The HTC EVO Shift 4G is one of the best QWERTY Android devices to land at PhoneDog. When I unboxed it in the lobby of the Renaissance hotel in Las Vegas (immediately after receiving it, because that's how we roll), I was reminded of the original EVO 4G launch last year. As we made our way to the hands-on room, I remember thinking "Sprint should market the EVO as a brand, not as a device name." Verizon has been wildly successful with the "DROID" moniker. Why couldn't Sprint do the same?
Chalk it up to reading my mind or a smart marketing person (likely the latter of the two), but that's exactly what Sprint did. Enter the EVO Shift 4G, the second device in the series, and the third Sprint device to offer 4G connectivity. Those that message frequently will appreciate the physical QWERTY keyboard, and while it lacks the front-facing camera and 8-megapixel shooter, it's $50 cheaper. Is it a worthy addition to the EVO family?
I'm a fan of the EVO Shift's design. The earpiece reflects the new design that we've seen on the Desire HD, Inspire 4G, and Thunderbolt, and the blue color is professional yet different from the typical black/grey color scheme. Coming in at 4.6 inches tall by 2.31 inches wide by 0.61 inch thick, the EVO Shift 4G is a small device, but is thick and somewhat bulky.
The left side houses the microUSB charging port, while the 3.5mm headphone jack and power button can be found on the top. As usual, capacitive home, menu, back, and search buttons are located below the screen. On the topic of the display, it's a 3.6-inch LCD that offers 480 x 800 pixels and 65,000 colors. Though it's nothing special, colors were vibrant and images look good.
Powered by Android 2.2 (Froyo), the EVO Shift has HTC's Sense UI installed. Between the manufacturer installed interfaces, it's by far my favorite. It's a great OS for first-time Android users to get accustomed to, yet it retains enough of a true Android feel to appease intermediate users. I'm a fan of the little organizational touches, like the ability to select a contact and instantly see the interaction you've had with said person. The phone comes preinstalled with the typical Sprint applications - Sprint TV, Nascar Sprint Cup Mobile, Sprint Football Live, and Telenav GPS Navigator (formerly Sprint Navigator). The widgets are beautiful and thought out
Once thought to be on the way out, the physical QWERTY keyboard is making a comeback. The Shift has a four row keyboard with a dedicated row for the space bar and commonly used symbols. They're island keys, and are rather hard. I tend to prefer softer keys, and while the EVO Shift's keys were a bit too "clicky" for me, I was able to get accustomed to them pretty quickly.
The phone has a 5-megapixel camera with a flash, and pictures were decent. They're not going to wow anyone, but it works reasonably well in well-lit situations. Editing options include the ability to change brightness, contrast, saturation, sharpness, color effects (grayscale, sepia, etc.), white balance, ISO, picture quality, and more. Video quality was equally decent; it worked well when I was outside, but struggled in low-lit areas.
I tested the Shift 4G in the Charlotte and Las Vegas metro areas, and in both places, call quality was very good. The earpiece is nice and loud, and I was able to hear my callers without issue. I took the phone to a dead zone in Southeast Charlotte, and was able to maintain the call, though it was too choppy to understand the caller. The speakerphone is sufficient, and I paired my Motorola Bluetooth headset to the Shift without any problems. Like the EVO 4G, the Shift offers a 1,500 mAh battery, and thanks to the smaller screen, I was able to make it just over a day with moderate use (text messaging, e-mailing, calling, and browsing the web) before it powered down.
The EVO Shift is the third device to support Sprint's 4G (WiMAX) network, through 4G speeds have been relatively disappointing and incredibly inconsistent. One day, I received a download speed of 9 Mbps in uptown Charlotte. In the exact same spot the following day, download speeds were hovering in the 2 Mbps range. Throughout most of my testing, I have obtained download speeds between 1 and 3 Mbps, and upload speeds of 500 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps. Needless to say, those are poor speeds. Part of me wants to chalk it up to Charlotte's poor wireless infrastructure (we're consistently rated one of the worst metro areas in the nation for wireless service), but I experienced the same thing when I was in Las Vegas for CES. The Shift offers Sprint's Mobile Hotspot app for up to eight users, though the service is an additional $29.99 monthly.
As disappointing as the network speed tests were, the device speed tests were a totally different story. In my testing, the Quadrant Standard scores ranged between 1458 and 1594, besting the EVO 4G's top score of 1198. It's a fast device in day-to-day tasks as well - I can't recall a point where I experienced any lag.
The EVO Shift 4G is an excellent addition to the EVO line of devices, and with a smaller form factor and physical QWERTY keyboard, appeals to a crowd left out by the original device. That said, Sprint has to work on making their 4G speeds more consistent. When they were the only 4G outlet on the market, it was less of an issue, but with Verizon's 4G LTE pulling a consistent download speed of at least 10 Mbps (with bursts of 18-22 Mbps), they have to up the game a bit. Still, it's a great smartphone that's competitively priced.
What's Good: Great specs for the price; HTC Sense is a great user interface for a wide range of users.
What's Bad: 3.6-inch display may be too small for some; Sprint's 4G speeds are often erratic.
The Verdict: The EVO Shift 4G is a great addition to the EVO lineup of devices, and appeals to a demographic that was left out by the original device. That said, Sprint's 4G speeds are very erratic, and the display may be too small for some users.