO 4G is comparable to the Droid Incredible or the Nexus One in terms of raw performance. Again, this is a software issue as Android 2.2 and its Just In time (JIT) compiler will provide many times (2-5X) the raw performance of Android 2.1. That tells you that recent advances in hardware were partially dampen by the virtual machine used to run the apps. Now, we need to sit and wait for the HTC Android 2.2 update. Linpack page

UI Performance: I don’t have a good way to measure how fast the user interface (UI) is, but it seems a little less responsive when compared to the Droid Incredible. I’m pretty sure that the larger display size is not creating any optical illusion here and scrolling from one homepage to the next is perceptibly slower (to me). That’s not a real problem, but Android in general has been lagging the 3GS or the Zune HD when it comes to super-fluid UI. Google needs to catch up on that.

Gaming performance: Gaming performance was similar to what I have seen on recent Android high-end phones, although I’m tempted to say that the frames per second in that racing game looked lower than what I had seen on the Droid Incredible (see video below). Overall it is doing OK, but on smartphones, casual gaming is the name of the game, but I would be surprised if people really go after FPS numbers for now – the games aren’t really there and the user interface has not completely be worked out for gaming.


The EVO 4G running a 3D car racing game

Multitasking

evo 4g review multitasking
Multi-tasking is nice, but keep an eye on how many apps are runningEvidently, Android is very good at multi-tasking, so if you want to leave that GPS tracker in the background or another apps that need to stay on like an IM client, no problem (take that iPhone). That said, I would advise you to be mindful that it also lets apps that don’t “need” to be in the background because there’s no convenient way to tell Android that you want to “quit” the browser instead of switching tasks. If you don’t pay attention, it is easy to have a dozen apps running and sipping away battery life and system performance (check the web browsing video – it shows how many apps can slow down things to a halt). To avoid this, I recommend using one of the many task-killer apps available on the Android Market. I personally like to setup an auto-kill of all non-essential apps every 10mn or so. In practice, it works well, and you can also setup exclusion lists for apps that need to stay alive. Having the option of getting true multitasking is great – but not completely worry-free.

HTC Sense

I keep saying this, but while I prefer that all Android phones have the exact same interface, it is fair to say that HTC has done a good job at improving critical details like copy/paste or pinch&zoom, the calendar, the homepage leap etc… there’s no denying that all these additions make HTC phones a little easier to use than their “plain Google” counter parts. But in the end, Google should really fix all the basic stuff (and most of that stuff is basic!) so that all Android users can benefit, and so that all developers know what they can rely on.

Entertainment

evo 4g review photo gallery
The photo gallery is fast, but not Zune HD or 3GS fastPhotos gallery: The photo gallery is fairly fast, but still not as fast as the iPhone 3GS and the Zune HD. We are getting there however… Other than that, it works fairly well. I have had issues with video files that could not be played back (compatibility issues): they did tend to lock up the user interface.

evo 4g review music
The music has everything… but search – help!Music: The Music user interface playback is fairly standard, but lack the critical keyword search in my opinion. If you have a lot of files, it’s kind of annoying to scroll around, but I suspect that for most people it’s “OK”, but it could be easil
y improved. I’ve seen other Android phones with the search feature, so I’m not sure about what’s going on here.

Audio Quality: When using headphones, the sound is very comparable to most MP3 players. The more interesting thing is the loud speaker. The main speaker (the one that you use for phone conversations) is used there and it is relatively loud, so watching movies or listening to music is definitely an option, even with (some) ambient street noise or something like that.

evo 4g review youtube
YouTube works just fine over WIFI, 3G requires a longer buffering timeYouTube videos: High-quality videos look very good and while my first choice is not to watch a movie on a phone, I might want to do it because I’m bored to death. When that happens, I the EVO 4G is my phone of choice, more so than any other phone that I have tested. The little backrest makes it possible to drop it on a flat surface and the screen is large enough to make the video interesting to watch.


Watch the Iron Baby video on the EVO 4GMP4 videos (compatibility issues): Just like the Droid Incredible, a PSP video that I have used for previous Android reviews does not work on the EVO 4G. What’s more disturbing is that a video that I created especially for the 800×480 display – and that worked on the Incredible – does not work either (??). Again, this is not a grave issue, except for users who have built a library of movies. Hopefully, this is something that can be solved with an update. If you’re curious: the 720×480 video was encoded in H.264 at 30fps with an AAC audio codec. The 368×208 PSP one is also a H.264+AAC video. Within the current state of things, I don’t have a reliable place to find content.

Misc

evo 4g review sprint content icons
Sprint offers a number of media services, but I’m not convincedSprint TV: The EVO 4G comes with some access to TV shows and other media distributed by Sprint. I tried, it but I’m definitely not convinced by the image quality of the video. The quality was much lower than YouTube for instance. Also, Sprint actively prevents your from using WIFI, which I think is a bit silly: why in the world would they prevent you from using someone else’s bandwidth while it makes your experience better at no cost to Sprint? I don’t know. I just don’t think that carriers have a compelling offering and user experience in delivering media. They are too close-minded and make the wrong decisions because they are not based on the users’ interest.

Navigation Mode: In the past, I had phones that would allow GPS navigation. It turns out that some were dumb enough to go to sleep while you are driving. I can confirm that the EVO 4G does not go to sleep when you navigate. Note that opening the map application might not be sufficient, I think that you actually need to enter the navigation mode, with start and end points. It worked beautifully, although with more lag than a dedicated Personal Navigation Device (PND)

Battery Life

evo 4g review battery utility
The battery life is better than previous Android phones,
and you get more control too!
The effective battery life of the Sprint EVO 4G is very good and much better than other Android phones that I tried recently, except for the Droid Incredible (well, they use the same software and have comparable battery capacity). Since I’m heavily using the power management widget (see next paragraph), you could argue that I artificially prolong the battery life, but I think that this is fair game as it reflects my real-world usage. I’m not trying to beat any battery life record here, just make my life better.

So, how are the numbers? Quite remarkable. With my usage (see “context” at the beginning), I first charged the Evo 4G on a Friday at 11:20pm. It needed a new charge on the next Monday at 5:45pm. In a second instance, I charged it on a Tuesday at 2:15pm and it died on Thursday at 12:28pm. So that’s about two days of moderate use and I think that it’s just great. Some of the credit has to go to the power widget, so let’s check it out:

evo 4g review power widgets
These Power widgets are fantastic. Choose what stays on or offPower Management Widget: The Android power management widget is one of the most useful tool that Android has to offer. It is simple, but it put you in control of how much energy the phone will consume. I tend to put it right on my home page so that I always know if Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS are on. As a result, I tend to disable Wifi, Bluetooth and GPS most of the time. If I need any of them, I can turn them on with a tap.

evo 4g review battery
If the battery dies, you can get one (for $60 I’m told). User replaceable: the battery is user replaceable, which is handy in case it completely dies (yes, it happens). However, as a means to get more juice on the go, I found that external batteries with a USB ports are better. You can go for a big one like the HyperMac (or something like it), or use something smaller, but that’s what I would recommend. Internal batteries won’t work with your next phone – or with other gadgets.

The Camera is taxing: this is something that you want to keep an eye on. I found that the camera app was one of the most taxing application for the battery. Let it run for a few minutes and check the battery utility. The camera should be right at the top. I suspect that some image processing is going on at all times, but just avoid to leave it on for too long if you’re not really snapping an image.

Things that could be better

Storage bug: Like many other users on the web, I noticed that the MicroSD card sometime “disappeared” from the system. It happened to me two times in about 10 days. It’s not the end of the world, but when that happens, it’s very annoying. I’m not sure what the exact cause is, but I noticed that the card was not very well secured. Other people claim that a reboot solved the problem. Now that it has launched, we will see if more folks experience this.

Thickness and weight: I really like the large display format (that’s about as large as I might like it though) but the phone could certainly use a thinner form factor, including a lighter weight. I’m sure that it will come. These gadgets rarely get much bigger.

No UMA: I always ask for UMA because if you have ever tried it, it’s hard to go back. UMA uses a plain local WIFI connection to reach your wireless carrier’s network. It guarantees a quasi perfect reception at home or wherever there’s a hotspot. It can also yield free calls be
cause you are in fact using bandwidth that costs nothing to your carrier, although the carrier will always try to find a way to charge something. Finally, You could use UMA in a foreign country and use either local US minutes or get free calls. Of course, the other solution is to use SkypeOut minutes… but Skype is going to charge for that too (minutes+extra for Mobiles).

No International Service: I don’t expect this phone to work outside of the US — except in Canada and Mexico.

Lanscape Mode: As usual, I noticed that the Landscape mode in Android does not work consistently. Hopefully Google will fix this.

Pricing

Sprint has taken some criticism for its pricing, so let’s take a look and let’s define a minimum cost. Here is some data (always check the latest prices on Sprint’s site):

  • $199.99 (after 100 MIR) with a new contract, select service plan and Premium Data add-on
  • Voice (450mn) and 3G (unlimited): $69.99/mo
  • 4G: $10/mo (“premium data”) *Mandatory*
  • Hotspot capability: $29.99/mo

If you decide not to use 4G speeds (and you can realistically do it), you end up paying a minimum of $80/mo (+tax+fee). The Hotspot capabilities could be harder to justify. If it is possible at all (and I’m not saying that it is), you may be able to add and remove those features and have their prices pro-rated, it’s an easy way to dip your toes. It seems pricey, but ironically, I pay more than that with T-Mobile for a Blackberry subscription with an “Enterprise” plan (about $150/mo, incl tax+fees) and the phone excels at nothing but emails. Update: The feedback from the first customers is that the extra $10 for 4G is mandatory. A previous version of this review, didn’t take that into account. Thanks to those who reported this.

I suspect that the more interesting comparison is with the upcoming iPhone. In terms of absolute pricing, you can get a $55/mo deal for the iPhone by opting for $40 (450mn) and $15 (200MB) of data. For $25, AT&T will give you 2GB. Depending on what you do, 200MB might or might not be a pitance, but very heavy users clearly win in terms of speed and caps with Sprint. I suspect that in the end, the “unlimited” argument won’t matter much with the email/Social Media crowd. As a reference, I used 20MB last month on my T-Mobile Blackberry.

The EVO 4G has more capabilities, which is nice and it will be up to you to define and what you want to do and how much bandwidth you need. I would not choose a carrier or another based on a $5/mo difference and instead I would recommend you to focus on the phone experience and the network quality where you live.

Finally, always compute the total cost over the duration of your plan, and try to take into account taxes and fees.

Conclusion (Excellent)

evo 4g review evo splash
The HTC EVO 4G kicks assThe HTC EVO 4G is an amazingly strong phone. I liked it over the Droid Incredible based on the comfort associated with the larger display (less typos, better reading) - but I accept the extra bulk that comes with it, will you? The phone is fast, the battery life is good, and you can even extend it, thanks to tools that puts you in control of your power consumption. Most of the apps that I use on other platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc..) are available in some form, except for Skype and Kindle — two dearly missed apps that I love.

I hope that this review has helped you understand what this phone is about. If after reading it you decide that it fits your needs, I can vouch for its quality. The EVO 4G is simply the most technologically advanced phone today and when it comes to 4G, Sprint is the sheriff in town.

If you have more questions, remarks or want to post your own review of this device, drop a comment. Thanks for checking this page.

Links

EVO 4G homepage, EVO 4G Specifications, more EVO 4G news

Do not miss these reviews: MacBook Air Review, iPhone 4 Review, Droid Incredible Review, Macbook Pro Review, iPad Review, iPhone 3GS Review, Sprint Overdrive WiMAX Modem, Blackberry 9700 Review, Palm Pixi Review, Motorola Droid Review,Nokia N900 Review, HTC Hero Review, MyTouch 3G Review/HTC Magic, Nokia N97 Review

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews >Top Stories . Tags: 4g, evo, evo 4g, hands-on, HTC, review, Smartphone and Sprint.
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