HTC isn’t always first to market with new smartphone technologies, but we’ve found that its products are usually worth the wait. The Sensation, for example, wasn’t the first dual-core smartphone on the block when it launched back in May, but when it arrived it proved itself to be a speedy and stylish device with some of the best software we’ve seen on any Android phone.
Now, without much fanfare or hype, HTC has quietly released the Sensation’s big brother -- the EVO 3D, in Europe. If the name sounds familiar, then it should. We reviewed the Sprint version of this stereoscopic beast back in June, and over the past couple of months, users across the US have been rushing to pick up the device.
Being a Euro phone, there’s no 4G Wimax support, however fundamentally it’s still an EVO 3D -- a big, chunky, heavy, powerful 4.3-inch smartphone running Gingerbread and HTC Sense 3.0, with some neat 3D trickery up its sleeve. However all this shiny new technology doesn’t come cheap -- at the time of writing the SIM-free price is an eye-watering £500 (~$825), with on-contract prices from the Carphone Warehouse starting at £36 per month.
So can the HTC EVO 3D justify its high price point, and how does it compare to more affordable competition from the LG Optimus 3D and HTC’s own Sensation? Read on to find out.
3D Hands-on Video
YouTube link for mobile viewing
The HTC EVO 3D stands out from other European devices from HTC, with its larger chassis and angular, chunky appearance. At 170 grams, it’s heavier than both the Thunderbolt and the Optimus 3D, but despite its heft it feels good in the hand, and boasts the same excellent build quality common to all modern HTC devices. It might not sport an aluminum unibody or a screen fashioned from enchanted, contoured glass, but this doesn’t make the EVO 3D a flimsy device by any means.
The front of the EVO 3D will be recognizable to anyone familiar with its Sprint-exclusive predecessor, the EVO 4G. It’s a big black slab, with a large earpiece above the 4.3-inch display, and those trademark circled capacitive buttons down below. The screen itself is an LCD panel running at qHD (540x960) resolution. This seems to be the same display used on the Sensation, as we noticed a similar pattern of good daylight visibility combined with not-so-great viewing angles. However, it’s certainly not a bad screen -- and a little extra pixel density is always welcome, especially on larger devices. Also, given that current glasses-free 3D technology involves losing some vertical resolution when viewing 3D content, the more pixels you can cram into a 3D display, the better.
The back of the EVO 3D has a more unique and striking look to it. It’s part soft-touch plastic and part texturized to make it easier to hold, and is dominated by the large raised area housing the phone’s twin rear cameras. These can work together to produce 3D images and video -- the device shoots still photos at up to 5 megapixels (3D photos up to 2 megapixels), and video at up to 720p in 2D and 3D.
The European EVO 3D sports a bronze camera trim, making it somewhat understated compared to the bright red strip on the Sprint version. Unfortunately, though, we still found that the camera housing protruded from the back more than we would’ve liked. Sure, there’s two cameras to fit in there, but even compared to the rear camera setup on LG’s Optimus 3D, it feels unnecessarily bulky, and could become prone to scratches over time.
Continuing on the subject of cameras, you’ll also find a front-facing 1.3-megapixel shooter hidden away next to the earpiece, and physical camera controls on the phone’s right side edge. There’s a two-stage physical camera button (press gently to focus, then fully to capture), along with a slider for switching between 2D and 3D recording modes. This is a lot more useful than it might sound, and addresses one of my pet peeves about the Optimus 3D, where switching camera modes involves activating an on-screen control and then waiting a couple of seconds.
3D aside, all the other buttons and ports are in the usual places for a HTC device -- headphones and power up top, micro-USB on the left side, and volume rocker on the right.
Internally, the EVO 3D is virtually identical to its little brother, the Sensation. It’s powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU, 1GB of RAM (up from the Sensation’s 768MB), along with just over a gigabyte of app storage. Our review unit arrived with a speedy 8GB class 4 micro-SD card, too, an improvement on the class 2 cards that ship with most Android smartphones.
Finally, onto the less exciting topic of voice calls. When you’re not harassing local wildlife with your stereoscopic cameras, you can also use your EVO 3D as an actual telephone. And when you do, you shouldn’t notice any issues with audio quality. The device worked just fine in all our test calls, and the inclusion of a noise-cancelling microphone means you won’t have to worry about shouting over traffic or other background noise.
Software is probably one of the EVO 3D’s greatest strengths. You get the latest version of Android -- 2.3.4 -- alongside HTC Sense 3.0, which is one of the best Android UIs available. As we’ve said throughout countless reviews, Sense has reached a point now where it’s refined, (mostly) quick and highly intuitive. Sense 3.0 looks gorgeous, and brings a wealth tangible benefits over stock Android, such as an excellent lock screen, tightly-integrated social networking and easy task switching through the notification pull-down. These are just a few examples -- if we were to dig through all of Sense’s features, this review would probably be at least twice as long as it is. You can find a more complete run-down of Sense 3.0 in our Sensation review.
New in the EVO 3D is video chat through the built-in Google Talk app, thanks to Android 2.3.4, and in our experience this worked well. Everything else was just where we left it on the Sensation. The phone’s customizable lock screen can be tweaked to show information like new text messages, weather and stocks. There are also four customizable shortcut buttons towards the bottom of the screen, which can be dragged into the metal ring to unlock and jump straight into the app of your choice. Alternatively, you can just drag the ring up to unlock as normal.
Sense does home screens a little differently to other Android UIs. The seven screens are arranged in a connected 3D carousel which you can freely scroll around, meaning you’ll never reach the “edge” of your home screens and have to scroll back the other way. You can also launch your finger across the display quickly to send your screens spinning in a loop. It’s functionally useless, but very cool.
One final thing to note as far as home screens go -- we initially noticed that the EVO 3D was significantly faster than the Sensation out of the box when scrolling between home screens, however this lead all but evaporated once we got a few apps and accounts loaded onto the phone. It’s not a slow device, but just like the Sensation, depending on how you’re using widgets and live wallpapers, you may notice a little lag when scrolling from screen to screen in the launcher.
Sense’s home screens (and the entire UI for that matter) can be extensively customized. This starts with widgets on the home screen, and Sense now offers an almost ridiculous number of gadgets for you to choose from. There’s everything from the trademark giant clock, to widgets for social networking, various settings widgets and the absolutely stunning full-sized weather widget. We always find ourselves stopping to play around with Sense’s weather animations, and there’s no doubting the amount of time and effort that’s gone into making them look as good as they do.
HTC’s content portals for books, TV shows and movies are also bundled on the EVO 3D, in the form of the HTC Watch and HTC Reader applications. Reader offers a pretty extensive library thanks to its Kobo-powered eBooks store, and there are a few classics pre-loaded on the device, too. HTC Watch, however, still struggles to attract quality content some four months since its launch. You’ll find a few gems here and there, but it’s probably not something you’ll be coming back to day after day. Also, we were disappointed not to find any 3D content in the EVO 3D’s HTC Watch store. We certainly hope HTC won’t let this opportunity pass it by.
Other notables in HTC Sense include --
- Unified contacts system - Combines social networking information with Google Contacts and other sources to bring all your contacts to your phone.
- Friend Stream - Social network aggregation for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Flickr.
- HTC Hub - Online hub to download additional content for your phone, including new wallpapers, widgets, apps, ringtones and more.
- Connected Media - Stream music, photos or video to any DLNA-compliant receiver.
- HTC Likes - A selection of HTC-approved apps from the Android Market.
- Transfer my stuff - Allows you to transfer personal data like contacts and messages from a range of other devices.
- HTCSense.com - Back up your messages to the cloud, and remotely track, lock or wipe your phone if it’s lost or stolen.
- Locations - An alternative navigation and maps package which works offline, eliminating the need to maintain a data connection while you’re travelling.
- Notification area - Contains a list of recent apps for fast task-switching, as well as a quick settings tab for controlling things like Wifi, Bluetooth and GPS.
So there really is a wealth of functionality provided on the EVO 3D, just like other Sense 3.0 devices. If you pick one up, you can be sure you’re getting one of the most capable software packages around.
3D is what makes the EVO more than just a chunkier version of the Sensation -- the device ships with a parallax barrier glasses-free 3D display, which works by sending different images to your left and right eyes. As such, you need to be right in front of the screen to be able to experience the 3D effect properly. The effect is easier to experience than to describe or show in 2D images, so if you’re curious, we recommend tracking down a demo unit in-store. Given the right content, it's actually quite impressive.
We had LG’s Optimus 3D available for a side-by-side comparison with the 3D effects generated by the EVO 3D, and we came away with two main conclusions. Firstly, the EVO benefits hugely from its increased screen resolution compared to the Optimus 3D. As vertical resolution is reduced when viewing 3D content, the extra pixel density is clear to see when viewing 3D photos and videos on the EVO. Secondly, the 3D effect itself was much more striking, and easier to focus on on the Optimus 3D. We couldn’t pinpoint exactly why, but the impression of depth was less noticeable on the EVO 3D, and we also had to strain our eyes a little when focusing on certain types of content. Fortunately, though, we didn’t experience the dreaded 3D headaches reported by some users.
Software-wise, 3D photos recordings are arranged in their own categories via the gallery app, making them easy to locate. And... er... that’s pretty much it. There was no Gameloft-powered 3D games portal included on our EVO 3D like there is on the Sprint version. And there’s no dedicated 3D hub app either, like you’d find on an Optimus 3D. The bundled YouTube app supports 3D playback, but you’ll have to track down 3D videos yourself using the search function.
So aside from YouTube and your own 3D recordings, you’re on your own as far as 3D content goes. For a 3D-centric device, the process of actually getting hold of new 3D content seems to have been something of an afterthought, which is disappointing.
Here we hit one of the inevitable compromises of any 3D device -- when your camera budget has to be spread across two rear-facing shooters, something’s got to give. And this means the EVO 3D has to make do with two 5-megapixel rear cameras as opposed to the higher-quality 8-megapixel sensor found on the Sensation.
Overall, image quality is decent in both photos and videos recorded on the EVO 3D. The quality isn’t mind-blowing (this ain’t no Xperia Arc), but equally we wouldn’t describe it as poor. Unfortunately it does suffer from rapid image degradation in low light, something which plagues just about every HTC camera we’ve ever tested. Photos quickly became blurry and noisy as light levels decreased, and frame rates dropped from 30fps to around 22 in darker areas too. Another issue we noticed occurred when switching between bright and dark areas in 3D video mode. Doing so resulted in a temporary, but significant reduction in frame rate, as you’ll see a couple of times in the 3D test video.
By contrast, we were pleased with the quality of the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, which produced better-than-expected stills at 720x1280 resolution, and can also record video up to qHD (540x960) resolution.
Check out our samples below, or click here to download a zip file containing 3D photos in .jps format.
YouTube link for mobile viewing
The European EVO 3D includes the same 1730 mAh battery as the Sprint version. However unlike that phone, there’s no CDMA radio or 4G Wimax to chew away at the battery, and because of this we found battery life to be excellent. During our first day of rigorous testing consisting of streaming video, 3D and 2D recording, browsing over 3G and the occasional voice call, we got 25 hours out of a single charge. With more conservative (or “normal”) use, you can almost certainly expect to get well over a day out of the EVO 3D. Compare that to LG’s Optimus 3D, which only lasted around half of that time with similar usage patterns.
Sure enough, 3D recording and playback were among the most battery-intensive activities that we noticed during our time with the EVO 3D, but let’s face it, you’re probably not going to be going completely nuts with 3D recording on a daily basis. The bottom line is that battery life on the European EVO is excellent, mostly thanks to the efficient dual-core Snapdragon CPU and beefy 1730 mAh battery.
The European EVO 3D ships with firmware which should eventually be unlockable via HTC’s web unlock tool, however unlock codes for the device weren’t available at the time of writing. Don’t worry about this too much, though -- we’d expect this to change in the very near future.
If you do choose to throw caution (and your warranty) to the wind and unlock your bootloader, you’ll be able to monkey around with its software internals, and install custom firmware if you want. A CyanogenMod 7 port is in the works, along with other more exotic concoctions over on the EVO 3D XDA forum. The EVO 3D may be a niche device in Europe, but its strong American following should result in plenty of unofficial support for both devices.
The HTC EVO 3D is difficult to place in HTC’s European line-up. It’s more expensive than the Sensation, but ships in a bulkier chassis with a weaker camera setup (on account of there being two of them). The extra RAM is welcome, but probably won't massively benefit the average user. 3D is undoubtedly a major product feature, but the 3D effect created by LG’s Optimus 3D is far more striking and easier on the eyes, despite its lower resolution screen. And the lack of bundled 3D content or any kind of 3D hub is also problematic for a device that touts 3D as a unique selling point.
Despite this, the EVO 3D does have a lot to offer. It’s near the top of the Android food chain in terms of raw specifications, its battery life is stellar, and HTC’s Sense 3.0 offers what’s arguably of the best user experience on any Android device. It's an HTC phone, and it delivers all the benefits that we've come to expect from HTC devices.
However, at its current price point, it's not easy to recommend the EVO 3D to anyone other than enthusiasts and hardcore 3D junkies. There are more affordable high-end Android smartphone experiences to be had elsewhere, including HTC’s own Sensation, which also runs Sense 3.0 and Gingerbread, and Samsung’s equally brilliant Galaxy S II. If you’re tempted by the EVO’s stereoscopic charms, though, we’d recommend trying out the 3D features for yourself before purchase, to make sure you’re happy with what you’re getting. But if you can live without 3D on your phone, then you’ll be perfectly satisfied -- and around £100 better off -- with a Sensation instead.
The European HTC EVO 3D is available SIM-free from a number of retailers across the UK and Europe, with prices hovering around £500. No major UK networks are offering the device directly, however it is available on contract from the Carphone Warehouse, which offers the phone for free on 2-year contracts starting at £36 per month. In the US, the Sprint EVO 3D can be yours for $199 with a 2 year contract.