What's hot: Fast CPU with good performance, HTC Sense software, sturdy build.
What's not: Lackluster looks, smallish display.
Reviewed January 11, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The HTC EVO 4G was an iconic Android smartphone: it was one of the first with 4G, it had a huge 4.3" display and Android running on a fast 1GHz CPU. It sold out quickly, and was hard to find in stores for months. It was, and remains, best of breed until dual core Tegra 2 smartphones start shipping by mid-2011. Several months after the EVO 4G's supremely successful launch, the HTC Shift EVO 4G is here, the anticipated keyboarded companion to the first EVO. And now that it is here, we're a little confused why Sprint would sully the EVO name with a less than flagship device. The Shift 4G is a decent upper-middle range Android phone with an 800MHz second generation Qualcomm CPU, Android OS 2.2 Froyo with HTC Sense software and a 5 megapixel camera. It makes a good alternative to Sprint's ever wide range of entry to midrange Android QWERTY phones, but unlike the EVO 4G, it's not quite a superphone.
The HTC EVO Shift 4G has WiMAX for 4G service as well as 3G EV-DO Rev. A and the usual collection of wireless radios for WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS. It shares DNA with the solid and understatedly attractive HTC T-Mobile G2 on T-Mobile, but it lacks the G2's good looks, metal back and superior keyboard. The Shift 4G does lose the unusual keyboard Z hinge mechanism which may be a good thing given complaints about wobbles and jiggles, but the Shift 4G's slider is stiff and unassisted, making it seem less than high end. On a positive note, it's solid with no wobble or play. Granted, the Shift 4G does sell for $149 rather than the $199 or higher price tag we see on their Android superphones, making it clear that Sprint didn't intend the EVO Shift 4G to compete directly with the Samsung Epic or HTC EVO 4G.
Design and Ergonomics
The EVO Shift 4G has a blue soft touch finish that feels good in hand. We're not fans of the chrome display and earpiece surrounds or the smoothed but angular bulging back. The phone looks slightly dated, and reminds us of older Windows Mobile QWERTY sliders.
The keyboard isn't as impressive as the T-Mobile G2's; there's a nearly useless d-pad on the lower right corner that's a bit stiff and seems to lack a center press function. We'd rather that space had gone to a right shift key and arrow keys. Tactile feedback is good despite the relatively short travel today's tightly designed phones demand, and we appreciate the @ symbol having its own key and the ".com" that's only an Fn key press away. Complaints aside, it's one of the better Android keyboards on the market.
The Shift has capacitive buttons on the front and we found the placement just right for accidental presses. Likewise the volume keys are placed where we accidentally hit them when we opened the keyboard slider. The power and 3.5mm stereo headphone jack are sensibly placed up top while the micro USB jack is at the lower left side. Unfortunately, the 2 gig microSD card lives under the battery, so you'll want to go with a USB cable and mass storage mode rather than powering down the phone just to remove the card and insert it in a card reader.
The smartphone has an ambient light sensor, proximity sensor and a digital compass. You need not deploy the keyboard to switch to landscape mode in most cases since the accelerometer handles this. We did note that in the settings applets and a few other places the accelerometer didn't switch orientation and we had to open the keyboard to change to landscape mode. You can disable the accelerometer if you wish.
Deals and Shopping:
Speedy, Keep Making Sense
The second generation Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU is very fast, as we noted in our T-Mobile G2 review. It isn't just about megahertz; the 800MHz Snapdragon in the EVO Shift is faster than some 1GHz CPUs used in other smartphones. It scored an impressive 1367 in Quadrant benchmarks, placing it near the top of the fastest Android phones. Experientially it feels fast and fluid, and we didn't suffer unexpected pauses or stutters. Android OS 2.2 Froyo targets speed improvements, and it shows in the Shift 4G.
HTC's Sense software is always a welcome addition to Android, and it didn't cause any problems or clutter the user interface as do some other manufacturers' customizations. HTC adds social networking software, their usual beautiful flip clock with weather and more. HTC Sense and HTC's overall build quality have bolstered HTC's reputation such that the HTC Shift 4G gets a leg up over Sprint's mid-range QWERTY Android phones.
Call Quality and Data
Call quality is very good and volume is average. Both incoming and outgoing voice sound natural and full. The speakerphone didn't overly impress us, though it sounded less hissy and tinny than the G2's. As a voice phone the EVO Shift 4G gets a thumbs up. In terms of reception, the Shift 4G gets a bit weaker than average reception according to the bars, but HTC and Sprint have removed the usual Android settings applet where you can view actual signal in decibels on their 3G EV-DO Rev. A network. We did note that the signal as meansured in bars, jumps around quite a bit on the EVO Shift.
Our first review unit had problems with extremely slow 3G data, and it seems some early review units need a firmware re-flash or radio re-program. Our second review unit worked fine and we saw accepible though not admirable 3G speeds averaging 500kbps down according to the Speedtest.net app (this is actually average performance for our area). 4G worked fine in our tests and we got 2.5Mbps down and 1Mbps up according to the Speedtest.net applicaton. That doesn't compare well with Verizon's LTE and T-Mobile HSPA+ speeds, but it's certainly a marked improvement over Sprint 3G. If you happen to live or work very close to a WiMAX tower, you'll see speeds up to 5 or 6Mbps down.
The phone has the 3G/4G Mobile Hot Spot feature where your Shift 4G can act as a high speed wireless WiFi hotspot for up to 8 devices such as laptops, tablets and cameras (we expect speeds to be quite slow if you actually try to use 8 clients at once though).
If you're in a 4G WiMAX coverage area, you can use 4G for data while on a voice call, something that 3G EVDO can't do. If you're not in a 4G coverage area, you'll still have to pay Sprint's WiMAX tax; an additional $10/month on your bill for 4G (or potential 4G) service.
Here's our 9.5 minute video review of the HTC EVO Shift 4G:
Camera and GPS
The Shift 4G's camera takes pleasing shots with decent focus speeds and a friendly user interface. The 5 megapixel autofocus camera has an LED flash and it can shoot video up to 480p. If you're coming from the EVO 4G, you'll notice an improvement in image quality, though it's not an earth shattering improvement. Sorry, there is no front-facing camera for video chats.
The GPS gets a tenacious fix, even indoors in a residential building. The phone comes with Google Maps, Navigation and Places as well as TeleNav (formerly known as Sprint Navigation). Both offer spoken turn-by-turn directions and POIs, and we rank Google higher for POIs and TeleNav better for spoken directions.
Despite our many niggles and complaints, the HTC EVO Shift 4G is a solid midrange to better than midrange Android QWERTY smartphone. HTC Sense software is excellent, Android OS 2.2 Froyo is fast and fairly recent even if it's not the latest and call quality is very good. We've based our star rating on an EVO Shift 4G with working 3G data-- should our problems with extremely slow 3G data turn out to be widespread, we'd take at least a star away and decline to recommend the phone.
Pro: Solid build, excellent HTC Sense software on top of Android OS 2.2, fast CPU and overall performance, good keyboard.
Con: Chunky design, smallish display, not terribly useful d-pad taking up space on keyboard deck.
Price: $149 with a 2 year contract (requires Sprint's additional $10/month 4G data add on in addition to standard data package)
Phone:CDMA dual band digital with 3G EV-DO Rev. A and 4G WiMAX. Has 3G/4G Mobile Hot Spot feature.
Camera:5 MP camera with autofocus lens and LED flash.
GPS:Has GPS with aGPS and digital compass. Works with Google Maps and Navigation and TeleNav.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR.
Software:Android OS 2.2 Froyo with HTC Sense software. Full suite of Google apps including Google Maps and Navigation, search, Gmail, YouTube and the Android Market. Sprint software includes Sprint Navigation (TeleNav), NASCAR Mobile, Sprint Football, Sprint TV and Sprint Zone.