The HTC EVO Design 4G has been on the market since October 23, bringing a solid Android experience to Sprint customers at a fairly affordable price. The handset doesn’t feature a dual-core processor, an extra-large display, an 8 megapixel camera or some of the bells and whistles found on phones like the Motorola DROID RAZR or the HTC Sensation, but I have a feeling that most people won’t even notice.
1. Build Quality
Though the Design 4G bears the EVO name, the handset doesn’t really feel like an EVO. But that’s a good thing. The EVO 4G, EVO Shift 4G and EVO 3D were all enclosed in a plastic shell. The HTC EVO Design 4G is the first member of the EVO family to be upgraded to an HTC uni-body aluminum casing, giving the phone a solid feel – something that’s always been lacking with other EVO handsets.
The black aluminum encompasses the 4-inch qHD display on the front of the handset and the center of the back of the EVO Design, prominently featuring the HTC logo. The back of the handset is coated in soft-touch plastic which reduces fingerprints and provides a secure grip. The handset’s 5 megapixel camera and single LED flash (which protrude slightly) and the speaker are located towards the top on the back of the phone, while the volume rocker and microUSB port are located along the left edge. The power button and 3.5mm headphone jack have been placed on the top edge of the phone.
Prying off the lower back panel of the phone (which is a bit harder than it should be) gives users access to the 1520 mAh battery and the phone’s SIM card. The battery is held in place by the same hinge mechanism which HTC introduced in the HTC Legend – the first aluminum uni-body handset from HTC.
2. Hardware Performance
Unlike some of the newer flagship phones from HTC on AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, the HTC EVO Design 4G comes equipped with a traditional single-core 1.2 GHz Qualcomm MSM8655 chip paired with 768MB of RAM. In this day and age, a single-core processor may sound outdated, but the performance achieved by the Design 4G is simply remarkable. Benchmark scores came in a little lower than what I expected (Quadrant: 1700’s, AnTuTu: 3100’s), but the phone was able to breeze through every single 3D game I threw at it and the browser fairs fairly well, even when playing Flash videos from sites like CNN or ESPN.
The Design 4G is able to keep up with most apps, but I did find that HTC Sense 3.0 was a bit too heavy of a skin for this type of device. The majority of the time, the phone handles Sense with ease, but there are glitches now and then which cause some frustration when all you’re trying to do is swipe between home screens to get an update from one of your widgets.
3. Call Quality
Smartphones can do some amazing things these days, but we often forget that they are phones and should be used to make calls. If you happen to be one of those people who actually spends time on the phone talking to people, I’m happy to report that the HTC EVO Design 4G performs admirably. Audio during calls is loud and clear, but can become muffled quite easily if you don’t align the phone’s speaker just right with your ear. The speaker on the back side produces decent audio as well during calls, but I suggest you only use it when the person you’re talking to is in a quiet environment.
While the HTC Amaze 4G, EVO 3D and HTC Rezound all have 4.3-inch displays, HTC has equipped the EVO Design 4G with a slightly smaller 4-inch display. While this sounds like a bit of a disappointment, I have to confess that I’m fairly impressed with the EVO Design 4G’s qHD (960 x 540) Super LCD display. The display’s 275 PPI is much lower than the 342 PPI of the 720p display on the new HTC Rezound, but it’s still extremely hard to pick out individual pixels with the naked eye.
The Design 4G’s display may not be as bright or vivid as phones with Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays, but the color temperature, brightness and contrast levels are more true-to-life. Cranking the display’s brightness settings to max will give you a pretty good experience while using the phone outdoors, but I suggest you find a few trees for shade during the noon hour to avoid direct sunlight.
The HTC EVO Design 4G comes pre-loaded with Android 2.3.4 and HTC Sense 3.0. The main advantage of having Android 2.3.4 over other phones with 2.3.3 or lower is that you can use video chat through gTalk. But if you’re really into video chatting with your friends, I’d recommend using Qik which has been upgraded to support 720p HD video chat with the front-facing camera.
Writing about HTC Sense is always a tricky subject. Many of you reading this have a very strong dislike for any custom skins. While there’s certainly a strong case for leaving Android as it is, HTC Sense 3.0 features some advanced features not found in Android 2.3.4. One of the most notable features in Sense is the new customizable unlock screen. Users can pick four of their favorite apps which can be launched directly from the lock screen. In addition, there are a handful of lockscreen backgrounds which can display information about the weather, Facebook or Twitter updates or a picture slideshow made up of the images you have taken with your phone.
As always, HTC Sense also comes with a huge selection of widgets (81 to be exact) which allow you to customize your seven phone screens exactly how you want. Users also have the ability to access HTC Hub which hosts more widgets, wallpapers, skins, scenes, ringtones and notification sounds.
For a veteran Android user, HTC Sense can feel bloated and unnecessary since many of the included features can be found in third-party applications from the Android Market. However, I’ve heard over and over again from new Android users and a handful of jealous iPhone owners that they truly enjoy HTC Sense, its widgets and the visual flair it brings to the Android platform. I’m personally a fan of HTC Sense along with all the extra features that it brings to Android, but the hardware on the Design 4G simply can’t keep up with the newer 3D interface to give users that smooth experience they deserve.
After using the HTC Amaze 4G and its backlit imaging sensor, it’s a bit hard to enjoy images taken with other Android phones. HTC has taken a bit of a step back with the HTC Design 4G, equipping it only with a 5 megapixel camera. This choice may seem a bit odd, but it was necessary in order to give the camera some of the same features — such as zero shutter lag — which are found on other HTC phones. This feature performs well on the dual-cores of the Sensation and the Amaze 4G, but HTC had to reduce the number of megapixels from 8 to 5 so that the single-core processor of the Design 4G would be able to handle it.
The camera interface is identical to what we saw on the HTC Sensation, providing quick access to the camera’s sharpness, contrast, exposure, white balance, resolution and flash settings. Users can also select between a variety of image effects which comes in handy when you want to have a little extra fun with your pictures. The images captured by the Design 4G’s 5 megapixel camera are decent, but they look washed out and blurry when compared to shots taken with the HTC Rezound, myTouch 4G Slide and the Amaze 4G. The shutter speed of the camera is able to keep up when you’re trying to capture that perfect shot, but I found that HTC’s software relies a bit too much on ISO (increasing the graininess of the image) in order to reduce motion blur.
The front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera takes decent shots for not having an autofocus lens, but what makes it stand out is its ability to capture 720p HD video. Again, if you’re really into video chat, I recommend you download the latest version of Qik which now supports 720p video. Your friends will be able to tell if you took a shower or washed your face in the morning.
If you’re buying a smartphone these days, you’re probably looking to get a phone with an incredibly fast data connection. Fortunately for you, the HTC EVO Design 4G comes equipped with a 4G WiMax radio which allows you to speed along on Sprint’s 4G network. Many consumers (me included) still have their reservations about calling Sprint’s WiMax network a true 4G network since maximum data speeds are limited to 10 Mbps, but that’s a point of discussion for another article. The Design 4G does get incredible 4G reception (as long as you don’t live in my house) and manages to get download speeds between 5-7 Mbps if you’re within a Sprint 4G area.
8. GSM International Roaming
One of the major frustrations for Sprint customers has always been the inability to use their CDMA phones when they travel internationally. Yes, you can always pick up a cheap pre-paid handset if you plan on vacationing in Europe or South America for a few weeks, but it’s more of a hassle than you can imagine. The HTC EVO Design 4G is one of the few devices from Sprint which features CDMA and GSM network support. The phone comes with a pre-installed SIM card which will allow users to roam in any GSM 850/900/1800/1900 networks outside of Sprint’s network.
While the phone could technically work on AT&T’s 3G network, users will have to SIM unlock the device in order for the phone to successfully recognize the SIM card. It’s a shame that Sprint has locked down the phone’s SIM functionality and can make some extra profit off of you when you take your phone overseas, but it’s definitely nice to have a phone that will actually work in another country when you travel.
9. Battery Life
HTC has been pushing out some pretty amazing phones recently, but I’ve found that one thing that HTC continuously missed the mark on is battery performance. Fortunately, the 1520 mAh battery that comes with the HTC EVO Design 4G breaks HTC’s battery performance losing streak and delivers a performance worthy of praise. I’m sure that HTC and Sprint have gotten a lot better at optimizing battery performance for their 4G phones, but my suspicion is that the 1.2 GHz single-core processor and smaller 4-inch display are the main reasons why the Design 4G is able to last a few extra hours longer than HTC’s dual-core lineup.
With the HTC EVO Design 4G I was consistently able to make it through an entire work day without worrying about plugging the phone in at work or in my car during my commute – a feat that has proven nearly impossible with the HTC Rezound, Amaze 4G and the EVO 3D. On the weekends, I even managed to make it 50 hours before the Design’s battery finally gave in. Everyone’s battery mileage will vary, but most will find that the EVO Design 4G will last you through the work day.
10.Packaging and Accessories
When you buy a phone, you want a complete package. The HTC Rhyme comes with a nice little charm, tangle-free headphones, a charger and a very nice Bluetooth enabled music/charging dock — so you’d think this would give you an idea of what you’ll get with the HTC EVO Design 4G. However, you simply receive a microUSB cable with a detachable USB wall plug packed inside a cardboard box that’s doesn’t leave room for anything else. I understand that adding in accessories takes away from the razor thin profit margin they make on their phones, but it would be nice if they at least threw in a standard pair of headphones with an in-line mic so that customers would enjoy their music or make hands-free phone calls without having to buy an extra accessory.
I don’t believe anyone is going to walk into their local Sprint store and confuse the HTC EVO Design 4G with high-end devices like the HTC EVO 3D or the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch (wow, that’s still a mouthful). What Sprint and HTC have done is create an upper-mid-range device that can hang with the big boys but that is priced at the $99 price point like most mid- to low-end devices. To make things even better, you can find the HTC EVO Design 4G for under $50 on Amazon Wireless. The HTC EVO Design 4G isn’t going to be the best phone you can buy from Sprint, but in my opinion it is the best Android phone you can currently buy for $100 .