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Summary:

Sprint is no doubt ecstatic over setting sales records with the Sprint EVO 4G late last week. The latest Android phone to hit the market, the EVO 4G is chock-full of features to appeal to any power user. Here’s my complete review.

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Sprint is no doubt ecstatic over high sales numbers of the HTC EVO 4G late last week (although not as much as before). The EVO 4G is the lastest Android phone to hit the market and is chock-full of features to appeal to any power user. The phone is large but thin, and has a fast Snapdragon processor to keep things snappy. The EVO is not for everyone, but for those looking for a phone with virtually every hardware feature available it just might be the one.

Hardware

HTC set the bar with the HD2 released earlier this year, and the EVO 4G is the next generation of that handset. The first thing you notice about the EVO is the large 4.3-inch display, the same as the HD2. The phone is still very thin and the screen fills almost the entire front of the device so it is smaller than expected. That big screen is accompanied by two cameras (8 MP and 1.3 MP on front) along with an HDMI port for displaying the HD videos captured on the phone to a TV.

The EVO is not much bigger than the iPhone, but for those with small hands it may be too wide for comfortable use. I don’t find it too wide but have heard that complaint from others, so try before you buy. The EVO is a little heavier than some phones, although not by much considering how much is packed in the thin form.

There is a unique kickstand on the back of the phone, and while it seems like a gimmick it turns out to be a very useful feature. The big, gorgeous screen of the EVO is great for watching video, something that is very easy to do given the kickstand. It props the phone up just right for video calls, too. I works well in landscape orientation, and while it works in portrait it’s not stable to do safely.

 

Specs

  • Processor: Qualcomm SnapDragon, 1 GHz
  • Display: 4.3 inch LCD 480×800
  • Memory: 512 MB
  • Storage: 8 GB microSD included (up to 32 GB)
  • Radios: 4G, 3G (EVDO Rev A), Wi-Fi b/g, FM Radio, Bluetooth 2.1, GPS
  • Cameras: 8 MP (rear), 1.3 MP (front)
  • Ports: HDMI out, microUSB, 3.5 mm headphone
  • Battery: 1500 mAh
  • Dimensions: 4.8 x 2.6 x 0.5 inch, 6 ounces
  • OS: Android 2.1 with HTC Sense

Initial Boot

Sprint and HTC have a good first boot utility that runs the first time you power the EVO on. The phone was activated and then stepped through the various account configurations to maximize the Android/ Sense experience.  Those with Google accounts (Gmail, etc.) enter in the login credentials and the EVO begins syncing contacts, Gmail and calendar events in the background. Social networks (Twitter, Facebook and Flickr) can also be configured at this time (or later) to have the phone syncing updates for them.

This configuration only takes a few minutes and the phone is ready to go when complete. HTC includes a lot of apps as part of the Sense package and these are ready to go immediately. Peep is the Sense app for Twitter, and it’s surprisingly good and will be all many owners need. Friendstream is an aggregator that pulls in updates from the three social networks into one stream for easy referral. There’s a Friendstream widget that fills one of the seven home screens, and the app that runs standalone to do the same thing.

It’s easy to spin through the seven home screens, where widgets and icons can be placed to access frequently used information. There are numerous HTC widgets, such as the famous clock/weather widget found on most Sense phones. All of the home screens can be configured to suit the owner, and moving from one to another is as simple as swiping left/right on the screen. Pinching in on any of the home screens activates a full-screen preview of all the home screens, allowing direct access to any one by tapping the thumbnail. Hitting the Home button on any one of the screen takes you back to the main (middle) home screen, and hitting that button twice also fires up the preview screen.

There are four touch-sensitive “buttons” on the bottom of the screen in portrait orientation: Home, Menu, Back and Search. Haptic feedback can be activated for verification when these buttons or the screen are pressed. The Menu button gives access to Settings and other system functions on the home screens, and specific app menus when an app is active. The Back button take you back one screen, and the Search activates the search from anywhere. Both text and voice searches are possible.

Phone functions

The EVO is first and foremost a phone, and audio quality is quite good; numerous callers have commented on its clarity. The speakerphone function works very well, as the speaker is very loud for a phone. The microphone is of decent quality, too.

Making a phone call is as simple as hitting the soft phone button on the bottom of the home screen. This fires up the dialer with a keypad on the screen. There is a smart search in the dialer that narrows down contacts as keys are pressed, and tapping the desired contact initiates the call.

Cameras

The EVO has two cameras: an 8 MP camera with auto-focus on the back, and a 1.3 MP camera on the front. The front camera is a small lens just above the Sprint logo on the upper right of the EVO in portrait orientation. The rear camera has a dual LED flash, and can handle adjusting for background lighting quite well.

The front camera can be used with Qik (in the Android Market) to make video calls. The quality is reasonable and is a decent solution for mobile video chats. The free Fring app (also in the Market) can be used for video calls, and even works with Skype contact lists. A sample video shot with the front camera is here.

The rear camera can record 720p HD video of reasonable quality, along with full still recording. The auto-focus works well, and even has face detection to aid in that process. This camera will not win any awards, but is a solid tool for a phone. A sample video shot with the rear camera is here.

Navigation

I’ve been using the Sprint-branded Telenav Navigation service on the Palm Pre for a year, and it’s a great navigation tool. Sprint is including it for free on the EVO 4G, and it is great on the big screen of this phone. Sprint Navigation works well with the GPS on the EVO, and provides outstanding traffic reports while on trips. I have altered a route a number of times based on breaking traffic situations, and this is priceless. This Android version of Sprint Navigation is better than the webOS version found on the Palm Pre. I find the EVO GPS gets satellite reception better than the Pre, too.

Google Maps Navigation also works well on the EVO, and is a solution many will be happy with. It’s not quite as easy to operate as Sprint Navigation while on a route, but it’s a solid performer. It’s awesome having two great free navigation tools on the EVO 4G.

Performance

This phone is fast! I have tested many smartphones, including the Nexus One running Android 2.2, and I find the EVO to be the fastest. There is rarely any lag between doing something on the phone and the resultant action. Hit an icon and the app opens immediately. Web pages load up very quickly, almost as fast as my desktop. It’s a joy to use, even with lots of apps open and multitasking.

The EVO really shines as a media device, and I quickly replaced the included 8 GB microUSB card with my own 16 GB card. I put a lot of music and videos on the card and the EVO works well as both a music and video player. That big screen is great for video, and the speaker is very loud and quite good quality for listening to music on either the speaker or on Bluetooth stereo headphones.

3G/4G/Hotspot

The EVO does a great job moving between 3G (EVDO) and 4G (WiMAX) coverage as available. The throughput on 4G is wonderful, and feels more like a desktop system than a phone. When it steps down to 3G due to lack of 4G coverage, the Sprint network is still pretty fast and I have no complaints.

Sprint offers the Mobile Hotspot service for $29.99/month, which I signed up for at purchase time. It’s not contract-bound so it can be turned on and off a month at a time online. I want to try it out and if it keeps working as well as a hotspot as it has so far I will eat the ETF on my Overdrive and cancel it to use the EVO. The Overdrive is $60/month so the EVO hotspot service at half that price makes the ETF a good business decision.

The hotspot on the EVO will power eight devices at once, compared to five on the Overdrive. I’ve used up to three devices at once in my testing, and it’s worked flawlessly. Sharing a strong 4G connection is simply great, and has to be experienced to fully appreciate. When 4G is not available the hotspot shares the 3G connection, and that’s not bad, either. I don’t find the battery is hit unduly hard while the EVO is functioning as a hotspot.

Battery Life

I was concerned about battery life based on accounts I’d seen on the web prior to using the EVO. Those concerns were unfounded, as I find the battery lasts all day with fairly heavy usage. Battery drain depends on how the phone is used, and with so many radios in the EVO it can be hit hard. I find that a little diligence is all that’s needed to stretch the battery out all day. With normal use the lowest the battery has drained on a given day is 11 percent left in the tank at day’s end.

If I’m not using a given radio, I turn it off. That’s what I do with any smartphone, so there’s nothing unusual about the EVO in this regard. HTC has included some cool widgets for turning each radio on/off via a simple tap. There are widgets for GPS, Wi-Fi, 4G, Bluetooth and Hotspot that make it easy to stay on top of things. I’m still in the honeymoon stage with the EVO, meaning heavier use than normal, and the battery will get me through the entire day. It’s getting pretty empty by then, but it makes it. I will most likely buy a second battery for trips, just in case.

The heavy computer-like uses possible with the EVO no question hits the battery as hard as can be on a phone. I will state that apart from the bizarre issue I experienced early on — that I believe I inadvertently caused (due to the lack of information that anyone else on the web has reported it) — the EVO hits the battery no worse than other phones I’ve used. I have no concerns about the battery life on the EVO based on actually using the device heavily.

Sprint Plans, Included Software

The EVO 4G is only available in the U.S. on the Sprint network, which makes sense as it has the only 4G WiMAX network for phones. The carrier has included a lot of services and software to add value to the EVO owner. The EVO is running Android 2.1, and both Sprint and HTC have indicated version 2.2 will be available “soon.” The software included by Sprint and HTC as part of the Sense interface is quite extensive:

  • Sprint TV
  • Sprint Navigation
  • HTC Friendstream
  • FM Radio (wired headphone used as antenna– not included)
  • Google Maps (Navigation)
  • Amazon MP3 Store
  • PDF Viewer
  • Peep (HTC Twitter app)
  • Facebook
  • Sprint Nascar
  • Qik
  • Sprint Football (NFL)
  • Sprint Hotspot
  • Google Services (Talk, Voice, Gmail)
  • HTC Stocks
  • Assorted HTC widgets (radio toggles, etc.)
  • Voice Dialer
  • Voice Recorder
  • Voice Search
  • Visual Voicemail
  • Weather
  • YouTube
  • Teeter (game)
  • Search People
  • HTC News
  • Quickoffice
  • Music
  • Videos
  • Gallery
  • Desk Clock
  • Clock
  • Calculator

Sprint is including all of the additional services (Nascar, Sprint TV, Sprint Navigation) as part of the unlimited data plans for the EVO 4G. Sprint offers an Unlimited Everything plan that includes unlimited voice calls, data and texting for $109.99 per month. I don’t use the phone as much as data so I went with the Everything Data 450 plan that is unlimited everything but only 450 anytime minutes. This plan still gets me unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes so is the best deal for me at $79.99/ month. Both of these monthly fees include the famous $10 “premium data” charge, for which Sprint is catching a lot of heat.

The phone is $199 at Sprint for qualified upgraders and new customers signing a 2-year contract. This is after a $100 mail-in rebate. Sprint unexpectedly bought my original Palm Pre back for $70 when I bought the EVO, so my total purchase price with contract was only $129. It might be worth a trip to the Sprint store to upgrade and ask about this buy-back program.

Conclusion

I don’t usually recommend a given phone as everyone’s needs are different. The EVO 4G is not for everyone; some will find it too big while others will need fewer features. I can only report what my own experience with a given phone is, and how a particular phone works for me. I will state that I tried the EVO for a few days and then bought one for myself. This is the best smartphone I have used so far, and it gets better every day as I get a chance to try different things with it. It’s a good phone, has a nice media player, stellar web appliance, a decent camera and a great navigation system. Geek that I am, I’m sure I’ll be lusting after another phone down the road. For now, I’m happy with the EVO 4G on Sprint.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Google’s Mobile Strategy: Understanding the Nexus One

  1. Can you use a Bluetooth keyboard with it? Thinking that large screen and kickstand open up some interesting possibilities…

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    1. It would require a BT driver. There is one in the Market but it doesn’t seem to work with my old Stowaway Bluetooth KB. It is an interesting thought, especially with Quickoffice included for free.

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    2. Nope :( I had originally assumed so, given the supposed maturity of Android, but apparently the bluetooth stack still doesn’t support input devices.

      http://www.goodandevo.net/2010/05/trying-and-failing-to-use-bluetooth-keyboards-with-htc-evo.html

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      1. That’s another point for the iPhone 4-EVO comparison, James – iOS 4 has BT keyboard support.

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  2. Great review! I have the EVO and love it too!

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  3. Excellent review — validates what I’m also experiencing with EVO…. fast, full-featured, great screen, good battery life. I like Sprint’s data plan approach and was happy to find call quality is excellent.

    From photos, I thought the phone was huge but seeing it up close and using it, it doesn’t seem too large. Very nice device!

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  4. That is the most thorough review on the EVO I’ve seen to date. Nice job.

    I think the 4.3″ is a great size as I’ve found the MyTouch 3.5 too small for my fingers and browsing the web.

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  5. Glad I wasn’t the only one who thought the satellite connection was faster on the evo than the pre.

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  6. Totally agree James! The battery life is no worse than any other smartphone I have used in the last several years (iPhone 2G, 3G, 3GS, Pre, Hero, Nexus, and N900). Loving my Evo!

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  7. Some reviews have talked about replacing the 8GB memory card with a 32GB. Is there a 64GB or higher available to use with the EVO??

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    1. The Evo uses the standard MicroSD (SDHC) card, so if you can google for it, it exists.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MicroSD

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    2. Sprint’s specs say only “supports 32 GB.” If a 64 GB card is supported, buying one will double the (post-rebate) price of the phone.

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  8. Umm that video from the 8mp camera was ehhhh? The rest of the review seemed good. Still not sure if I want to get the evo or hold out to see what Palm/HP has in store. I have the Pre right now and I don’t mind it.

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    1. I’m not impressed with the quality of Qik video in general. Video I shoot and watch on the phone is decent. Not great, but decent.

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  9. Same here. Battery life is acceptable and the EVO doesn’t feel too big for any pocket I’ve put it in. They did a great job of keeping it thin and light.

    Two things I noticed so far. First is that some apps seem to start running themselves and drain the battery, so I use Advanced Task Killer regularly. For example, Sprint Navigation and Qik were running just now and I know I haven’t touched either since yesterday. Second, the Foursquare app seems to cause problems. Shortly after using the Foursquare app my screen will freeze and go black. The phone seems to be working but I can’t get the screen on again without pulling the battery.

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  10. I’m curious to know how many of these handsets that were sold are from new subscribers…

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