Hands-on with the Sprint HTC EVO 4G; is it a carrier changer?

Summary:The Sprint EVO 4G is the device to beat, in terms of specs, but is it enough to get people to switch carriers? I personally enjoyed the device for the most part, but I don't think 4G is as compelling as it is made out to be and am sticking with my Nexus One.

Several reviews were posted last week on the Sprint HTC EVO 4G and a demo unit was sent to me on Friday. I spent the weekend using it and wanted to post some of my own first impressions before I went offline for a week on a cruise with my wife. I posted my top 10 smartphones of 2010 article on Friday too and had the EVO 4G in the number one spot due to the amazing specifications. After two and a half days of usage, I would have to say I think I made the right choice in awarding the EVO 4G the top place and depending on what Apple announces in a couple of weeks the EVO 4G may soon be mine. Make sure to also check out fellow ZDNet Mobile Gadgeteer Joel's first impressions on the Sprint HTC EVO 4G too. Check out some Sprint HTC EVO 4G photos and screenshots in my image gallery, the video walk through below, and some more of my initial impressions.


Image Gallery: Check out product images, screenshots, and photos taken with the HTC EVO 4G on Sprint.
Image Gallery: Back of the EVO 4G
Image Gallery: Typical Home screen panel

In the box and first impressions

My first thought when I opened up the FedEx packaging containing the demo Sprint HTC EVO 4G was that Sprint sent along a microwave dinner for me instead of a phone. The EVO 4G comes in a tub that seems to be made of recycled material wrapped in a paper sleeve listing the box contents and showing off an image of the device and some apps. Inside the box you will find the HTC EVO 4G, Li-Ion battery, A/C USB adapter, USB cable, 8GB microSD card (inserted in the device), English and Spanish Getting Started Guides, Basics Guide, Terms and Conditions, and recycling envelope. There are no headphones included with the EVO 4G and no HDMI cable to test this capability.

When I first pulled the EVO 4G out of the box I thought it felt a lot like the HTC Incredible with full soft touch back and red rimmed camera and the HTC HD2 with the large display. It is thicker than the HD2 and is definitely a large device for those who are willing to sacrifice a super pocketable phone for the large display. The thing is built like a tank though and is one of the most solid feeling phones I have ever had the pleasure of trying out. The front display is glossy, but didn't seem to show many fingerprints as I tapped on the display and it also easily wiped clean. The HTC EVO 4G felt great in my hand and is an extremely attractive slab of tech.

Specifications

Specifications for the Sprint HTC EVO 4G include the following:
  • Android 2.1 with HTC Sense 2.5 experience
  • 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor
  • 8 megapixel camera with dual LED flash for crisp, detailed images and support for 720p video capture
  • Front facing 1.3 megapixel camera for video chat with Qik application
  • 4.3 inch WVGA (480x800) capacitive touch display
  • Dedicated, touch-sensitive Home, Menu, Back and Search areas
  • Proximity sensor, light sensor and digital compass
  • Integrated GPS
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g)
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • FM radio
  • 3.5 mm headset jack
  • microSD card slot with included 8GB card
  • Integrated WiMAX radio for 4G access and WiFi Hotspot capability
  • Loaded Sprint apps, including Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV, Sprint Football, and NASCAR Mobile
  • Friend Stream for unified Flickr, Facebook and Twitter updates
  • Leap view for quick access to all seven home screen panels
  • Dimensions: 4.8 x 2.6 x 0.5 inches and 6 ounces

Compared to the HTC Droid Incredible, we see an improved video camera, larger display, WiMAX radio, front facing camera, and weight almost 1.5 ounces more. The EVO 4G is the largest and most powerful Google Android device available and has specifications that are currently unrivaled in the smartphone market. However, specs aren't always everything and I personally found the HTC Droid Incredible and Google Nexus One a bit more convenient to carry and use.

Walk around the hardware

The large 4.3 inch display takes up most of the front of the EVO 4G and matches the size of the HTC HD2 Windows Mobile device display. I found the display to have a light pink tint and it seemed washed out just a bit to me. Then again, when I have a display with lots of darker icons or backgrounds the display looks just fine so maybe I am being overly sensitive. The T-Mobile HTC HD2 had colors that were more vibrant and the OLED on my Nexus One really blows away the EVO 4G. Then again, the fonts under the application shortcuts appear clearer and crisper on the EVO 4G. The indicator light and proximity sensor are hidden in the silver grill of the earpiece up top with the front facing camera located above the display. There are no physical buttons on the front, but there are four touch sensitive keys/areas at the bottom for Home, Menu, Back, and Search.

Jumping to the right you will find volume keys while the left side is empty. The mic, HDMI port, and microUSB port are found on the bottom. There was no HDMI cable included in the packaging so I was not able to test out this capability. The 3.5mm headset jack and power button are placed on the top of the EVO 4G.

The 8 megapixel camera and dual LED flash lights are found on the upper back. I posted a couple of photos taken this past weekend in my image gallery above. The camera captures 720p video and after taking a few photos at the Sounders game I think this could easily replace your point and shoot camera. Like the HTC Droid Incredible you will find the entire back of the device under the cover colored red with the area around the camera lens also appearing red. The battery has to be removed to access the microSD card and a rather strange plastic release tab is used to raise and lower the microSD card into the slot. There is also a very sturdy metal kickstand (and I do mean sturdy) towards the bottom of the back.

Let's check out the software »

Walk through the software

The Sprint HTC EVO 4G runs the Google Android 2.1 operating system with HTC Sense 2.5 built on top of it. Right out of the box, the user will have a great experience as you are walked through a setup wizard that helps you easily setup your device and understand how the keyboard works with preferred internet connection (network and/or WiFi) selector, Gmail, POP/IMP, or Exchange email account setup, and social network (Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter) setup. It is quick and easy to follow these and gets your device setup and ready to go.

After the setup wizard is done you will find yourself at the main page of the seven (7) available screens in one of the Scenes of HTC Sense. You can flip through the screens with your finger on the display. There is no optical or physical joystick so all navigation occurs on the display. You can setup multiple Scenes with these seven different screens with widgets, program shortcuts, contact names, and much more. One of the coolest features in this new HTC Sense interface is the "Leap" view where you can view thumbnails of all seven home screen panels on one screen by pinching your finger closed on any panel or pressing the Home button twice. This reminds me of Expose on the Mac and is a very cool way to switch quickly between home screen panels. I know it would probably tax the resources, but it sure would be cool to get into this Leap view and then flip right and left to view these home screen panels for each of the Scenes you have setup since I do find I forget what I have setup in each Scene and don't change Scenes as much as I probably should.

HTC has done a fantastic job of embracing the latest social networks and includes a new functionality called "Friend Stream" on the HTC EVO 4G. With the Friend Stream widget or by launching the Friend Stream widget you will find a unified interface for Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter updates. Friend Stream has four bottom icons for all updates, status updates (those without photos), photo stream (from all networks), and links.

All the typical HTC Android applications and utilities are present, including Navigation Panel (Footprints, Google Maps Navigation, Voice Search, View Map, Search, and Make a Call all in one quick interface), Amazon MP3 Store, FM Radio, Google Maps Navigation, Android Market, Music, Peep (HTC's Twitter app), PDF viewer, Quickoffice viewer, Teeter, Photo Gallery, YouTube, Weather, and more. Sprint added some applications onto the EVO 4G too, including Sprint Football Live, Sprint Hotspot, Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV, Sprint Zone, NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile, and Visual Voicemail.

A special version of Qik is loaded and an upgraded version is supposed to give you video calling capability, but I was unable to test this out. I understand that this updated video conference capability will be provided when the phone launches on June 4th. I did capture a video with Qik at the Sounders FC game last weekend that you can check out here. The YouTube application is also more advanced than on other devices with support for HQ (high quality) YouTube videos. If you enjoy watching YouTube videos then you will like the EVO 4G.

As an Exchange user I enjoy the integration provided by HTC Sense on the EVO 4G that matches the capability seen on the HTC Droid Incredible. However, this also means that two nagging issues remain the same while the HTC Desire ROM loaded on my Nexus One is not lacking these functions. The missing capabilities that frustrate me are the lack of ability to search the server for email and the lack of ability to set privacy levels for Calendar appointments. If you need more advanced Exchange capability, then I recommend you take a look at the TouchDown application.

If you are connected via WiMAX then you can use both voice and data at the same time, which is something we currently see on GSM carriers in the US and around the world.

Pricing, speed tests, and usage experiences »

Pricing and availability

The Sprint HTC EVO 4G will be available on 4 June and can be pre-ordered now at Radio Shack and Best Buy for $199.99 with a $100 mail-in rebate and minimum voice and data plan with 2-year contract. The minimum individual price plan is $79.99 and this includes 450 anytime minutes, free unlimited calls to mobile phones, unlimited text and data, unlimited Sprint Navigation and some other services. There are subscription fees for some Sprint TV content and a $29.99 monthly fee to activate the WiFi Hotspot functionality. You will note there is a $10 premium price for data on the EVO 4G and Sprint states this is due to the improved content and access and is not a direct cost for WiMAX.

Speed tests between T-Mobile 3G, Sprint 4G, and Sprint 3G

I downloaded and installed the Speedtest.net application on my T-Mobile compatible Google Nexus One and the Sprint HTC EVO 4G to conduct some speed tests. I made sure I was outside in a clear area where the signal indicators on both devices showed full bars for each wireless technology. I then ran six tests (the first one for each was always low) and averaged the five tests for upload and download speeds for each device and each technology. Here are the results for you to consider:
  • T-Mobile 3G on Nexus One: Download 2,038 kbps and upload 390 kbps
  • Sprint 4G on EVO 4G: Download 2,278 kbps and upload 988 kbps
  • Sprint 3G on EVO 4G: Download 1,492 and upload 668 kbps

As you can see there is very little difference between T-Mobile's 7.2 Mbps 3G data network and the Sprint 4G WiMAX network in tests (for download speeds) and these match what I have seen previously with the Sprint Overdrive. Also, I have seen speeds exceeding 3,000 kbps (3 Mbps) on my Nokia N900 that has outstanding reception. There is a significant difference apparently (as measured by this application) in the upload speeds, which may be important to you if you plan to upload lots of video content (Qik, YouTube) or images.

If there was some radical speed difference then I may have considered the EVO 4G, but I am going to stick with my T-Mobile Google Nexus One running Android 2.2 (Froyo) for now.

Experiences with the Sprint EVO 4G

I loved the hardware of my T-Mobile HTC HD2, but the software loaded at launch left much to be desired. Now we see HTC take similar hardware with the 4.3 inch 480x800 display and large slab form factor, add even more hardware capability, and then slap in a stable, capable Google Android 2.1 operating system to create the HTC EVO 4G. The EVO 4G is just about everything a power user could ever ask for in a single device and the $200 price is outstanding. The hardware feels great, the pricing plans are attractive (even with the $10 premium), and the support for applications is outstanding.

I have seen some advertising for the Sprint EVO 4G and imagine it will do quite well. Sprint has very reasonable data and voice plans and if I was a Sprint customer I would most likely have already ordered an EVO 4G. With a probable announcement of a new iPhone in early June and my Palm Pre Plus providing free WiFi Mobile Hotspot on a stronger Verizon network (for me) I just cannot make the jump to the EVO 4G on Sprint at this time. Depending on what Apple announces I may end up canceling my Palm Pre Plus Verizon contract to purchase the EVO 4G. Even though I have an almost non-existent Sprint signal at home, the hardware is amazing and I am becoming a serious Android fanboy.

It was nice to experience 4G in Seattle with the EVO 4G, but the battery went down quickly and the coverage area of the WiMAX network is still quite limited. As I detailed above, there is not a significant download speed difference between Sprint 4G and T-Mobile 3G. I have seen even faster wireless data download speeds with my T-Mobile SIM inside the Nokia N900 and think the 4G advertising is more hype than reality so make sure you really look into what network is faster for you. I am personally sticking with T-Mobile and the Nexus One/Nokia N900 for my main phones with Verizon and my Palm Pre Plus providing a wireless connection for other devices at this time. Depending on what I see announced in early June, the Pre Plus may have numbered days left even if the operating system rocks.

Back to the beginning »

Topics: Telcos, Google, Hardware, HTC, Mobility, Wi-Fi

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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