The HTC EVO 4G is arguably one of the most ambitious smartphones ever to ship with Google's Android mobile operating system. Exclusive to Sprint, the device is one of the first to deliver 4G network connectivity. Its appeal is boosted by impressive hardware specs and a roster of outstanding capabilities, like support for high-definition video capture. It comes loaded with HTC's unique user interface enhancements and custom applications, which round out its feature set nicely.
Despite its strong assortment of merits, the device falls short of greatness due to mediocre battery life and a handful of other limitations. In this review, we'll take a close hands-on look at the EVO 4G.
HardwareThe EVO uses the same 1Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor that powers the Nexus One; it also sports 512MB RAM, 1GB of internal storage, and a 4.3-inch capacitive touchscreen that renders at 800x480. A 1.3MP camera is embedded on the front for video chat, and there's an 8MP camera with an LED flash on the back. As for wireless connectivity, the EVO is a CDMA device with support for EVDO, WiMAX, WiFi, and Bluetooth. These specs make the EVO a step up from Google's Nexus One handset. Although both devices have the same processor and the same amount of RAM, the EVO has a bigger screen, a better camera, and twice as much internal storage.
The EVO's build quality is modestly higher than average, but isn't excellent. It has a solid feeling in the hand and the screen is very robust. Unfortunately, the back plate doesn't slide off like on other HTC handsets—you have to snap it out with your fingernail. When I remove the back plate, I always feel like I narrowly avoided causing damage. When it goes back on, it never really feels like it has snapped all the way in. The power button is a bit mushy and doesn't always respond right away. The phone doesn't feel cheap, but these characteristics detract a bit from the build quality.
The EVO has a power pushbutton on the top edge of the device and volume toggle buttons on the right edge. These are the only actual physical buttons on the device. There is a row of capacitive buttons at the bottom of the device's face, right below the touchscreen. These capacitive buttons perform the standard Android operations: home, menu, back, and search.
The Android compatibility specification requires devices to make those functions immediately accessible to users, so they're found on every handset that has the Android market installed. The order of the buttons differs from one device to another, however. The N1 and Motorola Droid both use the following order: back, menu, home, search. The EVO swaps the home and back buttons so that home is the furthest on the left.
Unlike the Droid and the N1, the EVO has no directional pad or scroll ball. This doesn't really hamper basic navigation because Android's user interface is heavily designed for efficient touchscreen interaction, but there are a few cases where the absence of directional navigation hardware is frustrating.
When I'm browsing the Web on a mobile touchscreen device, my fat fingers often click the wrong link by accident. On my N1, I regularly use the scroll ball when I'm trying to hit a specific link that has many others in close proximity. I really miss being able to do that when I'm using the EVO. I also miss having the scroll ball when I'm trying to navigate or select text that I'm editing. On the EVO, I often have to resort to using on-screen arrow keys for moving through text.
The EVO has a metal kickstand that pops out so that the device can be propped up in landscape orientation and placed on a flat surface. It's extremely useful for when you want to watch videos, but it doesn't hold the phone firmly in place. The device will tip over if you hit the top-right corner and will slide around on the table if you push the touchscreen.
ScreenThe EVO's 4.3-inch screen is considered by some to be the device's principal selling point. It's roughly half an inch larger than the display on the N1, but it's the same exact resolution. This means that you don't necessarily get to see more content—it just stretches everything to a bigger size. This is evident when you look at the EVO closely next to an N1.
You won't be able to fit more icons on the home screen, for example, but there are some cases where the large screen is very beneficial. For example, it makes the browser's "small" font size easily readable. Even the "tiny" size is manageable on the EVO if you have good eyes. You can change the browser's default font settings and use one of those sizes in order to take advantage of the better screen and see more text at one time.
The EVO's large screen is particularly nice for watching videos or reading e-books. I did some tests with the third-party Aldiko reader application and found that reading on the EVO's big screen is much easier on the eyes than reading on my N1.
The single most profound advantage of the EVO's larger screen is that it makes the touchscreen keyboard significantly easier to use. Having bigger keys makes an enormous difference for on-screen keyboard usability. My error rate during fast typing is dramatically lower on the EVO than it is on the N1. The EVO is big enough that I can even type with two thumbs in portrait mode, which is something I can't do on my N1.
The big screen has some advantages, but there are also some downsides. It makes the device cumbersome and awkward to use for one-handed operation. I often have to reposition it in my hand so my thumb can reach the top-left corner of the screen or slide down the notification pane. Much like a tablet, the EVO tends to be more comfortable to work with when used in landscape mode with two hands. When using it with one hand, I find that it works better to balance it on the ends of my fingers rather than bracing it against my palm. Holding it in one hand isn't uncomfortable, it's just awkward to operate it that way with your thumb.The EVO's on-screen keyboard in landscape mode
Several readers have written in to ask if the EVO is comfortably pocketable. That's a tough question to answer because it depends a lot on the size of your pockets. The phone fits fine in my loose-fitting corduroy pants, but it's not going to be pocketable in tighter jeans. Its dimensions make it feel more like a small tablet than a large phone. In fact, it's very similar in size to Nokia's N810 Internet Tablet. I personally consider it pocketable, and I haven't had much trouble carrying it with me in my pocket while traveling.
If the EVO had a higher-resolution display, the larger screen size would be an unambiguous win and the awkwardness would be a relatively small price to pay. Unfortunately, because it has the same resolution as the N1 and other Android phones with smaller screens, it ends up largely being a wash. Whether the large screen is actually useful to you in practice is going to depend on what you do and how you like to use the phone.A size comparison: the Nokia N810, HTC Evo 4G, and Google's Nexus One
If you're thinking about getting an EVO and you typically operate your phone with one hand, I strongly recommend trying the device before you buy so you can see if it's comfortable for you. It might be a non-starter for users with small hands. If you want to watch a lot of videos or read books, then the screen size has got some big tangible benefits.
Although the EVO's bigger screen offers a better typing experience than smaller Android-based devices, I wouldn't necessarily endorse it as a good device for heavy messaging. Users who do a lot of typing are still probably better off buying a device with a physical hardware keyboard. Android's on-screen keyboard completely obscures the contents of the screen in landscape mode, which makes it frustrating to use for Internet chat or SSH.