Review: HTC EVO 4G LTE for Sprint

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The day that most of us have been waiting for is finally here! At long last, the HTC EVO 4G LTE is on its way to Sprint customers across the country, with many people expecting their special deliveries sometime tomorrow. Personally, I’ve been one of the lucky few who has had early access to the device, and I’ve been sharing the wealth by answering your questions and making some poorly-narrated videos.

So, to continue our recent trend of doing a lot of things for the first time (like our first video unboxing and our first video walkthrough), I thought it might be nice to actually present you with a formal, in-depth device review of the EVO 4G LTE.

Consider these “firsts” the beginning of some exciting changes that are coming soon to Good and EVO, so without further ado, let’s get down to business.

Quick Specs

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The HTC EVO 4G LTE features a 4.7-inch, HD 720p Super LCD capacitive touchscreen display with IPS (In Plane Switching) technology (1280 x 720), a 2000mAh lithium-ion non-removable battery, 1GB DDR2 RAM, 16GB eMMC ROM, a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon Qualcomm MSM8960 processor, and a micro-SDHC card slot. At 5.3″ (L) x 2.7″ (W) x 0.35″ (T), it weighs only  4.72 ounces.

The main camera on the back features 8MP, f/2.0, a 28mm wide angle lens, smart LED flash, a backside-illuminated senor, autofocus, HTC ImageChip technology, and up to 1080p HD video recording. The front camera is 1.3MP. Under the hood, it’s running Android 4.0.3 with HTC Sense 4.0; it runs on Sprint’s CDMA and 1xRTT networks (EVDO Rel. 0, EVDO Rev. A) and will be compatible with Sprint’s LTE network (band 25, 1900MHz).

The EVO 4G LTE is compatible with Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and Google Wallet, WiFi 802.11 A/B/G/N, HD voice, and MHL. It’s got a 3.5mm stereo audio jack that includes integrated Beats Audio technology, built-in dual microphones for noise reduction, a g-sensor, ambient light sensor, digital compass, proximity sensor, and gyro sensor.

Packaging

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While the brown cardboard design of the box might look a little cheap, don’t let that fool you: it’s eco-friendly (made from recycled material and printed with soy ink), and what it houses is truly worthy of the EVO name.

My unboxing video is below in case you missed it a couple weeks ago.

Hardware

Let’s get the most controversial aspect of this phone’s hardware out of the way first: you’re either going to love or hate the two-tone back. As we all know by now, the bottom half of the phone is anodized aluminum with a nice, matte black finish, which is almost identical to the sides of the EVO 3D in color, and to the back of the HTC One S in texture. It’s separated by a skinny, bright red kickstand, with a glossy, shiny, removable black plastic cover. (Yes, it’s a huge fingerprint magnet.)

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Admittedly, some people say that the back of the phone looks better in person, but I have to disagree. I’m truly baffled as to why HTC made this design choice; to me, it looks like the top of the EVO 4G LTE came from a completely different phone. While using the phone in public, I even found myself always setting it down face up, or covering the back with my hand, because I was actually embarrassed by the back.

But, to be fair, some people absolutely love it. To some others, function is more important than design, so they don’t care one way or the other. And a large contingency plans to immediately cover up the phone with a case, anyway, so they couldn’t care less about what the color on the back is. Additionally, I’m sure that third-party manufacturers will make replacements that match the bottom of the phone; I’d just be careful where you buy those, because that removable cover also houses a few antennas.

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Removing the black plastic cover also reveals the micro-SD card slot; one of the benefits of a non-removable battery is that you can access this without having to cut off power to your phone.

And since we’re talking about the back of the phone, I should mention that even though the camera does protrude a bit (like it does in all previous EVOs), the lens itself is actually recessed and therefore better protected from scratches. That was smart thinking on HTC’s part, although the HTC One X and One S don’t include this feature.

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I do have to admit that, in spite of the two-toned mismatched blacks on the back of the device, it looks really sleek when sitting face-up; I love the grey machined aluminum accent that goes all the way around the phone.

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The kickstand has also made a triumphant return, and because it’s spring-loaded, you can use it in either horizontal orientation, which allows for use while charging. The phone feels very polished, and it definitely seems strong enough to last the lifetime of the device. My only complaint is that you really need to have some fingernails to dig into the tiny slot and pull it out; it doesn’t extend out as easily as I’d like.

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If you’re coming to this device from the EVO 3D, you’re already used to the location of the MHL-compatible micro-USB port on the left side of the device. Some people prefer this on the bottom, but I don’t really care either way.

The volume keys are in their normal location on the right side of the device, and they are easy to find and press without looking. The power button is in its expected location on top, and it’s also easy to find and press quickly. The 3.5mm audio jack is between the power button and the second microphone, which works to filter out background noise while on a call.

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The dedicated camera button is on the side, below the volume keys, in the same place it occupies on the EVO 3D. Additionally, like its 3D counterpart, it features a two-stage mechanism when pressing down. The main microphone is on the very bottom.

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Unlike the One S and One X, there’s no Beats Audio branding on the EVO 4G LTE, and even Sprint branding is minimal and actually on the back of the device, right above the very narrow speaker grill.

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Overall, I have to say the build quality of this device is superb – much better than the EVO 3D. There’s no light leakage with the bottom buttons, and it just looks and feels like a very premium phone (if you can get over that glossy, removable back cover).

Screen

Having now used the 4.7-inch screen on the EVO 4G LTE, I don’t think I could go back to anything smaller. It’s the perfect size for the normal, everyday things I do with my phone, including checking out my RSS feeds, watching short video clips, and checking my email. It’s also incredibly responsive to my touch, and a special Antutu test I ran showed accuracy as expected. A dead pixel test also had perfect results.

The EVO 4G LTE offers an almost 180-degree viewing angle, and is among the brightest and most vivid of screens I’ve ever seen on a mobile phone. When set on automatic brightness, I have no trouble using the phone outside in bright sunlight; this is due to the included IPS technology. Also, on an interesting design note, the screen does not drape around the edges of the phone as it does on the One X. This should be expected, as it follows in the footsteps of the original EVO 4G and the EVO 3D in this regard; however, some people were hoping for a little less bezel.

Comparing this screen to the Super AMOLED screen on the One S, I do have to admit that the AMOLED screen certainly offered more vivid greens, reds, blues, and yellows (I ran a screen test side by side with the EVO). There are also much darker blacks, but this is to be expected of all AMOLED screens. But on the other hand, the Super LCD display on the EVO 4G LTE has much better whites, and in general it is brighter all around.

Clarity and sharpness on the EVO 4G LTE are also superior to any other device I’ve seen so far, which is definitely due to the 720p, high pixel-density display. (The only exception is the HTC One X, which has an identical screen.) This makes for a fantastic movie-viewing or ebook-reading experience, especially when combined with the kickstand.

In all honesty, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better screen on a mobile device right now.

Software

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The EVO 4G LTE runs Android 4.0.3 and Sense 4.0. As promised, HTC has succeeded in making its latest version of Sense less obtrusive, while still adding some nice functionality and allowing the true beauty of Ice Cream Sandwich to shine through.

The lockscreen is largely unchanged from what you’re used to on the EVO 3D, but it is still awesome, and even more customizable: You can view the complete notification drop-down list from the lockscreen, and you can even have specific notifications appear on the lockscreen itself. For example, you can choose to view missed call notifications on the lockscreen only from your mom or spouse, but not from work. You can view calendar notifications from Monday-Thursday, but not Friday-Sunday. It’s totally up to you. Additionally, you can choose to forgo shortcuts completely, which isn’t really possible on the stock EVO 3D.

As in previous versions of Sense, you can also control music from the lockscreen, but since HTC has integrated various cloud music services into its stock music app, you can now also control your Google Play Music collection. Additionally, as a nice added touch, HTC has integrated SoundHound into the FM Radio, so you can almost instantly get the title and lyrics to any song that’s playing. Unlike Shazam, however, SoundHound works with your headset plugged in.

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App scrolling in the app drawer is now horizontal instead of vertical, which I have come to prefer, and I especially enjoy the “edit tabs” feature: this is available in several different places throughout Sense 4.0, adding another layer of customization that is helpful for people who, like me, try to keep things as uncluttered as possible. I just love the fact that I can get rid of those useless “Frequent” and “Downloads” tabs in the app drawer.

The homescreen is nice, with the characteristic clock widget that’s gotten a more modern refresh. This time, Sense allows you to add or delete panels, which helps with the clutter, and widgets are still easily accessible with a long press on any empty area. Homescreen folders are also easy to create, just by dragging and dropping multiple apps or shortcuts into the same space (like in iOS). The 3D carousel is gone, as are full-screen weather animations (those were gimmicky and resource-intensive, anyway).

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The stock HTC keyboard and Swype are both awesome, and it’s much easier to switch between them due to the notification that appears at the top when typing. HTC has brought back the bottom-row navigation arrows that were so sorely missed in the EVO 3D, and the accuracy of HTC’s Trace feature has improved a hundredfold over Trace. Swype is also at version 3.26 in the EVO 4G LTE, instead of 3.21 on the EVO 3D.

The phone app has also been updated, and the “Groups” and “Call History” tabs are customizable, so you can remove them if you want. There’s also a handy microphone icon so you can speak the name or number you want to dial.

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The browser is speedy (it has awesome benchmarks to prove it), and it has some nice functionality, including an easy toggle for Flash in the settings. You also get 25GB of free bonus Dropbox storage for two years, and I like how worldwide weather conditions have been integrated into the clock app. The Weather app also includes a “News” tab that contains links to various weather-related news stories around the US and the world.

However, I still have a few criticisms: namely, I’m not sure I understand why HTC chose to keep the hardware buttons that it did. Instead of Menu and Search buttons, it has a Recent Apps/Multitasking button, in addition to the standard Back and Home buttons. Ideally, Ice Cream Sandwich devices don’t need hardware buttons at all.

Additionally, HTC’s odd choice of hardware buttons creates an odd side effect in the software: there’s now an awkward menu button/bar that takes up way too much screen real estate in many apps that aren’t yet optimized for ICS; in some cases, this duplicates the menu button that’s already included at the top of many apps.

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I also miss the recent apps that appear in the notification panel on my EVO 3D, or that appear by long-pressing the home button. On the EVO 4G LTE, the only way to get to your recently-used apps is by pressing the Multitasking button, which only displays one app at a time in an odd carousel-style menu. I’m also still scratching my head, trying to figure out why the Weather app only gives a 4-day forecast, instead of the 5-day forecast I’ve grown used to on the EVO 3D.

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As far as bloat is concerned, there’s not much. The only HTC and Sprint-specific apps are HTC Hub, HTC Mobile Guide, Sprint Hotspot (with support for up to eight devices), Sprint Zone, Stocks, Tasks, and Watch. Dropbox, Facebook, Google+, Google Shopper, and Twitter also come pre-installed.

This might change, since I’m running pre-release software, and there’s still time for HTC to push out a launch-day software update. However, even if more bloat gets added later, it’s really easy to disable system apps in Android 4.0, so they’ll disappear from the app drawer and lose all ability to run in the background; you won’t even know they’re there, and you don’t have to root to do this.

Performance and Benchmarks

Overall, the EVO 4G LTE is very responsive, and I have yet to experience any force close or discernible lag at all. For those who care, I’ve provided the results of some common benchmark tests below; in general, I care more about real-world performance than benchmarks, but some people find these important. So here they are.

Quadrant:

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AnTuTu:

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Linpack single- and multi-thread:

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Neocore:

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Vellamo:

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Phone Calls

I haven’t been able to test out the HD voice calling feature on the EVO 4G LTE, since it’s not available anywhere yet. I’m sure it’s amazing, but I have to admit that regular call quality on this EVO is really impressive, too. The phone has two microphones: one on the bottom that picks up your voice, and the other on the top that picks up all the background noise. It then filters out the background noise, so even if you aren’t in an HD calling area yet, or the person you’re talking to doesn’t have an HD-compatible phone, you’ll still sound much better. When talking to my mom, she commented that I sounded so clear it was like I was talking on a really high-quality landline, even though I was taking a walk in the park at the time, and kids were being loud in a nearby playground.

The speaker phone is also surprisingly loud and clear, much louder than the EVO 3D, and it doesn’t really have that characteristic tinny sound that plagues many modern speakerphones. Additionally, simultaneous voice calling and 3G data work perfectly: the EVO keeps a steady 3G connection while on a phone call, and data speeds don’t seem to suffer one bit.

In general, cell reception also seems on par with the EVO 3D, or maybe slightly better. I either get the same amount of bars, or a few more on the EVO 4G LTE, when the phones are side-by-side. One thing I have noticed, however, is that the EVO 4G LTE performs better with fewer bars than the EVO 3D (i.e. no dropped calls where my EVO 3D drops them, and consistently clearer call quality).

Connectivity

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Until Sprint gets around to rolling out its 4G LTE network (which apparently is already unofficially available in a few places around the country), you’re stuck on Sprint’s 3G network. However, so far, I’ve been pretty impressed with various 3G speed tests I’ve conducted. Most of my speed tests have been well over 1000kbps, which is excellent for Sprint. I don’t know if Sprint suddenly completed Network Vision in my city on the exact same day I got my EVO 4G LTE, or if the radios are really that much better than the EVO 3D.

I suspect it’s the latter: my EVO 3D, sitting right next to the EVO 4G LTE, is consistently anywhere from 200-500kbps slower than the EVO 4G LTE, every single time.

WiFi works as expected, and the device supports Bluetooth 4.0, although I haven’t gotten a chance to test out Bluetooth connectivity yet.

Camera

HTC is really touting the camera on the EVO 4G LTE, and for good reason: HTC Video Pic technology lets you take high-quality pictures while recording HD video, both while you’re recording and after the fact. Instant Capture technology means that there’s almost zero shutter lag. HTC’s ImageChip technology keeps everything in focus all of the time, and burst mode lets you take dozens of shots in several seconds so you can pick the best one. HTC Smart Flash technology automatically senses the distance between the camera and what you’re shooting, and adjusts the flash level accordingly.

The actual camera software loads almost instantaneously, and in general the user interface is better than any other camera software I’ve seen in other smartphones. Photo effects, video recording, settings, and flash are all easily accessible with one touch. It takes a bit more screen-pushes than I’d like to flip between front and back cameras, but that’s really my only gripe here.

Right now, the shutter button does nothing at the lock screen. However, if you have the camera set as one of your shortcuts, you can jump directly to it without entering your password; you’ll just have to enter your password to do anything other than take photos, though. Again, keep in mind that this is pre-release software, so there’s still time to fix any shutter-button weirdness that you might have read about.

The front-facing camera can shoot 720p video; and the back camera can shoot 1080p.

Most of you have probably already seen lots of examples of what the camera on this phone is capable of on other sites; I’ve included just a few pictures here that I took myself. Click each image to view the full-sized, unaltered file.

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If you want some examples of close-up photography under artificial lighting conditions, check out my review of the Seidio ACTIVE kickstand case for the HTC One X, over at Pocketables. I took those pictures with the EVO 4G LTE (I bet you didn’t see that one coming!). While they are compressed for the review, I think we can all agree that – while the camera is awesome for a smartphone, and it definitely gives the iPhone a run for its money – this won’t replace a dedicated digital camera for the professional photographer. Also, keep in mind that flash was off in most of the shots in the review to prevent glare (they might have turned out better with flash or HDR on). I also didn’t mess with any of the settings. It’s possible that someone with more photography experience than me could have made those close-ups turn out much better.

Battery Life

The EVO 4G LTE includes a respectable 2000mAh lithion-ion non-removable battery. On day one, after fully charging the device, I was able to get about 10 hours of use before the phone warned me that the battery was getting low. This was with almost constant use, including about 45 minutes of voice calls, half an hour of GPS turn-by-turn navigation, an hour or so of streaming music, internet browsing, app downloading and updating, etc. This was also with LTE on, even though LTE doesn’t exist here yet. It was on WiFi about half the time, and 3G the other half. Given that I could barely put the phone down during this time, I’d say 10 hours is decent.

With average use, and LTE turned off, I can manage to have almost a third of my battery remaining after an entire day’s use (about 7:00 a.m. to midnight). However, I realize that some of you want more specific numbers, so here we go: right now, as I write this review, my phone has been off the charger for four hours, 15 minutes, and 15 seconds. It’s lost exactly 20% of it’s charge, with the screen on for 30 mintues and 3 seconds and WiFi running for 3 hours, 6 minutes, and 7 seconds. I’ve only used 2 minutes 19 seconds of voice calls, and the phone has been idle for 3 hours, 45 minutes, and 12 seconds.

Here are the percentages:

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Keep in mind that I’ve been running several extensive benchmark tests during this time, so this might not be the most accurate gauge of battery life. Anyway, I’ve still got a few more battery tests I’d like to run when I have a bit more time, so stay tuned.

Conclusion

If your original HTC EVO 4G is on life-support, and you’re looking to upgrade, look no further. Seriously. I’m not just saying that because I’m the Managing Editor of Good and EVO, either. This phone takes everything that’s awesome about the OG EVO and makes it about 1,000 times better.

If you’ve got an EVO 3D, you still might want to upgrade to this device (I am). The camera alone is light-years ahead of that on the EVO 3D, and I can’t wait for LTE to light up in my neck of the woods. I hear that HD calling is pretty sweet, too, if that ever takes off. And I’m pretty certain that this will get the upcoming Jelly Bean update; I can almost guarantee that the EVO 3D won’t.

That’s not to say the EVO 4G LTE doesn’t have any shortcomings: the design choice on the back is the most obvious, but some people are also apprehensive about a battery that they can’t replace. Sense also has a few quirks remaining, which I mentioned above, but it’s gotten much better – especially if you’re still on Sense 1.0.

The EVO 4G LTE is arguably the best HTC phone in the US right now: it’s got a bigger battery than the HTC One X, and a kickstand. If there was any ever doubt about the worthiness of the EVO 3D to carry on the EVO name, that doubt is gone in this handset. But who am I kidding? If you’ve read this far, I doubt you need any more convincing about how awesome the EVO 4G LTE really is.

The HTC EVO 4G LTE is available on-contract for $199.99.

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John F

John was the editor-in-chief at Pocketables. His articles generally focus on all things Google, including Chrome and Android, although his love of new gadgets and technology doesn't stop there. His current arsenal includes the Nexus 6 by Motorola, the 2013 Nexus 7 by ASUS, the Nexus 9 by HTC, the LG G Watch, and the Chromebook Pixel, among others.

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