When my trusty Nokia 6650 Flip phone started giving trouble, I knew I was going to be in the market for a new phone soon. And since the service I'd been receiving from AT&T had progressively worsened almost the entire duration of my contract with them, I knew I was also going to be in the market for a new cellular provider. AT&T represents the worst possible corporate attitude I can imagine, having spent less on their network infrastructure in each quarter
following the introduction of the wildly-popular iPhone 3G. Rather than, oh I don't know, fixing
their damn network, they opted instead to adopt policies to discourage usage, eliminating the "unlimited" plans, and going so far as to introduce a femtocell product to help offload traffic from their network onto customers' own Internet connections yet charging them for the privilege
. Of all the confounded arrogance...
I decided I'd get a cheap, crappy 3G phone from eBay to limp myself along until I could get something better, so I ended up using an LG Shine for a while. While the LG had decent acoustics, it really sucked as a "smart" phone. It wasn't even able to sync the calendar or contact list with a PC (let alone a Mac) or even browse the file system on the SD card. AT&T had never updated its firmware, in typical AT&T "yeah, it sucks, but you'll take it" fashion.
Along about this time I heard about the upcoming HTC Evo 4G phone from Sprint, the first 4G phone to major marketing in the US. Many years ago I had Sprint Broadband service in the Bay Area, which Sprint horribly oversubscribed to the point that it became effectively unusable during peak periods. To their credit, Sprint stopped accepting new subscribers and announced it was investigating other technologies for delivering wireless broadband, and we're finally now seeing the results of that effort. Though I hesitated to do any business with a company based in goddamn Kansas, Sprint also has scored a 100% on the HRC Corporate Equality index
, perhaps making them a good influence in an otherwise horrible place. I decided to limp along with AT&T until the Evo came out.
Now mind you, I'd still have another 6 months on my AT&T contract at the time of the Evo's introduction, but by this point I hated AT&T Wireless so much
that I was only too willing to pay their early termination fee just to be rid of them, permanently.
I found that I could get a discount via work on a pair of Evos for myself and my partner, which almost made up for Sprint's bullshit "premium data add-on" fee. Sprint has caused quite a bit of commotion over this $10 monthly charge. I suspect the reason is that their CEO, Dan Hesse, told an audience that Sprint would not be charging extra for 4G access, and in fact that it was actually cheaper for the company to provide 4G than 3G. Also, Sprint does not have 4G access in all its markets yet, and won't for some time. So they can't come out and say that the $10 fee is for 4G speed. They also have a problem in that the plan they're marketing already provides "unlimited" data. So they can't really say the $10 is for unlimited data either. So they decided to call this fee a "premium data" fee, which is ambiguous enough of terminology that nobody can really say what the fee is for or what it provides. Look for a class-action lawsuit regarding this fee at some point in the not-too-distant future. I'm fairly sure at some point, Sprint is going to have to eat crow on this one. But even with the $10 "because we can" fee, the plan is still cheaper than AT&T, so for the time being I'm thinking of this as the $10 "because we're not AT&T" surcharge.
The phone arrived while I was out of town participating in AIDS/Lifecycle 9. Funnily enough, during the ride my LG phone decided that it just wasn't going to charge the battery anymore, and I ended up having to fork over a little more money to AT&T on the cheapest possible pay-go phone so I could be available to other ride volunteers and stay in touch with people back in the "real world" with whom I needed to stay in touch.
When my partner picked me up at the airport after the ride, he brought my Evo along so I could play with it on the way home. He was also using his Evo at the time, operating as a speaker phone, plugged into his car stereo. Cool!
The Evo's user interface is mostly intuitive, especially if you've ever handled an iPod Touch or an iPhone. Many of the same concepts are repeated. Many are improved upon. I particularly like the Evo's ability to fully configure each of the phone's primary screens for the tasks you perform most often and applications you use most frequently. There is also support for "widgets" on the screens, for stuff like clocks, weather, enabling/disabling features on the phone, etc. I haven't had any other Android phones to know, but I suspect these are standard Android features.
The OS gets into a bit of trouble when it comes to the things you use less frequently. The applications installed on the phone are all in one giant pile, which is perhaps OK if you know the name of the application you're looking for and don't have a great many applications installed. It becomes a bit more cumbersome if you have to scroll through the list and can't remember if that app is called "Google Voice" or just "Voice." Some kind of hierarchical representation would be really nice to have. At least then I could separate "Communication" apps from "Entertainment" apps from "Games."
There are also some glaring omissions from the apps that come with the phone by default. For example, there's no file manager. Fortunately, there is no shortage of apps in the Android Market (called just "Market" in the giant pile of applications) to perform this task admirably.
The touch-screen interface mostly does what I want it to do. I haven't had the sensitivity problems a few people have complained about when the phone is not being held in a hand. Nor have I experienced any "separation" of the glass. (I'm beginning to suspect that these problems are much ado about nothing, and curiously they are mostly gleefully spouted by Apple fanboys. More on that later.) I have experienced a few times, especially in the contact list, that the phone will "click" something when what I really wanted it to do was to scroll. I'm not sure if the iPhone and iPod Touch do this, but one thing available in addition to the traditional tap and double-tap is the "tap and hold", which often behaves analogously to a "right click", giving you contextually-appropriate options for a particular item, or on the main screen, giving you the option of adding an item. Again, these may be Android things and not specific to the Evo.
The only real "bug" I've noticed so far is in adding custom ringtones for contacts. Some hints here-- enter the phone number for your contact without any punctuation or spaces, and if it still doesn't "take", hard-boot the phone. There may be some bad cache management or failure to refresh a data structure happening under the hood here. Hopefully that's fixed in the next release of code?
Call quality is excellent, especially compared to AT&T. HTC's acoustics are perhaps some of the best I've experienced on a cellular phone, rivaling and perhaps even besting Nokia. The codecs used by Sprint's CDMA (EVRC by default) just sound better than AT&T's implementation of GSM too. People sound a bit less robotic and the dynamic range is much better. I have experienced a little choppiness from short (5-10ms) repeating dropouts in some calls, but it wasn't bad enough that I've had to ask the other person to repeat what was said. Vocal nuance is important to communication, and I always felt that AT&T's GSM codec (rumoured to be AMR Half Rate) lost a lot of nuance and made it more difficult to mentally process a caller's voice.
Image quality from the 8 megapixel rear-facing camera is excellent, far better than other phones I've owned. Though the flash comes from two white LEDs, these LEDs flash brightly
, and the camera software seems to know how to compensate for the slightly blue tint that white LEDs invariably have (something I could never say for my Nokia 6650). HD video is smooth and clear. The rear camera also seems to have real focus, rather than the fixed focus found on many phones. The quality from the tiny front-facing camera isn't as good, though it is likely one would ordinarily only use this camera for video calls, which are likely to be scaled down and compressed so much that it won't be the camera that's the limiting factor but rather the codec and the bandwidth. Video on the phone's large display is bright, clean and clear.
Battery life is... satisfactory, but your mileage may vary, quite a lot. If you're keeping the phone in your pocket much of the time, pulling it out to check your calendar, look things up on the web, and make the occasional phone call, then no sweat. The battery may last you a couple days between charges. If, however, you're making heavier use of the phone, using the GPS, a number of applications, email, YouTube, porn, watching or recording videos, taking a lot of photos, etc., then you're going to want to buy yourself a car charger; you will find yourself needing to charge the phone at night and probably once during the day. Keep in mind that what you're carrying around with you is effectively a handheld computer
that has phone capability. The more you play with it, the more it is going to drain the battery. Fortunately, the Evo is only too happy to charge itself from any USB port, and the charge time is relatively quick. It also seems to hold a charge for longer after the battery has cycled a few times.
By far the best
feature of the HTC Evo 4G is how steaming mad
it makes Apple fanboys, specifically the cult of the iPhone. The iPhone 4G is only just now starting to ship, and it is already lacking in terms of features and capabilities relative to the Evo, and it is still encumbered by AT&T's crappy network. If you get an Evo, be prepared for all the Apple fanboys you know to blither on about the few-and-far-between problems of the Evo, 4G, or Sprint while ignoring the failings of Apple, the iPhone, and AT&T. Honestly, you could paint a goat turd glossy white, stamp an Apple logo on it, and they'd line up at 4AM for the first chance to own one. I sincerely enjoy owning a phone that runs circles around the iPhone and does it on a network other than AT&T's, if for no other reason than knocking down the fanboys a peg or two.
Overall, this is a great phone, the best I've ever had in all the phones I've owned since my first crappy analog bag phone with a giant camcorder battery circa 1994. Well done, Sprint, HTC, and Google.