Critics' Choice: HTC Evo 4G Smartphone Review Roundup

For several years now, Sprint has been in next-to-last place among U.S. wireless network providers. But that might eventually change if Sprint continues to offer smartphones like the HTC EVO 4G ($200 with a new contract), a well-reviewed Android 2.1 handset boasting several firsts and currently a Sprint exclusive in the U.S.


The HTC EVO 4G, introduced in March and shipping June 4, is the first 3G/4G network phone in the U.S. Along with working on Sprint’s 3G network, the EVO 4G can take advantage of Sprint’s faster 4G network as well. Sprint’s 4G network is based on WiMAX technology and is currently in 33 U.S. markets.


The EVO 4G is also the first phone from a U.S. carrier with a front-facing camera for video chat. And it’s among the first to offer 720p video recording. Apple’s iPhone 4, available June 24, also boasts a front-facing webcam for video chat, and a back-facing camera for still images and 720p video recording.


Packed with features such as the ability to turn the phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot, the EVO 4G is earning highly favorable reviews. Three of the four review sites we surveyed—CNET, LAPTOP magazine, and PC Magazine—gave the EVO 4G 4 out of 5 stars. PC World gave the handset a 4.5 star rating.


However, by comparison, the EVO 4G has been slightly less well received than the HTC Incredible smartphone for Verizon, which earned 4 stars from CNET and LAPTOP and 4.5 stars from both PC World and PC Magazine. Read Critics' Choice Review: HTC Incredible Dubbed 'Best Smartphone' for more details.


Sales of the EVO 4G have been brisk, too. Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn recently said the smartphone is the retailer’s best-selling mobile device.


But just as soon as the rave reviews and sales figures poured in, so, too, came some early adopter complaints.


InformationWeek reports that some users claim the touchscreen “separates from the device and causes light leakage.” According to InformationWeek, one user wrote in an online forum that the problem could create “a major issue in the long run with dust entering the device. There seems to be some kind of glue failure happening or faulty manufacturing in a lot of the units.”


"We understand from HTC that it has not replicated the issue internally and is working to acquire a device with this reported issue,” a Sprint communications manager told InformationWeek. “Until HTC investigates further, we can’t make a definitive statement on the root cause."


Another sore point: Reviewers aren’t happy with Sprint’s decision to charge all EVO 4G owners a $10 Premium Data add-on fee for 4G service, given that the service isn’t widely available at this time. As CNET reviewer Bonnie Cha says, “it's a bit maddening to have to pay for something you're not getting.”


Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s focus on the reviews. Here’s what reviewers are saying about the EVO 4G’s design and interface; screen, keyboard, and buttons; software; web browsing; cameras and multimedia; phone quality; performance; and battery life.


Design and Interface of the EVO 4G


Measuring 4.8 inches by 2.6 inches by 0.5 inch and weighing 6 ounces, the EVO 4G isn’t “what you'd call a dainty phone,” says CNET’s Cha. “It's right on the cusp of being too big, but HTC was able to keep (the phone) relatively thin, making it more manageable.”


A built-in kickstand is an unusual and welcome feature. “The kickstand not only came in handy for watching videos, but for using the phone as an alarm clock and for skipping tracks in Pandora without having to pick up the device,” notes LAPTOP reviewer Mark Spoonauer.


Like other Android phones, you can choose the interface (or skin) you want. Many reviewers feel HTC Sense is the best interface. “Sense is our absolute favorite, as it gives Android a more user-friendly interface,” writes CNET’s Cha. “In many cases, it improves on the core functions by better integrating the features.”


Screen, Keyboard, and Buttons


The EVO 4G features an exceptionally large AMOLED capacitive touchscreen at 4.3 inches, with 800 x 480 pixel resolution. CNET calls the screen “downright mesmerizing. The extra screen real estate makes a huge difference when viewing Web pages and reading text.”


But outdoorsy types, beware. “The screen is terribly reflective,” according to Sascha Segan, writing for PC Magazine. “It's barely usable outdoors. Indoors, though, it's gorgeous,” Segan adds.


The virtual keyboard is attractive and better than the average Android keyboard, but it’s “nowhere near as easy or accurate as the iPhone keyboard,” PC Magazine’s Segan says. “I found myself making more errors than I do either on an iPhone or on the physical keyboard of a BlackBerry.”


Similar to the Google-branded, HTC-built Nexus One, the EVO 4G has four navigation buttons—Home, Menu, Back, Search—that are on-screen-only buttons, instead of physical ones. “This gives the EVO 4G a sleek, minimalist look,” notes Ginny Mies of PC World. “In my hands-on tests, I found the touch-sensitive buttons quite responsive, as well,” Mies says.


Sprint’s Hotspot App and Other Software


HTC’s smartphone comes loaded with software, including the GPS-powered Sprint Navigation (free); a Twitter client; Friend Stream, for combining social networks and contacts; Microsoft Office and PDF document readers; and Sprint’s streaming TV.


The preinstalled Qik app enables you to stream video directly to the Internet and do video chats with the phone’s front-facing 1.3-megapixel webcam.  


Reviewers weren’t able to test video calling using Qik’s Video Chat capabilities, however. The feature wasn’t available during reviews, though the Qik blog says it’s now available to EVO 4G users who download the latest version of the app from the Android market.


Sprint’s Hotspot app will be of particular interest to mobile professionals, as it turns the phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot (for an additional $30 monthly fee).


“The hotspot feature is great, within reason,” writes PC Mag. “While I had no problem streaming HD YouTube videos on the phone, YouTube and Hulu videos both stuttered and buffered on a PC (connected to the Internet via the EVO 4G’s hotspot feature). Less demanding apps, like Twitter and Web browsing, didn't have any problems on a PC.”


Those who live or travel to 4G markets can take advantage of simultaneous voice and data, too, meaning that the Wi-Fi hotspot should keep working even if you receive a call.


Web Browsing


Those who are fortunate enough to live in a metro market with Sprint’s 4G network service will get spoiled quickly. “Web pages loaded anywhere from 40 to 250 percent faster on 4G as opposed to 3G,” notes PC Magazine. But websites “kept delivering their dumbed-down mobile sites to this huge, fast, high-res device,” which was frustrating, PC Magazine says.


Cameras and Multimedia


The EVO 4G includes an 8-megapixel camera (with dual-LED flash) that can capture 720p HD quality video as well as still images. You get a few image controls, too, such as exposure, color, white balance, and a handful of effects.


Reviewers differed somewhat on the quality of images and video captured.


PC World: “Photo quality was impressive, both indoors and out. Colors appeared vivid but natural, and details looked sharp. My only complaint was that the flash tended to blow out details and color in indoor shots.” As for video: “I was really pleased with how well my videos turned out, though the results don't hold a candle to those of a 1080p camcorder.”


But PC Mag said the EVO 4G suffered from “typical cameraphone ills”: “Indoor photos have a major problem with soft focus and blur, and outdoor photos look oversharpened. Videos recorded at 720p looked a bit jerky; VGA-resolution videos, on the other hand, were sharp and smooth.”


Worth noting: The EVO 4G includes an HDMI port to stream videos and photos from your phone to a high-def TV.


Phone Quality


Ah yes, this is a phone we’re talking about. And most reviewers were happy with the quality of their voice calls.


“I was pleased with how clear my phone calls were in San Francisco,” writes PC World’s Mies. “A few of my colleagues on the other end of the line noted that my voice sounded a bit tinny, but my voice was still sufficiently loud and clear—even while I stood on a busy street corner.”


PC Magazine’s Segan gave the EVO 4G some static, however, in the phone department. “The EVO is a 4G phone, but it can't (yet) make phone calls over 4G,” Segan writes. “Call quality on this phone with Sprint's 3G CDMA network isn't that great, either...calls sounded rough and harsh…The speakerphone is loud but sound is somewhat thready and hollow. Voices from the EVO's microphone sound harsh and flat on the other end.”




The EVO 4G “almost gives netbooks a run for their money,” says LAPTOP. With a 1-GHz Snapdragon processor, 1GB of ROM, and 512MB of RAM, “nearly every action we performed happened instantly, whether it was launching our inbox or firing up the camera.”


Battery Life


The phone comes with a 1,500mAh lithium ion battery. CNET summed up battery life succinctly: “…with moderate use and a 4G connection, we were able to get the smartphone to last about 12 hours before needing a recharge. With heavy usage, we were running for an outlet within a few hours and the mobile hot-spot feature definitely drains the battery quickly, so keep your charger or extra battery handy. In our battery drain tests, the Evo 4G provided 5.5 hours of continuous talk time over 3G.”


The Wrap Up


Let’s conclude with PC Magazine’s Segan’s assessment of the EVO 4G.


“I'm rating it a 4 stars rather than a 4.5 because of its harsh voice quality and especially because 4G doesn't cover many cities yet. I'm also not in love with its touch keyboard,” Segan writes.


“But it's so far ahead of other Sprint phones in so many ways, it's in a class that only contains the HTC Incredible, Google Nexus One, iPhone 3GS, and itself. The EVO is Sprint's ‘super phone,’ the ultimate handset for its network. Its modern Android 2.1 OS, stunning design, and 4G power easily take the Editor's Choice crown away from the HTC Touch Pro2.”




James A. Martin has written about mobile technology since the mid 1990s and is the author of the Traveler 2.0 blog.




Android, smartphone, smartphone review, 4g, Evo