Sprint HTC EVO Shift 4G Review
While it is not completely yet clear as to what Sprint’s roadmap looks like over the coming year, I have a feeling there may be several EVO phones included. The EVO Shift 4G is the second device under that name, suggesting Sprint is trying to mimic Verizon’s DROID series. Just like the Droids, I predict that Sprint is planning to take several different phones with different form factors and hardware components, and put them all together into one big EVO family.
It’s pure speculation at this point, but it’s hard to see otherwise. EVO is here to stay, folks, and it’s shining brilliantly so far. Sprint hit one out of the ballpark with the original EVO 4G, throwing in just about every possible top of the line spec that’s come to market so far. Can they duplicate the same success with the midrange QWERTY-packing EVO Shift 4G?
This is my experience with the EVO’s younger brother, the Shift 4G.
Unboxing the Shift 4G
Nothing special was caught when I first unboxed the Shift 4G. It’s another phone in Sprint packaging, complete with the standard yellow/white box with the picture of the random person in the shadow of a hilariously oversized phone. Inside the box, USB cable and wall charger with user manuals and a bag with which to recycle your old phones. It’s very eco-friendly that way.
Still, I made a video of it nonetheless.
Easy to hold without awkwardness of gripping (present with most larger screens such as original EVO); impressively fast for a phone that doesn’t have a dual-core processor; simple to navigate around and all pretty small compared to the size it could have been.
Design of the HTC EVO Shift 4G
Ever since the Droid Incredible was released last year, HTC has been responsible for some of the most clever and innovative phone designs. The original EVO 4G was one example, being not only the first 4G phone in the US but top of the line in every way — and that includes design. What other phone outside of HTC has an actual kickstand built-in, let alone make it look classy?
The EVO Shift 4G may not have as quite dramatic a difference in design, I find the subtleties in the way a phone is constructed to be rather intriguing. For example, the Shift 4G took a decent-sized (but not overbearing) screen and put a full keyboard in such a way that the phone doesn’t feel boxy in the slightest.
On the back, the edges contour inward so the phone gets smaller and smaller the further away you get from the screen and keyboard. This helps make the phone feel incredibly comfortable fitting in my hand, even though the weight and overall size make it rather hefty on paper. But this is where the miracle of good design comes in; it fools us into thinking the phone is actually smaller and easier to handle than any other similar phone.
The EVO Shift 4G is also constructed in such a way that it feels more robust than the standard plastic-bearing phones. The Shift 4G is still made of plastic, mind you, but it has a peculiar way of making you feel like the phone is still invincible. Perhaps it’s the weight and size. Either way, don’t be fooled; it’s still vulnerable.
The 3.6” touchscreen is large enough for me, since I have a full keyboard to take advantage of. The main reason I ever like large screens is that it gives me extra real estate by which to use the larger on-screen keyboard, making full use of the size of each button. But with a fully-functional physical keyboard that can be slid in and out, I don’t need as much space to type or message.
Don’t get me wrong — sometimes it’s nice using the on-screen keyboard for the EVO Shift 4G, but then why buy this phone over the keyboard-less competition if you prefer that?
I would’ve preferred seeing a screen on the EVO Shift 4G, however, that filled up more of the available bezel space. For instance, at the bottom of the screen we find 4 touch-sensitive navigation buttons — home, menu, go back and search — that could have been pushed down a couple centimeters under its current position, thus allowing more room for a bigger screen. There’s just a lot of unused space on the front of the Shift 4G. I did like the longer speaker on top that allows for better audio feedback.
My favorite part of the HTC EVO Shift 4G is its keyboard. As I am normally on the team that prefers on-screen keyboards over physical ones, I tend to be more skeptical of the physical QWERTY keyboards on phones today. Most keyboards are either too wide, too narrow, too small, too large, too spaced out or not spaced out far enough. Sounds picky, right? It’s hard to find a good middle ground for my taste.
Let me tell you exactly why I love the keyboard on the Shift 4G: everything is done just right. The phone is not too large so the keyboard doesn’t have to spread out way too far for its own good; all buttons are well spaced and just barely large enough to cover my fingers (but again, not too large). When pressing the keys they are set slightly above the base, so there is a reasonable amount of button bounceback. It’s simply a comfortable keyboard to type on, and I can type reasonably fast on it.
I like that there is a dedicated @ button as well as a emoticon button. Personally, I would also like to see the .com button be dedicated instead of tucked away as a Function key shortcut, but at least it’s included somewhere.
Hardware/Software of the HTC EVO Shift 4G
The most important part about a smartphone besides performance is the user experience. If you cannot figure out a phone within 3 days of owning it, nor do you feel comfortable using it, you’re just going to get more and more frustrated as time goes by. Android in and of itself has a relatively low learning curve when compared to other smartphone OS giants, but each phone manufacturer likes to take a crack at making Android look better and easier to use.
HTC’s user interface for the Android is called Sense. It’s essentially the exact same UI on every HTC Android phone made over the last couple years, with only a few minor tweaks here and there. I have many fond feelings for Sense, as it has always performed exceptionally well (not every UI overlay on Android works so smooth), has some great features, and genuinely works to make Android a better experience.
The EVO Shift 4G also comes with Froyo, aka Android 2.2, included by default. Froyo is best-known for adding the Flash player to the Android experience. As I loaded up several Flash videos and even visited Badger Badger Badger (I do not recommend this, as doing so will get the song stuck in your head for at least 2 days) because I knew it was a good test of the Flash. The Flash player worked as well as I would expect it to on a phone with 800 MHz CPU and 512 MB RAM.
Speaking of which, there are several other great features that the Shift 4G has that should be emphasized.
CPU: The Shift 4G uses a second-generation Qualcomm processor, the MSM7630. It clocks at 800 MHz and uses 45 nm architecture, which basically equates to lower heat and power consumption than the first-generation chips that use 65 nm. In other words, the newest generation chips outperform the first-gen even though it technically sees a slower clock speed. When I wrote the unboxing, I originally saw the 800 MHz clock speed and naturally assumed it would be slower than the Snapdragon 1 GHz CPU located in the original EVO 4G, but was surprised when I noticed the performance of the Shift 4G was the same, if not better than the original.
In addition to the processor, the Shift 4G also smartly includes 512 MB RAM which makes it easier to multitask without slowing the phone down. This is perfect for a midrange smartphone that’s both powerful and budget-friendly. Sometimes it can be difficult to balance those two attributes, oftentimes sacrificing one for the other. However, the Shift 4G has done an excellent job balancing power with price.
5 MP Camera: Sure, it’s not 8 like the original EVO. But for 95% of interested buyers, a 5 MP camera is perfectly acceptable. It’s the standard for most Android smartphones coming to market in the US, so it’s not particularly surprising either. But it also comes with 720p HD video recording capability, which to me is a must-have. Raising two young kids under the age of three, they have a tendency to do really cute stuff at a moment’s notice, and it’s essential for me to have something pocketable and handy to catch them on video as quickly as possible before the moment’s gone forever.
4G access: I always love using a phone that has 4G internet access because of how speedy it can be, and when combined with the Mobile Hotspot feature that takes that 4G internet, broadcasts it out as a WiFi signal and allows up to 8 devices to connect to it. I found this feature to be very handy at home, since our home internet connection can be spotty at times and my wife likes to use the Netflix streaming when going to sleep. As I try to use our home internet it causes her Netflix to go incredibly slow, so I just used the Mobile Hotspot for all of my computer activities. It worked like a charm.
Storage Space: The Shift 4G comes with not even 400 MB storage, though HTC has equipped the Shift 4G with a 2 GB microSD card already. This still isn’t a lot of space to put music or high-quality pictures, so I highly recommend you get a larger storage card; the Shift 4G can handle up to 32 GB, which should be plenty for most. These phones can make excellent music players, and if you have it you might as well use it.
FM Radio: It’s always nice to see these show up on smartphones. FM radios are not insanely popular, but you never know when they come in handy. The only way to make them work, however, is by plugging in headphones because they act as the antenna.
One of the biggest question marks that get placed on smartphones is the learning curve on them. How easy are they to figure out? What if I can’t do anything on my phone? How do I learn? Fortunately HTC has thought ahead and addressed this question directly on the phone by preloaded the HTC Mobile Guide app, which is nothing more than a bookmark shortcut in the app tray that sends you into a website that is set up specifically to be a user guide. This way, you don’t have to blow dust off a user guide that’s been sitting in the basement for months, if you’ve kept that user guide at all. Plus, most of your questions about the phone will pop up at random times outside of your house or apartment.
Performance of the HTC EVO Shift 4G
For being the younger brother of the original EVO, it sure packs a mean punch. By that I mean it’s a wonderful phone to use that has all of the major features you’ll ever use in a smartphone. It doesn’t have the top of the market components, nor does it pretend to be “that phone” — you know, the one phone that leaves all other smartphones behind in the dust — in order to be a great device to use. It just has solid parts, and has good call quality with good-for-Android battery life (1500 mAh Lithium Ion battery with 6 hours talk time).
The Shift 4G has a speedy processor, even though on paper it doesn’t seem like it should. With a 3.6″ touchscreen and 4.6″ x 2.31″ x 0.61″ dimensions, it’s smaller and thicker than the standard smartphone but it isn’t boxy or bulky either. Weighing 5.87 ounces, it’s still lighter than similar phones with full slide-out QWERTY keyboards. The keyboard is also well-designed and a good fit for my picky fingers and thumbs.
All in all, I was very pleased by the performance and outlook of the EVO Shift 4G. It is a great addition to the new EVO lineup and one that I would feel comfortable using on a regular basis.
And check out my full video review of the HTC EVO Shift 4G below: