Editorial Review

Review: HTC EVO 4G

I don’t measure my time spent in grade school by years. Instead of going through first grade, second grade, and third grade, I went through toy fads. I went through the Pogs epoch, the Magic card era, and the yo-yo period, and the Pokemon/Digimon/YuGiOh age seemed to never end. There was a short, but memorable, period of time sometime in the fifth grade when remote control cars were the toy to have if you wanted to be part of the grade school elite. For some reason, this brief moment in childhood fad history stands out more than most. It had more to do with a certain model of RC car that kicked off the trend in the first place. This car was called the XRC Ricochet. If you don’t remember what the Ricochet was, then you probably were comatose (or not watching cartoon commercials) in 1996. It was a two-sided car that could drive on either side. It was fast, furious, and all the cool kids wanted one more than anything in the universe.

After weeks of pestering my parents, and finally resorting to my grandparents, the Ricochet was mine. I humbly unboxed the jewel of child-size eye, unpacked the monstrosity of a plastic cube that was its battery, and brought it to school, ready to leap into the upper echelons of the 5th grade bourgeoisie. I placed it on the blacktop at recess, flipped the switch, and I was the coolest person on the playground. I was ramming into things, spinning wildly, flipping in ways no RC car had ever flipped before, and it kept going. It was everything advertised and then some; I was in grade school nirvana. Twenty minutes later, it died, and it needed an eight hour charge to use it for another 20 minutes.

That’s how I feel about the EVO 4G.

I received my EVO last week, and it was like the Ricochet all over again. When you first pick up the unit, you can tell right away that it’s going to be a different experience than you’ve had with other smartphones. This phone is heavy, big, and isn’t ashamed of it. It struts its 122mm x 66mm x 13mm stuff and looks great doing it. The HTC HD2, which many consider the EVO's spiritual predecessor (it also has a spacious 4.3” screen), clocks in at 121mm x 6mm x 11mm. That’s an extra 2mm of thickness, and, in the world of smartphones, a risky move. HTC managed to make that 2mm feel comfortable, rounding the edges in a way that makes it very comfortable to hold and pocket, including those of you who like their jeans skintight.  The overall large presence of the phone, both in heft and in looks, gives the phone a very solid, powerful, and expensive feel, and makes you feel like you’re handling something that wants to be something more than just the latest iteration of HTC’s forward propulsion of the Android platform.

I wasn’t so impressed with the hardware buttons on the phone. I found the volume rocker tough to work with when holding it with one hand. I guess it may depend on how you hold the phone. I’m slightly ambidextrous, so I switch from right hand to left at random, and it just seemed to me that the rocker was uncomfortable no matter how I held it. The power/sleep button is on top of the phone, flush with the body. HTC has come under a lot of flak for making a design-over-function decision that makes it harder for people to wake up the device without actually looking at the button to locate it. I never had a problem with it. I actually like the fact that the button is unobtrusive and basically not visible when looking directly at the screen. It makes for a cleaner overall look, and I don’t think users will have a problem with it once they use it for a day or two. The Home, Menu, Back, and Search buttons, usually hardware based, are soft buttons on the EVO. It gives some nice haptic feedback when you press one of these, and it’s implemented well overall. The only gripe I have with the soft buttons is that when my small, fat, fingers reach over to the far side of the screen, my hand will activate the Home button (or the Search button, for righties). This wouldn’t have been a problem in a hardware button, but I’m doing it less and less the more I use the phone.

However impressive the physical presence of the phone may be, the moment you press the power button, the real star of the show makes its entrance. The intro screen, a bright white background with black “HTC EVO 4G” lettering, immediately communicates to the user what to expect from this screen. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s clear, and it’s smooth. Some would say it’s too big. I say it’s the perfect size. If I could request any size I wanted for a touchscreen smartphone, this is the size I would pick. It makes typing on the Android 2.1 keyboard easy for my short fat fingers, it’s not a stretch swiping from one side to the other, and you can watch movies on it without getting eye-strain. The kickstand, a new feature that EVO brings to the table, emphasizes the fact that this screen was made for watching, and watching’s what you’ll do, thanks to the kickstand. Keeping your hands free while watching a video on a phone is something you realize you wanted very badly the moment you’re able to do it. While Engadget is reporting that the EVO is running into touchscreen issues while grounded (not in your hands), I found the overall touch responsiveness of the phone to be great. The 1Ghz Snapdragon processor makes touch typing really fast and touch scrolling through hundreds of downloaded apps a smooth experience. As expected, multi-touch works great, and browsing on the phone is a speedy and smooth ordeal.

The cameras, notice the plural, are OK. There was a lot of hype surrounding the 8MP camera and 720p recording, as well as the 1.3MP front camera for video chat. In a nutshell, this won’t be your next DSLR. However, is it the best camera on a smartphone? Quite possibly. In decent lighting, the shots I took with the 8MP camera were very nice. It’s very good for outdoor shooting and well-lit interiors. The video, also in good lighting, doesn’t seem very HD when played back. It’s very compressed, and a standalone 720p HD camcorder does a much better job at making the picture HD quality. It definitely isn’t bad though, and the option to immediately upload to Youtube is nifty. On both picture and video, low lighting seems to destroy quality. The dual LED flashes look pretty, and make great flashlights, but they don’t fare so well as camera flashes. Like I said, it’s serviceable, but don’t expect standalone camera quality from these lenses. I didn’t get much time to test the front camera with Qik video chat, but the one time I was able to test it, it performed well enough. It definitely displayed my face nicely, and 1.3MP is plenty for a basic video chat, and not too big to render 3G video chat impossible.

This isn’t an Android 2.1 review, so I won’t go into everything that this phone does great. Much of the “Wow” moments of the EVO are products of the OS and its software. It’s running Sense UI on top of Android 2.1, so it really is no different than my wife’s HTC Hero, but the key difference between EVO and the rest of the Android competition is Sprint’s WiMax 4G network. I don’t get 4G where I live currently, but I was able to test it out last week while on vacation in Philadelphia, PA. Just to make things ironic, I fired up the pre-installed YouTube app that enables HQ content while on 4G or Wifi and opened the iPhone 4 promo video in HQ. In just a few seconds, I was streaming a high quality video stream with no buffering hiccups. I was almost as enthusiastic as the people in the promo (but not quite). Websites that took ten seconds or more to load on 3G took five seconds or less on 4G, and I was downloading large attachments in a jiffy. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering, but it’s definitely a huge step up from 3G. The speed tests I ran regularly during my stay in Philadelphia all hovered around the 3Mb down/1Mb up mark. Not bad at all, considering that many are lucky to get 1Mb down in urban areas using 3G. 4G can be simply toggled on or off depending on the situation, and if there’s no 4G signal when you have it on, it defaults to 3G anyways. It’s an unobtrusive implementation of a new network, and props to HTC and Android for making it seamless.

As in my 5th grade experience with the Ricochet, I was enthralled with this phone. Everything about it was exactly how I imagined it would be and then some. I was the cool kid on the playground, and people were looking at my phone in envy while out and about. Unfortunately, as I strolled around Times Square, using the bejeebus out of Google Maps, my phone died at 5:30 PM. I had taken it off the charger at 8:30 AM. I had 4G off, GPS only when I needed it, brightness on auto, and no CPU intensive games were played. I was using the phone almost purely for phone calls and Maps, and it didn’t last the day. For a mobile phone, that’s simply unacceptable. There are countless guides that explain all the different ways you can squeeze battery life out of the EVO, but the sad truth is that you can’t use the phone the way it was meant to be used without having to charge it in the middle of the day. Using Google Navigation for and an hour and a half drive will knock out half your battery, and 4G delivers similar results. Even if I was able to get a full day’s use out of the EVO (which I can do now, thanks to tweaks and apps that help manage battery usage), every time I use my phone, I’m forced to budget my battery capacity. Every time I take a picture, I wonder how much battery it will knock off. Every time I unlock the screen, I check the notifications bar to see how my battery is holding up. I play games only when I can’t find something to read, because games eat up battery life. Say what you will about multi-tasking, CPU power, and screen size, you can’t put out a mobile device that won’t last a whole workday using it the way it was advertised to be used. Based on my usage of the phone in airplane mode (all wireless radios off) on my flight home, it seems that the problem is in the wireless connections. I was playing 3D games for close to two hours on the EVO, and it used up almost 20 percent of my battery, which is definitely acceptable.

Until HTC can fix the battery problem, all the accolades bestowed upon the EVO 4G are pointless if you don’t have a dedicated power source to keep the juices flowing. Otherwise, you’ll be constantly pressed to scale back usage of a phone you likely paid good money to use. As it stands now, the EVO 4G is a formidable device. It is HTC’s attempt to start a new era of smartphones, where the lines between phone, tablet, and computer continue to be blurred. Ideally, this phone can do no wrong. It is a well-built, handsome, fast, powerhouse of a machine. Unfortunately, It may a little too powerful for its underlying software, gobbling up power resources faster than is acceptable in a competitive mobile device. If HTC can fix this problem, there’s nothing out there that can rival the EVO 4G.

Image Credits: Michael James (Flickr)

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52 Comments

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don't forget about the glass popping out issues, poor video drivers, extremely limited 4G coverage, even if you got 4G the phone wouldn't be able to take full advantage of it without rooting and overclocking the cpu, contrast issues, battery life is miserable(even more so with overclocking)... and the list goes on.

I owned one for about a week even tho I had 30days, I took it back. Horrible phone, just like the HD2.

When is HTC going to learn that quality matters?

designgears said,
don't forget about the glass popping out issues, poor video drivers, extremely limited 4G coverage, even if you got 4G the phone wouldn't be able to take full advantage of it without rooting and overclocking the cpu, contrast issues, battery life is miserable(even more so with overclocking)... and the list goes on.

I owned one for about a week even tho I had 30days, I took it back. Horrible phone, just like the HD2.

When is HTC going to learn that quality matters?


strange i dont have any glass popping out

dont have any video problems

4g yep sucks but its not in my area lol

sucky battery funny i get 16 hours + per charge

over clocking i use the overlcocking app to cycle my cpu down when the screen turns off to IMPROVE BATTERY !!!

designgears said,
don't forget about the glass popping out issues, poor video drivers, extremely limited 4G coverage, even if you got 4G the phone wouldn't be able to take full advantage of it without rooting and overclocking the cpu, contrast issues, battery life is miserable(even more so with overclocking)... and the list goes on.

I owned one for about a week even tho I had 30days, I took it back. Horrible phone, just like the HD2.

When is HTC going to learn that quality matters?

I agree on the HTC quality issue, my HTC Desire is barely a month old and already falling apart! (I look after it as well)..that is the problem with alot of companies, they build things to a price not quality.

Xerxes said,
I agree on the HTC quality issue, my HTC Desire is barely a month old and already falling apart! (I look after it as well)..that is the problem with alot of companies, they build things to a price not quality.


what's the point of building the quality? people change phones every year.

Wow, props to the reviewer for not using pictures of a greasy, finger-print covered phone like so many reviews of so many phones always seem to use. The grossest thing about most touch-screen phone demos and photos is that the people taking the pictures don't seem to ever think for a split second to wipe the screen beforehand, leaving reviews--no matter how flattering the text--with nothing more than a slideshow of turn-offs.

I love my EVO as well. I too couldnt handle the battery life issue as well. So I took the plung and rooted my EVO and it was the best thing i ever did. now that i am running a custom rom my bettery life is so much better. I had a hard time making it to 5pm before my battery was gone. After the root and custom rom my battery is at about 60 to 70% still good at 5pm. It just goes to show the stock rom has a ton of services and apps running in the background that chew up the battery. Also I figured out that to keep my 4G off while i am at work because 4G services is very poor in my office. Once i leave the office I can turn it back on and everything is good. When in the office and the 4G is on it bounces between the 2 radios and eats the life out of the battery.

Thats been my expierence so far.

i love my EVO best phone i have owned hands down i get 16 - 18 hours per charge on heavy usage ! the screen is perfect super fast

After some tweaking and about a week of usage, it looks like the battery on my EVO has figured itself out. It can now last about a day without me having to charge it. That being said, battery life still isn't very good, but its not very different from other super-powered smartphones on the market currently. Its all dependent on how its configured and what you are doing with it.

my EVO actually does pretty well for battery with unrevoked and setcpu/overclock widget running. the thing that kills the most battery is in fact lack of signal. i dont use it as advertised just because i dont need to. but it regularly lasts 24-30 hours before it gets to 10%. if you have one, make sure you disable CDMA PRL and switch it to CDMA only if you dont need roaming, it'll save you juice.

4G is overhyped, the ONLY good part for me is Voice/Data simultaneously, the speed is very secondary...it's a phone. i have a laptop.

still considering returning it and waiting for the galaxy s pro...

I love my Evo....battery is only an issue due to sprint service for me, when I'm at home (~20miles outside NYC) its constantly looking for service and bars fluctuate (no issues with call quality or dropped calls...but bars constantly change).....but when I'm in the city with constant full bars, the battery stays pretty solid

good battery, snapdragon, HTC TP2 qwerty pad and android would make a sweet phone... one can only dream however. Nice review anyway lol

Kudos on the intro, Ricochet was one of my favourite toys!

I really want the Evo to be released in Europe with the battery issues fixed

Great review. Like how you were able to link what was on the phone to usage in every day life. You are correct on the battery life, as it being the bane to the android at the moment. I think we all worry about our battery every time we turn it on But it does get better the more you use it.

Its a very beautiful device and by looking at its pictures you can actually imagine how it would feel to have it in your hands watching movies, surfing the web, playing games or reading books. However the issue I have with smartphones as big as this one is that it looks geeky when you're attending a call. It almost looks like one is holding a calculator to his/her ear. Its a matter of personal choice. I believe HTC Desire is pretty much the maximim threshold in terms of smartphone size.

I went through much better fads in my time but great opener to the review there and good review. Kick stand goes well

Regarding the battery you will find that the battery gets better as you use it. How long did you have the Evo when you wrote this review? My battery took around a month to fully 'break-in'.

Singh400 said,
Regarding the battery you will find that the battery gets better as you use it. How long did you have the Evo when you wrote this review? My battery took around a month to fully 'break-in'.

Yea this is the same way on the Samsung Moment, it's kind of like the OS needs to learn the high and low benchmarks of where the battery is, it can take some time. The best thing to do is use it till it dies, and then charge it fully. That appears to make it remember it's limits better in the OS.

Great review!
I've got my HTC Smart review up and it just shows one end of the spectrum, and now the other as this is the flagship phone from HTC.
Makes me want to get one of these now, if they ever see the UK market!

about the battery: it is ubiquitous nowadays on the so-called 'smart' phones. iPhone users are not strangers to that either.

warr said,
about the battery: it is ubiquitous nowadays on the so-called 'smart' phones. iPhone users are not strangers to that either.
I hear that a lot, but my iPhone 3GS' battery lasts days on a single charge.

I am only able to kill my battery if I stay in an area using 2G (EDGE) with 3G turned on, and I play games and use the map for a large portion of the day. In fact, last Friday I drove (I was a passenger) 6 hours, played games and used the maps for navigation, then did the same on Sunday as I drove back without any charge inbetween. The battery was close to death, but I'd say 2 days of heavy use with normal use on the Saturday is pretty good for a smart phone.

i see all my colleagues charging their phones on computers every day. and there is 3G coverage in my office.

if the battery can't last 3 days, i don't call those smart phones smart. charging is annoying. fortunately the blackberry i have from the company can last 3 days.

bluefisch200 said,
What for widgets are you using? They look very nice...

I'd like to know too, I like the bottom launcher, it reminds me of OS X in a way. What is that? What are the weather and calendar widgets too? Best ones I've seen so far.

I have the Evo, and absolutely love it. I don't have a problem with the battery so much after I rooted with Fresh .02 Rom. Even before I rooted, I wasn't have a problem with the battery, and thats with constant use too. I guess it just depends on the user??

bluefisch200 said,
What for widgets are you using? They look very nice...

Launcher looks like Launcher Pro, but my understanding if you used that for the homescreen then you couldnt use HTC widgets which makes me wonder as the Clock/Weather and Calendar look like HTC.

AbandonedTrolley said,

Launcher looks like Launcher Pro, but my understanding if you used that for the homescreen then you couldnt use HTC widgets which makes me wonder as the Clock/Weather and Calendar look like HTC.

They are not HTC widgets. I think the clock and weather is Beautiful Widgets and the calendar is smooth calendar.

bluefisch200 said,
What for widgets are you using? They look very nice...

The bottom launch bar is probably "LauncherPro BETA".
"YR.no" is the widget used for Clock/Weather.
For the calendar, I have no idea !

SX86 said,

The bottom launch bar is probably "LauncherPro BETA".
"YR.no" is the widget used for Clock/Weather.
For the calendar, I have no idea !

The calendar widget is just the HTC calendar widget (3 are given to choose from and it's the last option in the lineup)

xcopmanx said,

The calendar widget is just the HTC calendar widget (3 are given to choose from and it's the last option in the lineup)

No, you can not use HTC widgets without sense UI...

Remote Sojourner said,

They are not HTC widgets. I think the clock and weather is Beautiful Widgets and the calendar is smooth calendar.

I'll confirm the calendar widget is Smooth Calendar; just installed it.

Judging by the pictures in the market for Beautiful Widgets, it does not appear to match.

Hey Tvzi, just a question about network... You said on 4G in Phili you were getting about 3mbps down... I'm just confused at to how 4G is only 3mbps down, yet the network I run on is purportedly 3G, yet I'm getting almost 5mbps. Any clue?

Brian said,
Hey Tvzi, just a question about network... You said on 4G in Phili you were getting about 3mbps down... I'm just confused at to how 4G is only 3mbps down, yet the network I run on is purportedly 3G, yet I'm getting almost 5mbps. Any clue?

Brian, 3G/4G speeds vary pretty substantially based on who your provider is and what part of the country you're in, as well as what time of day it is, network load, etc, etc, etc. T-mobile's updated 3G+ network is supposed to rival Sprint's 4G network, but that won't be launching until later this year, so we'll see.

vaximily said,

Not 4G...

how do you know? the Droid X hasn't been officially announced, they have some rough specs of it, but thats about it.

Berserk87 said,

how do you know? the Droid X hasn't been officially announced, they have some rough specs of it, but thats about it.


Verizon isn't going to roll out LTE aka 4G anytime soon.

Jebadiah said,
Verizon isn't going to roll out LTE aka 4G anytime soon.

Haha +1. Some people still think the 4th Generation iPhone is "4G" as well.

Nice review! From the picture it looks like the kickstand is meant for standing portrait, does it work for watching videos in landscape?

Mike Brown said,
Nice review! From the picture it looks like the kickstand is meant for standing portrait, does it work for watching videos in landscape?
It's actually meant for watching video in landscape. It works awesome for it. I just showed my wife a YouTube video last night using the kickstand. Sick phone!

Just tried... The phone won't stand in portrait mode with the kickstand.