HTC EVO 4G LTE: The DroidDog Review

HTC has been determined to regain the position of top dog in the Android world, something they once possessed and eventually lost. In this last year their effort is beginning to show, with the launch of the One series of handsets. Many, including this very site, have praised the One X,  some going as far as naming it the best Android handset to date. Preference and opinion is everything, but it’s safe to say that the One X is a solid handset.

Not too long ago Sprint announced its variant of the One X, known as the EVO 4G LTE. Offering many of the same specs, and adding a few extras along the way, is Sprint’s variant of the One X any better?

Hardware

A good phone is nothing without the build itself, and the One X is known for its sexy body. The new EVO doesn’t follow its brother’s footsteps in terms of design, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. HTC’s latest LTE handset features something a little different than what we’re used to, sporting a design of three parts on the rear: a glossy plastic piece that the camera and flash are housed in on the upper half, while the lower part sports the polycarbonate featured in the One X. These two main pieces are separated by the red kickstand, and at the very bottom is matte plastic.

Originally I thought this design choice was ugly, but after using the handset in person I’ve changed my mind. It’s refreshing from most of the handsets we see today, but don’t get me wrong; this handset won’t be winning any beauty contests.

My only issue with the device’s body was the placement of the sleep/power button; it’s on the top right hand of the device, and even my large hands could not reach it one-handed. After handing the phone to others, they noticed the same issue, and either two hands needed to be used or single-handed adjustment was required. An enormous hindsight in the design of the device, as handsets this big should probably go Samsung’s route by putting the lock buttons on the side of the device.

Display

I’ll be blunt with the display: it’s the best I’ve ever used by a longshot. 1280×720 over 4.7-inches equals a dense PPI (pixels per inch), and the Super LCD display brings accurate colors, with near 180-degree viewing angles. Up until the day I received the EVO, I held the Galaxy Nexus’ 4.65-inch Super AMOLED HD display as the champion of all mobile screens, but after about 5 minutes with the EVO, I knew that Samsung’s offering had lost the crown. In comparison, the only true upside the Galaxy Nexus has is darker blacks, something OLED technology is known for. Other than that, the EVO blows the Nexus clear out of the water.

Software

Over the years HTC has been known for its custom UI on Android, otherwise known as Sense. As with just about every other HTC handset released within in the last few years, Sense is running on top of Android. Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich, lies under Sense, assuring that this handset has the most up to date version of Android.

The new EVO runs the latest version of Sense, going by Sense 4. Compared to HTC’s last version of Sense, 3.5, this is a huge improvement. From the start Sense was made to improve the Android experience, and it did just that. As time went on HTC just kept adding on and adding on, eventually creating the monster known as Sense 3.0. 3.0 was an incredibly heavy overlay, causing high-end hardware to stutter and lag, along with some of the poorest battery life ever seen on a cell phone. In my use with Sense 3.0, I would be lucky to get 5 hours of use. Sense 4′s predecessor, Sense 3.5, was an even heavier version of 3.0.

HTC listened to its customers feedback and how horrible 3.0 was, setting out to make Sense 4 the best version yet. They most definitely succeeded, and Sense 4 has become my favorite UI overlay to date.

Gone are the days of sluggish performance and heavy animations, with Sense 4 sliming things down. You still won’t find many stock Android elements, but HTC did a good job of adding to the features of the phone, rather than hindering it like 3.0 did. One of my favorite parts of the UI is all the extra personalization options HTC adds, like various themes and ‘Scenes’. HTC also included some very useful widgets like multiple weather updates and clocks, along with some extra toggles. All in all, they are useful in one way or another, and not just extra bloatware on the device.

Speaking of bloatware, it’s very minimal on the EVO. Sprint Zone and Sprint Hotspot are the only two Sprint pre-loaded apps, and HTC includes a suite of  media apps. Google Wallet is in there for good measure, and we’re sure that no one is complaining about the free $10 it brings with it.

HTC’s keyboard was more than suitable and very useful with its built-in Swype-like system, and Swype itself is on the device as well for those feeling compelled to use it. After a few hours I found myself longing for SwiftKey,  finally caving and jumping to the keyboard replacement.

Performance and Battery

Let’s cut to the chase: the EVO 4G LTE is hands down the fastest Android device I have ever used. Everything from web browsing to playing Shadow Gun has been smooth as butter, and I never encountered even the slightest bit of lag. The phone scored well in benchmarks, hovering around a 4,900 in Quadrant and 50FPS in GLBenchmark at its native resolution of 1280×720.

There’s one thing that holds this handset back more than anything, and it’s Sprint’s excuse for a 3G network. Without the new 4G LTE network live, 3G is what you’re stuck with on Sprint as of now. Speeds sat at around 0.10Mbps download and 0.23Mpbs upload, with pings varying between 300-500ms. I’m a huge fan of streaming music, and that just wasn’t possible on speeds like this. Emails and social networking will work, but it’s still a slow experience.

Voice quality was subpar, but I feel this is more Sprint’s fault than anyone else’s. Voices tended to fade more often than not, and overall everything just sounded tinny.

Battery was a mixed bag for me. The first few days of carrying the phone around were great. Unplugging the phone at around 6:30AM I could make it to around 6:30PM with moderate to heavy usage, and 60% of the phone’s juice still there. This didn’t last long, as 4 days later I would be sitting at 60% around noon. My usage patterns decreased if anything, and no new apps had been installed that could lead to this. Maybe there’s an odd quirk in the software, but it shows that the phone definitely has potential to last a long day and keep on chugging.

Camera

HTC cameras have been historically. . . mediocre. There have been definitely been exceptions, like the MyTouch 4G Slide, but otherwise the cameras HTC throws in its devices haven’t been anything to brag about. This changes with the One series of phones, as HTC is throwing all sorts of goodies in to make this the best camera package possible.

On the hardware side, the lens is of the 8 megapixel variety, with f/2.0 aperture, a 28mm wide angle lens and HTC’s custom ImageChip. What does this all translate to? Damn good photographs. Images come out beautifully, with the possibility of taking up to 4 frames in a second. This thing is fast, and even tapping the camera button can result in more photos than intended. Low-lighting pics don’t turn out quite as well as those in good lighting, but remember, this is a smartphone, not a DSLR.

HTC’s new camera app is the best I’ve used, with endless options and filters. It’s a good addition to the phone’s fantastic camera, and is as fast as HTC claims.

Videos looked good, but nothing too special. They can be taken at up to 1080p resolution, and turn out well if lighting permits. Sound quality isn’t the best, but this is more about the camera itself than the mic.

Conclusion

HTC truly wants to put itself back on top with its new One line of phones, and the EVO 4G LTE is a prime example. Performance is smooth, the display is gorgeous, and the camera is one of the best offerings available. Every bell and whistle is on this handset, right down to the kickstand, and there are very few negative things about the phone.

When it comes down to it, the only reason I can’t recommend this handset is the fact that it runs on Sprint, and while it may be capable, LTE isn’t live as of now. This leaves you on Sprint’s weak 3G and voice network, and trust me, it’s not a good experience. If you can, grab a One X on AT&T, as it is nearly identical in every aspect to the EVO, but runs on AT&T’s LTE network, something tried and true. If you want to stay on a budget, grab the One S from T-Mobile. It runs on their fast 42Mbps HSPA+ and boasts most of the same specs, but not all.

At the end of the day, the EVO 4G LTE is the best Android handset available, and HTC deserves all the credit for it, but there’s nothing about it that makes it good enough to have to deal with Sprint.

The EVO 4G LTE will be available on or around May 24rd for $199.99 on two-year contract. Please note that it may not be available everywhere on the 23rd due to interference by US Customs.

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