Jan, 16 2015

CONTEST: We’re giving away the phone used in this review – check out the rules of the contest here.

I’ll open my EVO Review with the conclusion as it isn’t too hard to sum up Sprint’s first 4G phone (and an Android phone at that). Take the HTC Incredible (which itself is amazing) and give it a little dose of Androidbolic steroids: increased screen size (4.3-inch), increased speeds (Sprint 4G), an extra camera (front-facing for video chat), and HDMI video out (connect your phone to your HD TV) and you’ve got the HTC EVO 4G for Sprint.

Even without these awesome extras the EVO could launch as the best phone on the market, but if these additional perks are merely considered icing on the cake, that is a LOT of icing. And tasty icing. The phone isn’t perfect, and neither are all of the features that give it bragging rights, but it’s hard to find things to DISLIKE about the EVO 4G.

Hardware Review

The huge screen makes web and multimedia even better than previously “large” Android screens like that on the Incredible. The little kickstand make it easy and fun to set up on your desk for quick access to notifications, watching YouTube/movies/videos, or sharing content with a crowd. Of course if you’ve got a crowd and an HD TV nearby, you’re REALLY set with that Micro HDMI port.

If you want to look for some potential pitfalls, it’s slim pickins’ in terms of hardware. At 4.3-inches, the screen may be a bit too big for some, so if you have smallish hands you should test drive this bad boy before dropping bucks. For such a large screen and so many “bonus” features, it’s pretty amazing that HTC was able to pack it all into an impressively pocketable package. Despite the screen size – if you can handle it – the EVO is suprisingly slim and comfortable to use and carry.

My main gripe is a minor one: the SD card is a real pain in the butt to remove. Yeah, I know… and like I said a minor gripe. What I think is most exciting about the hardware upgrades from Incredible to EVO is how they play into the software opportunities they brings to its users.

Software Review

Like the HTC Incredible (again), the HTC EVO 4G is built upon Android 2.1 and carries the newest version of HTC Sense. That includes everything you’ve come to know and love about Android and Sense, most recently including Google Navigation, Voice-To-Text in more places, Live Wallpapers, Helicopter View, Friend Stream and of course the 30,000+ apps/games in Android Market.

One potential downfall of the EVO’s Android 2.1 and HTC Sense combination: Android 2.2 has already been announced and launched on the Nexus One, but with a custom build of Android, HTC has to do some additional legwork to make them play nice. That means you’ll likely be waiting awhile for an Android 2.2 OTA so just keep that in mind. Not the end of the world but definitely something worth noting.

Where the EVO really tries to shine is on the software and service side of the spectrum, enabled by the hardware improvements we’ve already discussed. First up? Sprint’s 4G network. After all it’s the EVO 4G and Sprint’s first 4G phone.

Speed Test

Using Speedtest.net I put Sprint’s 4G network to the test and compared the performance of the EVO in various configurations. You’ll see the EVO on 4G and 3G, EVO mobile hotspot powering a laptop on 4G and 3G, and then a Laptop with Wi-Fi and hardwired Desktop for comparison purposes. After that we dive into some enjoyable 4G multimedia engagement.

Looking at the results you’ll notice something extremely awkward: how the heck did a laptop on Wi-Fi perform better than the wired desktop with the same connection? It shouldn’t have and I left this anomaly in there to prove a couple points:

  • All network speeds fluctuate. So when you read reports around the web about Sprint’s 4G network being unreliable, realize that even the typically reliable connections are subject to moment-to-moment fluctuations. I’m not saying Sprint’s 4G network is amazing regardless… just saying to read expert reviews cautiously and do localized research.
  • My test is far from scientific. You might notice that Speedtest.net connects to different cities for different configurations (in my video above).  The point was just to give you an IDEA of the speeds and these are more or less accurate in terms of what I experienced overall. That being said I’ll acknowledge the extremely small sample size.

That being said, here is a quick chart of the results:

evo-4g-speed-test

To put this in perspective, with the speeds listed above it would probably take about 1 minute to download a 5MB file on EVO 4G while 3G would take more than 2 minutes and a wired connection or strong Wi-Fi would only take a couple seconds. Although Sprint’s 4G network is only available in certain cities and even in the cities it DOES have connectivity it also has some sour patches, you’ll be impressed with the speed improvements when you are connected.

For the most part 3G works perfectly fine anyways. Just leave 4G off by default, put the 4G widget on one of your homescreens, and flick it on just before you’re set to do heavy web/video/hotspotting action!

Front-Facing Camera

Mark my words: front-facing cameras will soon become a huge trend for new mobile phones. With networks that can now handle the work load and manufacturers with the prowess to integrate tiny cams without taking up a ton of space, video chat will finally take off. Initially it’ll be powered by 3rd parties like Qik and Fring but I’d expect carriers themselves to enter this realm before too long.

When Sprint launched the EVO, Qik was announced as the partner who would bring video chat to the masses but it was Fring that made it to Android Market first with that capability. So I took a long, grueling, oxen powered wagon at a strenuous pace finger tap to Android Market, downloaded Fring, and demonstrated what this video chat thing is all about:

One irritation is that having the front cam doesn’t really help YOU out but instead the person to whom you’re talking. THEY get to enjoy the live video. But this will change as phones with the front-facing cam form factor get into more hands. For now just embrace the revolutionary advancement in the culture and art of the self-pic and cling tight to your EVO-owning friends.

Camera & Camcorder

The EVO has an 8MP camera with dual LED flash that – yet again – is JUST like the Incredible’s. So shall we start with something that sets the EVO apart? How about recording video in 720p (high definition)? Here are three videos I took with the EVO 4G that I personally think are pretty cool.

Check out this Heron taking off across the lake. Just before I pan up to see an airplane – just thought it was interesting to see the metal thing vs. the real thing. But honestly this reminds me of Jurassic Park!

Now we go cutesy as I follow awound a wittle wabbit cardinal:

And just to prove I’ve got a bad ass side, check out this lightning I recorded while driving:

At the heart of the camera’s positives are the extensive options/settings available to the mobile videographer/photographer. Those options/settings are also responsible for the negatives of not being able to snap a perfect first pic on the first try very often. But the camera is definitely solid. Here are just a couple pictures (resized to 550px wide) that turned out pretty good:

On that last one I used a HEAVY amount of saturation to get that bright yellow effect. But forget about pictures for a second because the awesomeness of the 720p videos are compounded by another feature of the HTC EVO 4G.

HDMI Video Out

On the bottom of the EVO, next to the MicroUSB port, you’ll see a MicroHDMI slot labeled as “HDMI”. You can take a Micro-HDMI to HDMI cable, connect your EVO to your High Definition TV, and enjoy high definition multimedia on your big (or bigger) screen TV! The Micro HDMI port isn’t yet a popular one and I found it hard to procure anywhere beyond the interwebz and unfortunately mine didn’t arrive in time for this review, so cheers to AndroidandMe who recently did a review of this feature:

In an early video I made the mistake of saying the HDMI connection could be used to show ANYTHING on your phone’s screen – that isn’t the case (yet), but a 3rd party dev might be able to unlock that feature. Taylor erred on the opposite side, and he corrected his mistake about not being able to play YouTube – unfortunately the Micro HDMI connections aren’t compatible with some of the older HD TVs so you’ll want to do a little research there.

No matter how you twist it, this is a pretty awesome feature. Not only can you quickly plug your phone into your television to watch external content on the largest screen in your house, but you can view a slideshow of the pics on your phone and watch HD videos that YOU originally recorded on your EVO and share them with friends/family (or be selfish and just watch for yourself). As this capability opens up to more features on more phones, like the ability to play games on your phone while you watch on your big screen, I think this standard will become popular quickly (kind of like the front-facing cameras). Kind of makes me think of Google TV!

Otherness

There are a lot of subtleties that go into whether or not a phone is considered great. Some that I haven’t covered include durability, battery life, and call quality although there are dozens and dozens of others. But I would like to make a quick point about each of the above:

  • GET A SCREEN PROTECTOR! I got used to the Gorilla Glass on my Motorola Droid which seems to keep the screen scratch free. Low and behold, 12 seconds in my pocket with my keys and my EVO screen got a tiny, tiny, tiny scratch. I wasn’t foolish enough to make that mistake again but honestly – you’ll want to protect that beautiful 4.3-inch screen. Do yourself the favor and invest some chump change on protection. Head over to AndroidForums to discuss EVO 4G Accessories.
  • DISABLE 4G BY DEFAULT! A lot of people are complaining about poor battery life in the reviews I’ve seen. One main drain of battery life is having 4G on all the time. First of all, you don’t really need 4G unless you’re doing something multimedia based – it’s stupid to keep on 24/7 if you’re worried about battery life in any meaningful capacity. Second of all, if you’re going in and out of 4G coverage or don’t have it at all, your phone will continually look for a 4G connection and that DEFINITELY wastes a lot of battery life. So make like a tree hugger and pretend the 4G is like a light or faucet in your house – turn it off when you’re not using it.
  • CALL QUALITY: I found the call quality on the phone to be great but for some reason, not sure if it is the size of the phone or just something I need to get used to, I was putting my finger over the microphone hole when speaking. A couple people complained about my muffled voice before I realized what I was doing. So be conscientious of that – otherwise call quality was really good.

Conclusion

I opened with the conclusion so there isn’t much left unsaid. The HTC EVO 4G is an Incredible phone with a little extra – pun intended. Take the best Android Phone on the market, add a little more, and you’ve got the EVO 4G.

EVO 4G or Droid Incredible?

I think a lot of people will be asking what they should get – the HTC EVO 4G or the Droid Incredible. I don’t think that answer is as easy as some may think. If you’re trying to make this decision there are a couple things I’d like you to think about:

  • Do you have small hands? Might a 4.3-inch screen be too big for your liking?
  • Does Sprint have 4G coverage in your area?
  • Does Sprint have good coverage, in general, in your area?
  • Are you interested in advanced multimedia tools like HDMI Out and Video Chat?

Depending on your answers to these questions the plot may thicken. Whichever you choose you’ll certainly be happy – just make sure the above facts line up!

Want to know more? Join the HTC EVO 4G Forum at AndroidForums.com!

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