Sprint Evo 4G: Wins on Features, But Is It Ready for the Masses?


While the iPhone 4 is going to get most of the attention this week, I wanted to circle back to the Sprint HTC Evo 4G, arguably the most advanced phone you can currently buy, with its 4.3-inch display, front-facing camera for video calls, hot-spot features, and support for 4G networks. I've been using it for the past several weeks, and found a lot I really like but a lot that just doesn't work quite as well as I'd want it to.

PCMag has a full review of the Sprint Evo, so I'm mostly going to focus on my impressions. The first thing you notice about the Evo is the size of the device, and particularly, the screen. The 4.3-inch 480 by 800 display is great. It's bright and clear, and the additional resolution compared with most phones makes text easy to read. The downside is that the phone is a bit larger, though it's about the same thickness as an iPhone. I found it fit just fine in my pocket, so in general, I thought the size was an improvement.


But the feature that gets the most attention is one I couldn't test: its support for what Sprint is calling 4G, in this case the WiMax network Sprint is licensing from Clearwire. That network is up and running in a number of cities, but New York (where I work) is not one of them. All reports, however, indicate this uses a lot of battery life.

Still, the phone works fine on 3G now, with the promise of adding 4G, for data only, when the network is available (and Sprint promises it will be in many more places by the end of the year).

The Evo also has a smaller 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, which should theoretically allow for video calling. I say "theoretically" because I wasn't able to find anyone to video call. Sprint is now pushing Qik, but none of my colleagues have a phone that supports it. I also downloaded Fring from the Android Market, which does allow connections to other services, such as Skype, but it never worked for me.  For now, it's a chicken-and-egg problem.


Even without 4G, the phone felt quite fast at most operations. It runs Android, and is powered by a 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. Web browsing and most applications, including multitasking, seemed pretty snappy on the device. The faster processor should speed up pages with things like Javascript, and indeed, many Web pages loaded notably faster on it than on the Motorola Droid running on the Verizon network, even though the actual network speeds should be about the same.

One feature that worked quite well is the Sprint Hotspot feature, which lets you take an Internet connection from the phone (either 3G or 4G) and connect up to eight devices via Wi-Fi. I tried this frequently and was able to get a reasonable connection that I could share with my laptop and my iPad. (I couldn't get enough consistent bandwidth to stream video on a moving train, but otherwise it worked quite well.) It certainly is more convenient than carrying a separate Overdrive unit.

But there is a downside: This, too, uses a lot of battery life. Using it for an hour seems to eat up between a quarter and a half of the battery of the phone. And that's the biggest issue with the phone: The battery life is short, particularly when you're running the HotSpot feature or multiple applications that access the Internet at the same time. In normal use, mostly for Web browsing and the occasional phone calls, it did last the day for me; but in heavy use, it wouldn't last the day.


As a result, you have to be very careful which radios you have on and which applications you run. While I understand that a faster processor, multiple radios, a bigger screen, and multitasking all take more battery, it's something that you just don't want to have to think about.

Another very useful feature is the 8-megapixel camera. I remain skeptical that phone cameras will ever be as good as your typical point-and-shoot (because the lenses are smaller), and indeed the images I took weren't as high-quality as those you'd get from a mid-range digital camera. But in general, I was pleasantly surprised. They looked pretty good.

The EVO's camera has a number of very nice features, including geo-tagging, face detection, and a digital zoom. It can also capture MPEG-4 video at 720p, though I found the results a bit jerky. At VGA resolution (640 by 480), it was notably smoother, though of course with fewer details. Still, it was quite impressive for a phone. Let's be clear: This won't replace a higher-end camera, but for day-to-day use, it's just fine.


I did have one problem: the phone I had simply would not let me share photos taken on the device via either normal mail or Gmail. Sprint says it's something wrong with my particular unit: I've seen this work on other Evo phones. Still, it's a problem.

The Evo runs the Android operating system, topped with HTC's Sense user interface. This lets you just pinch on the screen to see seven "home screens" at once, typically including a main screen and ones for mail, calendar, music and friends, and a "Footprints" location application.

As with all Android phones, you have a very good selection of other applications you can download from the Android Market. While it does not have as many applications as Apple's App Store, there are thousands of choices, including favorites like Foursquare, Shazam, and Yelp. HTC adds a number of its own tools, including Friend Stream, which collects posts from and lets you post to Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter. This worked quite well for me.


For mail, HTC puts your most current message on a separate screen as a default, but the basic mail client is the standard one used on other Android phones. This works pretty well with POP, IMAP, and Exchange Active Sync mailboxes, and has features such as a conversation view, but I still find it annoying because it doesn't support putting mail messages into folders.

I used Google's free turn-by-turn navigation system with the phone and it worked well.

Overall, I like a lot of the features on the Evo, and it's certainly quite good for Web browsing, running Android apps, and even as a mobile hotspot (if you accept the additional charges and battery-life hit). But a very small glitches and the fact that several of the features really aren't ready for use yet, including video calling and 4G in most places, makes me think this isn't quite ready for mainstream use yet.

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