Keith Combs' Blahg

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Sprint HTC EVO 4G – mini review

Sprint HTC EVO 4G – mini review

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htc evo Now is the best time to wait.  It’s a pretty funny saying and the guys at engadget.com said it a few weeks ago before the the HTC EVO came out.  They were referring to the parade of smartphones coming out. They got it wrong unless of course you plan to wait until the holiday season.  That’s no fun, I want to play with the toys now.

On June 4th, Sprint launched one of the most anticipated phones with much fanfare.  The HTC EVO is a gorgeous phone and it’s the first 4G phone on the market.  There’s just one problem, 4G in nearly a myth where I live.  We’ll discuss that in a moment.  Let’s get into the specs and such first.

Techno Info

The HTC EVO has a 4.3-inch WVGA resolution Capacitive Multi-touch Screen.  This is a really large screen for a phone. The screen impresses everyone that see’s it for the first time.  It’s big and bright.  It also senses the lighting conditions around you and raises or lowers the brightness accordingly.  It works really well and I had no issues using it outside or in complete darkness.  I wish the iPad worked the auto brightness as well.

The dimensions are 4.8 x 2.6 x 0.5 inches and weighs 6 oz. with battery.  As you can see, it’s pretty thin. I carried it on occasion in my pants pocket (kaki’s).  The back cover isn’t slick like the iPad so it was easy to hold onto.

It supports the CDMA 800/1900 MHz EVDO Rev. A, WiMAX 2. 5 to 2.7GHz; 802.16e, and 802.11 B/G WIFI and Bluetooth networks.  I had no problems using any of the WIFI networks I tried with the sole exception being the TechEd network, but that was a network capacity issue, not a security or any other issue.  The WIFI networks I used had a range of security schemes. 

It uses the Android 2.1 operating system.  It has an Android store for grabbing free and for fee applications.  One of the applications I needed is called Touchdown.  It’s an Exchange email client and we’ll discuss it later.

Unlike most phones, the EVO has a 8 megapixel camera with Auto Focus and 2x LED Flash on the back and a 1.3 megapixel fixed focus front facing camera.  I have started to see reports of the back camera lens getting scratched so if you get one of these phones, you are going to need to take extreme care to prevent that.

For memory, there’s 1GB ROM/ 512MB RAM of internal memory and a 8GB microSD™ included in device.

For location awareness, the EVO uses GPS/aGPS or other networking.  This is fully controlled by the user and the home screen is constantly updated with weather related information.  Because this device is closely aligned with Google, it does of course include and use Google maps.  I did not test turn-by-turn directions before I returned the phone.

The EVO uses the Qualcomm® QSD 8650, with a clock speed of 1GHz.  This is considered to be one of the best mobile chipsets currently on the market and the phone was plenty snappy.  I saw no faults and only one application error in the week I tested it.

Battery Life

Before I picked up the phone I had read some preliminary reviews that indicated battery life was terrible.  That isn’t entirely accurate.  If you turn off 4G, WIFI, GPS, Bluetooth, WIFI hotspot mode and just use the 3G CDMA voice and data radios, the battery life is quite good for this phone.

I tested battery life every day in New Orleans while at TechEd 2010 last week.  I routinely got 14-16 hours of life.  I’d take it off the charger at 8am and would not plug it back in until I got back to my hotel room.  Most nights that was 11pm to midnight.  During the battery testing, I had the Exchange client set to check for new email every 15 minutes.

During one of the battery test periods, I put the HTC EVO in WIFI hotspot mode.  I used the hotspot mode for 60 minutes.  This was at the end of one of the battery test periods and surprisingly it didn’t appear to totally drain the device.

Firing up the 4G radio and all of the other bells and whistles was another story.  This cut the battery life by more than half.  It was pretty easy to drain the battery in 4-6 hours.  The device is thin enough that some enterprising case company will likely build a battery jacket (if they haven’t already) to help overcome this issue.  In addition, you could always purchase an external rechargeable battery and jack into the mini USB port.

Hotspot Mode

This is a special feature and allows you to use the phone as a WIFI hotspot for up to eight devices.  This is a really cool feature and the phone could take the place of a Sprint Overdrive, wireless card or tethering.

Sprint charges $29.99 per month to use this feature which all things considered is a pretty good deal.  It sure beats the $59.99 monthly charge for the Overdrive other other data card plans. 

In my testing, the Overdrive outperformed the HTC EVO hotspot mode in terms of performance and stability. 

Voice Calls

All of the calls I made were clear and drop free.  I didn’t expect any issues because I’ve been a Sprint customer for a while.  The HTC EVO will sense when you place the phone next to your face and turn off the screen.  When you remove the device from your face again, the screen lights back up again.

Call logs and phone control were all straight forward.  However, my contacts in the Exchange client called Touchdown were not recognized on incoming calls.  We’ll talk about email in a moment.

Ringers and silent mode worked very nicely including the amount of vibration on silent.  I could feel the phone vibrate inside my backpack while I was riding the bus from the convention center back to the hotel.  Like most phones these days, there were a number of ringers included and they were plenty loud. 

Email and Apps

The HTC EVO includes an email client that allows you to connect to Exchange server.  However, our Exchange servers have some pretty restrictive policies that weren’t compatible with the included client.  Touchdown to the rescue.

Touchdown is an Exchange client developed by NitroDesk. Touchdown supports the PIN and Remote Wipe policies set by our IT department.  I tested remote wipe and worked pretty well.  Keep in mind it doesn’t wipe the device, only the Touchdown app and data.  Some people would probably prefer this behavior.

The Touchdown client includes some interesting innovation.  First, like most email clients you can pick and choose what folders to sync.  You can also look at all of that email in a single view.  I know that sounds pretty strange, but with the filtering, you can filter the view to only show unread messages.  If you have a a bunch of folders and server side rules processing, this is a powerful combination.

The built-in twitter client, HTC Peep, was a nice little client.  Easy to use and straightforward with touch, scroll, flick, etc.  It supported re-tweets, reply, direct messages, etc.  As far as I can tell, they had all of the major bases covered.

I never did look to see what the browser was called but it did a good job of rendering the sites I looked at.  As you might expect, it supported pinch and other multi touch gestures very well.

Conclusion

If you live in a 4G coverage area where there actually is a 4G signal, this is an interesting option.  Although the town where I live is supposed to be in a 4G coverage area, I never see a signal.  And if I do, it’s a poor signal.  This includes Roanoke, Southlake, Grapevine and DFW airport.  I was in Bedford this morning for several hours (183 and Central) and the 4G signal was poor.  Sorry Sprint, you are going to have to do much better.  Returned.

Next up, Apple iPhone 4. 

[UPDATE] I got to digging around on the Sprint 4G coverage map at http://coverage.sprintpcs.com/IMPACT.jsp?INTNAV=ATG:HE:Cov.  According to it, there’s a dense 4G area at Bicentennial Park in Southlake.  There is a big water tower there so that’s the likely candidate for the cell tower showering the park in 4G glory.  Surprisingly, the circumference around that area is smaller than I expected. 

The area in Bedford I was at yesterday shows solid dark blue on the 4G map.  Unfortunately that was not my experience.  It’s still cool to think about the possibilities but it’s still going to be a while before we all have high speed wireless networking wherever we go. Any guesses?  Five years?

[UPDATE for 6/17] See http://www.neowin.net/news/review-htc-evo-4g for another review. Battery life cited as bad.

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  • I picked one up on launch day. I'm rather enjoying it. It's my first android device and coming from the Palm Pre, it's nice not to suffer total system crashes when trying to do something as simple as check an email.

    4G does a keg stand on the battery, but I generally have every other radio on and I get very acceptable battery life.

  • Yea, it seems very stable. The only hiccup I saw was that the Touchdown app stopped syncing last Monday when the TechEd network went down. I re-installed the app and had no issues after that. Strange coincidence? Unknown.

    One thing is for sure, it isn't cheap. 450 minute plan, data, premium on top of data, and wifi hotspot charge brings the monthly total to $110. YIKES.

  • I saw a coworker off mine who had one of these, and it was huge.  How is it for daily use/carrying around?  I can't help escape the feeling that when talking on it passers by would think you were holding an iPad up to your head.

  • Thinking about getting one (I currently have the Blackberry Curve). Aside from the battery, already planning on owning a backup to pop in on long days, my biggest concern is the email refresh.  I love blackberry for this.  Will I be disappointed or even notice a difference with the HTC EVO 4G?

  • I bought into this phone not too long ago.  Right now I am kind of mad that I did though.  A friend forwarded me this site sites.google.com/.../sprintcustomersunite which has truly got me distraught with the entire Sprint service.  Apparantly Sprint owns Boost and charges its Sprint customers twice the price for the same service.