Many of the phones and features once reserved for nationwide major carriers have begun to trickle down to prepaid cellular providers. A case in point is the HTC Evo Design 4G for Boost Mobile. This pricey $299.99 smartphone appears to be a modern handset at first glance, running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and offering 4G data. A closer look reveals the device's flaws living below the surface. A slow single-core processor, short battery life, and fuzzy call quality make it a tough sell even considering that its high price doesn't include an onerous service contract.
With its deep black-on-black paint job and metal unibody construction, the HTC Evo Design 4G is darkly delicious and has a luxurious feel. That's quite a feat considering this phone isn't exactly new, first coming to Sprint last fall. The back and edges of the handset are coated in a smooth, soft-touch surface that wicks away moisture, repels fingerprints, and gives fingertips good grip.
Measuring 4.8 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.47 inch thick and tipping the scales at a hefty 5.2 ounces, the Evo Design 4G is compact but on the chunky side. That's especially true compared with many ultrasvelte numbers like the current king of the Evo line, the HTC Evo 4G LTE (0.35 inch thick, 4.72 ounces). Even the LG Marquee, the Evo Design 4G's closest competitor on Boost Mobile, is smaller, thinner, and lighter (0.36 inch thick, 3.95 ounces).
Front and center is the Evo Design 4G's 4-inch dHD resolution (960x540 pixels) LCD screen. While it's not as big or sharp as screens on HTC's other high-end models, I enjoyed wide viewing angles watching movie trailers and viewing photos. That said, when examined side by side with the HTC Evo 4G LTE, the Design's colors were too pronounced for my tastes. Reds were especially pumped up, giving unnaturally rosy flesh tones, bordering on orange.
Above the screen is a 1.3-megapixel camera you can use to engage in video chat and Google hangouts and snap vanity shots of yourself. Below are four capacitive buttons with four symbols representing traditional Android functions for home, menu, back, and search.
The phone's top edge holds a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and power button while its left side houses a long, thin volume rocker plus Micro-USB port. On back sits the 5-megapixel main camera with LED flash. A wide and attractive brushed-metal band runs along the middle of the Evo Design 4G's back plate. Below that is a hidden compartment containing slots for microSD card, SIM card, and removable battery, all of which can be removed individually without interfering with each other.
Originally the Sprint version of the HTC Evo Design 4G shipped with Android 2.3 Gingerbread but backed up by HTC's latest mobile interface, Sense 3.0. Now HTC and Boost Mobile have tried to breathe new life into the phone by updating its core software to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
I certainly appreciate the extra effort, and as a result, the Evo Design 4G feels and acts like a modern smartphone. My test unit came with HTC Sense 3.6 grafted on top of ICS. Those familiar with Sense will recognize the lock screen, which displays time and date up top and four quick-launch icons down below.
Dragging a virtual ring from the foot to the middle of the screen unlocks the phone. Pulling any of the icons into the ring's center fires up the phone function linked to it. By default, icons for Phone, Mail, Camera, Messages, and Camera are listed but you can swap them out for other shortcuts if you'd like. Once it's unlocked, you'll be greeted by seven home screens that you can customize with application shortcuts and widgets. In typical HTC fashion, the company's trademark weather clock widget enjoys a prime spot on the main home screen.
Sense also provides a strong link to social-networking sites, one of my favorite features of the UI. Natively supported are Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In accounts, which the phone will automatically cross-check against your phone book and suggest contacts to match up across services.
As an Android smartphone, the Evo Design 4G comes with the standard allotment of Google apps and services, including Gmail, Maps, Navigation, Places, YouTube, and Google+. HTC has thrown in its own apps too, such as Friend Stream, Peep, and Footprints, all designed to make social-networking easier. Also onboard is HTC Watch, the company's video download store, HTC Hub for curated apps, Connected Media to access music and other network files, and a transfer app for contacts.
Boost Mobile, owned by Sprint, has injected its carrier-branded apps too. There's Voicemail to sign up and access Boost's paid visual voicemail service with, and BoostZone, which is designed to provide account information and the location of the closest retail store. In keeping with Boost Mobile's younger target demographic, the Evo Design 4G also has shortcuts to mobile sites for MTV.com, E!, and BET.
One weakness of the HTC Evo Design 4G is its 5-megapixel camera. In still-life shots taken indoors, details were clear but not as sharp as in photos from other phones with more advanced imaging systems. These pictures looked dark too, with a yellowish cast, and colors were oversaturated.
Trying to capture images in low light was also difficult with the Evo Design 4G. Its autofocus takes a full second to obtain a lock and needs about 2 seconds to save pictures. That all translates to a slow shot-to-shot time of approximately 3 seconds.
Outside and in ample sunlight the HTC Evo Design 4G's camera performance improved slightly but not much. Colors were more vibrant though similar lighting produced wildly different results. Some pictures were way too dark while others snapped seconds later were completely overexposed.
The camera boasts a wide range of scene modes like Panorama, Action Burst, and Backlight HDR. I was pleased with the video I captured. 720p HD quality movies were smooth and clear, though not as detailed as content shot by phones with full 1080p-resolution camcorders.
I tested the HTC Evo Design 4G on Boost Mobile's CDMA network in New York and I'm sorry to say that its voice quality performance was poor. Callers reported that my voice sounded harsh, hollow, and laden with hiss. On my end I also heard static and hiss in voices as they spoke. Thankfully the Evo Design 4G's earpiece gets very loud, so much so that I had to dial down the volume a few notches to a more comfortable level.
Though the Evo Design 4G stands at the pinnacle of Boost Mobile's smartphone lineup, the device uses a weak 1.2GHz single-core Qualcomm processor. I could definitely feel the phone's sluggishness when opening apps and cycling through home screens. That's not to say the device isn't responsive, just that it lacks the virtually instantaneous response of truly fire-breathing hardware. For example, the HTC Evo 4G LTE went where I commanded it, be it the app tray or photo gallery, with oomph the Evo Design 4G lacked.
Mobile benchmark results confirmed my experience: the Evo Design 4G spat up low Linpack scores of 35.7 MFLOPs (multithread) and 40 MFLOPs (single thread). This starkly contrasts with the greatly higher scores notched by the Evo 4G LTE of 196.4 MFLOPs (multithread), 106.1 MFLOPs (single thread).
Operating on Sprint's old WiMax 4G wireless infrastructure, the HTC Evo Design 4G turned in data throughput that was all over the map. In New York I logged an average download speed of 5.73Mbps but there were peaks approaching 9Mbps. Uploads were a lot more even, the Evo Design pushing out at an average rate of 0.33Mbps. Still, that can't hold a candle to speeds possible on 4G LTE or even fast HSPA+ connections offered by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.
Equipped with a 1,520mAh battery, longevity isn't the Evo Design 4G's forte either. In anecdotal battery drain tests, the phone was able to play an HD video continuously for just 4 hours and 58 minutes. By comparison the Evo 4G LTE ran for 6 hours and 35 minutes performing the same task.
At a steep $299, the HTC Evo Design 4G is certainly the most expensive smartphone currently in Boost Mobile's lineup. I consider it expensive even given that its price doesn't tie you to a lengthy service contract. Also, just because the phone costs a pretty penny doesn't automatically mean it's the best Boost device money can buy. While I like its premium metal feel, this phone is thick and heavy. Its slow performance is underwhelming, too, and puts a tired face on its fancy Android Ice Cream Sandwich software. That calls into question the usefulness of ICS since I'd rather have pep than a modest software bump. Perhaps the smoothness of Android Jelly Bean would have made the Evo Design more compelling. Additionally the Evo Design's camera is sluggish especially when stacked up against more recent handsets such as HTC's own Evo 4G LTE. A more prudent move would be to scoop up the $129.99 Samsung Galaxy Prevail, which, while not ultrathin and lacking Android 4.0, is much cheaper.