Two years after Sprint (s s) and HTC enjoyed a winner with the original Evo 4G, the two are back at it with the Evo 4G LTE, a variant of the One X phone that will serve as a flagship for Sprint’s emerging 4G LTE line-up. The phone, part of HTC’s One lineup of smartphones, represents a key bet for both Sprint and HTC.
Sprint is trying to make the leap from WiMAX to LTE in hopes of catching up with more robust LTE networks from Verizon (s vz) and AT&T (s t). And it’s doing so while managing a tricky balancing act as it repurposes its 800 MHz band currently used for iDEN. Sprint’s CEO Dan Hesse didn’t say much about the LTE network but previously Sprint has said it will launch LTE in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and San Antonio by mid-year with LTE customers able to get Sprint’s existing unlimited data plans.
HTC is also looking to rebound after struggling in the face of competition from Samsung and Apple (s aapl). The company saw revenues drop 45 percent in the first two months of the year compared to the same period the year before and reported a 2 percent decline in fourth-quarter revenue last year. HTC has said in the past the lull was temporary and would be addressed by new hero phones such as the One line.
The new phone, which will sell for $199.99 in the second quarter, will run Android 4.0 (s goog) and HTC’s Sense 4.0 with a 4.7-inch 720p LCD2 display, a dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, Beats Audio, a 2000mAH battery, NFC and an 8-megapixel camera. And it will be the first Sprint phone to support a new technology called HD Voice that Sprint said would make for excellent call quality.
The Evo 4G LTE represents a nice design upgrade from previous HTC devices, which had become bulky compared to Samsung Galaxy devices and the iPhone. It’s got an aluminum shell that has been shaved along the edges to reveal the metal underneath. There are two surfaces along the back: a more tactile black along the bottom of the phone along with a more slick black backing along the top. And as a nice nod to the Evo heritage, there’s even a familiar kickstand.
HTC is really stressing multimedia consumption and creation following its purchase of Beats Audio. The camera has some nice touches including the ability to take video and photos simultaneously, fast auto focus, a dedicated image chip and a shutter button, a continuous shooting mode and a flash that judges distance. The phone also sports Beats Audio across all the multimedia services and will be able move content to TVs through a wireless adapter that connects to a HDMI port.
HD Voice will use a combination of dual mics, encoders and decoders and technology in the network to provide fuller, less muffled voice quality and muted background noise. But that technology won’t be activated at launch, with Sprint planning to turn it on later in the year along with network upgrades.
The one disappointment for the Evo 4G LTE may be the choice of the dual core processor that shipped in the Evo One instead of the One X world version’s quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor (s nvda). And with LTE support limited at the start, some potential customers may wait to buy the Evo 4G LTE until they’re sure the faster service is available to them. Sprint has said it will complete its LTE rollout by the end of 2013.
The Evo 4G LTE, which will start pre-sales on May 7, is not the only LTE phone in Sprint’s lineup. Sprint earlier this week announced that the LG Viper will be the first phone on its LTE network. And there have been rumors that Sprint will also get the Galaxy Nexus, an LTE phone that was originally a Verizon exclusive.
As a user of the original Evo, there’s a certain nostalgia in seeing the Evo name live on. But the phone isn’t just a rehash of the same formula. It’s got some real chops. It’s super slick and the Sense UI seems more refined and quicker. But for Sprint, the boost the Evo 4G LTE provides could be limited by how fast it gets its LTE network up. And with another iPhone coming and more Samsung devices still commanding the Android spotlight, HTC will have to work hard to get back on track. This is a good start for HTC and Sprint but there’s a lot of work ahead for both.