Jan, 16 2015

Sprint released the follow-up to their best-selling phone – the HTC EVO 4G – on January 6th. It’s the HTC EVO Shift 4G, and it makes a very strong case to be a viable alternative for those who can’t live without a hardware keyboard. Is the keyboard alone enough to justify shifting your eyes away from its 4.3-inch older brother, though? Read on.

Hardware

Keyboard

The first thing I wanted to check out on the EVO Shift 4G was its keyboard – that’s where its name is derived from, isn’t it? My first impression: this thing can’t compare to the Epic 4G’s QWERTY offering. I had to give it the benefit of doubt as I am primarily an Epic user, but even after a couple of weeks I can’t get behind this keyboard.

The keys are very flat and have little feedback when pressing them. I was more comfortable typing on HTC’s proven custom software keyboard, which is still very good. (And lacks the directional arrows found on the original EVO.) I could’ve done without the silver directional pad on the physical keyboard, especially considering text editing is now a breeze through software. I think that space could have been put to better use somehow.

Another thing I can’t get behind is the keyboard’s sliding mechanism. You have to force it all the way up – just like on the original Motorola DROID and DROID 2. It felt like a chore opening the keyboard each time, and closing it was just as annoying. I would’ve preferred a spring-loaded mechanism similar to what the G2 and the G1 has.

Hardware buttons

The flat, flush-mounted keys aren’t just a problem on the keyboard, though: all of the physical buttons on the device seem to have downsides. Most of the time you’ll have to look for the power button as you can’t simply feel around for it, and you’ll most likely have to press it a few times to get it to turn the screen on. This may not be a problem for those who approach the device from the back, but I tend to approach it from the front.

I got used to it after a while, but it was still one annoyance I wish I didn’t have to deal with. The volume rocker is a bit more tolerable, but it’s almost too sensitive. I found myself accidentally changing the volume whenever I reached for the device in my pocket. Again, it’s not a deal breaker, but if you’re heavy-handed like me, you’ll have to be careful if you don’t want to accidentally take your phone out of silent mode in public.

Processor & Performance

The EVO Shift 4G uses the same Qualcomm MSM7630 800MHz processor found inside the T-Mobile G2, and it – coupled with HTC Sense – makes for an experience as smooth as on the original EVO 4G, if not smoother. It rocks the Adreno 205 GPU that is quite solid in gaming performance, but doesn’t come close to what the Epic 4G provides with Samsung’s Hummingbird. (You’ll have to excuse the comparisons: it’s just the most appropriate phone to compare it to outside of the EVO 4G itself.)

It also has 512 MB of RAM, comes preinstalled with a 2GB microSD card, and over 300MB of internal storage at your disposal out of the box. All is plenty to ensure you have room to install all of the applications you need and to make sure the phone doesn’t get bogged down over time.

Advertised battery life for the Shift 4G’s 1,500mAh unit is 6 hours of talk time, and real world use unscientifically confirms that. I never felt the urge to juice up throughout the day, and on a day where I wasn’t using the Shift as my primary phone (it just sat around powered on) it lasted well over 48 hours. I found nothing absolutely amazing or absolutely bad about battery life on this phone.

Other Bits

The 3.6 inch Super LCD display performs just as well as on any other phone. Even with the smaller screen size, though, on-screen typing and such is a breeze as it still sports WVGA resolution. System graphics and icons look crisp, but there really are no other surprises to be had: it’s an ordinary display.

This phone includes a 4G radio per its name, though I have no 4G network in my area to test its effectiveness at this time. Having used the EVO and Epic 4G in cities with WiMax coverage, though, I’d guess that this phone will get the job done just as you’d expect it to if it’s anything like its older brother and cousin.

The device itself feels nice in the hands, weight wise. It has a bit more thickness to it compared to the EVO, but I’m sure that’s due to the keyboard. And although the added girth is quite obvious, the overall device is small enough that you won’t think about it or care.

Just as with most of HTC’s products, the speaker on this phone isn’t very powerful. I often listen to music without headphones and use the speakerphone on voice calls, and with the EVO Shift 4G, I have to be pretty much right next to the device to make anything out. That kind of defeats the purpose, but it’s another one of those HTC hardware quirks that’s become a theme and I’m used to it by now.

Also, the EVO Shift 4G may share the name of its 4.3 inch brother, but it doesn’t share a lot of the same features that make it one of the best smartphones on the market after nearly 9 months. Those include an HDMI port, a kick-stand, and a front-facing camera.

Most of these exclusions are forgiven – for me, anyway – as their novelty tends to wear off after a short while. (The kick-stand’s didn’t, though. I used that thing all the time.) Just something to consider if you’re looking to switch from an EVO 4G or if you’re wondering what other differences present themselves in this offering.

Software

The phone comes preinstalled with Android 2.2 and HTC Sense – nothing surprising, right? I was especially disappointed that this wasn’t the absolute newest version of HTC Sense, though, that has unique features like fast boot, recent applications in the notifications pane, skins support, and the ability to sync with HTCSense.com.

It does have a bit of what was introduced in the latest version of Sense, and that’s the new suite of text editing features. The one subtle change presents itself when you long press on a text field: it’ll zoom in on the letters and allow you to precisely move the cursor left or right, while two blips present themselves to help you see the text you’re selecting.

It’s a bit annoying if you often find yourself needing to cut or copy entire fields of text, though, as long-pressing no longer automatically brings that standard context field up, but this new mechanism only adds two more clicks to that process.

Everything else remains largely the same from the original EVO 4G. It still comes pre-installed with the crop of Sprint-made apps that you’d find on any of their phones, which includes Nascar, Football, Sprint TV, Hotspot, Sprint Zone, and their version of telenav. Other apps you can expect are Amazon Kindle, Adobe Reader, Amazon MP3, Facebook, Teeter, QuickOffice, and more.

There really are no surprises, though I was disappointed that they didn’t decide to include Swype as an alternate on-screen option to their Touch Input keyboard. It’s not that HTC’s keyboard is bad (I love it, actually), but after having seen it in an OTA update on the original EVO, I thought Sprint might have wanted to include it for the spin-off.

Sense doesn’t feel as bloaty as it did on earlier devices (such as the Hero), but that was true even with the HTC EVO 4G. The EVO Shift 4G’s processor is considered better than the one found in the oiginal EVO, so don’t let the MHz count fool you.

You can also rest easy knowing that the T-Mobile G2 was easily hacked and overclocked to 1.2GHz, so the same should be true for the EVO Shift 4G whenever development on those particular goods go underway.

Camera, Media, Odds, Ends

I can’t say I’m surprised, but the camera on the HTC EVO Shift 4G is just as “good” as they are on any HTC product. I’m not a huge picture taker myself, but a phone’s camera is just as important to some people as the ability to actually talk on it.

In natural daylight, it performed exceptionally well – pictures snapped quickly, the end-result wasn’t too blurry, and the coloring wasn’t the worst I’ve ever seen. (But not the best, for that matter.) The camera doesn’t perform well in lowlight situations alone, but the LED flash on the back is big, bright, and fast enough to help accommodate.

Here are a few pictures taken in moderate natural lighting situations:

That last picture was actually taken inside of a moving vehicle (with a broken side mirror that I didn’t notice in the shot until just now), so shutter speeds have greatly improved from the crop of HTC phones released in 2010. Here are a couple of pictures of an Android toy taken inside of a room with fluorescent lights:

I didn’t like that the phone made no effort to automatically focus on the subject in these conditions. Things change if you need to use that LED flash in extreme low-light conditions, though. I shut off all the lights and took a picture of that same toy. Here’s how it came out:

It made an exceptional effort to focus in on the subject here. The only complaint I have is that the light doesn’t shine throughout the focus process to make sure you’re centered on what you’re trying to take a photo of. If you’re in the dark, you’ll probably find yourself snapping a few pictures until you can get it right.

Although the camera sensor on the EVO Shift 4G and most of HTC’s newer phones are miles ahead of what they used to be capable of, they still aren’t up to par with what Sony, Samsung, and Motorola use in their flagship lineups.¬†HTC does include the standard settings for brightness, contrast, and more as you’d expect.

You’ll want to get familiar with them, too, as you’re going to need it in more than a few bad lighting situations. Overall, I wouldn’t take this thing to an important affair that you absolutely won’t want to forget, because the outcome of some of the pictures might make you want to forget you were ever there.

The sample video I did get was admittedly rushed.¬†Recording quality wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. I’m sure I’d get better results out in natural daylight, but I didn’t have time to go out and test that. I was happy to see that you’re at least allowed to use the LED light during videos with no fuss. It was an issue that annoyed several original EVO 4G users early on, but was later fixed in a software update.

The phone comes with a 2GB memory card to store all sorts of videos, photos, and music to, and comes with 5 songs out of the box. I’m not a big Samantha James or Colette fan, but eh. They’re easily removable, of course, so there’s really nothing to complain about. The music experience itself remains the same since the HTC Hero was introduced.

Loading music onto it is just as easy as removing it – attach your USB cable to your computer, put the phone in disk drive mode, and start dragging/dropping files. (You’ll also do this to transfer photos and video back and forth.) HTC’s Sync application might be a bit more friendly for first-time users or for those who aren’t computer savvy, but I personally didn’t try it. There were no USB drivers to mess around with as there may be on other phones, and that’s one small thing I’ve always appreciated about HTC phones.

HTC still opts to exclude a built-in way to stream content wirelessly to other devices – ala DLNA – but there are solutions in the market to help me forgive that. I can’t help but to think “been there, done that” when it comes to HTC’s standard offering, but the going says “if it isn’t broke, then don’t fix it,” and I see nothing that really needs to be fixed.

The Verdict

The original EVO 4G made itself out to be a media lover’s dream, but the lack of an HDMI-out port, a kickstand, and the change to a smaller screen make the EVO Shift 4G more of a business-centric device than anything. I was disappointed with the lack of a front-facing camera, and a little surprised to see it gone as it was one of Sprint’s biggest selling points on the original EVO.

Although I’m a big fan of keyboards, I wasn’t a big fan of the Shift’s keyboard, but it’s all about options – you could just go with the EVO 4G if it doesn’t appeal to you. But the on-screen keyboard is still a breeze to use even on the smaller display, so I can’t imagine the typing experience would deter anyone either way. If the keyboard is that important to you, you’ll want to give Samsung’s Epic 4G a shot.

This phone is going to be for the folks who can’t get behind having a 4.3-inch beast sitting in their front pockets, and if they don’t care about a few of the bells and whistles missing from the original EVO 4G, then they won’t be disappointed – solid hardware comes together with proven software to make a pleasant experience for anyone needing a new smartphone.

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