Carrying a Sprint Evo phone used to make you feel special, in a geeky way.
It was the first true 4G wireless phones when it debuted in 2010, showcasing the Clearwire-powered WiMax network.
With a huge screen, sleek black case and powerful processor, the Evo was the baddest phone on the block. As long as the battery held out.
Now Sprint’s releasing a more powerful version that I’ve been testing, the HTC Evo 4G LTE.
You feel special carrying this Evo, too, but for different reasons.
For one thing, it’s contraband.
Imports of the new Evo were blocked this month by U.S. Customs, delaying its May 18 launch. The phones are being reviewed to see if they comply with a court ruling in a patent spat between Apple and HTC.
The Evo — and an HTC One phone for AT&T that’s also held up — are casualties of Steve Jobs’ going “thermonuclear” on Google’s Android software.
I think the late Mr. Jobs is doing Sprint customers a favor by delaying the Evo’s release.
The Evo’s biggest selling point is that it uses fast, new 4G LTE network technology. LTE is becoming the new standard for smartphones in the U.S. and soon every major network will offer it.
Sprint plans to have LTE across its network in 2013.
The problem is, Sprint doesn’t yet offer LTE coverage anywhere. It’s promising coverage by “midyear” in six cities — Dallas, Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, San Antonio, Kansas City — but won’t say where it’s coming next.
Yet it began selling LTE phones in April.
These phones also work on Sprint’s 3G network, which is being upgraded, but there’s no comparison to LTE speeds. Current LTE phones also won’t work with the LTE capacity-boosting service Clearwire is providing Sprint next year.
This is like selling color TVs limited to black and white content. It’s infuriating if you’re already used to the newer technology.
I began testing the Evo the day President Obama was in town. Downloads were so slow I wondered if the Secret Service had jammed the network.
I tried watching a high-def YouTube trailer for “The Expendables 2.” It was maddeningly slow, so I tried it on the free Wi-Fi at a McDonald’s. It still froze and buffered more than a dozen times.
I tried the same video on the bus ride home, over Sprint’s 3G network. The sound of gunshots roared out of the Evo’s “Beats” audio system so I pressed the volume button, and the phone completely froze.
After a reboot, the video “loading” icon spun for another mile. Finally it began playing as I stepped off the bus, then paused to buffer 25 seconds later.
Network aside, I found the Evo to be a nice phone with an 8 megapixel camera, good call quality and far better battery life than the 2010 Evo.
Despite a massive 4.7-inch display, the $200 Evo feels light and easy to hold.
From the front, the case is plain but handsome. The back has an odd combination of shiny and matte plastic, divided by a red aluminum kickstand. It’s not as striking as the original Evo or as svelte as the HTC One series (T-Mobile’s One at left).
The first Evo’s battery barely made it past lunchtime. I could use the new one lightly for well over a day without recharging. Sprint claims 7.5 hours of talk time, but the battery is “embedded” and can’t be replaced by users.
There are many layers of capability in the Evo, which runs the latest “Ice Cream Sandwich” version of Android.
Especially prominent is an assortment of preloaded media apps. This profusion of digital storefronts is a little confusing.
Google’s “Play” store and service get a home-screen icon and appear in the corner when you scroll through multiple screens filled with apps. “Play Movies” and “Play Music” also link to Google services. “Music” opens a folder with other music apps and “Watch” launches HTC’s video store.
Another app, called “Media Share,” is designed to connect the phone to a Wi-Fi network and share media files. I thought it would be cool to rent a movie from HTC and play it back through my home network, but I couldn’t connect the phone. This was probably a user error, but it should be easier.
The Evo also has the ballyhooed Google Wallet and NFC capability. Wallet lets you load credit-card info, which is permanently linked to your Google account. Wallet also stores retail-loyalty cards, and Google will use it to send you coupons and offers.
With near-field communications hardware, you can wave the phone near special credit-card readers at some stores to make a payment.
That may appeal to some, but to me the convenience isn’t worth giving Google my credit information. It’s like giving Cookie Monster keys to the Keebler factory. If Google wants that access, it should provide a free phone and wireless service in return.
Others may also be excited to have a truly next generation phone like the HTC Evo 4G LTE.
It’s a fine phone, but users will be paying $80 per month to use it on a last-generation network for a significant part of their two-year contract.
Here are the phone’s specs, via HTC:
Network: LTE (Band 25) and CDMA 1xRTT EVDO Rel. 0, EVDO Rev. A
Dimensions: 5.31″ (L) x 2.72″ (W) x 0.35″ (T)
Keyboard/Form Factor: Virtual QWERTY
Weight: 4.73 ounces
Operating System: Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) with HTC Sense
Display: 4.7-inch 1280×720 HD with IPS technology (In Plane Switching); Capacitive touch screen
Battery: 2000 mAh
Camera: (Main): 8MP color CMOS with auto focus; (Front): 1.3MP color CMOS Front Camera; Back Side-Illuminated (BSI Sensor); HTC ImageChip
Memory: 1GB RAM, 16GB ROM, microSDHC compatible
Connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0+, 3.5mm Stereo audio jack, Micro USB connector with MHL, NFC, WiFi: IEEE 802.11 A,B,G,N
Processor: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon Qualcomm MSM8960
Here’s a photo taken with the HTC Evo 4G LTE, of the site of Amazon.com’s forthcoming office towers: