|Introduction and Specifications|
Sprint continuously brags about its flagship 4G Android phone the HTC Evo. It is a great piece of hardware, but it is also a relatively large device with a premium price tag. Enter the HTC Evo Shift, currently Sprint's least expensive Android 4G phone. The Shift runs Android 2.2, includes a slide-out keyboard and is noticeably smaller than the EVO and Sprint's other slide-out 3G/4G phone, the Samsung Epic (see specs below). The Shift is also priced at $150 (with a two-year contract and mail-in rebate) compared to $199 for the HTC Evo and the Samsung Epic. It is a responsive, well performing smartphone that we liked in many ways. But, in exchange for the slide-out keyboard and lower price, it doesn't include all of the features of some other high-end smartphones. For instance, it lacks a front-facing camera and doesn't include HDMI output.
4G, where available, is of course all about speed. By the end of 2010, Sprint had rolled out its 4G WiMax network to 70 cities across the U.S. The service provider claims that 4G offers peak download speeds of more than 10Mbps and peak upload speeds of 1Mbps. Since you probably won't get "peak" performance all of the time, Sprint says average download speeds range from 3 to 6 Mbps. When a 4G network is not available, the EVO Shift automatically connects to Sprint's 3G network which offers average download speeds of 600kbps – 1.4Mbps. If Wi-Fi is available, the Shift will choose to connect to that as its preferred network.When you add it up, including taxes and fees, you'll likely spend about $90 or more per month for any 4G smartphone on Sprint including the new EVO Shift 4G. If that's the case, should you opt for the new EVO Shift over the acclaimed EVO? Read on as we answer this question and many more in our hands-on review.
Sprint offers various plans for its 4G phones. The least expensive is $79.99 per month, which you'll notice is higher than the company's standard $69.99/month "Everything Data Plan." That's because the company charges an extra $10/month for any 4G phones on any plan. Another hidden service cost is that Sprint charges $29 per month to use the device as a hotspot. You can, however, also pay for a $10 one-day hotspot pass. The Evo Shift can become a hotspot for up to eight other devices.
|The EVO Shift 4G is clearly based on its namesake, the EVO 4G. At first glance, it looks like the EVO, only smaller. Its 3.6-inch capacitive multi-touch screen runs the length of the device and is plenty big enough (and vivid enough) for viewing media and interacting with apps, especially when the screen doesn't also have to host a keyboard. It supplies the same four permanent function keys along the front bottom of the device: Home, Menu, Back and Search. The keys summon different application functions depending on the application that is running. It has the same overall boxy look, too.
But the Shift differs from the original EVO in several obvious ways, too, some good, some not so good. On the plus side, its slimmer 2.32-inch width means that it more comfortably fits in the hand, even a small hand, in our opinion. That makes one-handed functions easier, when the thumb needs to wrap around to use the onscreen keyboard. And for those with smaller fists, its slimmer size makes it a pleasure to use it as an actual phone, whereas the EVO 4G borders on painful to hold for a meaty 30-minute conversation. Yet the Shift is not much lighter than the hefty EVO, weighing a mere fraction of an ounce less. This also makes it one of the heavier phones available today.
Thanks to the slide-out keyboard, the EVO Shift is a tad thicker than the EVO, too, at .59-inches compared to the EVO's .5-inch profile.
The Shift's stand-out feature, its slide-out keyboard, comes complete with cursor, search button, and a menu-shortcut key. There's been some complaints by other testers over the kinetic feel of the keyboard. The keys are thinner and therefore don't have much travel, and they don't offer a satisfying "click" either. But they are adequately spaced from each other (especially compared to a BlackBerry Curve), and we were adapted to the more subtle feedback in no time. You can beef up the typing experience by adding a key sound -- like vibrate -- if you so choose, too. But be warned, such an addition will use more battery life.
On the downside, there's no getting around the fact that the phone has no font-facing camera. While it can run Skype for phone calls or instant messaging, if face-to-face video chatting is important to you, the EVO Shift 4G simply isn't for you. Likewise, it doesn't include an HDMI output. So if you want your smartphone to output HD video or a high-def slideshow presentation, the Shift may not do for you.
That said, the 5 MP rear camera also shoots 720p HD video. It is self focusing, adjusts for glare and takes respectable point-and-click shots, even when zoomed in to the maximum level.
While this camera isn't as powerful as the EVO's 8 MP camera, it does include plenty of fancy knobs, bells and whistles. It can shoot a photo with a special-effect filter on, such as greyscale, sepia, negative, solarize and posterize, and the camera function can crop and otherwise edit the shot on the spot, too.
The EVO Shift does offer most of today's other must-have features including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, an accelerometer and FM radio. It offers a decent amount of onboard memory at 2GB of ROM, coupled with 512MB of RAM. On the other hand, it comes standard with a somewhat miserly 2G microSD card, upgradeable to 32G via the microSD slot located under the battery cover.
The HTC EVO Shift 4G runs Android 2.2, otherwise known as Froyo. The HTC EVO was the first to get 2.2 and the EVO Shift is the only other smartphone in Sprint's current lineup using it. (Samsung and Sprint issued a public statement earlier this month promising to upgrade Sprint's Galaxy S variant, the Epic 2.2, "soon.") Android 2.2 is significant as this version eliminates much of the sluggishness and glitchiness that was a common complaint of early Android devices. It reportedly runs up to five times faster than previous versions. Those improvements are noticeable with the EVO Shift 4G which responded quickly to our touch commands. Froyo also supports Adobe Flash.
With Froyo the HTC EVO Shift 4G has greatly improved support for corporate users accessing Exchange compared to devices running earlier versions of Android. Your company's Exchange system administrator can create security policies that the EVO Shift 4G must adopt if you want to use the device to access Exchange. This includes forcing the user to adopt a pin or password to unlock the device. Exchange administrators can also grant themselves the ability to perform a remote wipe, if the device is lost or stolen and the device is using Exchange ActiveSync.
That's nice for your company -- for you, Android 2.2 offers support for Exchange Calendars in the Calendar application. Previously, Exchange users had to sync their Outlook calendar to Google Calendar and use Google on the Android device. Exchange users can also access the server's Global Address Lists from e-mail, which gives users that familiar auto-complete function in the recipient name field taken from the directory.
We found setting up access to an Exchange server to be a painless process that took less than five minutes and worked well. And if access to other Microsoft Office applications is important to you, say to open an e-mail attachment, the phone includes the QuickOffice app, that lets you view/edit/create Microsoft Word and Excel documents (compatible with MS Office versions 97-2003).
The HTC EVO Shift comes pre-loaded with several dozen applications and if a user ever decides to reset the device to its factory defaults, these applications will remain. You'll have to decide for yourself if you enjoy the apps or if it feels like bloatware to you. We've seen worse on other Android phones. Apps include Adobe PDF Reader, Facebook, Twitter and Friend Stream, the Kindle Reader, Maps, NASCAR, Sprint Football Live, Sprint TV, YouTube.
Each smartphone manufacturer includes its own synchronization and organization wares. This phone includes HTC Sync, a Windows application embedded on the phone's micoSD card. The user connects the device to a Windows PC (XP, Vista or W7) using the included cable to use the app. (Sorry, the memory card doesn't include Macintosh or Linux versions of the HTC Sync application, even though it's an Adobe Air app.)
The unit ships with HTC's cleverly designed travel power cord that also functions as the phone's USB connection cable. The wall charger is simply a pair of prongs with a USB port. The USB cord can be removed from it and plugged into a computer to charge the phone, mount it as a drive or tether the connection (provided you've paid Sprint the extra hotspot fee).
Users who do not sync wirelessly directly to the Exchange application via Froyo's support of it can sync to their PC's Outlook Calendar and Contacts via HTC Sync. The app also allows PC users to easily transfer or sync music, photos, videos, bookmarks and documents between PC to device or charge the device via the PC's USB port.
HTC also embeds another sync-like app into its Android phones, HTC Sense. Sense acts as a shell or conduit that lets users sync data within apps and your social networks. For example, you can use it sync your contacts (the "People" app) to their Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter profiles. Or to browse your friends' photos on Facebook or Flickr via the phone's "Gallery" widget. HTC Sync will also import your social media contacts into your phone.
HTC Android devices offer plenty of ways to customize the look of your workspaces. The EVO Shift 4G includes seven customizable screens, including the home screen. These screens can host folders, shortcuts or widgets. In addition to the seven screens, the EVO Shift 4G, like the EVO 4G, offers "Scenes" which are sets of preset screens with various themes.
It includes a handful of factory-set Scenes including one called "Work" that puts a calendar widget, two timezone clocks and a link to the e-mail messages front and center on the home page. There's one called social that puts the social applications in easy reach and users can create their own custom scenes as well.
HTC's 'Leap' thumbnail view is especially helpful for navigating among the various home screens. Double click on the home button or pinch any screen and small icons of all screens will be presented on a single screen. By pressing and holding the Home button, you'll see a list of eight most recently used applications and you can use this to navigate between your favorite applications while they are running.
By sliding down the alert screen at the top of every screen, you'll see all alerts from all of your messaging applications including e-mails from all accounts you are tracking in the phone (we used three: Gmail, Exchange and our ISP's native Webmail account); text alerts, Facebook notifications, active applications like GPS navigation, voicemail alerts and so on.
As mentioned, because the EVO Shift 4G uses a slide-out keyboard, its 3.6 inch screen doesn't have to share space with a software keyboard. This gives it plenty of room to run graphics, a browser Window, a document, a scrolling screen and makes the Shift feel comparable to the bigger screened EVO despite its smaller size. It's multi-touch is extremely responsive. When coupled with Wi-Fi or 4G, we found Web browsing and streaming video a joy to use.
In the coming pages, we'll touch more on the speeds you can expect from the EVO 4G while browsing the web.
|Performance Testing - Web Browsing|
|The EVO Shift 4G's didn't top the speed charts, but performed well all the same. We ran a variety of benchmarks and compared it to a number of other devices from various carriers.
The Evo 4G Shift shows competitive 4G network performance, keeping pace pretty much with the rest of the pack in our suite of testing, sometimes even posting the top score amongs 4G handsets. WiFi performance for device was more middle of the road but again respectable.
|The HTC EVO Shift 4G relies on an 800Mhz Snapdragon CPU. But it's a newer member of the Snapdragon family (the MSM7630). With an updated CPU and 512 of RAM, (same as the EVO 4G), it performs admirably well against machines with a full 1GHz CPU.
There's little question the HTC Evo line is one of the fastest smartphone platforms on the market right now but Qualcom's 1GHz Snapdragon CPU has tough competiton coming up from Samsung and NVIDIA's Tegra 2.
|General Use and Conclusion|
One area where we think the Sprint EVO Shift 4G beat out its bigger brother was when using it as a phone. Both phones have good call quality and didn't drop calls during our testing period. However, the narrower EVO Shift 4G is simply more comfortable to hold, especially for a smaller hand or during a longer period of talk time. The shift is wider than a classic slideout phone, such as an old Samsung Rant which is about the width of a BlackBerry Curve. Plus, as previously noted, unlike the Curve or EVO, the screen doesn't have to host a software keyboard, which we found a pleasure when we were multi-tasking, accessing applications while engaged in a phone call or anytime we wanted to view what was on the screen while simultaneously typing.
Like many smartphones, the HTC EVO Shift 4G has a proximity sensor which automatically switches the screen off when in phone mode and while it is being held to your face. This means that the capacitive touch won't think you are giving it a command if it brushes against your cheek. The sensor doesn't turn off its 3G/4G/Wi-Fi and the screen comes back on during a phone call when the slide-out keyboard is opened. Additionally, even when the device is locked, the user can answer the call with a single swipe on the screen.
Although it hosts only a 800MHz CPU, the exceptionally responsive touchscreen combined with the speed improvements from Froyo over previous versions of Android make the HTC EVO Shift 4G "feel" just as responsive as the 1GHz smartphones we've used. We had no glitches, stalls or any other problems with any of the applications we used during our review.
If the phone has one true shortfall, it is battery life. HTC says the device's 1500 mAh Li-on battery provides 6 hours of continuous talk time. We found that the battery ran low on us after eight hours of moderate use, with the device set to stay powered for 10 minutes at a time. HTC advises users to make tweaks to extend battery life, such reducing the backlight settings and avoiding vibrate mode. The device can also be set so that the 4G antenna is not running continuously, Bluetooth settings are off, and so on, to extend battery life. While it likely can't run more than a day on single charge, it can certainly make it through a workday of use.
Sprint's phone lineup of smartphones is not nearly as impressive as most of its competitors (it hasn't even announced an intention to carry a Windows Phone 7 phone, for instance, and there's obviously no iPhone either). And although Sprint has a selection of Android phones, if you want 4G you currently have three choices, and of these only two currently run Android 2.2, with the other requiring a software upgrade (and the risks of quirky side-effects that an upgrade entails).
On the other hand, users of Sprint's network don't have the same complaints about call quality, dropped calls, and coverage areas as users of AT&T.
While the HTC EVO Shift 4G doesn't have all the features of the highest end smartphones, what it does, it does well. And we found its compromises to be a fair trade. Instead of a front-facing camera, it offers a slimmer form more comfortable when using it as a phone. Instead of a higher-end camera and HDMI slot, it offers a slide-out keyboard, which provides more viewable area onscreen in many situations and choices of how to input text. Instead of an included 8GB microSD, it offers a lower price and a bit more ROM storage.
We found the phone so responsive and easy to use however, be it surfing, texting, playing games or talking, that the Evo Shift's compromises felt less significant.