HTC has struck gold again with the HTC EVO 4G ($200 with a two-year contract from Sprint), which is easily the best smartphone available on Sprint and is second to the HTC Droid Incredible (Verizon) as the best smartphone available today.
The EVO 4G packs powerful specs and a lot of features in a slick, stylish design. The biggest drawback is that not everyone will get to experience 4G connectivity, one of the phone's best features at launch -- yet they'll still have to pay for it.
In addition to the phone's $200 price tag, EVO 4G owners will have to shell out $80 per month for unlimited data, as well as a mandatory $10 Premium Data add-on for 4G use. Given that only a handful of cities have WiMax coverage, this strikes me as unfair. Why should a user in, say, San Francisco have to pay that additional fee if they don't have 4G available to them?
Though I'm all for recyclable, minimal packaging, the EVO 4G's box is a little strange. A colleague pointed out that it resembles a tofu container. Other reviews have remarked that it looks like a microwavable meal. But really, it's what's inside the box that matters. The EVO 4G comes with the bare minimum: a Micro-USB cable, a USB wall charger, a 1500mAh battery, and an 8GB MicroSD card.
Design-wise, the EVO 4G is a bit imposing with its 4.3-inch WVGA (800-by-480-pixel) touchscreen, glossy black bezel and blood-red detailing. Measuring 4.8 by 2.6 by 0.5 in., the EVO 4G is also a bit larger than your average smartphone. Even so, it feels pretty comfortable to hold (and my hands are small), and I was able to use it with one hand without any issues. Like the HTC-built Nexus One, the four navigation buttons (Home, Menu, Back, Search) are part of the display rather than physical keys. This gives the EVO 4G a sleek, minimalist look. In my hands-on tests, I found the touch-sensitive buttons quite responsive, as well. The phone also has a much-hyped front-facing camera, which I'll cover later in this review.
Like the Nexus One, the EVO 4G has no dedicated camera key on its spine. The right edge houses the volume rocker. At the top of the phone sits the 3.5mm headphone jack and the power button. At the bottom is the HDMI port, along with the Micro-USB connector for both data transfer and charging.
Flip the EVO 4G over, and you'll find the 8-megapixel camera and dual LED flash, plus the phone's sturdy kickstand for tabletop video watching. When you pull out the kickstand, you see the aforementioned blood-red detailing. Remove the rubberized, matte-black battery cover, and you're greeted with even more color; the phone's interior and battery cover are both that same shade of red. HTC pulled the same design move with the Droid Incredible, as well as with the HD Mini (except that phone's interior is mustard yellow).
Honestly, the native Android keyboard isn't my favorite; the keys are too narrow and tightly packed, and its dictionary isn't always as on-point as the iPhone 3GS's. For an alternative, however, I recommend downloading the keyboard app ThickButtons, which follows a letter-by-letter algorithm to shrink the letters that you aren't likely to use and enlarge the buttons that you are.
Android 2.1 with sense
Out of all of the custom skins for Android, HTC Sense is definitely my favorite. It is the easiest on the eyes, and it doesn't bog down the operating system by trying to do too much. The latest iteration of Sense features Leap, which is essentially an elegant way of handling multitasking; it's actually a bit reminiscent of Palm's WebOS deck-of-cards visualization. Pinch anywhere on the homescreen, and you'll jump to seven thumbnail versions of your open pages. From there, you can go to any of those open applications or close out of one.
Friend Stream, HTC's social network aggregator, allows you to view your friends' status updates, shared links and pictures all in one seamless view. Supported social networks include Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and others. I find such social network feeds a bit annoying -- do I really need to see everybody's tweets and Facebook status updates all mixed up together? But I suppose if you're an avid social networker, seeing all of these updates in one place is useful.
One feature I found especially cool: You can tap and drag to highlight a block of text and either look up a word in a dictionary or translate it via Google Translate.
Along with the standard Android applications, such as Gmail, Google Talk and YouTube, the phone offers HTC's Twitter app (Peep) and its photo-geotagging app (Footprints). In addition, you get a handful of Sprint apps, like SprintTV, Sprint Navigation, Sprint Zone and Sprint Football Live.
I'm not really a fan of HTC's Sense music player. Why? The album art doesn't take advantage of the EVO 4G's large display while the app is in Now Playing mode; it remains thumbnail-size. The Sense player is slightly prettier than the dull-as-dirt Android player, but I prefer iTunes or Palm's WebOS player. Audio sounded good, though, and the player supports a respectable range of audio and video formats. On YouTube, you get a feature called HQ, which enables you to watch better-quality videos (if available). You simply press the HQ button in the corner of the video, and a crisper, larger video--one that actually uses the EVO 4G's entire screen real estate--will load. Better yet, no 4G connectivity is needed.
Video playback via SprintTV was a disappointment, however. The video stuttered quite a bit, and the sound didn't match up. According to other reviews I've seen, it wasn't much better over a 4G connection, either.
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