Friday, June 24, 2011


The HTC EVO 3D is the successor to last year's wildly popular EVO 4G for Sprint. The EVO 4G broke new ground by being the first 4G (WiMAX) handset, as well as the first Android smartphone with a 4.3-inch screen to hit the market in the U.S. As a result, the EVO 4G was one of the most popular phones of 2010, and solidified Sprint's trust in Android (nowadays, 75 percent of smartphones sold by the carrier run Android). The EVO 3D looks to build on the path laid by the EVO 4G by being the first 3D-capable smartphone to arrive in the U.S., but that's not the only new thing about it, as HTC has upgraded the EVO 3D from the EVO 4G on multiple fronts.
Thanks to numerous upgrades (new, faster processor, higher-res screen), the EVO 3D does offer more than just a 3D component when compared with the EVO 4G. Of course, the 3D feature is the headline attraction with the phone, despite what else it might offer. However, at this point, the 3D capabilities are firmly relegated to novelty status. The effect can be cool, but its use is very limited, and its even troublesome to get used to for many people. Thankfully, you can spend your entire life with the EVO 3D and never use the 3D features if they don't strike your fancy.
Thanks to the speedy processor, gobs of RAM, and Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS, the EVO 3D is one of the fastest phones I have tested to date. The rest of the phone is not without faults though, as sub-par battery life, poor viewing angles, lazy 3G connections, and some quality control issues with the build of the phone really prevented the EVO 3D from being all that it could be. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned HTC Sense 3.0's overbearing user interface yet. Read on to see the good, the bad, and the sometimes three dimensional qualities of the EVO 3D.
The hardware on the HTC EVO 3D is a mixed bag for me. The build quality, while good, is not quite up to the expectations that have been set by the rest of the market. There are certain creaks and leaks in the seams of the phone, especially where the back cover snaps into place. There are also hints of light leakage around the bottom on the front of the phone that are very noticeable in dark conditions. Despite these faults, the EVO 3D handled nicely, even though I feel it is a bit thick at 12.2mm (0.48in) when compared with other phones on the market now.
The front of the phone is dominated by the 4.3-inch, qHD (540 x 960 pixel) display, and the four capacitive Android buttons at the bottom. The display's resolution is great, though the sharpness is not what I would have expected from a screen with this kind of pixel density. This may have to do with the special layer above the LCD that enables the glasses-free 3D effect. I assume that this special layer is also the culprit behind the narrow viewing angles that are present on the EVO 3D. The display is all too quick to wash out when viewed from even a slight angle, and is put to shame by the iPhone 4's touchscreen or any Super AMOLED-equipped Samsung. Thankfully, colors appeared to be accurate, and the display was visible enough in sunlight.
Above the screen is front-facing camera and the speaker grill, which hides a bright notification light - something I am always thrilled to find. The front is framed by a metal rim that has been painted or anodized with a black color. The back of the phone is a single piece of soft-touch plastic that features a ribbed design for added grip. The rear cover is essentially the back housing of the phone, much like HTC's Sensation 4G, though since the EVO 3D does not have any aluminum in the back cover, build quality and overall feel are compromised compared to the Sensation 4G.
I would be remiss not to point out the aluminum camera shutter key on the EVO 3D. It is the best camera button I have ever seen on a phone, as it is large and satisfying to use. It is dual-stage, so half-pressing will initiate autofocus, while a full press will take the picture. It is much a like the shutter key found on decent point and shoot cameras. Next to that is the (also aluminum) toggle to switch between 2D and 3D picture and video capture.
The HTC EVO 3D is powered by the same 1.2GHz, dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor present in the Sensation 4G. Thanks to the speedy chip and the increased RAM found in the EVO 3D (1GB verses 768MB in the Sensation), everything that you do on the phone is smooth as silk. Lag when swiping between homescreens and scrolling through long lists is a thing of the past. The app tray snaps right open when launched, as do many applications. The EVO 3D is the first phone that I have used that can handle a live wallpaper without becoming a stuttering mess.
Android 2.3 Gingerbread is running on the EVO 3D, though you would not know it thanks to HTC's heavy Sense 3.0 interface. Sense has grown from a necessity to fix what was missing in older versions of Android, to an over-the-top visual effects showcase that doesn't always offer enhanced useability over stock Android. For instance, the home screen carousel is so quick to snap into its infinite rotation of home screens when you swipe across it that it can be very difficult to just page one or two screens over from where you are. The effect is very visually pleasing, but after the first few times you have seen it, it just gets in the way of what you are trying to do. It also seems as if there are times when the phone could be even faster if there were not a series of frivolous animations that play before every action on the phone.
Other areas where HTC has tried to improve Android with Sense but fallen flat are the new notification bar and the app tray. The notification bar has a bunch of shortcuts to access recently used applications and toggle common settings, which are both good things. The frustrating part about it is when a notification comes in, you have to swipe down the entire bar to get an idea of what it is. Other Android interfaces allow you to get a peek at the notification by just swiping the notification bar part of the way down so you can go back to what you were doing if it is not important. The app tray that comes with Sense 3.0 is vertically scrolling like traditional Android. However, it is paginated, meaning that it will stop at pre-determined points, forcing you to scroll multiple times to get to the bottom. This can be quite annoying and time consuming when you have a lot of apps and want to get to the bottom of the list. Pagination makes sense and works well when apps are organized in a horizontally scrolling tray, but it does not when in a vertical orientation.
Not all of the features that Sense 3.0 brings are just for show or without use though. The lock screen with its customizable app shortcuts and live information display is awesome, and makes it very easy to jump into an app and get something done right away. Hopefully HTC will expand the number of shortcuts beyond four in future revisions, as I quickly filled them up with commonly-used apps and was in want of more. The HTC keyboard has been refined as well, and is better than ever. HTC has dropped the cursor keys that took up a lot of screen real estate since Android 2.3 and Sense 3.0 have a much improved cursor control over older versions of Android. Speaking of cursor control, there is a nice magnified view when you are positioning the cursor with your finger, which makes it much easier to see what you are doing on screen.
Sense 3.0 offers a litany of customization options, including themes, wallpapers, widgets, and sounds. All of the personalization options are accessible from a button on the lower right of the homescreen. Sense also offers tight integration with Facebook and Twitter, so you can see things such as your contacts last status update and browse their photo galleries right from the People contacts application.
Like its predecessor, the EVO 4G, the HTC EVO 3D for Sprint is a 4G phone with a WiMAX radio inside of it. It is capable of hitting high speeds when in one of Sprint's (still limited) 4G coverage areas. The rest of the time, it falls back on its 3G EV-DO(INFO) support. When hooked up to a 4G connection, the EVO 3D was awesome, as I was repeatedly able to achieve download speeds of 12Mbps, which is quite fast for WiMAX and right up there with LTE. Upload speeds were good too, as the EVO 3D made full use of Sprint's new, 1.5Mbps upload cap. However, when connected to Sprint's 3G network, the experience was a different story. Data speeds on 3G were abysmally slow with the EVO 3D, most of the time not even topping 200Mbps down and 50Mbps up. This despite the phone reporting a nearly full strength signal. Compared with Sprint devices I have used in the past, the EVO 3D was getting about a quarter of the speeds seen previously. This made common tasks like using Twitter or looking up web pages very frustrating.
Call quality with the EVO 3D was acceptable, if not mind-blowing. I was able to hear callers well and they could hear me easily, too, though it was very obvious I was on a cellular connection. The speaker phone was good, and it got very loud without distorting.
The HTC EVO 3D shines on the messaging front. The text messaging app built into Sense 3.0 is one of its high points, as it is very visually pleasing and works well at the same time. HTC's email client (non-Gmail) is one of the best I have used on an Android device as well. Multiple account and message management works like a charm, and there are a number of homescreen widgets available to preview your inbox. Android's Gmail client is also available, and works just as good as ever. The only IM app that is pre-installed is the Google Talk app, which works well, though it lacks the voice and video calling features available on Android 2.3.4 (the EVO 3D runs 2.3.3).
As with any Android smartphone, the HTC EVO 3D has access to the Android Market with over 200,000 apps on tap to download and install. Sprint has thankfully not gone overboard with pre-installed apps, either, as there are fewer than a dozen installed from the carrier. There is a portal to access 3D-compatible games, and a demo of a 3D Spider-Man game is pre-installed. The Green Hornet in 3D is also pre-loaded on the EVO 3D. The other apps installed may or may not be useful to you, depending on if you take advantage of Sprint's extra services like Sprint Radio, Sprint Mobile, and Sprint TV. Amazingly enough, you can actually uninstall all of the pre-loaded Sprint apps (except for Sprint ID). That is certainly a nice thing to see. Kudos to Sprint for giving users control over their phones.
The browser on the HTC EVO 3D works well, for the most part. Pages loaded quickly when on a good network connection, and panning and pinch-to-zoom worked smoothly - thanks in no small part to the high-speed processor. Adobe Flash Player support is built-in, though as we have seen with other recent HTC devices, we had some trouble playing back certain embedded Flash videos. The multiple tab management is as good as ever, and you can easily pinch-zoom all the way out to access your open webpages.
The highlight of the HTC EVO 3D is the pair of 5 megapixel cameras on the back that allow it to capture both video and stills in 3D as well as 2D. The 3D effect, while neat, doesn't give the true 3D feeling that you might wish for. Its more akin to looking at a diorama or watching an episode of South Park. The 3D elements are presented as flat objects on different planes, so it does not feel immersive. It also takes some getting used to when it comes to finding the perfect viewing angle on the phone, which is extremely narrow, when composing and reviewing images. Finally, the 3D effect will not work on objects that are closer than a few feet away.
As a consequence of the 3D abilities, the 2D camera suffers a bit. The quality of the 5 megapixel images is not nearly as good as we have seen from the 8 megapixel shooters on recent HTC devices like the ThunderBolt or Sensation 4G. And the EVO 3D's photos don't hold a candle to the images produced by Samsung's recent cameras. There is a lot of flaring and blooming that gets in the way of a quality image. Such a shame for a phone with such an awesome camera button.
Contrary to the originally announced specifications, the EVO 3D cannot record 2D video in 1080p (1920 x 1080 pixel) resolution. It is limited to 720p (1280 x 720 pixel) for both 2D and 3D video. Two dimensional video fared better than its still counterpart, and you can zoom while filming, which is a neat trick. The 3D video is essentially a gimmick, as it is hard to share the video with anyone who isn't looking at the phone with you. Some 3D TVs might support the format, though we have heard that is hit or miss at this point.
The music player part of HTC Sense on the EVO 3D is capable and attractive. It has a slick user interface and a matching home screen widget. You can also control the music playback from the notification bar if you happen to be in another app while listening to music in the background. The built-in speaker was loud and clear, though it unsurprisingly lacked any low end. The EVO 3D can stream music to Bluetooth headphones and devices, as well as play back through standard headphones, though none are included with the phone.
The HTC EVO 3D is equipped with a massive (for HTC at least) 1730mAh battery. One would not be faulted for thinking that a battery of this capacity would be able to power the EVO 3D for at least a full day. One would also be wrong. The EVO 3D did not provide any better battery life than its predecessor, which wasn't good to begin with. I could not get the EVO 3D to last a full day with my standard set up of two email accounts and social networks, and using the phone to check the news, view webpages, text message, and maybe make a call or two. It would get around 7 hours or so and then tap out, requiring me to plug it in to keep going. Disappointing to say the least.
I had a lot of hopes for the HTC EVO 3D when it was announced back at CTIA earlier this year. The appeal of lots of RAM and a fast processor, plus a high-res screen had me thinking this could be the next great thing. Unfortunately, while the specs lived up to my expectations for the most part, there were just too many other drawbacks for the EVO 3D. The poor battery life and lousy 3G data speeds were very annoying and frequently made me throw up my hands in frustration. Sense 3.0, while visually appealing, got in the way more often than not.
The 3D portion of the EVO 3D might be a neat trick at first, but it's not something I could picture myself using on a regular basis. The compromises in the screen quality and 2D pictures are a bit more than I would prefer to make. Is the EVO 3D a worthy successor to the EVO 4G from last year? Yes. Is it the next big thing in mobile devices? Unfortunately, no.

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