- Review Date: 01.07.11
- Bottom line:
The HTC EVO Shift 4G is a powerful, less costly alternative to the EVO 4G on Sprint, and gives hardware keyboard fans another choice besides the Samsung Epic 4G.
Responsive Android build. Attractive UI. Glass touch screen is sharp and bright. Excellent music and video playback. WiMAX 4G.
Memory card slot is buried underneath the battery. Slightly stiff keyboard. You have to pay extra for 4G even if you can't use it.
If you want more Internet on the go, Sprint now has three 4G Android cell phones to choose from. The latest is the HTC EVO Shift 4G. It pairs HTC's excellent Sense UI experience with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Despite some minor limitations, the EVO Shift 4G is a solid Android smartphone that offers a smoother software experience than most. It's a good alternative if you find the HTC EVO 4G ($199.99, 4 stars) and Samsung Epic 4G ($249.99, 4 stars) too large.
Design, Screen, and Keyboard
The EVO Shift 4G measures 4.6 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches (HWD). It's made of midnight blue plastic, with a faux aluminum texture around the front panel and a soft touch back panel. It's comfortable to hold and feels well made. The chrome accents around the earpiece speaker, camera lens, and front panel add some bling without overdoing it.
The 3.6-inch glass capacitive touchscreen sports a 480-by-800-pixel resolution. That's smaller than the expansive 4-inch and 4.3-inch screens you get with the Epic 4G and EVO 4G, respectively, but still a tenth of an inch larger than the iPhone's panel. It looks bright and sharp in testing. There are also proximity, motion, and light sensors, as well as a compass. Dialing numbers was easy using HTC's custom dial pad, and the UI responded instantaneously to each key press—a basic task that trips up countless Android devices.
The four-row QWERTY keyboard is a down a row from the Epic 4G's roomier, five-row design, and the EVO Shift 4G's keys are a bit flat and stiff. But the key arrangement makes sense, and I acclimated to the keyboard pretty quickly. The on-screen keyboard is also quite responsive for those moments when you don't want to slide out the physical keyboard. Four touch buttons sit below the screen; unlike on the Epic 4G, these stay lit when you need them to, and the mirrored accent rings make them easy to find in dim rooms.
Connectivity and Call Quality
The EVO Shift 4G is a dual-band EV-DO Rev A (850/1900 MHz) device with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. It's also a 4G phone; as such, it can connect to the Internet via Clearwire's WiMAX network in several dozen cities across the U.S., including new additions like San Francisco and Bridgeport, CT. Unfortunately, you still have to pay $10 extra per month for this, even if you live nowhere near a 4G zone. If you do, expect average speeds in the 5 to 6 megabits per second range downstream and 1 Mbps up. The EVO Shift 4G also functions as a mobile hotspot for up to five devices for an extra $30 per month; that's a useful Android 2.2-related feature (more on that below) that Apple has yet to match.
Voice quality was very good overall. Callers sounded clear, full, and warm in the earpiece, and they said my voice was crystal clear on their end. I didn't hear any background hiss, and a light breeze on my side was inaudible to one caller on the other end. Reception was solid. Calls also sounded fine through an Aliph Jawbone Icon ($99, 4 stars) Bluetooth headset. The voice-dialing app was hit or miss in terms of recognizing spoken numbers, but at least it triggered over Bluetooth. The speakerphone sounded natural, if a bit thin, but it could use more gain. Aware by now that Android sucks power like no other OS, HTC has shoehorned in a 1500mAh battery pack. It was good for 6 hours and 28 minutes of continuous talk time in 3G mode, which is a solid result.
User Interface, Hardware Specs, and Apps
HTC Sense is in full effect, with seven customizable home screens that you can jump between by pressing the Home key. It also features HTC's usual array of widgets and apps, which are attractive, responsive, and smoothly animated where applicable.
In terms of processing power, the EVO Shift 4G is a step down from the EVO 4G. Still, the 800 MHz Qualcomm MSM7630 CPU combines with Android 2.2 to deliver a reasonably speedy experience, even with HTC's Sense UI layer on top. Anyway, we've seen this CPU before in the myTouch 4G and the T-Mobile G2; it gets the job done for the most part. In comparison, the Epic 4G has a faster processor, but it's still stuck with the sluggish Android 2.1 OS.
Plenty of other features are on board. You get free visual voicemail, plus two navigation apps: Google Maps Navigation, which offers voice-enabled, turn-by-turn GPS directions and a slick voice input mode, and TeleNav GPS Navigation, which offers a more typical car-like experience and more accurate routing. Sprint TV delivers smooth video (finally!) over 4G, but it's sluggish and pixelated in 3G mode; even the UI stalls while you search for the right clip or channel.
Android Market gives you access to over 200,000 third-party apps, most of which should work fine given the phone's specs and OS build. Amazon's MP3 and Kindle apps are preloaded along with Facebook; numerous free Twitter clients are a download away. As a proper Android phone, you also get a solid WebKit browser that easily handles WAP and desktop HTML, as well as robust Web and Exchange e-mail connectivity. The hardware QWERTY keyboard helps make the EVO Shift 4G a messaging and social media powerhouse—if having a hardware keyboard matters to you, that is.
Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
HTC's upgraded music player works like a miniature jukebox for album art. The app was easy to use and responsive, and the standard-size 3.5mm headphone jack is a boon for music fans. Music tracks also sounded clear and full over Motorola S9-HD ($129.99, 3.5 stars) stereo Bluetooth headphones. Standalone 720p videos looked sharp, smooth, and colorful in full widescreen mode, and the EVO Shift 4G played all of my test files without issue. There's no HDMI out like on the EVO 4G, though.
One downside: The microSD card slot is buried underneath the battery and uses a strange pull-up locking mechanism. Use doubleTwist for syncing media, and you'll be fine. HTC throws in a 2GB Samsung card, and my 32GB SanDisk card worked fine; there is also 370MB of free internal memory.
The 5-megapixel auto-focus camera includes an LED flash. Oddly, there's no front-facing camera. Test photos were OK, but not great; the auto-focus had plenty of trouble keeping images sharp, although at least it was fast. Indoor images were too dark unless I was standing near a window. The LED flash added excess noise. Recorded 1280-by-720-pixel HD videos were reasonably well lit and averaged 18 frames per second. But that latter figure is misleading, as the rate peaked near 30 fps in bright rooms and fell to the single digits in dimmer areas. Dropping to VGA mode didn't help, either; it may just be a CPU limitation. Sadly, none of Sprint's 4G phones have quite hit the mark on the camera front just yet; the Epic 4G and EVO 4G have roughly similar issues all around.
All told, if the HTC EVO Sense 4G's price and feature compliment appeal to you, it's an easy buy. If you have an extra $100, the Samsung Epic 4G gets you a faster processor, roomier keyboard, and larger screen. But we're still waiting for that Android 2.2 upgrade, and Samsung's modest UI enhancements can't touch HTC Sense. The Samsung Epic 4G retains our Editors' Choice for keyboarded smartphones on Sprint, but just barely. If you want to save some money, the midrange LG Optimus S (Free, 4 stars) is now free up front and also costs $10 less per month. For that, you lose the slide-out QWERTY keyboard and HD video recording, and step down a bit in speed and screen resolution. But it's still an easily viable smartphone with Android 2.2, good speed, and plenty of multimedia functionality. Sprint also has the QWERTY keyboard-equipped Samsung Transform ($49, 3 stars), which dropped in price by $100 (just as we expected); it's a decent option, but not in the same class thanks to its sluggish performance.
Continuous talk time: 6 hours 28 minutes