Sprint and HTC have done it with the Evo 4G. It’s the world’s first Android smartphone that can use Sprint’s 4G WiMax data. It has a monstrous 4.3-inch touchscreen. It has the powerfull 1GHz Snapdragon processor. It has the HTC Sense interface, to make your experience as easy as possible.
It’s big, it’s fast, it’s easy to use, and it’s just about the best Android phone available today. And it is available for $199 after contract and rebate with Sprint.
Let’s start with the obvious — the Evo 4G is a large phone. It’s probably bigger than anything you’ve used, in fact. Larger than an iPhone. It completely covers a Palm Pre. The BlackBerry Storm and HTC Touch Pro 2 have a chance, but only a chance.
Measuring in at 4.8 inches tall, 2.6 inches wide and a half-inch thick, the Evo has a sizable footprint. By comparison, the iPhone 3G is just a tad more narrow and about a third of an inch shorter — and the diagonal measurement of the screen is a mere 3.5 inches, or nearly an inch less than the Evo.
The front face is dominated by the screen. The four buttons at the bottom (home,menu,back,search) are capacitive, meaning there are no moving parts, nothing to actually press,same as on the Motorola Droid. But that’s been a cause of concern for some, as the capacitive buttons on the Nexus One have had accuracy issues. We’re happy to report we’ve had no such issues with the Evo’s buttons. You get what you tap.
The touchscreen itself is very accurate as well. It’s a TFT LCD, same as the current iPhone and a number of other smartphones, in lieu of the newer OLED and AMOLED screens. If you’re the type of person who lives and dies by specs and counts pixels for fun, you’ll probably be able to tell the difference. Otherwise, you’re just going to be floored by the sheer size of this screen and won’t miss any extra contrast or clarity. There’s a tad of light leakage at the bottom, where the screen panel meets the bezel. Chances are you’d never notice if it weren’t pointed out to you.
At the top of the screen you have the earpiece speaker, which is sizable in that it stretches for just about half the width of the phone while remaining consistent with the clean design of the Evo. Just above the the Sprint logo is a little 1.3-megapixel camera. That’s right, a front-facing camera.
The top bezel of the Evo houses the 3.5mm headphone jack for listening to music, as well as the power button. The volume rocker is on the right-hand bezel. The bottom bezel has the microphone hole, the microUSB port and a microHDMI port for connecting the phone to a high-definition television.
It’s not often that we give much thought to the rear of a phone, save to say that there’s a camera and maybe a flash there. And both are on the Evo. The 8-megapixel camera on the Evo has dual flashes.
The back of the Evo also sports a kickstand for propping up the phone horizontally for watching videos and photo slide shows. The kickstand is easy to extend, and it’s spring loaded so that it stays put when you don’t want it. It’s just another one of those little details that manufacturer HTC does so well to get right.
Included in the box with the Evo 4G are a basic USB wall charger and microUSB cable. You could actually go the entire life of your Android phone without connecting it to a computer. But if you need to, microUSB is the cable you do it with.
What’s under the hood
A big smartphone needs a big processor, and the Evo has the top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon processor running at 1GHz.
Launching with Android 2.1
The Evo is launching with Android 2.1 and has the HTC Sense user interface on top of it. It was meant to be a Sense device.
If you’re new to Android, Sense is a wonderful way to get acclimated, and the version on the Evo 4G is the same as we’ve seen on the Legend and Droid Incredible.
Waiting on Android 2.2 Froyo
Speaking of the operating system, you’ve undoubtedly read a lot about the latest version of Android, Version 2.2, or Froyo. The Evo’s not launching with Froyo, and that’s a shame, as we really like what we’ve seen, especially when it comes to some behind-the-scenes tweaks. It’s really just bad timing that the Evo won’t have Froyo at first. We don’t have an official date for when the Evo may be upgraded, but we’re absolutely expecting it to get Froyo.
We now have root
For those of you who just can’t leave well enough along and want to root the Evo 4G, it can be done, and it’s very easy. Follow the instructions found HERE.
Battery life: Not great
The Evo comes with a 1500 mAh battery. Turns out it’s physically similar to the batteries used in the HTC Hero, Droid Incredible, Droid Eris and Touch Pro 2. So if you have any of those older devices laying around, you can keep the batteries as spares. And you may well need to do so. A 1500 mAh battery is a decent size, but the Evo needs its share of power. For many, getting through a day on a single charge may be just fine. But power users likely are going to need to plug in, or carry an extra battery. That’s definitely not a deal-breaker for the Evo, it’s just something to be aware of.
As smartphones get better and better, we use them more in our daily lives. It’d be great if battery technology was keeping up. But it’s not, and so you might actually have to plug in your phone during the day.
The microSD storage card
Underneath the battery is where you’ll find the Evo’s microSD card slot. If you’re the type who’s used to swapping cards on the fly, you’re going to have to get over that. First, you have to remove the battery, and means turning off the phone. And then there’s the matter of actually removing the card. There’s a small tab that you pry up to unseat the card. That part’s easy. But actually removing the card can be a bit tricky if you don’t have long fingernails. Keeping tweezers around will help.
The Evo 4G’s standout features
On one hand, the Evo 4G is just another black-slab smartphone. A high-end one, to be sure, but a black-slab nonetheless. There’s nothing decidedly revolutionary here, huge screen, 4G data or not. But it really is the sum of the parts that puts the Evo at the top of the heap. First is the screen, of course. The screen is the single-most part of the phone with which you’ll interact, so it gets top billing. But the list goes on.
Sprint 4G WiMax data
The Evo 4G is being billed as the world’s first 3G/4G handset, and it is. It uses Sprint’s traditional 3G data and also uses fledgling 4G WiMax data. Sprint’s line is that 4G data is 10 times faster than 3G data. But you’re not going to get theoretical speeds. That’s not to say 4G speeds aren’t significantly faster than 3G speeds. But the WiMax network is still young and availability is limited to major metro areas at this point.
Add to that the fact that we’re seeing mixed reports of WiMax speeds from different markets. Some think it’s great, others are seeing faster 3G speeds. Could be the network, could be environmental or geological factors.
Sprint has included a widget to turn 4G on and off, and you can also get to it through the wireless and network settings.
A lot also has been made of the $10 monthly fee that comes on top of your Sprint plan. It’s been incorrectly labeled a “4G tax,” as it also covers other “premium services” on the Evo 4G, says Sprint, and you’ll be paying it even if you don’t live in a 4G area. But for the moment, we’ll consider 4G data to not be a deciding factor on the Evo. It’s a pretty major feature, but you’ll enjoy the phone just fine even if you don’t live in a town with 4G.
The Evo 4G cameras
The Evo 4G’s main shooter is an 8-megapixel autofocus lens on the rear of the phone. It takes pictures with a minimum resolution of 640 pixels by 384 pixels, and at its full resolution fires off at 3264×1952. It’s augmented by a pair of LED flashes.
Pictures from the 8MP camera are above average for a smartphone. Colors stand out well in full sunlight, and for the most part you should be pleased by the results. But the increase in megapixels doesn’t mean you’ll be throwing away your DSLR anytime soon. You can probably leave your point-and-shoot at home. But what you get with the 8MP camera here is larger pictures, not larger and clearer images. You can digitally zoom and crop, but you’ll immediately know you’re working with a cell phone camera, albeit a very good one.
In addition to being the first phone with 4G data, the Evo 4G also is the first U.S.-based phone to have a front-facing camera. There’s a small 1.3-megapixel shooter on the front of the phone, and it’s surprisingly good. The primary function of the front-facing camera is for video chats, but it’s also good for taking self-portraits. You’ll have to take care, however, to not cover the pinhole lens with your left hand when you’re holding the Evo in front of you, it’s real easy to do.
Video quality was just OK, despite all of the brouhaha over being able to shoot in 720p. Again, we’re talking increased image resolution and not increased image clarity. We’d prefer quality over size at this point. But that will understandably drive up the cost of a phone. Still, for smartphone video, it’s not horrible. But you also won’t want to throw out that dedicated video camera just yet.
Qik is one of the first live-streaming video apps to come to market on other platforms, and it worked pretty well. For a brief time there were rumors that basic video chat via Qik would cost extra, but that turned out to not be true.
But Qik quickly has found front-facing competition in the likes of Fring, which already has updated to support the Evo 4G and its dual cameras. And even better is that it ties into other VOIP apps, meaning you can use Fring on your phone to video chat with somebody using Skype on a desktop. And about Skype, it’s promising video chat later this year, too. All of this early competition is bound to be good for the users, and it’s likely we’ll continue to see free solutions crop up.
WiFi hotspot – the $29 add-on
Another major selling point for the Evo 4G is the ability to serve as a WiFi hotspot for as many as eight devices. The basic premise is this: the phone sucks in the regular cell data and spits it back out as a WiFi signal that any WiFi-enabled device can access.
Setup is extremely easy. Launch the app, turn on the service and connect whatever device you have to the Evo’s WiFi signal. You can change the access point name to whatever you want. For security, there’s WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption.
As with all things network, speeds will vary depending on where you live, which way the wind is blowing, how many people around you are using the same service, etc. But obviously 4G should be faster than 3G, and that’s the direction Sprint’s pointing things.
The hotspot feature costs an extra $29 a month.
The YouTube application on the Evo plays videos back in high quality, provided you’re on 3G, 4G or WiFi data. It’s a nice addition and looks great on the Evo’s screen.
Simultaneous voice and data
The ability to talk on your phone while surfing the web or looking up info has long been a sticking point for Sprint. That’s finally changed with the Evo 4G, as you can do both at the same time, so long as you’re on WiFi or a 4G connection.
So there’s this little connector on the bottom of the Evo 4G that looks different than the microUSB we’re used to. That’s because it’s a dedicated microHDMI-out connection, allowing you to connect the phone directly to a high-definition television. That makes it easy to show off videos and photos you’ve taken with the phone. And it also means you can use the phone to show high-definition movies.
There’s no microHDMI cable included with the Evo, so you’re on your own to find one. And do take note that you need a microHDMI cable and not miniHDMI cable.
The keyboard – typing is a breeze
I’ve been a big fan of HTC’s new Android keyboard. And I’m an even bigger fan of the keyboard on the Evo’s bigger screen. It’s ridiculously easy to use. I can fly on this thing.
Other odds and ends
- Phone calls: Not a problem. Using the Sense dialer is a breeze, and calls were as clear as on any other phone.
- Speakerphone: We’re self-professed speakerphone nerds, and the Evo’s speakerphone quality is just like the rest of the phone: big, full and makes us all warm and fuzzy inside. Iit’s about as good as the Motorola Droid’s, and definitely better than the Nexus One.
- GPS: Quick and accurate, with Google Maps as well as Sprint Navigation, which uses the Telenav service.
- Non-gmail e-mail: POP3/IMAP and Exchange connect without a hitch. We still recommend using gmail whenever possible, though.
- Sprint apps: Sprint may have lost the NFL to Verizon, but it’s been replaced by Sprint Football Live, and it still has the official NASCAR app. There’s also Sprint TV and Sprint Zone (account info, etc.).
Conclusion: is it the best?
Larger screen: love it!
Long before the birth of Android when 320×320 was a big screen, we would scream from the rooftops that more pixels and larger screens would cure many of our woes. The Evo 4G does that, and then some.
It’s fast, and it’ll get faster
The 1GHz Snapdragon processor keeps things moving just fine. And the phone will get even quicker once it gets Android 2.2. And while we don’t yet have an idea of when it will get the Froyo update, we’re as sure as we can be that it will get the update.
HTC’s Sense interface
If you’re looking at the Evo 4G as your first smartphone, you’re making a good choice. HTC’s Sense user interface makes things easy out of the box, and there’s plenty of room for customization.
Gaming and everyday tasks are easier
So who should look at getting the Sprint Evo 4G? If you’re a gamer, it’s a no-brainer. I’ve been bouncing between the same games on the Nexus One and the Evo 4G, and they’re much more fun to play on the larger screen. But the same goes for everyday tasks such as e-mail and calendar management.
Sprint’s data service
For many people, Sprint’s 3G service is great. For others, not so much. We say pick your carrier first, and then your phone, and that still rings true. But Sprint is the first major carrier to get a 4G network up and running. And while the jury’s still out on exactly how much faster WiMax is in its infancy, speeds are only going to go up.
What’s the Evo cost?
The Evo 4G will set you back $199.99 after two-year contract extension and $100 rebate. The Simply Everything plan starts at $69.99, and there’s the $10 Premium Data add-on, too. If you want the WiFi hotspot, that’s another $29 a month.
So the battery life is just OK …
Look, it’s not great. You’re going to have to charge the thing at some point in the day, most likely. Or maybe not. You may well use your phone differently than we do. Moreover, aside from the Windows Mobile-based T-Mobile HD2, nobody’s used a phone this large for any length of time, so it’s going to take a little time to settle in. The other features far outweigh this little niggle.
And maybe the phone’s a little too large for some …
Let’s not kid ourselves: While the phone does fit into pockets just fine, it’s still a bit of a hoss. And it’s going to be a bit big for some people. And if you have small hands, thumbing the corners of the screen could be a stretch. But, again, going about our business on the Evo 4G is much easier and more enjoyable thanks to its size.
So is it the best, or not?
Yes. It’s at the top of the Android smartphone pile, for the moment. That’s not to say that phones like the HTC Incredible and Nexus One and very possibly the Samsung Galaxy S aren’t right up there. But the screen size, 4G data and promise of an upgrade to Android 2.2 make the Sprint Evo 4G the phone to beat, and it may well hold that title through the end of 2010.
Update: You can read HERE about the storage card issue.