[Updated] Breon’s HTC EVO 4G full written review (Sprint)

DSC_3042Preface: This post is full of multimedia content (and WIN).  I tried to organize it the best I could.  Also, Minneapolis doesn’t currently have 4G/WiMax coverage.  I couldn’t even find any test towers. I won’t be able to answer any questions about 4G reception. I can tell you there’s a sweet 4G toggle widget. Lastly, like most of my reviews, I focused on what makes this device unique. The EVO 4G runs Android 2.1 and the Sense experience is identical to the Incredible, Desire, and Legend. There are plenty of reviews that cover these phones and Android 2.1 in general.

UPDATE:  I lied.  There is some Sprint 4G testing going on.  I was able to see the network and even connect for a second, but it wasn’t usable.  Also, for many of the day-to-day functions (calls, speakerphone, battery, etc) the EVO are acceptable.  I wasn’t blown away by any of the basic features, but they work well.

I have to, have to, HAVE TO thank Robert Green, from Battery Powered Games for loaning me his EVO 4G.  He was able to snag one, while he was at Google I/O.  Battery Powered Games has several (very addictive) 2D and 3D games in the Android Market.  You should check them out!  They are also the makers of the Multitouch Visible Test app, which is very helpful when reviewing a device.  I know they have big things planned for this summer, so keep an eye out.

screencomparoLet’s start by talking about the hardware.  What makes this phone so special?  How about a 4.3″ touchscreen?  This thing is massive.  It’s easy to show off pictures and videos to friends and family, and the large screen makes reading tweets, texts or emails more bearable.  While the size is great if you’re flicking through photos or email, if you’re using it one-handed, or two-handed for thumb-typing, it can be a little difficult to stretch your thumb across the diagonal length of the screen.  It’s also hard to get to the Home button, as it’s way down in the corner.  If you’re using it two-handed, a la “iPhone Commercial” style (hold in one hand, peck at the screen with your index finger), then it’s not so bad.  But that’s not my style.  One thumbed typing, while walking the dog, is rough. There’s just a lot of real estate to cover.  I’ll talk about the keyboard later.  I’ve whipped up a screen size comparison chart.  Click it to view full size.  I actually measured the Incredible, EVO and Hero.  The others are approximate, based on specs.

Bigger doesn’t always mean better.  If you follow me on twitter (@breon), then you’ve probably seen me complain about the screen quality.  In my opinion, the screen on the Incredible (and Nexus One) is FAR superior than the screen on the EVO.  It should be, right?  It’s an AMOLED screen, as compared to the TFT LCD screen on the EVO.  To be honest, I think that the TFT LCD on my Hero is better than the EVO. If you’ve never seen the Incredible or Nexus in real life, you probably won’t miss it. But if you have, you’ll notice that the color and contrast are much better.  Please turn your attention to Exhibit A:

EVO, Incredible, Hero (click to enlarge)
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One of the features that I like best is the front-facing cam.  Sure it’s only 1.3MP and doesn’t have auto-focus, but when you want to stream yourself live, across the ‘tubes, there’s no better way to do it.  “But I can already stream myself live, across said ‘tubes.”, you say.  Well, I’ve always found it hard to frame up a shot, unless I was using a system of pulleys and mirrors.  Front cam + kickstand = the Colt 45 of streaming (Works Every Time™).  The front camera is supported by the native Camera/Camcorder app, as well as QIK and Fring.  QIK will allow you to video chat, one-on-one, at some point.  The pre-installed app appeared to be the standard Market version.  Fring already allows you to video chat and they support Skype, Google Talk, AIM, MSN, Yahoo, SIP and some others.  Also, to clarify, one-on-one QIK video chatting will be FREE.  The $5 charge that you may have read about is for other “premium services” (I’m betting on HD).  If you have 15 minutes to kill, and you want to watch me eat, then feel free to view this video that I recorded/streamed with the QIK app and the front-facing camera.

HTC EVO 4G sample shots

If you’re looking for something a little more substantial than 1.3MP, then flip the EVO over to find its 8MP, auto-focus, dual LED flash main camera.  Like the Incredible, it hosts a veritable boat-load of setting and filters.  Favorite feature: the ability set the ISO from 100-1250 (or AUTO).  The quality of the pictures is top notch, for a camera phone…or even a cheap point-and-shoot camera.  Low-light shots could have been better.  I didn’t use the flash much.  I’d be willing to bet that it’s on par with the Incredible, as they share hardware.  I’ve included a comparison test below.  Hero (5MP) vs. Incredible (8MP) vs. EVO (8MP).  I’ve also uploaded many sample shots from around town.  In some, I was trying to really take a nice pic.  Others were just casual shots.  In most all cases, they were shot in full AUTO.  You’ll notice this in some of the side-by-side shots.  The color may be a little different because the auto white balance decided to change itself.  For the record, I left the blurry macro shots in the album, so you can see the quality (or lack thereof).  The Ally takes top billing for macro shots.  Please note, for some reason, when pictures are uploaded via the Share method, occasionally there will be a gray bar at the bottom.  This is not an error with the photo.  It’s an error with uploading.  I’ve seen this on the Incredible and the EVO, uploading to Picasa or TwitPic.

While the EVO does record HD video up to 720p resolution, let’s not kid ourselves.  It probably won’t replace your Sony HD camcorder.  But if you decided to ditch your point-and-shoot camera, with video recording capabilities, this will make a great on-the-go camcorder.  The videos do seem to be compressed a fair amount and the focus is locked once you start recording.  Although, many flash memory recorders (i.e. Flip) don’t even have auto-focus.  I tried to upload my sample videos via the YouTube app.  I got an error saying “You cannot upload videos larger than 1GB”.  I thought “Hmmm. Ok. It IS in HD.  Maybe it’s actially THAT big”.  Later, I found out that the video was only 166MB or so.  I tried again on WiFi with no luck.  This must be a bug with the YouTube app.  I had to do it the old fashioned way.  Here is said video:

The loaner phone that I have does have the Spring Mobile Hotspot activated.  This is a $29.99/month additional fee.  It works well, over 3G.  I obviously didn’t get to test it on 4G.  You can password protect your hotspot or set it to only allow certain devices (I assume with MAC filtering).  Hotspot ≠ tethering.  That’s something altogether different.  I did find an option for “Internet sharing”.  When I ticked the checkbox, my Mac recognized the device as a modem and wanted some credentials.  I didn’t have those credentials, so I was not able to try this out.  Regardless, there are other ways of to tether your device to your laptop.  Heck, after you achieve tetherage (new word), you could share your laptop’s internet connection and BAM you’re a hotspot;  No additional fees.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but there are a couple of things that I don’t like about the phone.  They’re not deal breakers, but they can be annoying.  For starters, there is a significant delay with finger tracking.  Using the Multitouch Visible Test, you can swipe your finger around the screen and watch as the blue dot tries to keep up, and fails.  You probably won’t notice this with casual swiping, but it could affect your multitouch gaming.  The Incredible doesn’t seem to suffer the same issue.  It’s touch responsiveness is pretty dead on.  Even the Hero has better responsiveness.  Another irritant that will affect your gaming sessions is the fact that the device is locked to 30 frames per second.  The next game from Battery Powered Games will support 40 FPS, which the Incredible can do without issue.  The EVO maxes out at 30.  Not too bad, since my Hero clips along at about 10 FPS.  Robert believes that both of these can be corrected with a firmware update.  He, and others, are pushing Google to correct this issue.

evokeyboardevokeyboard2Another disappointment is the Sense Touch Input keyboard.  Initially I was in love.  Bigger screen = bigger keyboard.  What did HTC decide to do with that extra space?  They jammed a set of directional arrows along the bottom in portrait, and along the right side in landscape.  In theory, this is a good idea.  Since there isn’t a trackball or optical joystick, the arrows can be used to navigate within the text, so you can fine tune your wording.  Honestly, they just get in the way.  In landscape, the ‘move left’ arrow is right next backspace arrow and you’ll inevitability hit the wrong arrow at the wrong time.  I would have much rather have seen a row of numbers in portrait and just wider keys in landscape.  I don’t need directional arrows, especially since they can only be used during typing.  I also don’t need a “hide keyboard” button.  The BACK button on the phone works just fine.  The rest of the Text Input keyboard works as you’d expect…pretty darn good.  They also included a speech-to-text button, which was missing from the Hero 2.1 update.

The HTC EVO 4G will be available on June 4th at all of the major Sprint resellers.  You can pre-order it at any Best Buy store.  I talked to my local store and they will only guarantee that the first 40 pre-orders will get one on launch day.  I asked if they had more than 40 pre-orders and he said “OH YEAH!”.  Let’s hope that this doesn’t turn out like the Incredible.  The subsidized price is $199.99 (new contracts, after rebate, etc).  If you buy it at Best Buy, you don’t have to worry about the rebate.  They take care of that for you.  Rumor has it that the off-contract price is going to be $449.99.  Although, if you buy it outright from HTC, it’ll set you back $549.99.

Plans start at $69.99/month for 450 minutes, unlimited text/data/any mobile-to-any mobile calls.  There is an additional $10 “premium data” charge for the device.  They anticipate that you’ll be consuming more data with the faster processor and larger screen.  I believe them.  I find myself turning to the phone first, instead of getting up and walking over to the laptop.  The phone is always on me, and it’s quick to search for something.  Even with the $10 up-charge, the Sprint plan is still cheaper than a comparable Verizon plan, which costs $59.99 for 450 minutes, unlimited texts plus $29.99 for unlimited data (and you don’t get unlimited mobile-to-mobile).

The Verdict…

Like I said before, the most frequently asked question I’ve received is “EVO or Incredible?”, so I’ll quickly recap my preferences:

  • Do you qualify for an upgrade on Sprint? Get the EVO.
  • Are you going to ditch your point-and-shoot camera and/or HD flash memory camcorder? Get the EVO.
  • Do you use Skype to video chat with co-workers, clients, or family around the globe? Get the EVO.
  • Are you going to watch movies and TV shows on the go? Get the EVO.
  • Will you want to show off your HD videos to friends and family on a TV? Get the EVO.
  • Are you out of contract and don’t care if you’re on Sprint or Verizon? Get the Incredible.
  • Do you want the best possible quality screen? Get the Incredible.
  • Are you worried that the EVO is too big?  (surprise! it is) Get the Incredible.
  • Do you want one of these sweet superphones, but don’t want Sense? Get the EVO (you can turn off Sense).

I’m completely torn on which one I would get, in a perfect world.  I like the size and screen quality of the Incredible.  I like the front-facing cam and HD video recording of the EVO.  Since this isn’t a perfect world, and I’m still in my contract with Sprint, I’m probably going to pick up the EVO.  I honestly think that the front cam is the deciding factor.

I have to give the phone up today (sad panda).  If you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.  If it’s something specific like “can you check out the WiFI settings blah blah blah…” I probably won’t be able to help you out.

Here are the comparison shots, as promised…

HTC Hero
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HTC DROID Incredible
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HTC EVO 4G
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