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HTC Evo 4G Sprint review: HTC Evo 4G Sprint

HTC Evo 4G Sprint

Bonnie Cha
Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
13 min read

Editors' note: The ratings for this product have been updated since the review's original publish date because of results from additional testing.


HTC Evo 4G Sprint

The Good

The HTC Evo 4G delivered respectable 4G speeds, and the mobile hot-spot feature lets you connect up to eight devices. The smartphone has a front-facing camera for video chats and also comes with an 8-megapixel camera with HD-video-recording capabilities. The Evo ships with YouTube's HQ video player, Android 2.1 with HTC Sense, and an HDMI port. Other highlights include an extra-large 4.3-inch touch screen and a 1GHz Snapdragon processor.

The Bad

Sprint's 4G network is limited at this time, making the mandatory $10 premium data add-on tough to swallow for anyone outside of the coverage area. The Evo lacks support for Bluetooth voice-activated dialing. Battery drains quickly with 4G.

The Bottom Line

The HTC Evo 4G is easily Sprint's best smartphone and one of today's top Android devices. It also shows the promise of 4G, which will grow as Sprint's WiMax network expands, but until there's broader 4G coverage, it's hard to agree with the mandatory premium data add-on fee.

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.

The Evo 4G is a beast.

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.

On bottom, you will find the Micro-USB and HDMI ports. There's also a kickstand on the back that lets you 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.

User interface
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.

In addition to an 8-megapixel camera on back, you get a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera that you can use for video calls.

Other voice features include a speakerphone, speed dial, smart dialing, voice commands, conference calling, visual voice mail, and text and multimedia messaging with threaded chat view. Bluetooth, 3G, GPS, and integrated Wi-Fi are also onboard, and you can use voice and data simultaneously, provided you're in a 4G market.

As a Sprint phone, the Evo supports a number of the carrier's services, such as Sprint TV, Sprint Football Live, Nascar Sprint Cup Mobile, and Sprint Navigation. HTC also throws in a few of its proprietary apps, including the Peep Twitter client and Footprints, which uses the phone's GPS to capture favorite locations and lets you chronicle trips with geotagged photos and notes. Of course, additional apps are available in the Android Market. As with all Android phones, you can only save apps to the phone's main memory. The Evo 4G offers 1GB of internal memory but the microSD expansion slot can accept up to 32GB cards.

4G and Mobile Hotspot
It's clear that the HTC Evo 4G is one of the most powerful Android smartphones on the market, but what makes it different from the rest--and we're talking all smartphones, not just Android--is the 4G capabilities.

Our 4G wireless resource guide provides a more in-depth explanation of the technology, but in short, what this means for you is faster data speeds for Web browsing, downloads, streaming media, and uploading photos--all from your smartphone. In addition, the Evo lets you share these speeds with up to eight devices using the mobile hot-spot feature. What kind of speeds are we talking? Well, Sprint says its 4G WiMax network can provide wireless speeds up to 10 times faster than today's 3G, with average download speeds ranging from 3Mbps to 6Mbps and peak download speeds of up to 10Mbps and upload speeds of 1Mbps. Compare that with 3G's average download speeds of 600kbps to 1.4Mbps and peak download speeds of 1.3Mbps.

Sounds great on paper, but what about real-world results? Since 4G isn't yet available in New York, we ventured down to Philadelphia to get a taste of what Sprint's WiMax network really has to offer. We were able to get consistent 4G coverage throughout the city, though signal strength varied. CNET's full site loaded in 19 seconds, whereas CNN and ESPN's mobile sites came up in 5 seconds and 4 seconds, respectively. Downloading apps from the Android Market took just a few seconds, and downloading individual tracks from the Amazon MP3 averaged around 15 seconds or less; an entire album took 7 minutes to download.

We also streamed shows from Sprint TV, but the experience was disappointing. Despite having a 4G connection, there were some breaks in the clips and audio and videos weren't always synced up. On a brighter note, we had better luck with YouTube videos; playback was continuous and there was only one instance when we noticed a slight gap between audio and video.

To get a better measure of speeds, however, we tried out the mobile hot-spot feature and used the Evo 4G as our only source for getting online during our time in Philadelphia. Setup was a breeze with the preloaded Sprint Hotspot app, allowing us to connect the Evo to our Lenovo T61 laptop and iPod Touch with no problem. We used Speedtest.net to measure the Evo's download and upload speeds throughout the day, and the Evo averaged download speeds of 3.42Mbps and upload speeds of 0.93Mpbs and reached a peak speed of 4.76Mpbs. Using a 4G connection, we were able to upload a 2MB picture in 18 seconds, and a 93.9MB zipped music file took 5 minutes and 20 seconds to download. We also watched a couple of Hulu videos, which required a few seconds to load, but played back without interruption; it was the same with YouTube videos, and the difference between YouTube HQ and standard definition videos is noticeable and much appreciated.

If you're in a 4G market, you can use simultaneous voice and data, so the mobile hot-spot function should keep its connection even if a call comes through. Though this scenario never presented itself during our testing period, we were able to make a call on the Evo while still surfing the Net on our laptop. That said, during peak hours, the Internet connection dropped several times in an hour and though it would reconnect within a minute or two, it was nonetheless frustrating.

For comparison, we switched to 3G, ran the same test, and averaged download speeds of 0.77Mbps and upload speeds of 0.35Mbps. The same 2MB picture we used for our 4G test took 56 seconds to upload over a 3G connection, so you're definitely getting a nice bump in speed. If there's no 4G available, the Evo will automatically revert to Sprint's EV-DO Rev. A network, which might happen more often than not, since Sprint's 4G is currently live in only 32 cities, covering around 41 million people. Sprint said it will expand the service with partner Clearwire to Miami, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, New York City, Houston, Boston, Washington, D.C., Kansas City, Denver, Minneapolis, and the San Francisco Bay Area by the end of this year, at which point Sprint says its 4G network will cover 120 million people (44 markets in total).

Returning to the hot-spot feature briefly, it does come at a cost of $29.99 per month, which hurts when you add that to the $80 you're already paying for the data plan and Premium Add-on, but at least there is no data cap. Still, don't think of this as your only choice. We'd recommend doing a little online research and checking out the Android Market for some free tethering utilities, such as PDANet from June Fabrics Technology.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO Rev. A) Evo 4G in New York and Philadelphia using Sprint service and call quality was great. Our friends' voices came through loud and clear, with little to no background noise. On one occasion, we made a call using the AT&T BlackBerry Curve and were met with static and patchy audio, so we called back using the Evo 4G and it was like night and day. Our callers also reported great results, noting in particular that there was no kind of voice distortion and plenty of volume. Speakerphone calls were decent. Though there was plenty of volume to hear our buddies even in louder environments, there was a bit of tinny audio quality.

HTC Evo 4G call quality sample Listen now:

We had no problems pairing the device with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones. We also plugged in our Bose On-Ear Headphones and enjoyed rich-sounding tracks with a nice balance of treble and bass.

The Evo 4G's 8-megapixel camera took excellent photos.

CNET's Jeff Bakalar took a closer look at the Evo 4G's HDMI-out capabilities, and you can read his full hands-on report here. And what about video recording? After all, the Evo's 8-megapixel camera can capture video at 720p HD quality. We wouldn't go ditching your camcorder just yet, though. The Evo certainly did a better job than most camera phones, capturing action with minimal blurriness or pixelation. That said, there's still a slight grainy quality to the videos. Picture quality, on the other hand, was great, whether we were shooting indoors or outdoors. Images were sharp and color tones were pretty true to life.

Equipped with a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8650 processor and 512MB RAM, the Evo 4G was able to keep up with our demands for the most part. It wasn't nearly as zippy as the Droid Incredible, but we were still able to launch and work in apps with minimal delay. That's not to say that it was all roses and peaches. The phone did have to be reset twice during our testing period. Actually, the first instance wasn't even our doing; we went to launch the Sprint Hotspot app and it just decided to power down. The other time was when we were downloading a song from the Amazon MP3 Store. The backlight had timed out during the download process, so when we went to go unlock the screen to check on the status, the display froze and we had to remove the battery to reboot the phone. We haven't had any mishaps since, so hopefully, they were just isolated incidents.

Performance tests from CNET Labs
Test HTC Evo 4G iPhone 4
Phone boot time test 47.1 seconds 29.4 seconds
Talk time battery life 3G 5.5 hours 7.76 hours
Audio playback time 18.2 hours 59 hours
Video playback time 5.9 hours 6.9 hours
Browser load speed on Wi-Fi (Giantbomb.com) 20 seconds 15 seconds
Camera app load time 2 seconds 2 seconds
Camera reshoot time 3 seconds 1 second

The HTC Evo 4G ships with a 1,500mAh lithium ion battery, but Sprint did not release its estimates for talk time or standby time. But with moderate use and a 4G connection, we were able to get the smartphone to last about 12 hours before needing a recharge. With heavy usage, we were running for an outlet within about 4 to 4.5 hours, and the mobile hot-spot feature definitely drains the battery quickly, so keep your charger or extra battery handy. In our battery drain tests, the Evo 4G provided 5.5 hours of continuous talk time over 3G. According to FCC radiation tests, the smartphone has a digital SAR rating of 1.03 watts per kilogram.


HTC Evo 4G Sprint

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8
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