Droid X and HTC EVO 4G Head-to-Head

Droid X, EVO 4G head to head

I love my job. I have the two hottest Android phones sitting in front of me. At least they are the hottest phones for a few weeks until the next great Android phone comes along. The two phones are the Motorola Droid X and the HTC EVO 4G; in addition to being crammed with features both phones have 4.3-inch screens that look great. I do believe this size screen is the sweet spot for smartphones — any bigger and the phone would be too big to carry around, any smaller and you’d be missing out. The EVO 4G impressed me enough that I bought one of my own, and the Droid X was sent to me by Verizon to test. Let’s put these two superphones head to head in a few categories and see how they stack up.

I should set the stage for this competition by qualifying my situation. I have been using the EVO 4G for almost two months. I liked the phone enough that I bought one with my hard-earned cash. I have stated that there is nothing I don’t like about the EVO, and while some my find that biased in this comparison it is what it is. I intend to approach this comparison from a user’s standpoint. I will not get into the minutia of the technical details, I will instead focus on the areas that affect usability and usefulness.

Form factor

The size and form of a smartphone depends in large part on the size of the display. These two phones have the same screen, but the size is quite different. This is due to the fact that the screen size is measured diagonally but each screen has a different width and length. The Droid X screen is slightly taller and narrower in portrait orientation than the EVO 4G.

The Droid X is slightly narrower as a result, and a bit taller. This makes the Droid X fit better in the hand and feel good. It is also a little lighter than the EVO 4G and that helps too. The EVO is also a tiny bit thicker than the Droid X overall, discounting the camera hump on the Droid. The smooth plastic of the Droid X doesn’t feel as solid as the EVO, but it’s easy to handle. Winner in form factor: Droid X.

Display

As stated, the two phones have similar screens that vary slightly in dimensions. The Droid X is thus a slightly more wide angle screen (in landscape) than the EVO 4G. This makes viewing video nicer than on the EVO. The Droid X screen seems slightly brighter than that on the EVO, although they are very close.

The narrower screen on the Droid X does suffer in one area compared to the EVO — web browsing. The Android browser opens web pages with an overview of the whole web page compressed to fit the entire screen. On the EVO 4G when you open a busy web page, the overview looks good and text is crisp even though very tiny. On the Droid X the text is not quite as crisp in the overview of the same page. It’s not bad, it’s just not quite as crisp on the Droid X. I attribute this to the narrower screen and the “fit to screen width” technology used in the browsers. Winner in display: Tie.

Phone functions

These are both phones first and foremost and while it’s easy to get caught up in the sophisticated functions of them they must be good at making phone calls. Both phones use a customized form of the Android dialer, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The EVO 4G uses smart dialing where you start tapping in either a phone number or a name and it gives a list of contacts in a window above the dial pad, narrowing the results with each additional tap. It can usually find the right contact with three taps which is useful. If you are simply entering in a phone number it figures that out and makes the returned contact list disappear.

The Droid X uses a tabbed interface in the dialer which is also useful. One tab has all of the contacts in the Favorites list, another a list of recent calls, one a full contact list and the last a full screen dial pad. This system works well, too, it’s a matter of which phone’s method you prefer.

Audio quality on the Droid X is a bit better than that on the EVO 4G, which is not bad. That’s likely due to the two noise canceling microphones on the Droid X that does a good job reducing background noise.

The speakerphone function on the EVO 4G is better than that on the Droid X. The speaker plays much louder on the EVO 4G and is a better quality for audio. When you hang up a call on the EVO 4G, it pops up a dialog box (part of the Sense interface) that asks if you want to add the contact if the call was from an unknown number. Winner in phone functions: Tie.

User interface

The user experience on a smartphone is a combination of the hardware and the user interface (UI) software. The UI plays a big role in establishing how functional a phone can be, along with how enjoyable it is to use every day. Both of these phones ship with Android 2.1, but each handset maker has put its own “special sauce” on top of that to refine the experience.

Motorola has included its new version of the Motoblur interface, and it is greatly improved. The original Motoblur interface was very much “in your face”, with social network updates flying out at you all the time and providing a constant distraction. This version on the Droid X is simply a set of widgets that can be used or not as desired, and they are greatly toned down in both appearance and intrusiveness.

There are system functions like date and time widgets, contact functions that allow you to put any contact on any of the seven home screens and other utilities. Any widget can be moved around at will or deleted if not needed. Motorola has a popup strip at the bottom of the home screen that appears when you swipe left or right to move between the different home screens. This is innovative, but I find it less than useful since it covers up the ability to hit the phone button or the launcher button.

HTC Sense also has seven home screens, but instead of the popup navigation strip you simply hit the Home button twice and get a full screen thumbnail preview of all seven home screens. You simply tap on the one you want and you go there. This is a more efficient way to move around as you can see what’s on each screen before you go there.

Speaking of the Home button, Motorola made the terrible decision to make the Home button the second button from the left, instead of the left-most one. The Home button is hit often in the operation of an Android phone, and it makes no sense to put it anywhere but in the first (left-most) position. I repeatedly hit the Menu button when I want the Home Button on the Droid X, as that is the first button. Unfortunately that often has undesirable results.

The EVO 4G has the same four buttons beneath the screen as the Droid X, which is standard for Android. The EVO has them in the expected order, and that’s a big advantage. The Droid X has real buttons, while those on the EVO are touch sensitive. The more I use the Droid X, the better I like the EVO button as touching them requires the same pressure as touching controls on the screen. I am constantly hitting the Droid X physical buttons too lightly to trigger them, so I have to hit them twice a lot.

These are both Android phones so each handles apps in a similar fashion. Installing apps is the same on both the EVO and the Droid X, and the standard Android launcher is just a tap away on the home screen. I don’t like how the Droid X handles newly installed apps — these appear at the bottom of the launcher screen and stay there until the phone is rebooted. Every Android phone I have used, including the EVO, keeps this list of apps in alphabetical order all the time. I don’t know why Motorola handles installed apps this way.

While the Droid X interface is good, I find HTC Sense on the EVO to be much better. The HTC widgets are better designed, and extend the functionality of the interface a great deal while retaining a high level of customization. HTC Sense looks more polished than the interface on the Droid X. There are those who do not like the Sense interface, so the Droid X may be preferable as it is more like the standard Android interface. Winner in user interface: EVO 4G.

Camera

Both phones have 8 MP cameras that shoot still photos and 720p video. Both have auto-focus and LED flash for low light situations. The Droid X video recording and still photo capture is better than that on the EVO 4G. The EVO is not bad in this area, but the Droid X is better.

The Droid X has a special panoramic landscape mode that is quite good. It assists you through the entire process of capturing the landscape, and then stitches the photos comprising the panorama automatically. It is the easiest method I’ve ever seen on any phone. Kevin was impressed with it, too. Winner in camera: Droid X.

Video calling

This will be an easy area to declare the winner, as the EVO 4G has a front-facing camera for video chatting and the Droid X does not. The EVO can make video calls with either the Qik app or the Fring app. Calls can be placed using Wi-Fi connectivity, and also over 3G. Fring calls can be made with other Fring users on any platform (including the iPhone 4), and also to Skype users. This makes for a very large audience that can be called with video on the EVO. Winner in video calling: EVO 4G.

Data connectivity

Both Sprint and Verizon have 3G networks using EVDO, so 3G connectivity is very similar on both phones. Both networks are readily available throughout the U.S., and data speeds are comparable.

The EVO 4G can also tap the Sprint 4G network as its name implies, and while it is not as widespread as the 3G networks it is in many metropolitan areas. The 4G connection on the EVO 4G is outstanding, and using the EVO while connected to the 4G network is great. Winner in data connectivity: EVO 4G.

Mobile hotspot

Both phones have a mobile hotspot capability, that can share 3G connections with other devices over the phone’s Wi-Fi. Once configured the hotspot function can be turned on with a single click, and the 3G connection shared in seconds.

The EVO 4G can also share the 4G connection if available, and this is a clear advantage over the Droid X. The EVO can share either the 3G or 4G connection with up to 8 devices, while the Droid X can share with up to 5. The Sprint mobile hotspot on the EVO costs $29.99 monthly, while the Verizon service on the Droid X is $20. The EVO plan costs more but is unlimited, while the Droid x plan has a 2 GB data cap. Overage fees on Verizon are substantial, so Droid X hotspot users need to be watching data consumption regularly. Winner in mobile hotspot: EVO 4G.

Battery life

Both of these phones have decent battery life, and can easily last all day on a charge. I previously detailed the simple steps I use on every Android phone to conserve battery without compromising on functionality, and I have done that on both the EVO 4G and the Droid X. The battery life is very similar as a result.

I have noticed that the Droid X has a service running in the background called “Battery Manager”. I don’t know what this service does but I suspect it keeps runaway apps from using too much of the battery. Winner in battery life: Tie.

Conclusion

Having compared the Droid X and EVO 4G in nine major categories, let’s tally them up:

  1. Form factor: Droid X
  2. Display: Tie
  3. Phone functions: Tie
  4. User interface: EVO 4G
  5. Camera: Droid X
  6. Video calling: EVO 4G
  7. Data connectivity: EVO 4G
  8. Mobile Hotspot: EVO 4G
  9. Battery Life: Tie

EVO 4G: 4; Droid X: 2; Tie: 3

This comparison is my take on using the two phones. The categories are the ones I find most important on a smartphone; yours may vary based on your needs. While the EVO 4G gets the nod in this comparison, I find the Droid X to be a very capable smartphone. If I was on the Verizon network, or looking to get on it, I would pick up a Droid X in a heartbeat. It is easily the best phone on the Verizon network, or it will be when available July 15.

If one of these categories is very important to you, then the phone getting a clear win in that category is a strong contender for your money. If the carrier is the important factor in your situation, then go with the phone on your carrier of choice. Either of these phones is a good investment, and will serve you well.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): To Win In the Mobile Market, Focus On Consumers

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