Sprint HTC EVO 4G LTE Review

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If you’re looking for a smartphone on Sprint’s website you’ll find enough options to make your head spin. By my count there are 42 devices: four of them are iPhones, 19 are running Android.

HTC is in comeback mode. It’s put a fresh face on Sense UI, brought out some new devices, and shown us some very impressive specifications. The latest Android-powered smartphone to join Sprint’s ranks is the HTC EVO 4G LTE, essentially a modified One X. Like its AT&T sibling, the EVO 4G LTE has a gorgeous display, unique design, and feels like a very well-built device.

Inside the Box

The box itself is simple, but elegant, and 100% recyclable. Inside you’ll find the phone, obligatory manuals, a microUSB cable, and wall charger. There are no headphones, let alone a pair that take advantage of the phone’s Beats Audio certification. You won’t find a microSD card to install in the phone either.

Video Review

Design

I’ve got a special place in my heart for HTC. I’ve loved their designs and their quality of manufacture since they were making PocketPC hardware for HP and Compaq. My first (and second and third) Androids were built by HTC. But recently HTC has fallen from grace, being replaced by Samsung as the top dog.

The HTC One family is challenging Samsung’s reign. The HTC EVO 4G LTE, though named differently, is most certainly part of the One family! The EVO is a beautiful device. Although the edges of the 4.7″ display don’t employ the same “infinity” edges that the One X does, the black aluminum surrounding it make the edges all but disappear. For those of you that are tough on your screens, the EVO 4G LTE features Corning Gorilla Glass for a very durable surface.

The front of the device holds an elegant earpiece with a hidden notification LED, a subtle HTC logo, and three capacitive buttons at the bottom of the screen. The Sprint and HTC logos on the back are very subtle, helping to emphasize the phone rather than the carrier and manufacturer.

internal view



The back of the phone is mostly a matte aluminum, giving the EVO 4G LTE a “durable” feel. Oddly, the top of the phone is a high-gloss, removable plastic that is probably the best surface for attracting fingerprints and smudges that I’ve ever seen. Hiding under this panel is an empty microSD card slot which will accept up to a 32GB card to supplement its internal 16GB storage. Unfortunately, you will have to supply your own microSD card if you want to take advantage of the headroom.

Separating the two materials on the back of the phone is a red strip of aluminum that can be pulled out and used as a kickstand. I keep asking myself why this ridiculously useful component isn’t available on every smartphone and tablet made today.

The EVO 4G LTE feels great in-hand: the anodized aluminum “spaceframe” has just the right amount of grip without sacrificing style. Combined with the device’s light weight (134g, 4.72 ounces), the EVO 4G LTE feels light, but not cheap.

Along the sides are the usual components: a headphone jack, noise-canceling mic, power/standby button, and panel-removal-notch along the top, the volume up/down rocker and camera button on the right side, the primary microphone is on the bottom, and the left side of the phone features the micro-USB connector (and nothing else) near the top.

To be frank, the Sprint HTC EVO 4G LTE doesn’t disappoint, and will most assuredly help put HTC back on top. It’s made from durable materials, with elegant lines and chiseled edges. When the only negative element in the phone’s design is a glossy top, you know you’ve got something solid in your hand.

Hardware

The HTC EVO 4G LTE runs a dual-core Qualcomm Spapdragon S4 clocked at 1.5GHz and featuring 1GB DDR2 RAM. For all you number crunchers who don’t care as much about design and want to dig right into the numbers, let’s dive right into them:

  • – Quadrant Standard: 5018
  • – AnTuTu Benchmark: 5141
  • – SmartBench 2012, productivity index: 2157
  • – SmartBench 2012, gaming index: 2270
  • – Linpack, single thread: 95.157 MFLOP, 0.88 seconds
  • – Linpack, multi-thread: 201.754 MFLOP, 0.84 seconds

Let’s talk about the processor. This isn’t the Tegra 3 Quad Core, but even the HTC One X had noticeable lag in some elements of the UI. This EVO 4G LTE has the same noticeable lag, in the same places. This leads me to believe that the lag isn’t hardware-related, and can likely be addressed in future updates and optimization to Sense 4.0 (if not, the developer community is already taking things into their own hands).

Although the lagginess is there (more so in Sense itself than in apps), it’s more of an annoyance that you’ll likely get used to. If the lag bugs you, avoid the mutli-task button and other slow parts of the launcher. The rest of the phone runs smooth and quick.

Honestly I don’t miss the beefier processor. Storage is more limited than I’d like, but you can add your own microSD card, 25GB of Dropbox cloud storage is included, and with Google Music, your music library is close by when you want it.

In his AT&T HTC One X review, Michael Fisher opines that cloud storage isn’t quite ready for the present, especially for people that aren’t always connected (like those who ride subways daily). I can’t disagree with his sentiment that local storage is still important. Packaging only 16GB into a phone wins a negative point for what’s supposed to be such a high-end handset. Luckily the EVO 4G LTE has the option of adding your own storage to boost your local capacity.  Michael is right, however. The cloud is nice, but it serves to augment — not replace — local storage.

The massive 4.7″, 720P HD super LCD display is beautiful! Even in sunlight the screen was clear, usable, and even comfortably readable. I’m not often surprised by a screen, but this display is the bees knees. Like other HTC screens, this one deserves every bit of praise it’s been getting. It’s the best display that I have ever used on a smartphone or tablet.

The New HTC Sense

senseWe’ve discussed the new version of Sense elsewhere on Pocketnow, however, since it may still be unfamiliar to some readers, let’s cover the highlights.

I’m an Android purist. Any replacements to the stock Android launcher and apps have to be done for good reason to pass muster in my book. Sense has been HTC’s pet project for years, and it’s one of the better solutions out there. You can really tell an HTC device from any other just by looking at it.

With Sense 4.0 HTC has improved in almost every area. It’s lighter, it’s faster, and it adds a level of finesse that other launchers don’t have. Subtle animations are everywhere, the translucent menu-bar opens up the screen and makes it appear larger, and I don’t know how I’ll be able to live without the Sense 4.0 lockscreen when I have to send this phone back.

Like I mentioned before, some of these niceties come at a cost. That cost is noticeable lag in areas where speed is important (opening the running apps list and app drawer come to mind).

The keyboard needs work, too. The speed and accuracy of HTC’s keyboard still isn’t competing with even the stock ICS keyboard, let alone third party alternatives. Luckily, swapping the keyboard (or IME) isn’t difficult to do, it’s just something you shouldn’t have to do.

Bloatware

It’s a sad truth: almost every carrier pre-loads “their” phones with bloatware. These pre-installed apps may be helpful for some, but most of the time they just take up space. With space already limited, these apps simply add insult to injury. Out of the box, the EVO 4G LTE is loaded with no fewer than 19 custom applications courtesy of the carrier, HTC, and Google:

  1. Google+, Messenger
  2. HTC Hub
  3. HTC Mobile Guide
  4. Latitude, Maps, Navigation
  5. Media Share
  6. Movie Editor
  7. Play Books, Play Movies, Play Music
  8. Shopper
  9. Sprint Hotspot (Sprint doesn’t use Android’s built-in hotspot feature and makes you use their app)
  10. Sprint Zone
  11. Stocks
  12. Task Manager
  13. Tasks
  14. Transfer
  15. Voicemail
  16. Wallet
  17. Watch
  18. Weather
  19. YouTube

Some of these apps are helpful, but three messenger apps or three music play apps, that’s just wasted space. Other apps, like Transfer and HTC’s Movie Maker are “positive” bloatware, but users should still have the option to install them, not be forced to have them.

Although stock Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich allows you to “disable” apps that you don’t want displayed in your app drawer, the apps are still there, taking up space, slowing down your phone, and opening you to potential security holes. Like Michael said, it’s a great example of carriers missing the point when it comes to respecting their users’ rights to do what they want with the device they paid for.

Network and LTE

LTE is the next big thing. Everyone is jumping on the LTE bandwagon, but not everyone is as far along with their LTE deployment. Other Sprint “4G” devices use WiMax for 4G speeds. WiMax is fast, but in my experience it doesn’t play well with Sprint’s 3G network. Hand-offs between 3G and WiMax was disruptive, to say the least.

Sprint LTE, on the other hand, well… let’s just say it’s new. Unless you’re in one of only a couple urban areas, your fancy Sprint LTE phone will only get 3G. Even if you’re under a WiMax umbrella, like I am. According to some leaks, we won’t see Sprint LTE as wide-spread as Sprint WiMax until 2014.

3G speeds averaged 411kbps down and 719kbps with a ping of 147ms up from my location.

Voice, on the other hand, was reliable, though not remarkable. Calls sounded okay, but not spectacular. I was able to get clearer calls to Tony in Romania using Skype, Google Chat with Adam, or to my kids at home using Zello than using Sprint’s voice network.

Beats Audio

Beats Audio is a trendy buzz word. You won’t notice any difference in sound when playing audio through your phones speaker. You probably won’t notice anything when playing audio through headphones, either. However, when you hook your EVO 4G LTE to a pair of high-end headphones, or into any kind of quality speakers, Beats Audio is nothing short of amazing. You owe it to yourself to try it out!

Unfortunately, music streamed from virtually any source (Pandora, Stitcher, YouTube, Google Music), or from a highly compressed local MP3 will negate most of the Beats Audio advantage.

Camera

For its primary shooter, the EVO 4G LTE features a backside 8MP camera with an fƒ/2.0 lens, auto-focus, and single LED flash. Shots taken with this guy looked really good when viewed on the phone, but after dumping them over to my computer they turned out to be only average. The reason for this appears to be the super LCD screen, which makes “average” shots look better than they actually are. Brightly-lit subjects tend to be overexposed, and low-light images are a bit grainy.

Don’t get me wrong, the images are really pretty good, but you’re not going to replace your SLR with your phone any time soon.

    
Click on a thumbnail to view the full size image
The camera app, on the other hand, is quite nice. Its beauty is in its simplicity. Want a still shot? Tap the shutter button. Want video? Press the video button. That’s it. Simple, but elegant.

Battery

With most phones I’ve used the first two days are spent installing apps and setting it up, resulting in poor battery experiences at the start of the trial. The next few days tend to give an impression of what you can expect with regular use of the phone.

I used the Sprint HTC EVO 4G LTE as my daily driver for just under a solid week. During the first two days the battery lasted through the day without need for a charge. That’s no small feat! The rest of the week was nothing short of miraculous! I’d charge the phone overnight, read my news and social updates in the morning, use Waze to navigate my short commute, then fill the day with email, voicemail, Pandora, chat, and calendar, just like normal. At the end of the work day I still had ample battery life left! Using Waze while driving home again, followed by more email, news, and social network updates in the evening, all before putting it back on the charger at bed time. It literally lasted through the entire day. On a few days I even forgot to plug it in at night and still had juice to get through the next morning.

Sprint claims you’ll get 7.5 hours talk-time from the phone. I don’t doubt that for a minute.

The 2000mAh battery isn’t removable, but it’s well-sized to handle your normal tasks. I’ve been amazed at the run-time I’ve gotten out of this phone. Always the realist, however, I have to wonder how much LTE (when it’s finally available) will impact the battery. In the meantime, under WiFi or 3G, the HTC EVO 4G LTE has the best battery life of any phone I’ve ever tested. By far.

Pros

  • + Amazing battery life  (albeit over 3G and WiFi)
  • + Excellent build quality
  • + Speedy (most of the time)
  • + microSD slot
  • + Beautiful screen, even in bright sunlight

 

Cons

  • – 2-second lag when shooting video
  • – Mediocre call quality
  • – LTE won’t arrive for quite a while; no WiMax
  • – Sense 4.0 still lags in places it shouldn’t
  • – Non-removable battery

 

Conclusion

I did run into a few somewhat concerning hangups that cost a few points off the overall score. The phone crashed on its first boot and told me it wanted to send a crash report back to HTC about the crash. That’s not the way to make a good first impression. I’m hoping this was limited just to my particular review unit, so I’m not going to be too harsh.

Next, while driving through the middle of town, the network connection kept dropping. For the span of about 15 minutes I was unable to have a reliable data connection. I had another device tethered to the EVO 4G LTE at the time, and I don’t know if the network problems were due to this, or a network issue, or the phone itself.  This experience aside, speeds averaged 411kbps down and 719kbps up with a ping of 147ms up from my location.

These, combined with the mediocre call quality, non-removable battery, and 16GB internal storage cost the phone some points.

Sprint is one of the underdogs among carriers in the US.  Choices of phones are limited because it’s not compatible with GSM, so imported devices won’t work on their network. Users are stuck with whatever phones are offered through the carrier.

Luckily, customers now have the HTC Evo 4G LTE to choose from. It’s a solid device that you won’t regret choosing. The screen is beautiful, it is very well-built, and its battery life is outstanding.

The HTC EVO 4G LTE will be available on the Sprint network soon (though pre-orders are currently closed) for US$549.99 off-contract, or US$199.99 with a 2-year contract.

If you’re on Sprint, or looking to change carriers, you’ll have a difficult time finding a better Android-powered smartphone than the EVO 4G LTE. I’m not looking forward to sending this one back.

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video.Read more about Joe Levi here.