HTC EVO 4G review

I've been an iPhone user for the past two years. I will readily admit that overall, I've had a lot of good experiences with my iPhone. A lot of their features really did "just work" for me. I never paid attention to Android based phones after reading the reviews of the models that came out over a year ago. My daughter works for T-Mobile and she has an HTC phone - after looking at it for a few moments I handed it back. I was impressed with the hardware. However, like I said, I didn't pay attention to other phones. In fact, I didn't even hear about the HTC EVO 4G until the day it was released! After reading countless reviews, watching numerous videos and reading hundreds of Android Forum posts, I got the urge to check out the EVO 4G for myself.

I like to call myself an educated consumer. I take pride in doing my research before making major purchases and 99% of the time that serves me well. This is another one of those times. After all the research I did, the next step was to see a live, working phone in person. I headed to the local Sprint store and played with a live sample. I made a call, I took some photos, I shot some video. Most importantly, I held the phone in my hand and I compared it with my iPhone 3Gs. I can't stress this point enough - If at all possible, play with a working phone before purchasing it.

First off, the phone is BIG. It's noticeably bigger than my iPhone 3GS. If you think an iPhone is too big, you might as well quit reading. The EVO 4G is thicker, wider and longer than an iPhone 3GS. Not by all that much if it was just by one of those dimensions, but when you factor all three dimensions into the equation you are left with a phone that just seems to dwarf the iPhone.

Second, there are so many reviews out there already, that I'm mainly going to focus on the problems and issues that are widely being reported.

1) Battery Life. One of the many great things about the EVO 4G is that you can really customize the phone. Regardless of what you think about an iPhone the only things a user can change are what apps are installed, what ringtones are used and what background image is installed on the lock screen. The EVO 4G uses the Android 2.1 operating system and it's highly customizable. Want to add live wall paper? Go for it. Want to add a widget to display your Google calendar? Do it. Want to remove the operating system completely and put a different version on or a custom ROM? You can do that too. And might I add with minimal flak from HTC OR the cellular carrier. How does this relate to the Battery life? Most reviews and a LOT of users are reporting dismal battery life. I mean removing the phone from the charger and having a dead phone in 4 hours. Is the battery really that bad? Well, it CAN be. Especially if you are uneducated about the phone and it's features. Personally, I average about 8 hours before needing a charge. Honestly, I never made it through an entire day with my iPhone without having to charge it. For me, it's the same experience. *Edit - see the "Sprint Zone" tip two paragraphs down for an update on my average battery life.*

There a many ways to keep your battery from running out. Don't live in a 4G city? Turn off the 4G radio. Sitting in your office for 9 hours? Turn off the GPS. Don't have access to Bluetooth or Wifi? Turn those off as well. At home, I turn off everything but Wifi. If I need to download data, I turn on 4G and turn it back off when I'm done. When I'm at the office, I turn off all of the radios and use the 3G connection. Really...for 90% of the users, there is no reason to have every radio on 24/7. Here's the beautiful part - you can put a widget for each radio on your desktop. No having to go into setting and searching. It literally takes me 3 seconds to turn on or turn off whatever radios I want. While you are at it, turn off the auto-brightness. You can put a widget on the desktop that will toggle from maximum brightness to about 40% and to about 10%. Indoors you'll never need more than the 40% brightness. Outdoors you can bump up to 100%, but honestly I've used 40% outdoors as well.

Because Androids do true multitasking you need to be sure that you close applications properly. Some applications run in the background in an inactive state and those are fine - they don't drain the battery. Other applications, however, run in the background and they DO drain the battery. When in an application, hit the menu button. IF there is an exit option, use it. For applications that don't have an exit option, you'll want to use the back button until you back out to the desktop. Also, go into the settings menu and look at the installed applications. Turn off updates for programs you don't use. For example, I will NEVER check stocks, so I shut off my stock program updates. Likewise for news readers. Here's a tip that I found out about on Friday from the Android Central Forum: Go into "Sprint Zone" hit "Menu" and then into "Settings". From there, scroll down to "Set Update Frequency" and change it to "Only at Startup". This will keep "Sprint Zone" from constantly checking for updates. My battery life dramatically improved after doing this. My best estimate now puts my battery usage at about 10 to 12 hours. There are many such tips to be found in the various forums, though I must say the Android Central Forums are the best I've seen so far.

2) Wifi Range. Simply put, Wifi range as it is right now is a major sticky point for many users. One of the tricks to saving battery life is to enable Wifi whenever possible. However many users are seeing signals so weak that they can't even connect to Wifi. I live in a 900 Sq Ft apartment and I can connect in every room, but even in my tiny space, the further I go from my wireless router, the weaker my signal gets. This is NOT a major issue for me though because even though my signal gets weak, I still connect and I still get fast download speeds. Plus Wifi is not available for me at work. HTC & Sprint are aware of the problem. If Wifi usage is a major must have feature for you and you are not in close proximity to your wireless router, I'd suggest holding off on purchasing this phone until HTC/Sprint come out with some sort of fix. The Android community seems to be hopeful that there will be some sort of update by HTC/Sprint to fix the issue. Forum posters have been reporting that putting the phone down makes the Wifi signal jump up and picking the phone back up makes the Wifi signal go back down. This could mean the internal Wifi antenae is not optimally placed. Note, I have tried this and I have seen the same behavior with the Wifi signal in my apartment.

3) Screen Issues. There have been reports that parts of the touch screen are not as sensitive as they are supposed to be. HTC has acknowledged the problem and a software fix is in the works. I personally have not experienced this issue. There have also been reports of the screen lifting up near the bottom corners of the device which points to manufacturing issues. From what I have seen this problem is becoming more widespread and can probably be attributed to the product being new. Various forum posts are pointing to the glue that was used during manufacturing. My phone just started exhibiting this flaw early this afternoon. HTC & Sprint have acknowledged this problem as well and from what I have heard, this would be a warranty fix.

4) Picture & HD movie quality. There have been numerous forum posts about the lack of quality in both the camera and the HD video camera. My first hand experience has been this: The stock setting certainly DO leave a lot to be desired. The camera comes with a default ISO setting of 800, I believe. I adjusted mine to 200. That really made a difference with my picture quality. You can also adjust brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness. There are a couple of other camera settings as well. I suggest playing with them to find the right settings for your needs. I have posted photo's in my blog and on my Flickr page. You can judge the photos for yourself.

The HD video camera defaults to VGA (640v480). Video shot at that resolution certainly does not look all that great. You have to go into the video camera settings and change the resolution to 720p (1280x720). That makes a great difference in the quality of the video. Will this video camera replace your dedicated HD video camera? No, probably not and might I add that expectation for a smart phone is a little unrealistic. Now for someone that has no video camera this video camera is wonderful.

5) Call quality. I really came to expect dropped calls with my iPhone. In fact, at times I had to stand in my window to get clear cell phone reception. The EVO 4G has not dropped one call yet. My reception has been great as well. Now I only stand in the window if I want to.

6) Google. If you are not using Google to manage your contacts & your personal calendar, I suggest you think about it. I had set up all of my iPhone contacts in Gmail prior to getting the EVO 4G. Signing into Google on the phone for the first time treated me to a wonderful surprise - all of my Gmail contacts were waiting for me on my EVO 4G after the sign-in was completed. A few things to note - If you don't want everybody you've ever emailed in Gmail to show up in your phone's address book, make sure you have your contacts under "My Contacts". Having no contacts under "My Contacts" makes everybody under "All Contacts" show up on your phone. "All Contacts" means everybody you've ever received or sent mail too including people in email threads that you might not even know.

Another really nice feature is that you can update your contacts & calendar on your PC and it will synch with your phone as soon as you hit "Save" on your PC. I just started using the Goggle calendar and I'm very happy with it so far. Is it as robust as, say, Microsoft Outlook? No, it's not. But for home users, it's more than adequate.

Speaking of Microsoft, I have not tried linking my phone to my employers Exchange server. I have no intention of doing so either. My philosophy is this - If my employer wants to buy me a phone, I'd be more than happy to make myself available 24/7. If Microsoft Exchange support is important to you, I suggest searching the various Android Forums. Android Central has a sticky thread for email FAQs.

7) GPS. My experience so far is that the GPS on the EVO 4G really out performs the GPS on the iPhone 3GS. Applications like Foursquare now work the first time I try checking into a venue. With the iPhone 3GS there were many times when I simply could not check in because the GPS couldn't pinpoint my location. Also, there are a few different GPS navigational programs that come with the phone. The first one being Sprint Navigation. The second being Google Maps. I'm leaning towards Google Maps as my favorite, but I'm still undecided.

8) Music. My whole reason for originally buying the iPhone was because I didn't want to carry a cell phone AND an iPod. Is the EVO 4G a suitable replacement? Definitely. The EVO 4G comes with a 8 gig micro SD card. I went out and bought a 16 GB micro SD card for $69.00. You can even buy a 32 GB card if you have that much music. There are a couple of different programs that you can download that will take your music from iTunes and convert it into a format that plays on the EVO 4G. My favorite so far is doubleTwist. The only music it won't convert is the music you bought off of iTunes IF that music has DRM. Not all music purchased on iTunes does. There is a workaround for this problem. Simply burn the music with DRM onto CDs. Then rip the CDs back onto your PC with Windows Media Player. It really is that simple. I didn't detect any noticeable drop in audio quality either. After your music is ready to go, you can use doubleTwist to synch the music with your SD card or you can drag and drop the songs yourself. Is the music player just like an iPod? No. Is it different and will it play the music you load onto the phone? Yes.

9) Apps. The Android App store is quickly building up a very nice library of titles. All of my favorite iPhone apps have counterparts in the Android App store. Hootsuite, Foursquare, Sportstap, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr - they're all covered. The Android App store is not nearly as locked down as the Apple App store. Android Apps are checked to make sure there are no viruses hidden inside of them but that's where Android stops. It's refreshing to be set free from Apple's heavy handed approach to apps.

10) 4G Connection. I am lucky to live in a city that has 4G. My experience has been that with 4G enabled, my web pages load as fast as they would on my PC. My 4G downloads tend to be about 3 times faster than my 3G downloads. Please note that there is a $10.00 monthly data charge for 4G and it's mandatory with this phone. That's regardless of whether you live in a 4G area or not.

Conclusions:

Pluses - 4G works well in Chicago, Camera & Video Camera are upgrades over the iPhone 3GS, Google integration, GPS works well, Android flexibility.

Negatives - Initial build quality appears to be spotty, $10 Data Premium for 4G

Overall, I highly recommend this phone but with a few conditions. If you really depend on Wifi & you are not close to your router, I'd hold off. If you don't live in a 4G city and don't want to pay the $10.00 mandatory data surcharge, I'd hold off. If being an early adopter and dealing with new hardware issues bothers you, I'd hold off.

Any questions or issues I have not addressed? Leave a comment.

Comments

  1. Awesome review! Have you tried the TasKiller app? You can add the TasKiller shortcut on the desktop and with one touch kill all applications running in the background. :) Oh, I can't wait for 4G to be everywhere!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Mana! I've read some Android developer forums & most of them are saying this phone doesn't need a task killer app. Some developers are even saying that task killing apps end up doing more harm than good. I'm waiting to hear a definitive answer.

    The 4G is pretty sweet! Thanks for the comment!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ok, so we totally needed to have lunch anyway and NOW that you are an EVO wizard...

    PLEASE show me how!

    Your bestest buddy EVER,
    Jen

    ReplyDelete
  4. You got it, Jen!

    Thanks for the comment :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I read this review while we were in L.A. but couldn't comment on it--the 'berry is fading fast. :(

    I played with the EVO and can definitely see the appeal, but the size--I *have* to have something that fits comfortably in my pocket-- and the 4G charge are killers for me. $120 for 4G service that I will only use on the weekends is a bit spendy for this girl. So my search continues, but I am glad you like the EVO so much.

    Oh, I am also a mega fan of google maps. Joe and I decided to skip the GPS with our rental car in L.A. and relied solely on the google maps app on my 'Berry to get us to all our destinations--and locate coffee, pinkberry, and zilla approved food options in every town we passed through :)-- with much success. If it had a mouth, I would have open mouth kissed it by the end of our trip. ;)

    ReplyDelete

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