I think everyone knows about the HTC Evo V 4G by now and its specifications. For more information, this phone is a re-branded yet identical model of the Sprint Evo 3D. I had this phone for two weeks and it is time for my initial review. Let’s just say I’m quite pleased with the Evo V 4G.
The phone feels solid. While holding it firm, it does not creek and there is not a flex in it’s casing. Unlike the Triumph before it, its back-cover does not fall off while sliding or holding it in hand. The size is impressive coming from a smaller phone. The 4.3-inch screen and then slightly larger body does feel unnatural and uncomfortable, though it goes away after getting used to the feeling. The most noticeable physical quality, aside from the beautifully large screen, is the likewise large glass platter encasing the dual-cameras on the rear. The two cameras are inserted in a slightly raised platter with chrome edges. Between those cameras are dual LED-flashes. In my opinion, the cameras seem vulnerable because they are not guarded when setting the phone down flat – so what does one do? Set the phone on the screen or on the equally damageable camera platter? It’s a small thing but I notice it.
The buttons fall a little short. Literally, I suppose. For instance, if you take the back-cover off, you will discover the buttons you press are literally embedded into the back-cover casing. These pseudo-buttons press down on these small, less than a millimeter, stubs that are the actual buttons. This makes, for example, the power button hard to actually push. It is very low profile so it can often take a great deal of effort to depress. This is similar to the power button on the Triumph, where it was not pushy-enough. Typically, I hold my phone in my left hand while going about my day – it is usually in my left pocket. When I use left hand to turn the phone on, my pointer-finger attempts to depress the power button while one my other fingers wrapped around the right side usually almost always hit the shutter button too, because to get the leverage needed to actually press the power button, you need a firm grip.
And that brings us to the shutter button. It is the most luxurious button on a phone I have felt, barring maybe, of course, the iPhone home button. It is a large circular chrome button that has multiple levels of depression. Like most cameras these days, the first level is for focusing and the second level is for actually snapping the shot. So it’s great in that respect. Although there are some downsides, or maybe just some missing opportunities. When the phone’s screen is off, there is no way to immediately summon the camera. The shutter button, while large and easily pressable (as noted while hitting the power button above), could have been leveraged in this respect to jump immediately into camera mode and begin taking pictures.
Nearby, there is the 2D-3D toggle switch. It’s nothing special. You can’t really switch it by accident, which is a plus, because it requires a fair amount of force to slide. I usually leave it in default 2D mode. Going around, there is a small indent on the bottom of the phone so that the back-cover can be opened. On the left side, there is the micro-USB port, along the top there is the 3.5 millimeter jack, which is at a very shallow angle leaning to the back of the phone, and the treacherous power button and then returning to the right side, separate volume up and down buttons, the 2D-3D switch and the shutter button. All in all, the phone has plenty of buttons. How about the front? This phone has a different order for the capacitive touch buttons and I am definitely not used to it yet – Home, Menu, Back and Search. Above the screen, there are three points of interest: LED, speaker and camera. None of them are impressive on their own. The LED is not hidden behind the speaker grate, the speaker is wide and the camera is off center but in use, it is very clear and works just fine.
The screen. When off, it’s not rim-black, but that’s not a big deal. Initially, I left the out-of-the-box screen cover on, and it was quite responsive and accurate. Recently it kind of fell off so I left it at that and experienced the native glass. Honestly, I have no idea if the screen is Gorilla Glass, but it must be or something similar because it is incredibly smooth. Without the protector, the screen seems even more responsive and almost slippery because there is no drag. The screen even seems smudge resistant but that could be simply because I wash my hands compulsively. Aside from how it feels, it looks great. The screen is large at 4.3-inches, and with a resolution of 960-by-540, the PPI comes in at wonderful 256. There is a notable difference though in overall text size coming from the Triumph – everything is so much smaller, at least by a couple of points. I can’t distinguish the pixels, no, but is the phone iPhone class? Maybe but my eyes can’t tell without seeing both side by side.
But wait! There’s just a little more. On the back, there is a small speaker grill etched out of the red ring around the cameras, this is for the speaker. The back-cover is annoying to take off, when separated from the phone itself, it feels flimsy and bendable, especially when detaching it from its clips. Underneath, there is the 1730 mAh battery and a space for a micro-SD card. You can see the little speaker too. That said, while the back-cover is off, you can also see how much dust magically gets in there despite an almost seamless fit.
How’s that for the physical review? Allow me to return to the age old, “When I held the iPhone 4 for the first time…” comparison. The Evo V 4G, does not feel as dense as the iPhone 4 or 4S. I do not come away with the sense of “It feels so heavy and yet it is so small” for two reasons: the phone is neither small nor extraordinary heavy. It subjectively weights less than the Triumph though more than the Optimus V. Still, it feels sturdy and leaves the cheapness behind to the Triumph.
Now, shall we venture off to the software? The Evo V 4G has Ice Cream Sandwich, Android 4.0.3 and HTC Sense 3.6. Having had the Optimus V and the Triumph, both being essentially stock Android, it is hard for me to compare Sense 3.6 to anything else. I have used stock Ice Cream Sandwich, or nearly so, on my HP TouchPad with CyanogenMod 9, but that was obviously on a tablet and works a bit differently.
Beginning with the lock-screen, there is a ring you need to pull into the center to unlock the phone. At least this way, without it being “slide to unlock”, Apple can’t sue HTC. But there are other actions available on this lock-screen and they are actually useful. These other actions map directly into what is in the quick-launch bar that appears on all home-screens on the phone. On my quick-launch bar, I have: Phone, Gmail, Messages and Internet. Those icons then appear on the lock-screen in little bubbles that are draggable. To launch right into them, I simply drag them into the ring that I would normally slide into the center. Additionally, when there is a new message, I can drag the message down into the ring and pop right into the Messages app for a reply. The same is true for calls – answer or decline are bubble that can be slid into the ring. Otherwise, the time, date and carrier information are shown. This is of course the default lock-screen and Sense 3.6 apparently offers a few other alternatives, of which one shows the weather and another shows a cool steampunk-esque clock.
A simple example of the lock-screen feature is the call-popup. When you get a call, again, there is an answer and decline bubble which you drag into the ring.
A funny thing about calling a person with an Evo V though: it seems as if you get a Sprint mailbox right now. It may be because my specific handset is Sprint branded but I’m not entirely sure that is the whole story.
The home-screen, like all HTC Sense 3.6 UIs by default, comes with a huge time and weather widget right up on top. I have customized my screen but I left the widget there as it’s not really in the way and it does serve a purpose: easy access to the alarm and weather apps. The quick-launch dock sits at the bottom of the screen holding two apps on the each side of the app-drawer. So let’s dive into the app-drawer.
The standard grid-layout is default but there are actually options to change this. The secondary option is a list-view. There are some sorting options, default by alphabetical but also by date installed. Along the bottom of the drawer, there is a slider: All apps, Frequent, Downloaded and Virgin Mobile. These are simple sorting mechanisms, and honestly, are all kind of useless. The app-drawer is segmented into what looks like sheets of apps, or what is probably better described as vertical pages. The animation is fast, but it just takes too long for my tastes and feels sluggish – it’s not the buttery animation of a freely flowing app-drawer found in other stock Android installs. The two Virgin Mobile apps are “My Account” and “Virgin Mobile Live”. Let’s return to the home-screens.
By default, there are too many home-screens, probably nine, I’m guessing. The center home-screen is the actual home-screen and the others on are on the left or right virtually. Conveniently, you can swipe left and right to go to those screens and a nice feature is that the screens loop back around so there is never a dead end to hit. The sliding animation for the home-screens mimics going around a corner, in some form of optical 3D – it’s always fast and fluid. Sense 3.6 offers a variety of widgets: numerous feature toggles (wifi, 4G, brightness, among others), calculators, clocks, social, weather, audio app shortcuts, messaging app, calendar, people, mail and more. In all, there are 71 of those HTC widgets alone. Let’s move on to the notification drawer.
When you swipe down on the top of the screen, the notification drawer is usually what is slid down. On the top of notification drawer, there is a horizontal list of frequently used applications. In the middle there is a section for actual notifications (messages, emails, Facebook, Twitter and so on). On the bottom there is a toggle for Notifications and Quick Settings. Jumping to Quick Settings lets you toggle, with extraordinary ease that neither the Optimus V nor Triumph offered, Wi-Fi, Mobile Network, Wi-Fi Hotspot, 4G, Bleutoot and Airplane Mode. There’s also a memory usage indicator which is handy. Currently, I have 558MB used and 239MB free. No wonder this phone feels fast.
Now I’d like to cover a major improvement. The text messaging application. It’s bounds and leaps better than the old FroYo application. So much better.
The new app is actually not the native Ice Cream Sandwich app, but it’s from HTC and it’s fairly decent nevertheless. The messages are conversation-chat-bubble style which is an improvement over the old line-by-line style. The only oddity that I have not quite figured out yet is that the names are show also by phone number despite having a name attached to them; it just ends up being a clutter.
Another near and dear feature is actual wi-fi. Unlike my Triumph before this, which drove me crazy with extremely poor connectivity and frequent connection losses, the Evo does nothing but maintain great connections. I have not tested wi-fi at the University of Minnesota yet, but it seems quite fair right now.
The wifi is consistently strong, using almost all of the available throughput of the 802.11n router. It’s not a surprise though that this phone can suffer from death gripe. If you hold the phone in either hand and wrap your hand all the way around, it can lose about 30% of signal strength. But then every phone I have had also exhibited this problem. On the Triumph, it was worse anyway.
And of course, what does one do with wifi? You use the browser. With the Evo V being an Ice Cream Sandwich based phone, the browsing experience is much improved over the FroYo version, but with some subtle differences than what you could expected in a stock handset. Sense muddles with the default beauty of the flat ICS experience in the browser to some degree. For instance, the notifications bar is hidden in the browser, except when using the keyboard to input a URL. Sadly, I expected the browser to follow the Chrome-style unified bar: search and address bars, but it does not do this obviously even though it will function that. The .com and space bar buttons are just a little too close for me.
Being Ice Cream Sandwich also allows for the actual Chrome experience via Chrome Beta. But there are problems with it: the keyboard when it use will disappear and be replaced with a mirror image of whatever is directly above it. So it’s not bug free yet.
How about that 3D camera? How about it? Here’s what I think. It’s different. In my personal opinion, the Triumph’s camera, and I know this is absolute blasphemy, is actually better in many cases than this Evo V camera. Now, I wiped and put my Triumph back in the box so someone else will have to parade their pictures for you between the Triumph and the Evo V. Though, I can deliver to you a picture via the Optimus V. Here is a picture from each device, Optimus V and Evo V.
I’m torn. In many situations, the camera on the Evo V is great. Then in other situations, specifically low-light, everything looks terrible. I’m experimenting with the flash, scene settings and other settings that are currently set to auto. With my Triumph, it would take great pictures with 5MP. Instead of dual-cameras with 3D support, I would have preferred a better sensor at maybe 8MP. That would’ve been better. You can take a look at what 3D video looks like. 3D video is a novelty that wears thin quickly. It will make you stumble but when you realize you cannot reasonably share the footage, what’s the point really except taking up double space on your SD card?
So. Software. The Facebook app is better but it turns out the app itself sucks. It loads slowly, sporadically, without proper obvious caching. Still, it loads so much faster than on the Triumph. Twitter for Android works well, just as it always has. Reader works great and with some new user interface changes, the app is fast and fluid. The Google+ app does not boast Ice Cream Sandwich specific updates but loads faster than it did on the Triumph. Audible now works flawlessly. Audible’s app actually is what pushed me towards jumping ship off the Optimus V to the travesty of the Triumph. While it loaded well on the Triumph, it feels actually real-time responsive on the Evo V. In fact, all apps that I had on the Triumph on work just fine. Google Talk has also had an update, being able to do both Voice and Video chat via the phone’s microphones and cameras. The quality of those audio and video chats are both fantastic.
There are some bits I’m missing here of course. Where’s the 3G and 4G data speed testing? Well – in just two weeks, without hard data that I would be more interested in showing off, I can say it’s not a Triumph, it’s way better. I have tested 4G in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where I live. In my house, it’s dismal (two things: I live in a valley and I live in a house wrapped in an aluminum sheet), but outside and in warehouse-style stores, it’s fantastic. It’s running between 4-7 megabits per second. That beats out my local Internet speed at home, honestly. For 3G, it’s a toss up on speeds, as always slow. But the coverage seems better, getting data where the Triumph lacked.
There’s a subtle flaw in the way I tested the battery life on the Evo V. Ice Cream Sandwich offers a fantastic battery usage history chart. The problem lies in that the usage was not normal. While I’m at home during the day while school is not session, I can’t suggest normal usage. In a typical day, I was getting 14 hours with 30% leftover of battery life. That, I think, is overly optimistic. With a local wi-fi network that is actually strong and almost always present, the phone does not have to resort to actual 3G so the battery life is missing that component. At the University of Minnesota for example, the wi-fi is flaky and sometimes not even there, and when it is, there’s a constant search and some mysterious trickery going on. Battery life is hard to figure out. Normally it’s great. I’ve been out all day and never had a problem (except when I left 4G on for two hours while in my pocket – my phone actually was out of energy, completely).
The HTC Evo V 4G is a step up from the Triumph, a leap over the longstanding winner Optimus V and a massive laugh in the face of the age old Samsung Intercept. It stands well among the Optimus Elite, though it is larger and faster.
Not everything is well designed, perfect or infallible. There are definitely certain things I think could be better, like the buttons, but overall, the phone beats anything out there easily. The iPhone is coming to Virgin Mobile in late June. While the iPhone 4S is a great phone from last year, the Evo 3D, now the Evo V 4G, is also from June 2011 and it’s quite spectacular on its own. Maybe it’s not quite as fast or has quite as great of screen, but it has its larger screen, its psuedo-4G and Google-integrated OS. These things put the Evo V 4G on the same tier as the iPhone, I think.
What happens after the iPhone? The Galaxy S2? The One V? The S2 might be on par, the One V is lackluster compared to this, and who knows what Virgin Mobile will spring on us next. But I think this is the best $300 that a person can spend on a phone and get a value that feels great on a day one, and a value that satisfies on day three-hundred.
Do you have any questions that I can answer? I’d be happy to. Let me know what you think of the Evo V 4G, I’m very interested.