We couldn't have asked for a better way to review Sprint's new EVO Shift 4G than by battle testing it at CES in Las Vegas. Four days of use among more than 100,000 nerds, in press conference after press conference, with smartphone news breaking every minute (or so it seemed).
The Shift, as it's lovingly referred to by Sprint, is Sprint's third 4G-enabled Android smartphone, and the second with a slide-out keyboard. It runs Android 2.2 Froyo but doesn't have all of the whiz-bang specs as some of the other phones we saw announced during CES. And as the second phone in the EVO line (see the original EVO 4G), it has a lot to live up to. So is it worthy of the EVO name? And did it survive the nerd crunch in Las Vegas? Find out, after the break.
The EVO Shift 4G hardware
Sprint's already done 4.3- and 4-inch phones with the original EVO 4G and the Samsung Epic 4G, respectively. So they scaled things back a bit, opting for a 3.6-inch LCD display with the usual 480x800 resolution. That makes the phone more manageable overall, as it's a tad on the thick and heavy side, thanks to the keyboard and 4G radio. It's not horribly heavy, but you'll notice at 5.9 ounces. That said, it fits quite nicely in your hand at 4.6 inches tall, 2.3 inches wide and 0.6 inches thick.
Think of it as small and muscular, not as a short fatty.
Power under the hood
And the Shift has quite a bit of muscle, with Qualcomm's single-core MSM7630 processor running at 800MHz. It's worth repeating at this point that you shouldn't read too much into the Shift's processor running at 800MHz instead of the 1GHz chip we see in other HTC phones, including the original EVO 4G. It's a different architecture. Think of water rushing through a pipe. The pipe's larger on the Shift, so you can push more water (data) without having to push it as fast. It's more efficient.
Add to that the 512MB of RAM and 2GB of ROM on which to store applications, and you won't be worried about whether you've got enough muscle to get the job done. In daily use, it's fast, fast, fast.
YouTube link for mobile viewing
Out of the box, it scores 1510 on Quadrant Pro, 33 or so on Linpack, and 55.7 on Neocore, with the graphics test looking as good as we've ever seen it.
The sliding keyboard
Slide open the Shift (thus the name) and you're greeted with a four-row keyboard. The slider mechanism is stiff and sturdy. There's no side-to-side wiggle, and very little play when the keyboard is closed. It's almost Motorola Droid-like in stiffness.
The keys are backlit, with the letter in white and the secondary functions in yellow. They have great contrast against the deep blue (it almost looks black) background. The keys themselves are offset and just about perfectly spaced. They're flat, but have just enough click to them. We've said it before and we'll say it again -- HTC knows how to make physical keyboards, and it's reputation continues with the Shift.
You have the usual FN button, and dedicated buttons for menu, search, space bar, comma, period, delete, return and the @ symbol. There are little indicator lights in the top left of the keyboard showing when the caps lock or FN lock are on.
We'd been a little worried about the five-way D-pad that's tucked into the lower right corner; it just didn't look all that impressive in leaked pictures or even the official release pictures. But in actual use, it's just fine. And because of its square shape and recessed center, it's designed for your entire thumb to rest on it, and you can easily feel your way to up, down, left, right and enter. It's nicely done, actually.
The front of the phone just looks classy. You have the aforementioned display, which has a very slight bezel done in chrome. Beneath it are your usual Android buttons. They're capacitive (meaning they sense the touch of your finger; nothing actually moves) and light up when you're using the phone. Just above the screen is the earpiece speaker (also ringed in chrome), which also hides the charging and notification lights. There's a pinhole spot to the left of the speaker that looks like it could be a front-facing camera. It's actually the ambient light sensor, which dims the screen as needed.
The top of the Shift is home to the power button (which actually extends more to the rear of the phone) and 3.5mm headphone jack. There's a small opening for the microphone on the bottom bezel of the phone. The left-hand side is home to the microUSB port and volume rocker. When the keyboard is closed, the volume rocker and power button (used to wake the phone) are easily reachable. When the keyboard was open, however, we kept hitting the volume down button and getting a buzz for our transgressions. That could likely be reviewer error, and it's not the worst thing in the world as we keep our phones on vibrate 99 percent of the time anyway. But it's something to look out for.
Flip the phone over and you have the battery cover, with cutouts for the 5MP camera with LED flash, and the speakerphone. It's done up in that soft-touch paint that we love, and it ever so slightly extends over to the side bezels of the Shift.
Under the cover
You open the battery cover by prying it up from the bottom of the phone. And it's on there pretty good; we were a little worried about breaking it off, but haven't managed to do so yet. You have to remove the 1500mAh battery to get at the microSD card (the Shift comes with a 2GB card; you can use up to a 32GB card), and then pry up a little tab to unseat the card. And even after all that, you're still going to have to work just a bit to get a grip on the card. It's not quite as awkward to get at as on the original EVO 4G, but neither is it as easy as having a spring-loaded slot. Point is, you're not going to want to have to swap cards too often.
HTC EVO Shift 4G software
The Shift runs Android 2.2 Froyo out of the box, with HTC's Sense user interface (see our review) on top of it. It's the same flavor of Sense (there are several, actually) that debuted in February 2010. That's not to say it's dated, it's just familiar to phone reviewers. That is to say, if you've used the HTC Droid Incredible, EVO 4G, Wildfire, Legend, Desire, etc., you know what you're getting.
If you're new to Sense, you're getting a series of preset home screens (seven in all), with a mix of widgets, switches and icons. On the default home screens, you have the Google search bar; calendar widget; favorite contacts widget; switches to toggle 4G data, Wifi, Bluetooth and GPS; the trademark HTC clock/weather widget, icons to default apps such as Internet, People, Camera and the Android Market, a music widget, Sprint TV, Sprint apps, Bookmarks, and FriendStream widget (which combines your Twitter, Facebook and Flickr feeds).
The Sense UI also has "Scenes," on which you configure different home screens for different occasions. You can have homescreens for work, a different scene for the weekend, or holiday, all with different icons and widgets in place. There are seven Scenes preloaded (including a clean slate) that you can customize however you wish.
The Shift comes with a pretty good number of applications already installed. Sprint Football Live, Sprint TV and Sprint Zone are all there, as is the standard Sprint NASCAR app. There's also Sprint Hotspot, which lets you wirelessly connect the Shift's 4G data to up to eight other devices and service as a Wifi hotspot. That'll cost you $29.99 a month extra on your plan, of course.
There's also Adobe Flash Player 10.1 and Adobe Reader for PDFs, the Amazon MP3 store, Facebook, Flashlight, FM radio, the Footprints photo tagging app, FriendStream, HTC Mobile Guide, Amazon Kindle e-reader, Google Maps, Places, Latitude and Navigation, Peep (HTC's own Twitter client), Telenav GPS Navigation, YouTube, and a number of other standard apps like weather, Google Talk and Voicemail.
The EVO Shift 4G camera
The Shift has a rear facing 5-megapixel camera with LED flash. There is no front-facing camera. The camera software is the usual Sense variety and is pretty easy to use. We'd love to see a panoramic option, though, which is included on other manufacturers' smartphones.
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Video recording is set at 800x480 by default. We prefer upping it to 1280x720, which you can do in the settings. That's what we used in the example below.
YouTube link for mobile viewing
We're a little early into the hacking game so far as the Shift goes. But early indications are pretty familiar. The z4root (link) or VISIONary (link) apps will give you temporary root access, but as of this writing the NAND is still locked, so no custom ROMs just yet. But that likely will change at some point. Keep an eye out in the forums for that to change.
Other odds and ends
- Speakerphone: We've complained in past about HTC speakerphones sometimes being too quiet -- there's been none of that with the Shift. Crank it up, and the levels are right about where they should be. Loud, but not so loud that you're worried about breaking something.
- On-screen keyboard: The Shift has that physical keyboard, of course, but there are times you want to type on the screen. HTC's excellent on-screen QWERTY keyboard is there, and you can change it up to a phone-style keypad or compact QWERTY if you wish. Or, you can install a new keyboard such as Swype or Swiftkey.
- Voice/data: You can talk on the phone and browser the Internet at the same time if you're connected to 4G data or Wifi. Making phone calls was just fine. The speaker sounded crisp and clear.
- Wifi: Speaking of Wifi, you have 802.11 b/g/n connectivity.
- Bluetooth: You've got Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP (stereo).
- Battery life: We haven't really talked battery life yet. And that's because your mileage will vary. We conducted our review in the harshest conditions, with dozens upon dozens of e-mails coming in all day and night, bouncing back and forth off 3G and 4G data, deep inside the Las Vegas Convention Center and Sands Expo Hall. The Shift did OK with its 1500 mAh battery. We needed to charge up in the evening time, which isn't usual for us.
- 3G/4G data speeds: Same goes for Sprint's data speeds. It all depends on where you are. If you're in my house (and you better not be), it's pretty good. Buried inside the Las Vegas Convention Center sometimes proved to be a problem. YMMV.
The EVO Shift 4G is a powerful smartphone with a great physical keyboard, with the ability to use Sprint's high-speed 4G data. That is to say, it's right up there with the cream of the crop. There are no real surprises, just a solid, powerful Android smartphone.
Is it the newest smartphone tech, running the latest version of Android? It's close, but not quite. But those aren't strikes against the Shift. You'll continue to hear about dual-core phones in the coming weeks and months, but the Shift hardly is a slouch in the power department. And the clock's already ticking on upgrades to Android 2.3 Gingerbread -- which the Shift is likely to receive (we'll go so far as to predict sometime in the spring).
Let's put it this way: We made the Shift our main device during CES 2011, in part because Sprint's network was relatively stable with 120,000 people or so in just a few square blocks. And also because you know that with an HTC device, you know you're getting quality. The keyboard was a breeze to use, and the phone stood up to everything we could through at it. The Shift is well worthy of kicking things off for Sprint in 2011 and following up one of the most popular phones of 2010.