HTC EVO Shift 4G: First Impressions

The flood of 4G phones at CES 2011 started with the HTC EVO Shift 4G ($150 with a two-year contract from Sprint). Available January 9, the Shift 4G is a follow-up to last year's popular HTC EVO 4G, the first 4G phone on Sprint's WiMAX network is somewhat of a lesser version of its brother. It has a smaller, 3.6-inch display and no front-facing camera. If you are a keyboard addict and don't like the large size of the EVO 4G, the Shift 4G might appeal to you.

The EVO Shift 4G doesn't have the large 4.3-inch display like its brother. Instead, it has a 3.6-inch display, which might seem like a downgrade to some. In my opinion, it actually makes a lot more sense however, given the extra bulk needed for the keyboard. The phone would simply be too large to accommodate for both. It feels very solid and well-constructed in hand. It is a bit chunky, but still pocketable.

The keyboard isn't the best; the keys feel a bit stiff. They are nicely spaced, however and there are plenty of useful shortcut keys. But when it comes to the best QWERTY keyboard of CES (there are only two new phones at the show that sport them), the Motorola Cliq 2 takes the title.

Another miss for some is the lack of a front-facing camera. That was one of the biggest draws of the original EVO 4G so it is strange to me that it is missing from the Shift 4G. Rather than the 8-megapixel camera you find on the EVO 4G, you get a 5-megapixel camera. Test photos looked okay-maybe a bit grainy and washed out.

The EVO Shift 4G is powered by an 800 MHz processor and 512 MB of RAM. This seems a bit weak when compared with the upcoming dual core-powered phones we saw at the show (LG's Optimus 2x or the Motorola Droid Bionic, for example). The processor is the next-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon, however, and it was speedy enough for basic Web browsing and toggling through applications.

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Hopefully, the EVO Shift 4G will be updated to Android 2.3 sooner rather than later, which should undoubtedly improve its performance overall. Like other Sprint 4G phones, the Shift 4G comes with Sprint's Mobile Hotspot, which lets you connect up to eight Wi-Fi enabled devices.

Sprint's 4G WiMax network was reliably speedy in Las Vegas. Using Ookla's Speedtest.net application, the Shift 4G achieved average download speeds of 1119 kbps and upload speeds of 866 kbps. Sprint just rolled out its WiMax in San Francisco so I'll definitely test out the Shift 4G when I get home. Call quality was very good from the Strip in Las Vegas; callers on the other end of the line heard very little of the madness that was going on around me.

Is the lack of a front-facing camera a dealbreaker for you? Do customers still have a need for QWERTY keyboards? Sound off in the comments below.

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