EVO 4G LTE Review
HTC and Sprint have once again updated their EVO lineup of devices with the EVO 4G LTE. The original EVO 4G was a major player in kicking off Android handsets with a list of high-end specifications and receiving much praise from reviewers. Last year we saw the EVO 3D, which was one of the few handsets to feature a 3D camera and a glasses-free 3D screen. However, complaints about the dim screen and hardware/reception issues hampered its success. Now with the Galaxy S III, Galaxy Note II and iPhone 5 to compete with on Sprint, how does the newest flagship EVO device from Sprint hold up?
HTC is a company known for very high build quality standards. Unlike Samsung, who is known for using an uncomfortable amount of plastic, HTC uses high quality materials to construct their devices. The EVO 4G LTE is based off of the international HTC ONE X device - a polycarbonate unibody device. There have been, however quite a few changes made from the original One X. Instead of a white exterior, the EVO 4G LTE originally shipped only with a black finish. It is much more rectangular, akin to the previous EVO phones from Sprint, and continues to sport a black and red color scheme – something which HTC is deviating from with the recent One series (i.e. One S and One X).
There are the three standard Ice Cream Sandwich softkeys, Back, Home, and Recent Apps, under the large 4.7" SuperLCD 2 display. An update from HTC after the initial launch of the device included a software Menu button in certain applications at the bottom of the screen, though you are able to make the Recent Apps key act like your Menu key in the Settings. After the introduction of the Galaxy Nexus with its software navigation keys, it seems as if manufacturers, as well as some users, still prefer the original softkeys versus having them on-screen, and, clearly, users want a Menu key back on their devices.
Up on top of the device there is a 3.5mm headphone jack along with a microphone and Power/Lock button. I must say, I am very glad that HTC opted with a firmer Power Button than the one found on the EVO 3D from last year (as well as some of their other devices such as the HTC Rezound). This button gives a very tactile and satisfying 'click' when pressed.
Going down the right hand side there is the volume rocker up top with a dedicated two-step camera button at the bottom. A few things to note here: the volume rocker, unlike the Power Button, is made of the same glossy plastic that surrounds the upper portion of the back. However, the camera button is a metallic button, which actually feels a bit better than the camera button on the EVO 3D, which was a large circular button. Possibly due to its rectangular shape, the camera button, although still offering two-step operation (for auto-focus), is fairly solid and does not wiggle around as much as the EVO 3D shutter button tended to do.
The bottom of the device simply has the primary microphone hole and the left side of the phone is home to only the micro-USB charging/MHL port near the top. The location of the charging port on devices (as well as the headphone jack being on a totally different side) is always a gray area. Having a charging port on the upper side of the device does allow some sort of desktop dock/stand compatibility in that the cord does not extend from the bottom. However, it can get in the way when you are using the phone while it is charging, versus having the cord extending from the bottom. Another reason a side charging port is an odd decision on this particular device is because of the kickstand. The original EVO 4G was known for having a kickstand built into the device, which was later absent on the EVO 3D. Now this kickstand opens from the left to the right. This means, with the charging port on the left side of the device, you cannot have the kickstand holding up the EVO in landscape mode while the device is charging, at least not in the most obvious position.
This kickstand is much, much sturdier than the one found on the EVO 4G. There is a satisfying click when the kickstand locks into place and it is strong enough to hold up the EVO 4G LTE while is it lying on either side (left or right horizontally, which does allow you to charge the phone while using the stand if lying on the right) as well as holding it up in portrait mode - though not well enough to support firm taps. This is much more versatile than the original design and allows you to comfortably view the device in various orientations.
The only real downside to the re-design from the original HTC One X is that the back of the device is cut into three sections. The top portion, which is where you will find the camera and flash, is simply a glossy plastic which is prone to smudges, fingerprints, as well as scratches. This small plastic plate detaches from the case which allows the use of a microSD card. Note that the SIM card is embedded into the device. Under the camera and the metal kickstand we have the polycarbonate shell that is used on the original One X, though under that there is a small strip where the speaker cutout is. The speaker gets the job done, but volume is about average and in a loud environment (which is not fitting for speaker phone calls) it will leave you wanting just a little bit more punch.
Like most HTC Android phones, the EVO 4G LTE is running their Sense skin on top of Android. This is Sense 4, which is running much better than the previous versions. Sense has been known to offer a lot of integration with various social networks and add many features on the software front, as well as eye candy, but in the past has always been bloated and inefficient, resulting inconsistent performance and (somewhat) poor battery life.
Sense 4 does change quite a bit from your typical Android 4.0 experience. One notable difference is in the Application Drawer. You are unable to access a Widgets tab like in your stock ICS software. Instead, you manage your widgets by long-pressing on the Home Screen to access everything. This management of your Home Screens is actually quite nice. Rather than having to open the App Drawer, tapping and holding on an App to add it to your Home Screen, everything (Widgets, Apps, and Shortcuts) is available by long pressing on the Home Screens. You can select which screen to add each element to and you simply tap on your selection once to add it.
The lock screen is also a big change if you haven't used an HTC device recently. This lock screen has a ring at the bottom which you pull up to do a simple unlock, however you will see four icons above that ring as well. For direct access to those Apps, you simply tap and drag the icon into the ring to open it. This operation is the same for when you receive a Text or e-mail - just drag the notification that shows up on the lock screen into the ring to go to it.
HTC's Sense 4 also supports their Skins which allows for quick modification of some color elements, including icon highlight color and lock screen ring color, depending on the theme you select. While you cannot manually select a color, is it nice to have a few options for customizing your device out of the box. HTC kind of has their own little ecosystem going on with Sense and you can get a feel for that in the HTC Hub app that is preloaded on the phone. Here you can download ringtones, wallpapers, different skins, etc. to customize your phone to how you like it. It's a feature that not many manufacturers have, and is an extremely welcome addition. There is also a Transfer app which is a very handy App if you are coming from a relatively recent device. It contains quite a few different models from various manufacturers and upon selecting the correct model, the phone will display instructions to set up Bluetooth to start transferring information. It may not be entirely necessary, but it is an interesting (and potentially useful) inclusion nonetheless.
Overall, there is not a whole lot of bloatware on the device. There are some HTC apps, as mentioned above, and a few things like a Tasks app and tweaked Task Manager app, but I would not consider those to be bloatware. The only Sprint applications are ‘Sprint Zone’ and ‘Voicemail’, really, and I suppose a few (few being about five) preloaded apps you may not want (possibly because you use another one for that application).
HTC has been putting much effort into their Camera experience - both hardware and software. Hardware-wise, they are one of the few manufacturers to have a dedicated camera button on some devices. The camera is one of the better options on the market now, and I would only place it under the iPhone 4s and iPhone 5. The Samsung Galaxy S III has a very nice and quick camera, though I find the images from the One X to be more natural and pleasing to look at. That being said, HTC has included various filters with the camera so that you can take a picture with a certain filter already applied so that you do not have to edit the image after the fact. These filters are live and you can compose the image with the filter showing on the screen. It is not for everyone, but it is a nice alternative to using dedicated Apps for some.
Android has always been the more intimidating OS for mobile devices. The simplicity/minimalism of the iPhone is very attractive and easy to learn and use, which is why so many people choose it. Android on the other hand seems to be much more technical and many find themselves digging through menus, through trial and error, until they stumble upon what they wanted to do. The basics of Android has always come down to the navigation keys (Home, Back, Menu, Search) and actually remembering to use them, particularly the Menu button.
While Sense 4 does make things a bit simpler to use, there are still some characteristics in Android which may make things difficult for newcomers. Things such as un-labeled icons on the screen mean people may not know where to access certain options and become frustrated. HTC has tried to remedy this by labeling some of their own icons in certain screens, and overall, the look of the UI is much more appealing and welcoming. Similar to Samsung's TouchWiz interface, things are more colorful and, at times, simpler to navigate compared to your stock Android experience.
There is still a learning curve here for new smartphone or Android users. In fact, if you are coming from another Android device, such as a Motorola device or something with a vanilla Android interface, it may take a little bit to get your bearings. Once you get used to things, it really is a breeze.
Even though the EVO 4G LTE is "only" using a dual-core S4 versus a quad-core Tegra 3 found on the One X, performance is nothing but stellar. So far the only hiccup I have encountered was when accessing Recent Apps. For those that care, running a simple Quadrant test on the device netted a score of around 5800. The device is definitely on par with the performance of the Galaxy S III (which is also running the same processor, though more RAM). A combination of Ice Cream Sandwich (with 4.1 Jelly Bean soon to come) and a powerful processor makes for a very pleasant experience, despite all the animations added to the experience by HTC's Sense interface. Browsing is quick, navigation is fluid. No notable complaints. From a performance front, some may not like the Sense interface, but it is definitely not as bogged down as it was in previous iterations.
The Sense launcher does take a while to load (such as from a restart of the device) and there were a few times where the Browser crashed on me and I was waiting quite a long time for things to settle back down. As mentioned before, the Recent Apps menu feels slower than the stock menu to show the thumbnails and because of the way it is designed, is not quite as useful to me as the stock option. Having to swipe up to clear out applications rather than going left and right means your finger has to travel just a bit further across the screen.
Another annoying bug that seems to happen quite frequently is with the Messages app. Every now and then I would check a text or two, maybe even respond, but when I go back to the Home screen or another app, once I tap back into the Messages, for a brief moment it says those text threads have unread messages (which are the messages I just read/responded to) or it does not display my response. It does not really cause any problems, just an annoyance at times. If I responded to one person and not another, it would take just a moment to re-organize the threads so that the one I responded to shows up at the top. Seems to be a bug with the way the HTC Messaging app updates the information.
As mentioned before, the camera performs very well, especially with the two-step shutter button. While you cannot simply rapidly tap on the on-screen shutter button to take multiple pictures (like you can with the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III), there is a burst mode to take multiple, sequential pictures. This mode is useful for fast scenes or simply for taking group photos and making sure you have one where everyone’s eyes are open. It may not be the best camera, but it holds its own against the GSIII and iPhone 4s/5.
Battery life on newer Android devices has come a long way in a short amount of time. Now this is no RAZR MAXX HD, but the 2000mAH battery lasts quite a while and will most likely get you through the day. Under heavy usage (heavy texting, e-mails, Internet usage, multimedia) you may need to find a charger in the afternoon. I had about 7.5 hours under heavy internet usage and text messages (about 3.5 hours or so of Screen On time, a little over 100MB of data transferred) before my phone notified me of a low battery (14%). As always, you may get different results, but the battery life overall is acceptable. Unfortunately you cannot easily remove the battery to put in a spare, so be prepared if you are in for a long day – or just a boring one.
Pros: Fluid, consistent performance and speed make for a very reliable device. Dedicated Camera button is very convenient and unobtrusive. Kickstand is much more useful and versatile than before, and the Camera is one of the best on the market.
Cons: With a non-removable battery, questionable design choices, and "hard" softkeys on the front, the device seems to take a few steps forward and a few steps back. Just be prepared with a charger and, if you want, grab a case. Sense is not for everyone, but there are Launchers to download to "de-Sense" the interface a bit if that is the case. And of course, the size of the device is not for everyone.
Overall: After what I consider to be a disappointment last year in the EVO 3D, HTC and Sprint have released a device worthy of the EVO flagship name. Now it must compete with Samsung's Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II, as well as Apple's iPhone 5. All four devices have something somewhat unique to them, although I would say the GSIII is the EVO’s closest competitor. Regardless, the feel of the EVO LTE combined with solid performance and hardware features definitely make it worthy of your consideration.