Sprint has decided to introduce another EVO phone to complete their 4G line-up. Ever since the original HTC EVO 4G came out, the carrier has been pushing it very hard, and it’s impossible to avoid the TV advertising if you live in the U.S. The HTC EVO Shift might have the same “family name”, but it’s a different beast: it doesn’t have the large (and comfy!) screen of the EVO 4G, but it comes with a full sliding QWERTY keyboard, one of the best yet. The EVO Shift is also more responsive than the Android 2.1 EVO (2.2 update is now available). It is noticeable, right out of the box.
Both share common traits: they are WiFi hotspots, they benefit from a huge library of apps, they shoot HD photos and videos (although the EVO 4G does have a better camera, on paper). In this review, we’ll tell you what the EVO Shift can really do, and where it stands in today’s Smartphone world. If you’re curious, follow me into this deep dive.
Usage patterns vary as much as fingerprints. We all have our own way to use smartphones, that’s why it is often impractical to write a dogmatic review that says “buy/don’t buy”. I found it much more useful to tell you what I do with these devices and how they worked for me. From there, I sincerely hope that you can guess how things will work out for yourself.
I typically check my email often with Exchange, and I reply moderately because even with the physical keyboard, I can’t type very long emails. I browse the web several times a day to check news sites, but I rarely watch movies or play music. I run apps: mainly social networks and a tiny bit of games. I don’t call much: maybe 10mn a day, if at all. This usage pattern will affect the battery life and my (and yours) perception of which features are important or not.
|EVO Shift 4G||EVO 4G|
|Android 2.2 + HTC Sense||Android 2.1 (2.2 avail) + HTC Sense|
|3.6″ LCD 480×800||4.3″ LCD 480×800|
|Qualcomm MSM7630 (800MHz)||Qualcomm 8650 SnapDragon, 1Ghz|
|512MB RAM||512MB RAM|
|2GB microSD||4GB microSD card|
|5 Megapixel camera||8 Megapixel camera|
|4G, 3G, Wifi N, BT 2.1 GPS||4G, 3G, Wifi b/g, BT 2.1+EDR, aGPS|
|FM Radio||FM Radio|
|N/A||TV Out (HDMI)|
|4.6 x 2.3 x 0.6″, 5.9oz||4.8 x 2.6 x 0.5″, 6oz|
|1500mAh battery||1500mAh battery|
|Link to specs||Read Review|
External design (clean & fair)
Body: the Sprint HTC EVO Shift 4G is quite classic. The phone is fairly thick by today’s standards, although that’s a price that you have to pay for a sliding keyboard it seems. I think that manufacturers could (should!) do better than this, but I also recognize that a slider keyboard brings unique challenges to the structural integrity of a phone.
That said, the phone feels good in the hand, and the weight (5.9oz) makes it feel “solid” somehow. It is a little heavier than the Samsung Epic 4G (5.7oz), and much heavier than a touch-screen Galaxy S, or an iPhone 4 (4.8 oz).
The Android buttons react quickly, and have a back light that activates when needed, thanks to the phone’s light sensor. HTC had the good idea of building the Android buttons so that it’s possible to see the buttons without requiring the back light. Other phones like the Epic 4G had buttons that could completely go away, and that was truly annoying sometimes (I really mean “all the time”).
There’s little to be said about the volume controls: they just work. The power button is placed at the upper-right-back of the phone, which is a great location if you hold the phone from the left hand (in my opinion). I think that it could have been better built. On this particular unit, it was a bit stiff, possibly because the phone was new but the button design itself is too recessed which makes it hard to press on. In general, this is the most important button in a phone -we use it tens of times a day- so it should be easy to press.
On the left side, there’s a Micro-USB port. You’ve got to love micro USB as more and more devices rely on it to charge/sync. However, having the USB port on the side can be an issue if you want to type emails (or use the phone in general) while it is charging. I usually prefer the top or bottom positioning but this is a matter of personal preference, so – you’ve been warned.
Display: The display quality is good. It’s not extraordinary, but I find it to have better contrast than the Droid 2 display for example. Sure, it’s no AMOLED (or IPS) and the blacks are definitely not “black” (they are dark gray), but overall, it’s pretty good without touching the top displays out there. If you are going to use it outdoors, I would recommend using a bright background wallpaper (like that yellow one that I have). On an LCD display, a white image doesn’t consume more juice than a black image but OLED displays will consume more power to display a white image.
Basics (very good)
Dialing: by now, it’s clear that Dialing is pretty easy on Android. I recommend placing a shortcut to the phone application on the home screen. From there, you have the choice between using the virtual keypad, the Contacts app or the favorites list, it’s up to you. I tend to use the favorite list, or even better: I drop a direct dial shortcut on the home screen for frequently used numbers. You can’t beat that.
Finding a Contact: the quickest way to find a contact is to launch the app and type a few letters with the keyboard. Without the QWERTY keyboard, you simply need to click on the Android “Search” button (while in the Contact apps), and continue with the virtual keyboard. Easy. Blackberry phones are even better to search of contacts, because as soon as you type from the home screen, the search starts – there’s no need to launch a Contacts app.
Wireless: The EVO Shift comes with pretty much all the connectivity that you would need. It has Sprint’s 3G and 4G, plus the fastest WiFi-N. The actual network reception quality is largely due to where you are, so I’m not sure how much I can help you with that. Just remember that nation-wide coverage quality is of great importance when you travel a lot, but if you tend to hang around home/work and couple more places, those areas should be where network quality really matters.
Call audio quality: Audio quality on the HTC EVO Shift 4G is above-average compared to other smartphones that I have tested. The sound is clear (quite a few smartphones have “muffled” audio) and loud enough for most situations. The phone should work fairly well in a relatively noisy situations (busy restaurant…).
Physical Keyboard: Slider designs are tricky because they require the keys to be as flat as possible. In return, this makes the key relief very shallow and it’s a bit hard to type on, when compared to a keyboard with more defined keys. However, HTC has come up with a good design, and this is on of the best slider keyboards that I’ve played with in a while. I think that it is better than the Epic 4G’s. However good, it won’t match the performance of a BlackBerry Bold keyboard. But the EVO Shift’s big screen and the overall multimedia capabilities make up for it.
I also would like to point out that the keyboard is not always easy to slide out. Again, this might be due to the fact that the phone is new, but this is something that you might want to check out if you plan to use the keyboard very often (and I bet you will).
Virtual Keyboard: The virtual keyboard is similar to what you can find in other HTC Android phones. Because the EVO Shift’s user interface is a bit more responsive than the EVO 4G (with Android 2.1), it makes the keyboard more responsive too, which is better. From what I remember, I think that the Samsung Epic 4G is even faster, but overall, it’s comparable.
Copy/Paste: HTC has built a number of “add-ons” on top of Android, and a functional Copy/Paste is probably one of the best “power-ups” available. It seems like a small feature, but believe me, when you want to copy a 128-bit hexadecimal password, or a long paragraph, re-typing it is not an option. This is a must-have for anyone who’s serious about text.
Web Browsing (very good)
Browsing: There’s no need to establish that Android phones can browse the web very well. It’s no desktop browser, but it’s pretty solid, and that’s just about the best that you can get right now. In the short future, things will get a bit better – including (some) Flash support.
Adobe Flash: talking about Flash… how is it? Well there is support for Flash (out of the box, the Nexus S doesn’t have it). I typically go to a few casual Flash games to test it. Depending on what you find, things might work more or less. Things are getting better with Flash (performance-wise), but because most of the Flash content on the web is still built for desktop/laptop computers, it’s really a hit or miss. It simply depends on what you’re trying to run.
Google Docs: Good news! just when I was tired of telling people that Google Docs could not be edited on mobiles, Google drops Android 2.2 and makes it possible. I tried it, and it works (wOOt). Depending on the nature of your documents, it might or might not be comfortable to work with, but at least, you now have the option of making edits. Phew!
Email / Accounts Sync (very good)
Microsoft Exchange: as usual, I used Exchange as my main email source. Depending on your provider, it might (or might not) be easy to setup, but as long as you don’t need a virtual private network (VPN), things are mostly simple. If you work for a company, ask the IT folks. It’s been working like a charm for me, including with Exchange Push Email.
Popular email services: most people have an email on a popular service like Hotmail, Yahoo or GMail. In that case, the setup is super-easy: just enter your email+login+password and the mail app will do the rest. It can’t get much easier than that. Depending on your actual service, you might get push-email or not. Most of the time, you won’t (GMail does support push-email).
Because Android is a Google product, GMail gets the best treatment (duh). There’s a GMail app from which you can “star” or “tag” emails, those are two of the most important features. You might miss on the latest ones, but in any case the GMail app is much faster than the Yahoo app, for example.
Account Syncs: With Android, it is possible to sync to a number of online accounts. Here’s the list for the EVO Shift, out of the box: Exchange, Google, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter. As you install more apps, you might see more types of accounts there. Most of the ones listed above will give you the option to consolidate your contacts. You’ll have to decide if you want all your Facebook “friends” synchronized in your “contacts” or not. Also, keep in mind that those changes might ripple into an Outlook Exchange server, or a GMail account.
USB Email Sync: People ask all the time: can I synchronize my emails from Outlook/Outlook Express (or another client) to my smartphone over USB? Well… no.
Android has been built with the idea that you will use some kind of online-based email such as GMail, Yahoo, MSN, Exchange etc… (Google is a web-company, remember?). If you are currently downloading all your emails via POP to an offline client (then deleting the emails on the server), you’re out of luck (is there an app for that?). The solution: leave the emails on the server, and setup your service on the phone. You won’t get all the old emails already on your PC, but the new ones should be visible on both the computer and the phone.
Note: HTC Sync or other utilities will offer a sync for your contacts and calendar items, but not for emails.
Computer Connectivity (files/content/internet sharing)
Via USB: Android simply shows up as a USB disk, so it’s extremely simple to add/remove/manage files. This means that the phone will be visible on any device that supports the USB MASS STORAGE standard. It’s just like popping a flash card in your PC. From there, your operating system can take over and attempt to synchronize images, movies, music and other content that it might find.
You can also, drag and drop files to/from the phone. I personally like it, mainly because I don’t have an unmanageable amount of content to deal with. The good news is that you don’t have to deal with a client like iTunes… the bad news is that some people really like the convenience of iTunes – that’s your choice, really.
4G WiFi Hotspot: The WiFi Hotspot function works flawlessly. I just had to tap on the Sprint HotSpot on my home page to launch the app, tap again to enable it and that’s it. If you want, you can change the password or the network (SSID) name – but that’s it. Connect over WiFi with your laptop and you’re good to go. The actual speed may vary depending on coverage, but I think that the 4G network would max out (in the real world) at about 5Mbps (down) and 1Mbps (up).
USB Tethering: First, you need to install HTC Sense on your computer in order to have the proper phone/USB modem drivers. To do so, plug the phone as a USB drive, then go into the HTC Sync folder and install the app (Windows Only). After that, you can connect the phone, and chose the “USB Tethering” mode. You computer will find the drivers, and after a minute or so, you should be online. It’s pretty easy once you know what to do (it’s written somewhere deep in the manual…). Things worked fairly well after that. Again, you should get 5Mbps at best.
Photo and Video Capture (average+)
Photo capture: The photo capture is decent, but not “out of the ordinary” for a recent high-end phone, but if you need to compare, the iPhone 4 or the Nexus S are better in my opinion. It takes takes a couple of seconds to actually capture the photo after tapping on the screen. It’s too long for my taste but it’s all too common on Android. On the iPhone, it’s often practically instantaneous because the iPhone camera app focuses continuously, so it’s ready when you are. Android needs to catch-up on that front. Check out more EVO Shift photo samples (resized+compressed for web), or go look at the EVO Shift photo samples on Flickr.
Video capture : The Video capture is good, but again, it’s not out of the ordinary. It’s certainly good enough for web & social network usage, no problems to report there. I found the video to be a bit weak in dim lighting, but that’s not uncommon for smartphones. Check the video sample (above): it was shot in good lighting conditions. Tell me what you think in the comments.
Performance (very good)
Performance is a game of numbers, but before we show graphs, I’d like to point two things out:
1/ “perceived performance” is much more important than “synthetic” performance because Perceived Performance defines the actual user experience.
2/ “measured performance” is derived from benchmarks that might or might not be representative of the real-world. Often, they can indicate the strengths or weaknesses of the underlying hardware or OS. It took a decade on the Windows platform to get decent benchmarks, and although I fully expect to have good suites at some point on smartphones, we’re not quite there yet. However, what we have is still much better than flying blind. Note that peak performance is becoming more and more important because the ability to execute tasks fast has a direct impact on battery life.
Perceived: the HTV EVO Shift 4G is a responsive phone. User interface responsiveness has been something that got Android a black-eye in the past, but it’s fair to say that chip makers, handset makers and Google have made steady progress in building a smoother experience. It’s not quite “iPhone 4 smooth”, but it’s definitely good enough, and doesn’t suffer the slow-downs that plagued early Android phones.
Things can sometime get slow if your connection is bad. That’s the case in the Android market, when the Market application tries to fetch quick results from the server. If the connection is slow enough, this could create the inverse effect. Google relies too much on having a reliably fast Internet connection. That’s not surprising for a web company, but still: you might simply be in a place that is not well covered.
Measured: the overall measurable performance of the HTC EVO Shift review puts it close to recent competitors like the Android Nexus S. For instance, both the EVO Shift 4G and the Nexus S significantly outperform the older Motorola Droid 2 in OpenGL tests. However, all three behave in a similar way when it comes to web browsing. Even the Adobe Flash performance is similar to the Droid 2’s.
During the benchmarking process, I noticed that the HTC EVO Shift Linpack numbers were about twice as big as the Nexus S. You may see this pop up elsewhere, but no other benchmark whether it is CPU, synthetic Graphics, HTML5 or Flash would show anything remotely close. At the moment, I’ll treat it as an anomaly, and won’t use Linpack until I can sort things out – or confirm that the numbers are legitimate.
Photo gallery: the photo gallery works decently, and the scrolling is smooth. You have two modes to view the photos. 1/Thumbnails view: you can basically see two thumbnails at once, and scroll over all the photos in a fast and efficient way. I really like this. 2/ Fullscreen view: practical to take a closer look at the photo. However, I found the usability to be lacking when compared to the iPhone, Windows Phones and the Zune HD. It’s kind of weird because the hardware is totally capable, but the software has been poorly tuned in terms of timing and inertia for the photo scrolling.
Video Playback (MP4): Playing a DVD-quality 720×480 mp4 is not a problem: it is smooth and clear. If you can find similar content, you should be happy with the end result. In general, I don’t recommend watching a movie in the plane on a small screen (laptops or tablets are much better for that), but it does wonders for news, clips and trailers.
Online Videos: Playing HD content over WIFI isn’t a problem and the experience is very good. I went to YouTube and watched a few HD trailers. They looked good and played smoothy, but there’s better: the iPhone 4 has a sharper display, and Samsung’s AMOLED displays have better contrast. In the end, all the “imaging” features come down to how good the display is.
Sprint Videos: If you want, you can also use Sprint’s online video service. First of all, I don’t understand why it doesn’t work over WiFi. Maybe to make it accessible only to Sprint 3G/4G customers (it would make billing simpler…)? In any case, the video quality is not as good as what you can find on YouTube and other top web services. I’ll pass on this for now.
Speaker Quality: The rear speaker works relatively well in a quiet environment.However, it is not the loudest that we’ve had at the office (well, the HTC surround would be the most powerful).
eBooks: Most top eBook services support Android via an app, so you should not have a problem to find something that works. I personally use Amazon’s Kindle, but Barnes & Noble and others have applications as well. The display if the EVO Shift uses the (now) standard 800×480 resolution, which has been proven to be sufficient for a good read.
Gaming: the HTC EVO Shift can handle 3D games like Raging Thunder 2 (video above): the frame rate is playable (I’m eyeballing it at 30fps) and the gaming experience is very comparable to what you would get on the Nexus S – one of the most recent Android phones, so no complaints here. In the future, we would love to bring more accurate gaming performance numbers as developers start to include benchmarks in their apps.
Battery Life (very good)
Overall, I’ve been pretty happy with the battery life of the EVO Shift 4G. With moderate usage, it stays alive for a couple of days, and that means that -in practice- I can forget to charge it without getting in trouble on the day after.
As always, if you want to make the best of the battery power that you do have, I would recommend to install the Power Widget, and to follow the advice that we have outlined in our Android Battery Life page. This is pretty much my best battery life advice as of today. We plan to update the page as things move along. Android has a lot of controls that are extremely simple to use.
User replaceable battery: if you wonder, the HTC EVO Shift 4G has a user-replaceable battery. I personally have not used those for a number of years, for a couple of reasons: 1/they are not very practical to charge 2/they are possibly not compatible with your next phone (and I admittedly swap more regularly than most). Today, I much prefer to have a USB battery (the size is up to you. I like them big) that is compatible with everything that can be charged with USB (5V, 500+ma). Some like the HyperMac (now HyperJuice) can even charge a laptop.
Things that could be better
Build quality details: As good as it is, the EVO Shift 4G is not perfect. The good news is that there’s nothing really “bad” about it. If I take into consideration “feasibility”, the most obvious fixes that I would suggest are related to the build quality. The keyboard doesn’t slide out as nicely as the Droid 2’s, and the Power button is too recessed, which makes it hard to press on. Anything that makes it thinner or lighter would be a nice bonus.
Speaker: The speaker is placed in the back… it is fine in a relatively quiet environment, but speakers placed on the side might be better in a more (relatively) noisy place. The other solution is to beef up the one placed in the front.
Conclusion (good phone, lacks sex appeal)
The EVO Shift 4G is a good phone, but not the sexiest around but it is fast and it provides a very good Android (2.2) experience. It has one of the better *horizontal* sliding keyboards that I have played with, and I would say that this is very important if the keyboard is the reason why you are getting it to start with. The keys “click” nicely and their backlighting looks really good. If you are lucky enough to be in a place covered by Sprint’s 4G network, you will be able to enjoy “beyond-3G” speeds, and if you’re not using 4G, you can always disable it to save power. Finally, I love the “hotspot” feature that has become so practical at times (for an additional fee).
If you have questions, or if you would like to drop a note with your own take, drop a comment (scroll down). I’ll try to address your questions as soon as I can, while I still have the unit around. I hope that this review has given you a good idea of what the HTC EVO Shift 4G is about and how it might help you (or not). Thanks for reading this.
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