HTC's eco-friendly packaging

This keyboard will be the death of me!
My take on HTC's flagship smartphone

Let me preface this piece by saying that I've been an iPhone user for the past year. I bought an iPhone 3GS on launch day, and for two years prior to that owned two generations of iPod touches. Bearing that in mind, I've become accustomed to Apple's iOS and know its ins and outs. I've jailbroken my iPod touches in the past, but am currently using an iPhone 4 with iOS4 (no jailbreak is available... yet). I of course have plenty of experience with some of the thoroughly modern mobile operating systems like Android OS and webOS, but I've never used one as my personal phone for an extended period of time.

Hopefully, this gives you at least a bit of background on where I'm coming from as I sat down to take a look at the Sprint (HTC) EVO 4G. If you've been following the HTC EVO 4G here on DailyTech, you already know the main specifications of the phone. Here's a refresher of the highlights:

  • Android 2.1 w/HTC Sense UI
  • 4.3" (480x800 display)
  • 1GHz Snapdragon processor
  • 1GB ROM/512MB RAM
  • microSD slot (8GB microSD included)
  • 1500 mAh battery
  • Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), Bluetooth 2.1, 3G, 4G Data (WiMAX)
  • GPS, Digital Compass
  • 8MP primary camera with LED flash + 1.3mp front-facing camera for video conferencing
  • HDMI-out

The first thing I noticed when taking this phone out of its eco-friendly packaging is how large the screen is. It simply dwarfed the 3.5” screen of my iPhone 3GS. But it wasn't until I turned the device on that my jaw really dropped in amazement at the 4.3” screen of the EVO 4G.

My first encounter with the EVO 4G wasn't exactly a smooth one. With my iPhone, I've just grown accustomed to having an internal battery that can't be replaced (for better or for worse). Before first turning on the EVO 4G for the first time, you have to install the 1500 mAh lithium-ion battery. To do this, you must stick your fingernail into a little grove directly behind the power button and pry the back panel off. Seems simple enough, but while the left side of the panel came off with ease, the right side was hanging on for dear life. As I was fearful of breaking off the delicate plastic tabs holding the the panel in place, I had to slowly wiggle the panel back and forth until it finally “popped” free. Crisis averted.

While we're talking about the back of the device, let me point out one area of praise for HTC and one area of scorn. First the positive; the integrated kickstand is quite novel. This could truly come in handy when flying on an airplane and you want to prop your phone up on the tray table to catch a few movies, or simply just set the smartphone down on a table to allow others to join you in viewing random YouTube content.

However, I have to raise an eyebrow at the camera lens which juts out from the back casing of the phone. When the phone is laying screen up, the phone is resting directly on the lens. It shouldn't take long with the lens to get scratched or fogged up during normal wear and tear over the course of a two-year contract period.

The device itself has a nice heft to it. While it's larger in every dimension than my iPhone 4, it doesn't feel cumbersome and its fits nicely in my hand. Weight is also not an issue – it's just a hair heavier than the iPhone 4. Build quality all around is excellent. There are high-quality plastics used for the body, while the kickstand is made out of metal and appears to be quite sturdy. The only nitpicks that I have are that the amber charging LED can be seen shining through the headphone port when the phone is charging and there is some light leakage around the touch sensitive buttons beneath the screen.

There have been some reports around the web that the glass is separating from the LCD on some EVO 4G units, but I have yet to encounter this problem.

There is just something to be said about turning on the device, entering in your Gmail account information, and having your contacts, emails, and calendar information all sync over almost instantaneously without once having to plug your phone in with a USB cable. From the moment I turned on the phone until I had a fully functioning, fully “roadworthy” smartphone with all of my pertinent information onboard was just a couple of minutes.

The keyboard, my goodness the keyboard. Where to start? It's interesting that with a screen nearly an inch larger diagonally than my iPhone 4 that I've had such incredible issues with the default keyboard. With my iPhone 4, I'm used to a rather basic keyboard – you have the standard QWERTY layout in addition to a Shift key, Backspace, and “@123” which brings up the number pad and other seldom used symbols. Seems simple enough.

However, with the EVO 4G, what should be a better experience has been an exercise in frustration for me. First of all, the standard keyboard is simply overcrowded. You have your standard QWERTY layout, but there are also numbers and symbols crowded above those letters which can be accessed by tapping and holding a key – it makes for a cluttered appearance to the keys.

HTC has also included a second way to access numbers and symbols using the “12#” key. And while the actual keys are overloaded with information, the keyboard itself is also cluttered. Besides the standard keys, the keyboard is also littered with directional keys, a “Hide Keyboard” key, and microphone key (for voice recognition). All of these additional keys leave you with just a tiny nub for a spacebar – one of the most used keys in anyone’s typing arsenal.

And that's the not the worst part. When you're typing along, you're blasted in the face with Autocorrect suggestions that when combined with the overly complex keyboard makes typing a chore.

This however, is about the most heated criticism I can lay against the EVO 4G. My other experiences with the phone have been quite commendable.

That's it for my first impressions of the device. The next part will detail more about the Android OS, performance of the phone (4G, camera, etc), more comparisons with the iPhone 4, and finding a suitable replacement for that blasted keyboard.

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates
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