PRICE: $150 with 2-year contract, $400 without
THE BACK STORY: The original HTC EVO was Sprint's rollout 4G Android phone, and packed an insane amount of horsepower in a larger-than-life (and difficult-to-pocket) form. However, multiple complaints of substandard battery life, due in large part to the phone's 4G antenna, ultimately took tarnished the workhorse's reputation among users. Undeterred, HTC designed and developed a smaller, streamlined—if somewhat less powerful—cousin to the EVO that intends to bridge the gap between rooted power user and casual social-networker. Does it?
DOPE:• Better battery life: While it's rated at 6 hours of talk time (just like the original EVO), we've gotten well more than a day of light to moderate usage that included two different IMAP email accounts and an always-on Twitter app. That, of course, was helped by using wi-fi and 4G (which is plentiful in NYC). Folding heavy gaming or video playback (especially streaming) into that mix will cut its life drastically, but at this point it outperforms our Palm Pre by a wide margin.
• Super-responsive UI: While people love to take shots at various manufacturers' insistence on slapping skins on top of the Android OS, we weren't all that mad at HTC's Sense experience. In fact, although the 800MHz processor supposedly lags behind the original EVO's 1GHz Snapdragon chip, it's actually outperformed the EVO on some benchmarks.
• Smaller is better: The Shift's 3.6-inch screen might be relatively puny compared to the original EVO's 4.3-inch behemoth, but for us that's a good thing--it makes the phone feel like a smartphone and not something that aggressive chimpanzees gather around while Mahler plays. The Shift is almost the exact length as an opened Palm Pre, and fits in a jeans pocket without making us feel like Billy Squier.
• Sturdy construction: The slide-out keyboard is a winner to us—it's only four rows as opposed to the five-row number on a larger phone like the Samsung Epic, but we were able to type naturally on it. Maybe it's our small hands. Which DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING, SO STOP LAUGHING.
• HD video, Flash, and more onboard storage: 720p video, 2GB internal memory (and up to 32GB via microSD), and being able to play Kongregate games (thanks to a new app)? This is a smartphone. Finally.
NOT SO DOPE:• No HDMI out port: Sure, it's not a deal-breaker, but as long as it's packing a 4G connection and the ability to play Flash, why take out one of the video features that made the original EVO so attractive?
• Somewhat cluttered real estate: The five tweakable screens let us play with everything from folders to widgets to apps, but our creativity is kinda hampered by the fact that we have maybe 50% of the screen to play with. Sure, we like the signature clock on the main page, but do we really need an always-on monitor of whatever music we were last listening to?
•No more front-facing camera: It's not like we need it, but scaling the remaining rear camera from 8MB down to 5MB makes this omission feel like a harshly-illuminated and mildly grainy slap in the face.
•Call quality could be better: It's the great trade-off of the smartphone era. Luckily, we hardly ever talk on the phone anymore, but we weren't always thrilled with the clarity of calls, which tended toward the tinny side. No dropped calls, though!
FINAL SAY: As longtime Sprint customers—save the jokes—we've been waiting for a phone that combines a focused Android experience with the hardware and software considerations that make a worthwhile competitor to certain Cupertino products that we won't mention here. And we're happy to say we've found it in this intuitive workhorse.