Real-world testing: iPhone 4 vs. HTC EVO 4G

Our writer spent a few weeks with the Apple iPhone 4 and the HTC EVO 4G. Which came out ahead?

I've been using an iPhone for three years now, first the original iPhone then the 3G. I like the iPhone a lot -- but I'm not married to it. When I began hearing great things about the Sprint's Android phone, the HTC EVO 4G, I thought hard about switching. And although I eventually decided to upgrade to the iPhone 4, I was curious what I was missing.

The good people at Sprint let me borrow an EVO for a few weeks, and I compared it to my personal iPhone 4. I found that there were a lot of factors where one phone excelled over the other -- but that, in the end, it was hard to choose between them.

What follows are my observations about how the two phones compared in a variety of aspects. In each case, I've chosen the phone I think is the winner in each category -- when there was a winner.

Note: The EVO I tested ran Android OS 2.1, but the next version of Android, version 2.2 or "Froyo," is due any day now. Froyo is a major upgrade -- but many of the new features are interesting only to developers, and others are already available on the EVO, including wireless tethering and Flash support.

According to all reports, Froyo performs faster than Android 2.1, but even using Android 2.1, I didn't find performance to be a problem.

Style

The iPhone is a sexy little thing -- 4.5 x 2.3 x 0.4 in. and weighing 4.8 oz. But though the phone is small, it feels solid and comfortable in my hand.

The glass-and-stainless-steel case looks great. The glass is a special reinforced kind, called "aluminosilicate." Apple says it's 30 times harder than plastic. It sounds awesome. (I think Doctor Who has aluminosilicate glass in the windows of the TARDIS.)

At 4.8 x 2.6 x 0.5 in. and weighing 6 oz, the EVO is very large for a smartphone, but not freakishly so. It'll fit in your shirt or pants pocket (unless you wear ultratight 70s disco pants). I have small hands and even so, I found the EVO comfortable as well.

Still, I prefer the smaller size and design of the iPhone 4.

Winner: iPhone 4

Display

The iPhone has a gorgeous screen, which Apple calls a "Retina" display. Looking at photos and images on the iPhone 4 is very nearly paper quality.

Apple iPhone 4
Apple iPhone 4

When I've taken photos with a phone, I've always waited to get back to my computer to get a better look and decide which pictures to share on the Internet -- until I got the iPhone 4. The display is as good as anything available on most people's desktops.

The EVO's display isn't as good as the iPhone's. Its resolution is 800 x 480 pixels, compared with the iPhone's 960 x 640. On the other hand, the EVO's 4.3-in. display is much bigger than the iPhone's 3.5-in. screen. The big display is one of the chief things EVO enthusiasts like about it.

Winner: iPhone 4

Call quality

Recently, iPhone 4 news has been dominated by user complaints that the device drops calls when you touch a particular spot on the lower-left edge of the case. In a press conference held on July 14, Apple CEO Steve Jobs denied that it was a serious problem but agreed to give a free bumper case to iPhone 4 owners. Jobs said very few users are affected. I believe him. I'm not affected by the problem.

HTC EVO 4G
HTC EVO 4G

But antenna problems aside, I found that the EVO beats the iPhone in call quality. I tested both phones in a variety of locations around San Diego, where I live. Call quality was very good on both phones, but better on the EVO, with clearer, more natural sound. On the other hand, the iPhone did a better job screening out background noise.

The iPhone is available in the U.S. only with AT&T as a carrier, and AT&T users around America complain about dropped calls and poor audio quality. Customer satisfaction for AT&T was tied for last place among four major American wireless carriers in a March 2010 study by ChangeWave. Just 23% of AT&T customers described themselves as "very satisfied" with service. Sprint, the carrier for the EVO, did much better than AT&T, ranking second with 35% of customers saying they're "very satisfied."

If asked, I would have been one of those "very satisfied" AT&T customers, since service is good where I am. Still, EVO call quality was better.

Winner: EVO 4

Battery life

Battery life was not an issue. Both phones lasted more than a full day of checking e-mail, Web browsing, making phone calls and taking pictures and video. I finished the evening with a significant charge left over at bedtime.

Winner: Tie

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