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?

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Tethering

You can use the EVO as a portable Wi-Fi hot spot for up to eight other devices. It's easy to set up -- you connect your notebook computer or any Wi-Fi enabled device to the EVO the normal way you connect to any Wi-Fi network. When I tried it out, I found that performance was fine for Web surfing, e-mail, instant messaging and other typical Internet usage.

Using the EVO as a Wi-Fi network runs down the phone battery faster than other uses. Starting with the EVO battery topped up, I got 3 hours 45 minutes use out of the phone as a Wi-Fi hot spot before the battery ran completely dry.

The iPhone 4 also offers tethering -- in theory. Your choices are either Bluetooth or USB cabling; you can't use it as a Wi-Fi hot spot. I was unable to get Bluetooth tethering to work, even after an hour on the phone with AppleCare support. On the other hand, USB tethering was easy to set up and worked very well.

Sprint charges $30 per month to activate tethering on the EVO, while AT&T charges $20 per month for tethering on the iPhone. (There are Android apps that purport to offer tethering over a USB cable for free.)

The EVO has a major advantage here, since tethering will be hugely attractive to road warriors who need to take their laptop computers out and about.

Winner: EVO 4G

Wireless broadband

Both phones operate on the 3G network. The EVO also supports the faster 4G networks. However, 4G networks are currently deployed in only a few places in the U.S., so the overwhelming majority of people won't be able to take advantage of the faster network speeds. When using 3G, I noticed no difference in the speed and responsiveness of the two phones.

Winner: The EVO 4G if you live in one of the areas served by 4G. Otherwise, tie.

Camera

The iPhone 4 proves that megapixels (MP) aren't everything. The EVO has a higher-resolution rear-facing camera, 8MP compared with 5MP for the iPhone 4 (both phones take HD video). But the iPhone 4 took better still pictures and video. Lighting in the photos and videos was better and brighter, colors seemed richer and audio quality in videos was better . (For more on my camera tests, check out my blog.)

Winner: iPhone 4

Notifications

Android -- and, by extension, the EVO -- does a great job displaying notifications of incoming e-mails, Twitter @mentions, missed phone calls, new voicemail messages and other events. Notifications appear as icons in a horizontal bar at the top of the home screen. Pull down the bar and you see your notifications in a neat column. Tap on each notification to read it (or in the case of voicemail, listen). It's a great way to catch up if you haven't looked at your phone for a few hours.

On the iPhone, by comparison, notifications are poorly handled. The iPhone can be set so that a small number appears on the icon of each application with new messages. If you have a lot of applications peppering you with notifications, that's messy. You can also get pop-up windows displaying notifications onscreen, but you see only the most recent notification in the pop-up.

Winner: EVO 4G

Video chat

Both the iPhone 4 and the EVO 4G support video chat. The iPhone's FaceTime video chat works only with other iPhone 4s and only on the Wi-Fi network, not 3G or EDGE. But within those limitations, FaceTime works great: One tap on a button while on a conventional phone call and FaceTime starts. Video and audio are crisp and clear.

In theory, the EVO's video chat should be better than the iPhone's, because it's designed to work with any other device on any network. The reality is that video chat on the EVO didn't work for me. The only apps it currently works with are Fring and Qik, but in my tests, Fring video was badly pixilated and the audio was indecipherable. I couldn't get Qik video chat to work at all.

Winner: iPhone 4

Google integration

Gmail is my primary e-mail application, Google Voice gives me my primary phone number, and I use Google Calendar (synced with BusyCal on the Mac) to keep track of my schedule. To sync my mail, contacts and calendar on the EVO, I just had to enter my Google login and the EVO took care of the rest.

On the iPhone, those things are nowhere near as convenient. A while ago, I spent hours figuring out how to get my iPhone 3G to sync with Gmail, contacts and Google Calendar, and I had to go through the whole painful process again when I upgraded to the iPhone 4.

In addition, Google Voice integration on the iPhone 4 is clumsy. You can easily receive Google Voice calls on your iPhone, but you have to use a Web app to place a call with Google Voice. And you have to manually forward your iPhone voicemail. All of that is automatic on the EVO with the free Google Voice app.

If you're not a Gmail user, both phones enable you to pick up POP3 and IMAP email through their built-in mail clients, and both support connectivity to Microsoft Exchange.

Winner: EVO 4G

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