Whether you like the 3D feature or choose to never use it, the Evo 3D is a powerful, capable Android and our favourite HTC smartphone of the year, so far.
Before we begin, a small disclaimer. The CNET Australia team is as cynical about 3D on portable devices as you are, but 3D isn't all there is to like about this handset.
In some ways, the shape and feel of the Evo 3D is an about-turn for HTC, whose handset design has been leaning towards a more refined, sleeker aesthetic. The Evo 3D, while still a refined design, feels like a more masculine handset than we've seen across smartphones in general this year. It's heavy at 170g, and thicker, too, with its dual cameras under the hood, but while these are often adjectives we use to criticise a handset's design, we actually like the way the 3D looks and feels quite a lot.
It's one of HTC's biggest phones to date, with a 4.3-inch qHD resolution 3D display and a slim row of touch-sensitive keys below the screen. We do prefer physical keys to avoid pressing them accidentally, but these have worked well during our tests regardless.
The battery cover of the Evo 3D is patterned with a raised grip and houses the two camera lenses and a dual-LED flash. On the right-hand side are two rather gaudy silver protrusions; a large camera shutter and a 2D/3D switch. There's no external speaker grille, so audio you listened to with headphones will sound a little muffled through the plastic chassis.
HTC joins LG as being the only smartphone manufacturer to jump on the 3D bandwagon in 2011, and the effect on offer will polarise smartphone shoppers. HTC uses parallax barrier technology to create the effect, like Nintendo does with the 3DS, and the result is great at times, and an eye-sore (literally) at others. The catch to viewing 3D content (only photos, videos and games — basic phone use is still in 2D) is that you have to be looking directly at the front of the screen. If you turn the handset on even the slightest of angles you will lose the 3D effect and be left with a confusion of pixels.
If you settle in with a short 3D video or a slideshow of 3D photos, the effect can be quite a thrill. YouTube has a collection of 3D content you can access, and the professionally produced videos look great on the Evo. Pictures you take with the phone's camera also stand out as a high point of our review period. For best results, subjects need to be about 1.5 metres from the lens, and when you get this right the results can add an extra dimension to the emotional attachment to the image.
Gamers are also considered in the 3D offering — our review unit came preloaded with Gameloft's Spider-Man 3D. We tried valiantly to enjoy this game with 3D switched on, but headaches soon set in and we found ourselves dialling back the 3D settings to the minimum. This 2D to 3D setting was built into the Spider-Man title, so it's not guaranteed that all future 3D games will offer similar headache-saving measures.
HTC has impressed us time and again this year with the stark improvement in its camera modules. The dual 5-megapixel shooters in the Evo 3D are up there with some of the better HTC cameras, like the Sensation and the Incredible S, and the dedicated camera button is a welcome addition. The Evo 3D has a continuous auto-focus feature, which has the lens adjusting itself with every slight movement of the handset while in the camera software, and while this too frequent buzzing is annoying, it does make for some great photos.
The camera's post production isn't smart enough to completely compensate for the super brightness of the dual-LED flash, though, so be warned that photos taken at short range will have your friends looking like clowns wearing thick, pancake-style face make-up. In fact, whether you're shooting in 2D or 3D, the 1.5-metre rule for your subjects should be considered with every photo.
Great colour and sharp focus with the flash in the pic.
The Evo 3D struggles with bright light sources in low-light situations.
The Evo 3D supports a good, but not exhaustive, list of multimedia formats, with XviD, MP4, H.264 and WMV video files recognised by the video player and MP3, AAC, WAV and WMA audio showing up in the music player. The handset failed to play our 1080p HD MP4 video test file, but was fine with its 720p gallery mate. This surprised us, given the processor spec in the Evo 3D, but we acknowledge 1080p video playback isn't high on the shopping lists of many looking to buy a new phone. An HDMI video-out port might be, though, and it's a shame that HTC omits this from the connections available with the Evo 3D. You can share media over Wi-Fi using DLNA, and you can buy a Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) adapter for HDMI connections through the micro-USB port, but a dedicated port will always be a better option for our money.
HTC packs a dual-1.2GHz processor and 1GB RAM into the Evo 3D, and the handset hums along nicely as a result. There's none of the minor lag issues we stumbled across when reviewing the HTC Sensation recently, even though both handsets run on the same versions of Google's Android and HTC's Sense user interface.
The best news, however, is that HTC has finally delivered a top-shelf handset with decent battery life. We're not going to go out on a limb and say this battery is capable of days of use between recharges, but the 1730mAh battery is enough to get us through a full work day, and up to two days of light use over the weekend. Looking a little closer at its battery life, the huge display is the obvious power hog and we tended to get about three hours of actual screen-on time (mostly internet use) mixed in with about 24 hours of standby (with our 3G connection switched off). Of course, your mileage will almost definitely vary, especially if you require always-on push email, rather than manually syncing your account.
The Evo 3D is our favourite HTC handset of the year so far, and amongst the best smartphones of the year. The 3D component won't win everyone over, but we've liked using parts of it, especially shooting and sharing our 3D photos. HTC adds a bit more grunt to the 3D than it did with the Sensation and the result is an obvious improvement in stability and usability — and its bigger battery pays dividends, too. We still wish HTC would invest in a few more multimedia codec licences and include HDMI out on the phone, but these are minor quibbles in light of this handset's many strengths and are issues not likely to turn many punters away.