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Sprint and HTC look to Evo 4G LTE for a comeback

Sprint and HTC have high expectations for the phone, which the carrier hopes will win back Evo fans wanting an upgrade.

Now playing: Watch this: HTC Evo 4G LTE

Sprint Nextel unveiled the HTC Evo 4G LTE today, its own take on HTC's highly touted comeback phone.

The Evo 4G LTE is a slightly redesigned One X, which HTC unveiled to critical acclaim during Mobile World Congress. It will be available some time in the second quarter for $199.99 and a two-year contract, although Sprint will begin taking preorders on May 7.

HTC is looking for the various versions of the One X to drive a return to its once bustling smartphone business, and has traditionally leaned on Sprint as a vital partner. Sprint, meanwhile, is in need of a flagship device to drum up attention for its LTE network -- even if it's not quite available yet. With nearly every carrier offering Apple's iPhone, Sprint needs a buzz-worthy product to cut into the lead of bigger rivals AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Sprint believes it has with the Evo 4G LTE.

"This product sets a new bar," said David Owens, vice president of product for Sprint.

"This is the true successor to the Evo," said Martin Fichter, vice president of product management for HTC. "The Evo's heritage is to build the benchmark device.

A lot has changed since the launch of the original Evo 4G two years ago. At that time, the Evo was the first 4G smartphone, running on the 4G WiMax network. It was also one of the earliest phones to pack a big screen and a high-end Snapdragon processor. The combination proved to be a hit with Sprint fans looking for an alternative to the iPhone.

HTC's Evo 4G LTE is a marked improvement over the last two Evo smartphones. Brian Bennett/CNET

The Evo 4G LTE, however, comes at a time when 4G LTE smartphones with big screens and speedy processors have become the norm. The Evo 4G LTE isn't even wholly unique from an internal standpoint -- it shares many of its features with the One X AT&T plans to sell.

Still, those specifications are fairly respectable. The Evo 4G LTE is packing an advanced dual-core Snapdragon processor (international versions of the One X get a quad-core chip), a 4.7-inch super LCD 2 display with 720x1,280 resolution, 1GB of RAM memory, 16GB of internal storage, and a microSD slot that can support an additional 32GB. It has no HDMI port, but instead relies on a wireless HDMI link. The phone has an 8-megapixel camera, with the continuous shooting mode touted at Mobile World Congress.

HTC redesigned the body of the One X for Sprint. The smartphone has a thin aluminum wraparound frame that shows influences from Research In Motion's BlackBerry Bold 9900 and the iPhone 4. Aluminum also appears on the front and half of the back of the device, with the other half plastic to allow for the cellular signals to go through.

Just like the Evo, the phone comes with a kickstand, a feature that was missed when HTC and Sprint launched the Evo 3D last year. The kickstand, which is thinner this time around, was designed so the phone can be propped up horizontally and vertically.

The kickstand from the original Evo makes a return, albeit with a new design. Brian Bennett/CNET

Like all One X phones, the Evo 4G LTE runs the Ice Cream Sandwich variant of Android, or Android 4.0, as well as its custom Sense 4.0 user interface. The phone has an NFC chip and can work with Google Wallet.

The big standout feature for the Evo 4G LTE won't technically be available yet for a while. The Evo 4G LTE will be the first Sprint phone capable of picking up HD voice-quality sound, which Sprint and HTC say is a significantly improved calling experience.

While consumers will see some improvement in the quality, they will get the full benefit when Sprint introduces HD voice capabilities into its network, slated for the end of the year. Also, HD voice only works with other HD voice-compatible phones, which Sprint has promised to launch later this year.

HTC has a lot riding on the phone. The company stumbled at the end of the year, hit by intense competition, including the iPhone 4S. After shipping a dizzying number of products last year -- many of which fizzled -- the company was looking to simplify its lineup with the One series of smartphones.

It has a strong ally in Sprint. The carrier has promised to push the Evo 4G LTE as its flagship device, calling it the "benchmark device of the year," and vowing to put it front and center in its retail stores. The carrier is hoping that many Evo customers who are coming off contracts signed two years ago will be looking to stick with HTC and the Evo brand.

Sprint is rushing to get into the 4G LTE game after spending years leaning on WiMax, a technology supplied by partner Clearwire. As with its WiMax network, the company plans to continue offering unlimited data on its LTE network -- when it's available.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless each have their own wide deployment of LTE and far more devices. Sprint'sEvo 4G LTE marks the third LTE smartphone announced by the carrier, following the LG Viper LTE and Samsung's Galaxy Nexus.

With no availability set yet for the Galaxy Nexus, the $99.99 LG Viper will be the first to come out later this month. The company said yesterday that preorders for the device will begin on April 12.

It's still unclear exactly when Sprint will be switching on its LTE network. The company plans to be in a handful of markets by the end of the first half of this year, with broader deployment through 2013. Executives declined to provide a more specific date.