Editors' note: The ratings for this product have been updated since the review's original publish date due to new products that have entered the market.
Ever since it was first introduced at CTIA 2010, the anticipation and hype surrounding the HTC Evo 4G has taken on a life of its own. Come June 4, we will finally see America's first 4G smartphone become a reality. Of course, this type of device comes with a whole set of expectations, which can either be met with joy or disappointment. Fortunately, for Sprint and HTC, it's more of the former than the latter, but we certainly have our gripes about the handset, too. Overall, the HTC Evo 4G is, hands-down, the best smartphone that Sprint has to offer and certainly ranks as one of the best Android phones on the market today. It's feature packed and powerful, and shows the promise of 4G. Admittedly, we had higher hopes for 4G speeds, but it made good on Sprint's claims and is definitely a step up from 3G.
That said, it's a shame that only a limited group will be able to really enjoy the full potential of the Evo 4G at launch, given the limited reach of Sprint's 4G network, but what's worse is the mandatory $10 premium data add-on. It's not the $10 charge for WiMax that upsets us; that is a completely fair price in our opinion. However, making it mandatory for everyone, regardless of whether you live in a 4G market or not, seems unfair. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, Sprint's data plans are much less than its competitors' plans, and there is no data cap with the premium add-on, but still, it's a bit maddening to have to pay for something you're not getting. Why not just make it a requirement for those in a 4G coverage area and offer it as an a-la-carte option for those who live in 3G markets and might travel to a 4G market?
Again, the Evo 4G is Sprint's premier smartphone and you'll get a great device regardless of our quibbles. We just hope Sprint starts to light up those 4G markets faster, so everyone can take advantage of the 4G capabilities and get their money's worth. The HTC Evo 4G will be available June 4 for $199.99 with a two-year contract and the aforementioned data plans. Though Sprint requires a $100 mail-in rebate, Best Buy and Radio Shack do not, so you get the $200 price tag instantly.
Cut from the same cloth as the HTC HD2, the HTC Evo 4G isn't what you'd call a dainty phone. It measures 4.8 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and weighs 6 ounces, so you're dealing with a good chunk of hardware. It's right on the cusp of being too big, but HTC was able to keep the Evo relatively thin, making it more manageable.
Plus, you might be willing to overlook the large size once you get a glimpse of the smartphone's massive display. Like the HD2, the Evo 4G rocks a 4.3-inch capacitive touch screen that's downright mesmerizing. The extra screen real estate makes a huge difference when viewing Web pages and reading text, and the Evo supports the pinch-to-zoom gesture in a number of apps. The display shows vibrant colors and the sharp WVGA 800x480-pixel resolution makes everything look crisp. There is a built-in light sensor that will automatically adjust the backlight based on the ambient light; we were able to read the screen in most environments, but it did wash out a bit in bright sunlight.
Another benefit of the large display is a spacious keyboard that rivals the iPhone's in ease of use. Even in portrait mode, we were able to quickly punch out a message with both thumbs (none of that pecking at the keys with one finger) with minimal mistakes. As you can imagine, the landscape keyboard is even roomier, but most times we found we could get away with just typing in portrait mode.
Below the screen, you get four touch-sensitive navigation controls: home, menu, back, and search. A long press of the home key will bring up a list of your most recently used apps. There's a volume rocker on the right side, and the top of the device features a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack. On the bottom, you'll find a Micro-USB port and an HDMI port. Be aware that the latter is a Type D connector, so you'll have to get a compatible cable to hook the phone up to your TV. Of course, you can watch video and view photos right from the phone, and there's a handy kickstand on back so you can prop the phone up on a desk.
Sprint ships the HTC Evo 4G in an environmentally friendly package, but the included accessories are pretty sparse. You get an AC adapter, a USB cable, an 8GB microSD card, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Though there will be purists who prefer the standard Android skin, in most cases, we'd choose a device running HTC Sense. Out of all our custom skins for Android (Motoblur, TouchWiz, etc.), Sense is our absolute favorite, as it gives Android a more user-friendly interface. In many cases, it improves on the core functions by better integrating the features, which is why we're glad to see that Sprint had the sense (sorry) to go with Sense on the Evo 4G.
Just like the Droid Incredible and the HTC Legend, the Evo 4G runs the newer version of HTC Sense, which was announced at Mobile World Congress 2010. This includes a revamped mail widget that can take you to a list view of all your e-mail instead of just one message at a time. (This view, however, is only one of several choices.) Once in the mail app, there's a handy tabbed interface at the bottom that lets you view unread messages, attachments, meeting invites, and more with a simple touch. The Agenda widget also now displays your whole agenda on the screen, and, like the latest HTC devices, you get an animated weather widget right on the home screen that automatically displays the current conditions based on your location.
You also get a new Group Contacts widget, which lets you organize your contacts by groups. For example, you can set up one for work colleagues, another for friends, and another for just family--whatever you please. The UI looks good, and it's simple to add contacts to a group, though removing them requires a few extra steps.
Sense also makes it easy to access as much information as possible within the contact management system. If any of your contacts have Facebook updates, it will display them right next to their pictures in the contact database. You can also see all your exchanges (text messages, call logs, etc.) with a single person from his or her contact card, and all your contacts are accessible within the phone app. However, we still had multiple instances of duplicate contacts and had to go back and manually link them together.
Another feature, called Friend Stream, provides a single place for all your social-networking needs, piping in updates from Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. Unlike Motoblur, it's not server-based; the phone connects to the sites and pulls information directly from there.
By far our favorite new feature, however, is the Leap screen. Pinching the home screen (or pressing the home button if you're on the center panel) brings up a thumbnail view of all your home screen panels, so if you have your favorite apps and widgets on those screens, you easily "leap" to the screen you want. The Evo 4G offers seven home screen panels, and there are different "Scenes," which presents a whole new set of seven home screen panels that you can customize by the theme of the Scene (Social, Work, Travel, Play, and so forth). Admittedly, it can be overwhelming, but the best part is that you can use as many or as few of the features as you want; the device is completely customizable to your needs.
Sitting underneath HTC Sense is Android 2.1. This is the latest version of Android currently available, so aside from the standard Google services and Android apps, you're also getting such features as Google Maps with Navigation, voice-to-text entry, and live wallpapers. However, if you follow Android developments at all, then you know that Android 2.2, aka Froyo, is on the way, bringing support for Flash 10.1, among other things. We asked Sprint whether the Evo would get an Android 2.2 update and a representative said the company was not announcing anything at this time, but any news would be communicated closer to availability. We can only hope that Sprint will be a bit more swift this time around than it was with bringing Android 2.1 to the Samsung Moment and the HTC Hero.
That aside, you are still getting an action-packed device that's focused around the 4G and multimedia experience. The Evo 4G is the first phone to take advantage of Sprint's WiMax network, and the smartphone ships with a handful of features that really take advantage of 4G. For one, the Evo will be the first handset to ship with YouTube's high-quality player, and also includes the aforementioned HDMI port so you can stream videos and photos in HD quality from your phone to your home theater system.
The Evo also has a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera, in addition to an 8-megagpixel camera that can shoot HD-quality video, and will come with a Qik video chat application, so you can make video calls. Now, video calling and Qik isn't new. Video conferencing has long been available in international markets and front-facing cameras are the norm on Nokia's higher-end smartphones, but the Evo 4G is the first handset with a U.S. carrier that really makes video chatting a viable option. Unlike AT&T's Video Share service, the recipient isn't required to have a compatible phone. Qik has a PC client so you could video chat with someone via PC and Webcam. Unfortunately, we weren't able to test the video-chatting capabilities, since our review unit didn't come preloaded with Qik Chat, though Sprint says it will provide us with access next week. The Qik video chat service is free, but if you can also upgrade to a premium service for $4.99 per month, which gives you higher resolution video calls, video archiving, and more.