HTC Evo 4G LTE review: Almost great
HTC's Evo 4G LTE smartphone is impressive at first glance, but it has drawbacks that make it difficult to recommend.
Computerworld - HTC's Evo 4G was one of Sprint's first breakout smartphone stars. Now, after some lackluster follow-ups, the carrier is hoping to bring the sizzle back to the Evo name with its HTC Evo 4G LTE.
The HTC Evo 4G LTE, launching in the U.S. on May 18 for $200 (with a new two-year contract at Sprint), works hard to reach the rock star standard established by the original Evo. The device is based on HTC's critically acclaimed One line of smartphone devices, but it's no mere copycat: The phone combines the One's standout qualities with features that made the first Evo shine, resulting in a new yet somehow familiar piece of technology.
While impressive at first glance, however, the Evo 4G LTE has some serious issues that keep it from achieving true greatness. After using the phone as my own personal device for several days, I find it difficult to recommend.
Body and display
On paper, the Evo 4G LTE seems quite similar to HTC's One X: The phone is basically the same size -- 5.3 x 2.7 in., with a thickness of 0.35 in. -- and it shares the same 4.7-in., 1280 x 720 Super LCD display. (It has a lot of the same internal hardware, too; we'll get to that in a moment.)
Make no mistake about it, though: The new Evo doesn't look like a One-series phone. The device follows the original Evo's design, with a dark-gray-and-red color scheme and a bright red kickstand on its back. The kickstand may seem like a gimmick, but it's actually a nice little touch -- and a sturdy one, too: I found it to be quite useful for propping the phone up on a desk or coffee table for easy hands-free viewing.
The Evo 4G LTE trades the One X's unibody design for a two-toned type of casing: On the top part of its back, the phone has a shiny plastic material that houses the camera lens and leads up to the kickstand. Below the kickstand, the device uses a matte aluminum material. The contrast certainly makes the phone stand out, but I found myself wishing HTC had just gone with aluminum for the entire rear casing; the plastic material looks somewhat cheap in comparison, and it shows every single fingerprint and smudge.
A silver brushed-aluminum band wraps around the phone's perimeter. While the phone is about the same thickness as the One X, the combination of that band and a highly angled bevel gives it a noticeably different feel. I found it slightly uncomfortable to hold the phone in the talking position for extended periods of time; my fingers had nowhere to rest but on the rather sharp edge where the band meets the face of the phone.
Like its One X relative, the Evo 4G LTE's display is outstanding. In my initial review, I described the One X as having one of the best screens I've seen on any smartphone; since the new Evo uses the same display technology, it's no less impressive.
The Evo 4G LTE has a micro-USB port on its upper-left edge that doubles as an HDMI out-port with the use of a special cable or adapter (not included with the phone). A headphone jack and power button sit along the phone's top, and a volume rocker and physical camera button -- the latter of which is a pleasant surprise, as it's a rarity in phones these days -- live along its right side.
The Evo, like HTC's other recent phones, has three capacitive buttons on its face for system navigation. This is a departure from Google's model Android 4.0 setup, and in general, I found it provides a less smooth and less intuitive experience than the virtual-only button model Google endorses. (For a more detailed analysis of HTC's button approach and the problems it presents, see the "Button factor" section of my One S review.)
Under the hood
When it comes to processing power, the HTC Evo 4G LTE is almost identical to HTC's One X (U.S. model): The phone uses a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor along with 1GB of RAM. Like the One X, it has top-notch performance: From home screen swiping to app loading and multitasking, the Evo handled everything I threw at it with ease and without any stutters or slowdowns.
The Evo 4G LTE has a nonremovable 2000 mAh battery, which is slightly larger than the (also nonremovable) 1800 mAh unit in the One X. In terms of real-world performance, it was tough to see much of a difference: Like its One-branded cousin, the Evo consistently allowed me to get through a full day of moderate to heavy usage without running out of juice.
There's one important caveat to consider, though: The Evo 4G LTE, as its name makes all too clear, is built to run on Sprint's 4G LTE network -- but Sprint's 4G LTE network is not presently available. The carrier is expected to start lighting up the network little by little later this year, with coverage set to launch in six cities by mid-2012. LTE is a notorious drainer of smartphone batteries, so it's hard to gauge how well the phone will perform stamina-wise in the future.
That brings me to a significant downside of the Evo 4G LTE: Without Sprint's LTE network activated, the phone is currently limited to using only the carrier's 3G data network (the Evo is not capable of connecting to Sprint's older WiMax 4G network). And compared to LTE, the speeds on Sprint's 3G network are just downright abysmal.
I tested the Evo along with an LTE-connected Verizon Galaxy Nexus. I used Ookla's Speedtest.net app and conducted five trials on each phone to help balance out any incidental fluctuations. The Evo 4G LTE, on Sprint's 3G network, had an average download speed of 516Kbps and an average upload speed of 383Kbps; the Galaxy Nexus, meanwhile, had an average download speed of 9,399Kbps and an average upload speed of 7,437Kbps.
In other words, data speeds on the Evo were 18 to 19 times slower than data speeds on an LTE-connected device. That's no small disparity and the difference was painfully apparent: Downloads on the Evo felt slow as molasses, and I found myself continually growing frustrated waiting for data to transfer. Once Sprint's LTE network comes online, this issue will likely be moot -- but until then, it's a serious knock on the Evo-using experience (and for most of the country, there's not so much as a vague timeline as to when Sprint-based LTE will actually become available).
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