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printed November 27, 2014
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Review: HTC Evo 4G

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Screen

The screen on the HTC Evo 4G was, at times, a bit disappointing. Under medium indoor light, the screen is crisp and clear. Text looks sharp and legible and the dark, contrasty interface looks polished. Outside, the Evo 4G couldn't hold up to bright daylight. This made it tough to use for normal email and calling tasks, and nearly impossible to use the camera, since you have to tap an onscreen button to take a shot. In almost every way, the screen fared better than the AMOLED display on the smaller Nexus One. It was a bit brighter with warmer colors and much better outdoor performance. But it could still stand some improvement.

Sound

The HTC Evo 4G sounds great making phone calls. My callers sounded clear with no drop outs or sound problems. On their end, callers said I also sounded nice and present, without any static or that distant sound to my voice. I was able to navigate my bank's voice command system with no trouble. The speaker was also nice and loud and fairly clear, for a speakerphone. It distorted at the highest volume, but it did manage to get loud enough that I could use it for conversations in a fast moving car. The Evo 4G also has a nice, loud ring. I could easily hear the ringer from across my house or when the phone was stuffed deep inside a backpack.

Signal

When you talk about signal strength on the HTC Evo 4G, you have to distinguish between Sprint's established, ubiquitous 3G network, and the up-and-coming, spotty WiMAX network. Sprint's 3G coverage is great, and I couldn't find a dead zone in the Dallas metroplex, a huge, sprawling area. WiMAX coverage, on the other hand, was not up to par. I kept my testing within the coverage zones on Clear's coverage maps, since my local Clear reps are helpful in providing tower locations and details. Clear runs Sprint's WiMAX network, and Sprint owns a majority stake in Clear. Even when I was supposedly well covered, the Evo 4G had trouble finding a WiMAX signal. Sometimes, I simply had to wait for the phone to scan a bit longer to connect, but often the signal just wasn't available to my test unit.

Even worse, though, was the inconsistency in performance I saw on the WiMAX network. The Evo 4G offers a separate signal strength indicator for 4G, as well as a control setting to turn the 4G radio off and on. In some areas of Dallas, specifically the northern suburbs that I call home, I would get a maximum 3 bars of 4G signal, but the download and upload speeds I registered were, well, pathetic. Often, the phone couldn't top 500 Kbps on a variety of speed tests. The top speed I saw for my town was around 2.5 Mbps, which is fine, but far below what I expected from a 4G device, and I could never count on getting that kind of performance. Usually, the HTC Evo 4G would hover between 1 - 1.5 Mbps. In side-by-side tests, my Google Nexus One on T-Mobile's HSDPA network often beat the Evo 4G, connected to Sprint's WiMAX network.

This was not always the case. In downtown Dallas and the more industrial areas, WiMAX performance was top notch. I regularly saw speeds in excess of 4 Mbps, often coming close to (but never, ever topping) 5 Mbps download speeds. Uploads were usually better than 1 Mbps.

Strangely, even when I got fast downloads on my speed tests, this didn't always translate into the ├╝ber-responsive browser I was hoping for. Web pages loaded very quickly, but could still stall at first, leaving me hanging. YouTube videos performed very well, though, especially with a strong WiMAX signal.

Battery

Battery life also hinges on whether you're using WiMAX, and whether the phone is actually connected to the 4G network or searching for a signal. But I was still unimpressed by battery life even when 4G networking was turned off. With 4G, GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth all shut down, the phone still managed about five hours and fifteen minutes of talking time. That's fine, but not impressive. With 4G turned on, things got much worse. During my first day of testing, I turned on the 4G radio then forgot about the phone for almost three hours. The phone never connected to a 4G signal, and the battery was completely dead when I turned my attention back to the phone. In fact, it was so far gone that even after 20 minutes of charging, it didn't have enough juice to power up and stay on.

With the phone properly connected to the 4G network and two devices connected to Evo 4G as a Wi-Fi hotspot, I got just over three hours of use out of the phone. I was running constant streaming video on my laptop and browsing the Internet on my iPad, and the phone lasted through a short afternoon of work.

I can't imagine HTC stuffing a larger battery into this phone. The battery is already a 1500 mAh cell, among the largest you'll find in a commercial smartphone, and the phone already bulges a bit at the back compared to the thinner HTC HD2 on T-Mobile.

So, the moral of the story is that you should only turn on the 4G radio when you're covered by WiMAX signal, and when you'll actually be using it. In a mixed use test without any 4G networking, I got a full day's worth of power out of the phone, but I needed to charge it every night. This may not be the phone to use for a round of Wi-Fi Mario Kart DS while on a camping trip, but if you're careful, and if you have a charger nearby, it will power you through your day and give you the extra 4G boost when you really need it.

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