The most powerful Sprint cell phone (but just by a nose), the HTC EVO 4G LTE is both fabulous and frustrating. It has a powerful processor, the best camera on Sprint, and a long list of great little convenience features that make it our Editors' Choice for a Sprint phone. But not knowing where Sprint is installing 4G LTE is getting old.
The EVO 4G LTE is a large, slim phone at 134.8 x 68.9 x 8.9 mm (HxWxD) and 134grams. The front is a typical black slab, dominated by a 4.7in, 1,280-by-720 Super LCD screen. It's bright and not PenTile, if such things matter to you, and colours are a bit less saturated than on OLED screens.
The back is a little more controversial. The bottom half is anodized matte black, all well and good. But above that you have a bright red stripe, a glossy black panel and a red ring around the eight-megapixel camera; I've heard that called garish, but it doesn't bother me. The red stripe flips out to become a metal kickstand. The black panel at top snaps off to reveal a microSD memory card slot, and the camera's actual lens is recessed so it won't scratch. In any case, this feels like a premium device, and it's considerably slimmer than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
The phone is closely related to HTC's One X for and the One S, but has some Sprint customisation.
The EVO 4G LTE is the first U.S. phone with HD voice calling, but that's impossible to test right now. Sprint says HD Voice will come online in early 2013. As a regular standard-def voice phone, the EVO is very good, although I like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus a touch more. The EVO is certainly loud enough, with a bassy voice quality that verges on (but doesn't achieve) muddiness and no side tone. Transmissions had decent noise cancellation, but voices with background noise became a bit computery and distant. I had no problem triggering voice dialling through Bluetooth, but the voice dialling wasn't very accurate.
Battery life was acceptable on CDMA, at 6 hours and 22 minutes of talk time. That said, it's unclear how battery life will fare when LTE is in the mix, but I'm encouraged by the relatively large 2000mAh battery.
For now, the EVO 4G LTE runs solely on Sprint's nationwide CDMA EVDO 3G network, which is a lot like driving a 365hp Ford Taurus SHO solely on narrow side-roads with traffic. According to our Fastest Mobile Networks 2011 report, Sprint had the slowest nationwide 3G network, with average download speeds of 480kbps. If it helps, I got consistently faster 3G speeds on the EVO than on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus in the same location, though none of them were worth trumpeting about.
This is called the EVO 4G LTE, right? Sprint has so far only announced six cities for LTE service: Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, and San Antonio. The carrier has also said it will cover 120 million Americans with LTE by the end of 2012, but steadfastly refuses to say which 120 million Americans.
So if you pick up a Sprint LTE phone now, you might be speeding along on fast 4G LTE soon. You might have to wait until 2013. Until then, it's a good thing this has Wi-Fi, supporting 802.11 b/g/n networks, excitingly including the faster and less crowded 5GHz band.
The EVO 4G LTE is packing the most powerful processor available in a U.S. phone today: the 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4. We've benchmarked the S4 against Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3, and they're pretty much a wash. The Tegra 3 has more cores, but each Qualcomm core is faster, using a newer 28nm process compared with Nvidia's 40nm.
Handsets based on this chip deliver the best overall performance benchmarks we've seen from Android phones, and the Chrome browser running on Android 4.0 is a huge leap faster than previous Android browser versions. Games should also run well here, with the Nenamark graphics benchmark topping out at 58fps.
You get Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich' with HTC's Sense 4.0 extensions here. They include attractive widgets and relatively little bloatware (a lot of HTC's old apps are gone), and they fold Facebook and Twitter back into your contact book where they belong. That said, HTC's look is busier than the very spare stock Android look on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Different strokes for different folks.
Google Play offers up more than 400,000 Android apps, and all the ones I tried ran well on the EVO. The only thing you might miss are the few dozen high-end games exclusive to Nvidia's Tegra phones. The EVO integrates NFC and supports Google Wallet.
The EVO 4G is Sprint's best phone for playing music and video. The MicroSD card slot just under the back cover helps, supporting 64GB cards. Ditto for the kickstand, which supports the phone in three different orientations for movie watching. The phone plays a wide range of video formats, including H.264, WMV, DivX and Xvid; they all go up to 1080p resolution except for WMV, which is limited to VGA. (Nobody uses WMV much anymore, anyway.)
Want to watch videos or play games on a TV? A standard MHL adapter gives you smooth, mirrored video and games at 1080p, 24 frames per second on a big-screen TV.
For music, you have HTC's music player, which integrates SoundHound, TuneIn Radio, and Sprint's (lacklustre) music store along with an attractive display of your own music. The EVO 4G LTE played all of the usual music formats, including MP3, AAC, WMA, and OGG, although I heard a low-level hiss in my earphones during quiet tracks.
Hooking up Plantronics BackBeat Go Bluetooth headphones wasn't a problem and music sounded fine, but I saw a little bit of annoying lip-sync drift in some videos.
The EVO 4G LTE's heritage as a cousin of the HTC One family shows up in its camera, which is pretty much the same as the HTC One X and One S cameras-that is to say, excellent. There's zero shutter lag. Hold down the shutter button and the camera will take a bunch of shots in a row, automatically guessing which one is the best.
Outdoor images taken with the eight-megapixel camera were razor sharp, bright, and clear in my tests. An optional HDR mode does great work balancing dark foregrounds with bright backgrounds, but can't be used all the time because it puts halos around moving objects. (It's merging two shots taken in sequence.) Indoor shots are also sharp and good-looking. Low-light images have dramatic shadows, but aren't blurry. The one-megapixel front camera takes soft images, but low-light images don't appear too dark.
I was impressed with the video camera mode outdoors, but not indoors. Outdoors, I grabbed 1080p HD videos at 30 frames per second. And you can snap a still picture while recording a video, which is a great trick. The front camera took smooth 720p videos at 30 frames per second. Indoors, though, frame rates dropped to 22-25 on the main camera and a very jerky 14fps on the front camera, making footage considerably less smooth.
The HTC EVO 4G LTE goes up against the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and LG Viper 4G LTE, as Sprint's first LTE phones. It's the most powerful and best-built of the three: Slimmer, with a better camera than the Galaxy Nexus, and more powerful all-around than the Viper.
That said, there's a reason to pick each of these three phones to go with Sprint's unlimited plans. The Viper has a 4-inch screen and fits best into smaller hands. The Galaxy Nexus is the best voice phone of the three. The EVO delivers the best all-around high-end smartphone experience. All three will be great ways to consume Sprint's unlimited 4G data, whenever LTE arrives where you live. But if you need decent data speeds right now on Sprint, stick with that old WiMAX phone a little bit longer.
Pros: Slim; Fast; Integrated kickstand; Top-notch camera; Ships with Android 4.0.
Cons: Without LTE, Internet access is slow; Video camera frame rates drop indoors.
Manufacturer: High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC)
Service Provider: Sprint
Operating System: Android OS
Screen Size: 4.7in
Screen Details: 1,280-by-720 Super LCD screen
Camera Flash: Yes
Web Browser: Yes
Form Factor: Candy Bar
Bands: 850, 1900
High-Speed Data: EVDO Rev A, LTE
Storage Capacity (as Tested): 16GB
Processor Speed: 1.5GHz