Debuting just before CES 2011, the HTC Evo Shift 4G is Sprint's third 4G smartphone and also the most affordable one in its lineup. At $149.99 with a two-year contract, it's $50 less than the Samsung Epic 4G and the HTC Evo 4G and sure, the cheaper price comes with some trade-offs--smaller display, 800MHz processor (versus 1GHz), no front-facing camera or HDMI port--but the Evo Shift still has plenty to offer. Running Android 2.2, the smartphone has 4G support and solid performance. It also combines an easy-to-use physical keyboard in a more compact and solid design. If you're counting your pennies or prefer your devices on the smaller side, the HTC Evo Shift 4G is a great alternative to the Epic 4G.
The HTC Evo Shift 4G takes some style cues from its eye-catching, touch-only sibling, the HTC Evo 4G, but the Shift stands out on its own, as it combines high-quality look and feel. At 4.6 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick and 5.9 ounces, the slider smartphone is much more comfortable to hold than the larger and wider Evo. In addition, the soft-touch finish and aluminum accents give it a more premium feel than the Samsung Epic 4G, which felt a bit plasticky and slick.
Of course, with a more compact design, screen size is going to be a bit of a trade-off. Measuring 3.6 inches diagonally, the Evo Shift's display is a bit smaller than the ones on its keyboard-equipped competitors--the Epic 4G has a 4-inch touch screen, whereas the T-Mobile G2 has a 3.7-inch display--so you don't enjoy quite as much screen real estate while browsing the Web or viewing multimedia. However, the display is sharp and clear with an 800x480-pixel resolution. It also has a proximity sensor, a built-in accelerometer, and pinch-to-zoom support, all of which were responsive during our testing.
Of course, for some, the main draw of the Evo Shift's design may be the physical keyboard, and we don't think it will disappoint. The four-row keyboard features rectangular buttons that are a good size and have a decent amount of spacing between them. The Epic 4G's keyboard still takes the cake for comfort and ease of use, but still, we had very few mispresses on the Evo Shift. The buttons also have a nonslippery texture, and though they're a bit flat, they provide nice, tactile feedback.
There is no dedicated number row; instead, they share space with the letter keys on the top row. You do get a D-pad on the lower right-hand side, but it's small enough that it doesn't interfere with the overall ergonomics of the keyboard. There are also several handy shortcuts on the bottom. We should note that the slider mechanism on the Evo Shift is quite strong. The screen locks securely into place, and unlike on the T-Mobile G2, the hinge feels sturdy enough to hold up over prolonged use.
Like the Evo 4G, the Shift features four touch-sensitive controls below the display for the home screen, menu, back, and search functions. On the left side, you'll find a volume rocker and Micro-USB port; the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack are located on top. The camera and flash are on back. To access the microSD expansion slot, you have to pull out the battery, which is inconvenient, but to make matters worse, it's rather difficult to remove the media card.
The HTC Evo Shift 4G comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 2GB microSD card, and reference material.
To offer a more budget-friendly price tag, there were some functions that were sacrificed in the making of the HTC Evo Shift 4G, but it's still a very full-featured smartphone. First, as its name suggests, it is a 4G device and also offers 3G/4G mobile hot-spot capabilities for up to eight devices.
Sprint's WiMax network is currently available in 71 markets, including New York, where we tested the Evo Shift. We were able to get a 4G connection in most parts of Manhattan, though the signal was quite weak in Midtown. We averaged download speeds of around 4.57Mbps and upload speeds of 0.90Mpbs, peaking at 6.99Mbps down, 1.02Mbps up. CNET's full site loaded in 18 seconds, whereas the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 3 seconds and 4 seconds, respectively. By comparison, the same sites loaded in 50 seconds, 20 seconds, and 22 seconds, respectively, over 3G.