HTC Evo 4G LTE Review: Gorgeous, but No LTE for Now
Sprint's original HTC Evo 4G was the carrier's very first 4G WiMAX phone. Two years (and a few other Evos) later, we have the HTC Evo 4G LTE ($200 with a new two-year contract from Sprint; price as of 5/10/12). But despite the name, this smartphone is currently just a 3G phone until Sprint builds out its LTE network. Outside of this issue, the Evo 4G LTE is a solid phone. The display, camera, design, and multimedia features make it the best phone currently coming from Sprint. Sprint will have the HTC Evo 4G LTE available on May 18.
The HTC Evo 4G LTE might share a lot of specs in common with the One X on AT&T, but its design is totally different. With its black body and red accents, you might mistake it for a Verizon phone; it looks an awful lot like the newly announced HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE. It holds onto the Evo design legacy, however, with a bright red kickstand. You flip the kickstand out and set your Evo on a table for some hands-free video watching. The kickstand is a little difficult to open, however. You'll need some nails to get it out. The kickstand divides the Evo's battery cover, which is part glossy black plastic and part matte, soft-touch rubber.
Measuring 5.3-by-2.7-by-0.35 inches, the Evo is slightly smaller than the One X, which measures 5.3-by-2.8-by-0.4 inches. The Evo is an ounce heavier, at 4.7 ounces, than the One X (4.6 ounces).
The Evo has a 4.7-inch 1280-by-720 HD pixel display with IPS (In Plane Switching) technology. We loaded the Evo up with a few test photos we use across phones to test display quality. These images include a colorscale test, a grayscale test, and photos of people. In our colorscale test, I could detect some oversaturation as the colors bled into one another (see sample photo). In the portrait photos, skin tones had a ruddy look--another sign of oversaturation. Details appeared sharp, however, as did text.
Android 4.0 with HTC Sense
HTC Sense--the manufacturer's user interface over Android--has garnered a mixed response from consumers and tech journalists alike. And Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) has, by far, the best-looking interface of any version of Android. I understand why manufacturers slapped on overlays in the early days of Android: The underlying interfaces were ugly. HTC Sense is undeniably pretty. But its animations and colorful widgets have a tendency to bog down the operating system.
Perhaps my idea that manufacturers might leave Android 4.0 alone and just add a few customized widgets was just wishful thinking. To HTC's credit, Sense 4.0 is much subtler than previous versions of the interface. The company has cleared out many unnecessary icons and text that cluttered older versions of Sense. You can still pinch the screen to see all seven of your homescreens, and you get that handy customizable lock screen that we saw with Sense 3.0.
Still, Android purists might take offense to a few changes. The Recent Apps UI has been tweaked in typical Sense fashion. Rather than displaying your apps or websites as a list with thumbnails, it displays them as pages that flip as you flick through them. The Sense widgets are a bit too busy and garish for my liking, but you can easily remove them.
HTC Sense also makes some very basic tasks more difficult than they should be. For example, to change the phone's wallpaper, you have to dig through multiple menus in the Settings. Changing the wallpaper in vanilla Android 4.0 is as simple as holding down on the homescreen.
The Evo 4G LTE comes with a significant amount of carrier and manufacturer-added software, but that seems to be the norm these days. You can disable some of these so they don't show up in your apps menu. Annoyingly, you can't disable either the Sprint Music Plus player or the Sprint Zone.
Sprint and HTC unleashed a bunch of journalists in the city of New Orleans to test out the HTC Evo's camera in the field. Like the HTC One series of phones, the Evo 4G LTE has HTC's ImageSense camera software and the HTC ImageChip, which supports a which supports an f2.0 aperture and a handful of different shooting modes, including High Dynamic Range (HDR), Macro, and Panorama. HTC also claims that One cameras have an almost no-lag shutter speed. In my hands-on tests, I found the no-lag claim to be pretty much true. My photos taken in automatic mode looked excellent, with good colors and crisp details. Most of the shooting modes worked quite well, too, especially the macro mode (see example photos).
HDR made my photos look a bit spooky--I prefer the HDR mode on the iPhone 4S's camera. You can also add Instagram-like filters to your photos, but I don't think they look very good. A better bet would be to add a third-party app like, well, Instagram or Pixlr, which has even more filters.
This Evo also has a very cool continuous shooting feature, which lets you take multiple pictures at a time. You can then use the camera app's Best Photo feature, which will automatically pick the cleanest photos out of the group. You can use continuous shooting with both the onscreen shutter button and the physical key. It is a little sensitive, however. When I was snapping photos from a tour bus in New Orleans, I accidentally took multiple pictures without meaning to.
The Evo has a dedicated camera shutter button, which is always a plus, as it helps stabilize the phone before you take your photo. Annoyingly, you can't press the button when the phone is locked to jump directly to the camera app.
All HTC One phones have Beats Audio built in. Beats Audio automatically turns on when you play music, but you can opt to turn it off. I could definitely hear a positive change in music quality, especially with rock and metal music, when Beats was running. Bass sounded richer and the vocals fuller. Beats Audio also kicks in when you play a YouTube video.
Unlike the One phones, the Evo has a microSD slot so you can expand your phone's memory beyond the built-in 16GB, with photos, video, apps, and so on.
The phone also comes with HTC Watch, which is the company's movie-streaming service. If you wish to stream movies off your phone, however, I'd go with Netflix, as it has a larger library than Watch.
Using the FCC-approved Ookla Speedtest.net app, I tested Sprint's 3G network in two cities: New Orleans and San Francisco. In New Orleans, the HTC Evo achieved an average of 1.4 Mbps for download speeds and 0.52 Mbps for upload speeds. In San Francisco, Sprint's 3G network was a bit faster, with an average of 1.69 Mbps for downloads and 0.90 Mbps for upload speeds.
These are okay speeds for 3G, but I've been spoiled by 4G. Videos started and stalled over YouTube and Web pages weren't loading as quickly as I'm used to. Even T-Mobile's HSPA+ network seems much faster than Sprint's 3G network. But until Sprint LTE comes to your city, you're stuck with 3G. Even if you have WiMax in your city, the Evo 4G LTE isn't compatible with that network.
I ran both the Quadrant and Vellamo benchmarking apps to see how powerful the Qualcomm S4 1.5GHz dual-core processor is on the HTC EVO 4G LTE. With Vellamo (which was developed by Qualcomm), the Evo had a score of 2392, slightly ahead of the HTC One S, which has the same processor and achieved a score of 2365.
Under Quadrant, the HTC Evo got a score of 5145, which put it slightly ahead of both the One S and the Galaxy Nexus. I also ran a few graphics-heavy games, like World of Goo and Osmos, and the Evo handled them flawlessly.
While we haven't yet completed our formal battery tests, I used the EVO 4G LTE for an afternoon photo outing. After 2 hours and about 50 photos later, I noticed a significant drop in battery life. You might not use the camera as heavily in a short time span as I did for this review, but one of the main selling points of this phone is the camera. I also ran a 26-minute video over YouTube with the battery starting at 76 percent charged. After the video was finished, the Evo had a battery life of 67 percent. We'll update the Evo's battery life results once we finish our formal testing.
We experienced uneven call quality with both the HTC One X and the One S, but the Evo sounded good on both ends of the line. My friends said my voice sounded clear and natural, and they didn't hear any crackling or static as they did on the One phones.
The EVO 4G LTE will be the first handset on a U.S. carrier with HD Voice. Sprint's demo of HD Voice at the EVO 4G LTE's launch in New York City showed how it significantly decreases background noise.
This is made possible by the Snapdragon processor, which uses dual-microphone noise suppression and earpiece active noise cancellation. It also relies on Sprint to finish its upgrades to its 3G network so we were unfortunately unable to test this feature. Also, HD Voice will only work if both people on a call are using an HD Voice-supported smartphone on an HD Voice-supported network.
The Evo phones have always been Sprint's strongest offering, and the Evo 4G LTE is no exception. From its beautiful design to the versatile camera to the fast performance, this is Sprint's best phone--and one of the best Android phones available. But without LTE, it feels as if it is not quite living up to its potential.
That Sprint is releasing LTE phones (the Evo, the LG Viper, and the Galaxy Nexus) without an actual 4G LTE network in place is a bit frustrating. While the company has disclosed the initial six cities for launch (Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and San Antonio), it has not said when these networks will turn on. And unless you live in one of those cities, you'll find it hard to get excited about LTE. Sprint's 3G network feels painfully slow, too, especially when you compare it to other carriers' 4G networks. Sprint has announced that it will release 15 more 4G devices, most of them handsets. Unless you are 100 percent committed to the Evo legacy or are dying to upgrade your phone, I'd hold off on buying the Evo until you know that you'll get LTE or have seen what else is available before locking into a two-year contract.