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Sprint HTC EVO 4G Hands-On Review & Video

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Friday, 04 June 2010

Sprint HTC EVO 4G Hands-On Review & Video


The grand unboxing of the HTC EVO 4G

Since it was announced earlier this year, the Sprint HTC EVO 4G has been one of the most talked about Smartphones in years. Like several other phones over the past couple years, the EVO has been dubbed a potential "iPhone killer", and thanks to its unique (and plentiful) features and functionality, the EVO could very well be the first phone to truly give the uber-popular iPhone some serious competition.

The most obvious draw for the EVO is that unlike any other phone available on any other network in the USA, the HTC EVO can connect to Sprint's nationwide 3G network as well as the super-fast 4G network (available in about 30 cities now, with more launching each quarter). This alone makes the phone stand out, but besides being able to surf the web at 3G or 4G speeds on the phone, the EVO also has an optional mobile hotspot feature - for $29.99/month, you can turn the EVO into a 3G/4G hotspot to provide internet access for up to 8 WiFi-connected devices (similar to a MiFi or Overdrive) with unlimited 3G and 4G access (unlike mobile broadband devices, which cap 3G usage at 5GB/month). So not only do you have access to the fastest mobile broadband network currently available, you can share that connection with your laptop, iPad, iPod Touch, Nintendo DS, etc! NOTE: as of 10/2/11, the mobile hotspot feature no longer provides unlimited data :(

4G network and hotspot capabilities aside, the EVO has a ton to offer any smartphone user, from hardcore techies who always have to have the latest and greatest technology to folks who have never used a PDA before. The EVO is packed with a huge assortment of features (email, web browser, FM radio, two cameras, Sprint TV, social networking apps, navigation... and much much more) and the Android OS makes the EVO nothing short of a dream to use. Everything is extremely intuitive, and the way the EVO handles multitasking is impressive. Our lucky EVDOinfo.com reviewer has extensive experience using other Android phones like the HTC Eris and Motorola Droid and of course the iPhone and various Blackberry models, and after putting the EVO through strenuous testing all week was so impressed with what the EVO could do and how well it performed that he was ready to ditch all his other phones - and mobile broadband aircards, because of the hotspot feature! Read on to learn more about the EVO and our experience with it (for visual learners, the video is at the end of the article):

Design:

left to right: Apple iPhone, HTC Eris, Motorola Droid, HTC EVO 4G

At 4.8" x 2.6" x .5", the EVO is slightly larger than the iPhone and its Android cousins (see comparison above), but with that added "bulk" comes an advantage no one can complain about: a 4.3” capacitive display, the largest screen of any of the current smartphones on the market. When the specs were first released, some potential users were concerned that the device would be awkward to hold or uncomfortable to carry in your pocket. Despite the initial speculation, the EVO fits quite comfortably in your hand or pocket, and its size really doesn't feel noticeably different than the Motorola Droid or iPhone 3GS.


The EVO (top) may be slightly larger than the Eris (bottom), but the increased screen size is well worth it!


As is the trend with smartphones these days, the EVO devotes most of its real estate to to the touchscreen, with few physical buttons. Below the screen there are touch-sensitive buttons for the basic navigation of the phone: home, menu, back, and search. The bottom of the phone features the micro-USB port for charging and syncing, as well as another hidden gem: an HDMI port that allow you to hook the EVO up to your TV. There's a volume rocker on the side, a 3.5mm headphone port and power button on top, and two cameras - one on the front, and one on the back, which we'll discuss in more detail later in the review. Finally, the EVO features a surprisingly useful tool that seems so obvious we can hardly believe it isn't included on all media phones: a kickstand! Very cool for watching videos on the bright, ample screen.

Performance: Right from the start of our testing, it was very obvious that the EVO's 1Ghz Snapdragon processor gives the EVO a signficiant performance increase over other Android phones like the HTC Eris & Motorola Droid. Like its Android cousins (and unlike the iPhone), the EVO is capable of running multiple apps at the same time, and we were very impressed with the multitasking. To put the multitasking capabilities to the test, we played music, browsed the web, and instant messaged, all while also running the mobile hotspot app - and to top it off we had the live (animated) wallpaper enabled, which usually makes Android devices sluggish all by itself. Running all of these applications and services at the same time didn't cause any noticeable performance differences, convincing us that this absolutely is the most powerful smartphone that we've ever had the pleasure of using. Not only does it outperform other smartphones in terms of processor performance, it also outperforms in terms of internet connectivity as it is the first phone that is capable of using the 4G WiMAX network to provide speeds up to 7mbit/sec, which is much faster than most Cable/DSL services (of course, 4G isn't available everywhere - but even Sprint's 3G EVDO Rev-A network can rival home DSL speeds). The multitasking even extends to simultaneous talk and web... sort of. While you're connected to the 4G network, you can talk on the phone and use the data features of the phone at the same time, but if you're connected to 3G you won't be able to use the internet while you're on the phone.

The large display also contributes to making the EVO enjoyable to use. With the larger display we found ourselves having to do much less scrolling around, as more content fits onto the EVO's display, making the web browsing experience more enjoyable compared to other smartphones. The virtual keyboard is also larger than we've become accustomed to on other phones, with bigger buttons to help reduce the frequency of typos due to big fingers hitting the wrong keys. Our reviewer has been using smartphones for years, and because of the number of emails he sends from his phone every day, he was initially hesitant to move to a touch screen phone with a virtual keyboard. While composing emails with a physical QWERTY keyboard is obviously easier and faster than any virtual keyboard, the EVO's virtual keyboard surprised us. In landscape/horizontal mode, typing on the virtual keyboard was almost as easy as using the much-larger keyboard on the iPad!

Multimedia: We found the EVO to be great device for watching movies & videos, thanks to the aforementioned high-speed Sprint networks (very important for streaming), and of course its 4.3" display and 800x480 resolution (to compare, the iPhone 3GS's resolution is only 480x320). Right out of the box the EVO comes with YouTube and the Sprint TV app installed, which gives you access to live TV channels as well as on-demand content that is streamed over 3G/4G networks. You can also load your own music, videos & movies onto the phone's micro SD card by using the 'disk drive' feature when connected via USB to your computer. If you're looking to purchase music from your phone, you won't find the iTunes store on the Android platform, but you can purchase music from the Amazon Music store using your existing Amazon account. The EVO also offers an intereting multimedia feature that you won't find on most phones: FM Radio. Yes, FM radio may be "old school", but it's a nice feature to have if you ever just want to listen to the radio. The FM Radio feature does require wired headphones, though, as it uses the headset as an antenna/receiver for the FM radio signal.

3G/4G Hotspot: One of our favorite features, being mobile broadband buffs, is the ability to use the EVO as a WiFi hotspot for up to 8 devices. The mobile hotspot feature (which is optional and can be turned on and off - you don't have to have it all the time) costs an extra $29.99/mo, but is WELL worth the monthly fee as it provides unlimited data on both 3G & 4G networks! The EVO 4G is currently the only device available that offers unlimited 3G & 4G; all other devices on every major carrier limit 3G data use at 5GB/month and charge overage fees thereafter. Mobile broadband users who are frustrated with the 5GB limit imposed elsewhere will be positively thrilled to finally have an option for unlimited 3G and 4G access, even if they weren't looking to buy a new phone! We have already heard from a number of customers that the EVO will be replacing both their current cell phone and their MiFi or aircard. NOTE: as of 10/2/11, the mobile hotspot feature no longer provides unlimited data :(

The hotspot feature is easy to use and performed quite well, and we were particularly impressed with the WiFi range - the range was actually better than the range provided by Cradlepoint's "G" routers (CTR500/CTR350/PHS300). We were able to get several hundred feet away from the EVO and still connect (of course, actual range will vary depending on obstructions and interference).

The iPad connected via WiFi to the EVO 4G's Portable WiFi Hotspot


The EVO's hotspot feature has a couple limitations: it maxes out at 8 wireless clients, and of course there's no ethernet port for connecting a device that doesn't have WiFi. You can connect the EVO directly to a computer via USB, but that disables the WiFi. However, you can get around these limitations by using the Pepwave Surf Mini, which is a wireless bridge with an ethernet port - the Pepwave picks up the WiFi from the EVO and then re-broadcasts it, allowing you to connect as many devices as you want (no 8-device maximum through the Pepwave!) and even connect one device via ethernet.

The Dual Cameras: In another first, the EVO features two cameras. There is an 8.0 megapixel camera on the backside of the phone where you would normally expect to find a camera, and then there is a second 1.3 megapixel camera on the front of the device that faces the user. While this is convenient for taking self-portraits, the first thing that we wanted to know is if it can be used for video calls. With the capabilities of the 4G network, this would be the perfect device to introduce 2-way video calling for smartphones. While there isn't an official Sprint or Google app that makes it really easy to make a 2-way video call, we were able to setup a video conference using 3rd party apps. Using the 3rd party apps for video chat required more setup & configuration than most users would tolerate, but we will be publishing a seperate article demonstrating how to place video calls for those who are interested. Once the EVO has been out for a little while and developers become more familiar with the device, there will surely be multiple apps that will allow EVO users to make video calls just as easily as you can with Skype or iChat on personal computers.

While the lack of built-in support for video chat is unfortunate, the phone does come with a very cool app called Qik installed, which allows users to broadcast live streaming video on the web using using either camera. While many Android devices are capable of using Qik, this will be the first time that users can see themselves while broadcasting thanks to the front facing camera (just like using a webcam on your computer). The camera on the front of the device may only be 1.3 MP, but it provides more than enough quality for live streaming and video-chatting. At 8.0 MP (3264 x 1952), the camera on the back of the phone is actually better than some standalone consumer cameras! You can tell the difference in quality between the two cameras from the sample photos we have below - these images were re-sized to make them more web-friendly, but you can still clearly see the difference:


Left: Photo taken with the 8.0mp camera. Right: Photo taken with the front-facing 1.3mp camera

Did we mention that the cameras also supports geo-tagging? This cool feature automatically tags your photos with the GPS location at which the photo was taken, which can be a very useful and fun feature for frequent travelers. Both cameras can also be used to record video using the "Camcorder" application on the phone. Videos can be recorded in either H.263 or MPEG-4 format, and when using the main camera, you can even record 720p [1280 x 720] High-Definition video. There isn't a limit on how long the video recordings can be, just as long as you have enough free space on the micro SD card.

SD Card and Syncing
: The EVO comes with an 8GB micro SDHC card for storing all your photos, music, videos, etc, and can support Micro SD cards up to 32GB for users who want to store a lot of music & video on their phone. The SD card can also be used as a USB storage drive for saving documents or any other files when the EVO is connected via USB to your computer in 'Disk Drive Mode'. Unfortunately, syncing the EVO is very difficult for Mac users. Windows users can install the HTC Sync software, which is available for Windows XP, Vista, and 7, but there is no official sync software available for Macs. However, there is a free software available for OS X called DoubleTwist that allows you to sync your music library and Amazon MP3s between your Mac and your EVO, so Mac users aren't completely out of luck. Using Google Apps and Gmail to store your files is another good solution - you can log into your Google account and access your files from the EVO just like you can from any computer.

A note about the reported SD card issues
: At launch, some users noticed problems with the included 8GB SD card - the phone not detecting the card, not being able to find files, or indicating that files weren't a supported media format. Luckily, HTC has already remedied the problem by releasing an update to the software that can be downloaded over the air right from your phone (navigate to Settings > System Updates > HTC software Update > Check Now to download the 1.32.651.6 software version). You'll need to be connected to WiFi or 4G to download the update, and your phone needs to be fully charged or plug into the power supply.

Key Features on the EVO
: You can check out all the specs at the HTC EVO 4G Product Page on 3Gstore, but below is a condensed list of some of the key features:
  • 3G/4G capabilities
  • Hotspot option for up to 8 devices
  • Android app market
  • Mail app
  • Dual cameras
  • FM radio (requires headset)
  • Amazon MP3 Store (similar to iTunes)
  • Music Player
  • Video Player
  • Android web browser
  • Sprint TV
  • GPS Navigator
  • Qik (broadcast live video)
  • Visual voicemail (which is FREE, unlike other networks!)
  • Speech-to-text

What we love about the EVO:
  • 3G/4G capabilities
  • Mobile Hotspot Feature - especially since both 3G and 4G access is UNLIMITED (unlike 3G data cards, which only provide 5GB of 3G access, or the 3G/4G Overdrive, which provides unlimited 4G use but still limits 3G use to 5GB/month)
  • Ultra fast 1GHz Snapdragon processor, great for multitasking!
  • Two Cameras
  • 720p HD Camcorder
  • 4.3 inch display provides better web browsing experience & larger virtual keyboard that's easier to use
  • HDMI port for connecting to your HDTV for media
  • Multitouch (Pinch to zoom when browsing the web, looking at photos, etc)
  • Free Visual Voicemail
  • Ability to use the included micro SD card as a USB drive when EVO is connected via USB
  • Overall ease of use

What we're not as fond of:
  • Lack of official OS X support for Mac users
  • Lack of official support for video calls
  • Requires specific plans from Sprint and an additional $10/month premium data add-on (this is not a phone for folks who want to make their cell phone bill a low monthly expenditure)


Bottom Line:
The EVO is bound to be a hit with Droid fans, folks who live in or often travel to 4G areas and want to take advantage of the awesome speeds, smartphone users who want to be able to do a LOT with one device, iPhone users who've become disillusioned with AT&T's network, anyone who uses both a smartphone and a mobile broadband device (why not combine the two?), mobile broadband users looking for a way to get unlimited 3G access.... in other words, it's bound to be a hit, period! Everyone here at EVDOinfo/3Gstore that has had the chance to use the EVO has come away with the same conclusion: "this phone does everything, and I need to have it!!!"

Want to see more EVO? Check out our 2-part video review:

 

 


The HTC EVO is now available at 3Gstore for $199.99 after rebate with a new 2-year Sprint contract (or eligible upgrade), plus receive a free car charger, screen protectors, silicone case, and extended life replacement battery with your order! Order at 3Gstore.com/evo 

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Last Updated ( Monday, 03 October 2011 )
 
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