David Pogue Reviews HTC EVO 4G

The EVO 4G from HTC sports a massive 4.3-inch LCD. That sounds good but wait until you try to hold in your hand and operate it. You’ll notice very quickly that it’s oddly a bit too big. Stick it in your pants and that’s kind of odd too. Man bag? Not an option for most if you’re living in the US. David Pogue in A Bold Phone Fades a Bit in the Details echoes my concern about smartphones with large displays:

The Evo is nice and thin, but it’s also tall and wide. It is not for the small of hand.

I would go a little further and recommend that you stay away from the EVO 4G if you think you have regular-sized hands. If you have huge hands you should give it a try. And this is what I wrote in Motorola Droid X:

I’m all for big displays, but there is an optimal limit on smartphones since our hands are pretty much fixed in size. I think these bigger sized smartphones  are getting to be less-than comfortable to both hold and put in your pocket.

Let alone operate. I think Apple has got it just about right with the size of the iPhone and the 3.5-inch display. Maybe HTC should come out with three sizes for the EVO 4G: L, M, S.

Pogue also laments the battery-eating WiFi hotspot feature of the EVO 4G:

… this feature eats through a full battery charge in as little as one hour.

One freaking hour. MG Siegler in An iPhone Lover’s Take On The HTC EVO 4G also mentioned the difficulty of getting more than four hours of battery life with moderate usage. After reading that review I wrote What Good is Technology If It Doesn’t Last?:

I can have the most brilliant piece of technology in my hands but if it lasts just four hours when I need it to last the entire day and some times into the night, it really is nothing but rubbish, high-tech rubbish.

Pogue has more things to say about battery life:

If you charge this phone all night long, then leave the house at 8 a.m., you’ll find its battery charge at 50 percent by early afternoon, even if you don’t make a single call or send a single e-mail message. By quitting time, or dinner time if you’re lucky, it’s completely dead. On this phone, the battery gauge practically shrivels as you’re looking at it.

So what is going on? Why is battery life so miserable? I think there are some hints: a really powerful (too powerful?) but power-hungry CPU, a less-than-optimal multitasking mobile operating system (will Android 2.2 be better?), awesome but battery-sucking features like the mobile WiFi hotspot. And most importantly the lack of a system-wide thought process to make everything work together. Of course, this isn’t easy at all since multiple companies with differing goals and incentives need to work together: HTC, Google, Sprint, Qualcomm, etc. I think it’ll be a long wait before we see tight integration among all these partners.

I think I like Apple’s approach: a CPU that is as fast as it is needed, multitasking that took quite a while to implement but that works well with not only the CPU but with the entire system, and not including technology that could deplete a battery in just one hour. Here’s MG Siegler again in his must-read article What’s Missing From iPhone 4 Is Part Of What Makes It Great:

Jobs cited the iPhone’s cut, copy, & paste functionality as one example of Apple getting a feature right. I have to agree. For two years, everyone complained (myself included) that Apple didn’t have this functionality. Could Apple have done it sooner? Of course. But would it have been half-baked? Probably. Just look at how it works on other devices — or maybe I should say: look at how poorly it works on other devices compared to the iPhone. Most Android phones want you to use that damn ball to select text. Or worse, those arrow buttons at the bottom of the EVO’s horrid keyboard. It’s a nightmare.

Another popular example is background tasks (or multitasking). This feature is finally coming to the new iOS 4 after being on other devices for a few years. So was Apple dragging its feet out of incompetence? Or were they being stubborn? In their view, they were waiting to perfect the system that would not destroy battery life. Android’s background method is supposedly similar to what Apple will use, but it has issues…

Video calling on the EVO 4G according to Pogue:

After two days of fiddling, downloading and uninstalling apps, manually force-quitting programs and waiting for servers to be upgraded, I finally got video calling to work – sort of. Sometimes there was only audio and a black screen, sometimes only a freeze-frame; at best, the video was blocky and the audio delay absurd.

Absurd indeed. Would any normal non-techie smartphone user go through the trouble that Pogue did to set up video calling on the EVO 4G? I think not. I would have given up a lot sooner and asked for my money back. Give the same normal user an iPhone 4 and I think for most FaceTime, which is what Apple calls video calling on the iPhone 4, won’t be too difficult to use. Apple made sure a usable piece of software was ready before adding a front-facing camera on the iPhone. What good is a piece of hardware if you can’t use it the way you want to use it? Video calling should be as simple as pushing a button, or two, max. In the case of FaceTime all you need to do is push the FaceTime button. How easy is that. One caveat: make sure you’re on WiFi.

But the 4G! Roy Furchgott who lives in Baltimore, which happens to be one of 34 areas where Sprint’s 4G is currently available, chimes in regarding the 4G signal and states it is “spottier than a kennel of Dalmations.” Not good. It also took 20 seconds to recognize a 4G signal and six more minutes to connect for the first time. I’m sure subsequent connections will take quite a bit less and your experiences will vary. Nonetheless it does take quite a bit of time to connect. I don’t think I would want to wait that long since the whole point of a 4G connection is so you don’t have to wait as long as you did with 3G.

Developing great technology is wonderful but from what I have read HTC’s EVO 4G thoroughly lacks systems integration and software optimization. One hour of mobile WiFi hotspot use? What’s the point.

Oh, I almost forgot: there’s also the touch problem: you need to use two hands for touch to work (read HTC EVO 4G Touch Problem: Needs to be Grounded for more details).