After the announcement of the Nintendo 3DS, everyone knew that the next logical step for 3D technology was our phones. This has been for some a blessing, and for many others a curse. 3D technology has grown significantly in the last three years, and HTC’s Evo 3D is the first 3D-capable handset that not only has two 5MP cameras and a no-glasses-required 3D display, but 4G data through Sprint’s network. But does the 3D really work, and more importantly, does it work as an everyday handset?

Hardware

The HTC Evo 3D is very similar to its predecessor, the Evo 4G. It’s still brick-shaped and large, with a 4.3” screen and a small glass bezel. There are a few key differences, like the camera’s shutter release button and a 2D-3D switch for shooting in either mode. The rubberized back panel is stitched for better grip and feels better in hands that sweat easily. Little else has changed. The receiver is large, the screen dominating, and all the buttons in standard Android placement.

The display is highly reflective, which is great for Johnny Bravo moments but bad in direct sunlight. It’s not possible to view the screen in bright conditions even at maximum brightness. Viewing media on the display is just fine in dimmer surroundings, and screen quality is high.

The Evo 3D beside the Samsung Galaxy S II. Both have 4.3″ displays.

The microUSB port is right where users thumbs rest when holding the Evo 3D in the left hand, which feels awkward, but more importantly is uncomfortably for charging. The Evo 3D has no latch so the phone can stay upright, which is odd considering how heavily 3D films are being marketed for devices such as this. Charging the phone or using Android docks is inconvenient because the phone must be on its side. Under the back panel HTC included an 8GB microSD card, though the battery must be removed to reach it.

Finally, the 5MP lens on the back is doubled, as is the LED flash. The cameras are surrounded by a tasteful red metallic bezel, and it sticks out a quarter inch off the back panel. The panel is also surprisingly difficult to remove, even though it’s easy to dislodge, a strange combination. The speaker sits directly below the cameras.

From top to bottom: Droid Bionic, Galaxy S II, Evo 3D. Only the Evo has uniform thickness

Internally, the Evo 3D runs a 1.2GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM, which powers Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and the 960×540 display. This screen size is slightly denser than the more traditional 800×480 most Android phones have, but pixel density is hard to differentiate between such devices because of the larger screen size. Compared to the Droid Incredible 2, for instance, the Evo 3D looks sharper, but compared to the iPhone 4 or 4S, it pales in comparison.

Software & Battery Life

Even running on Gingerbread, the Evo 3D is fast, but noticeably sticky. It unlocks smoothly, opens and closes applications with ease, but tends to stall here and there. There are occasional quirks in the software as well, such as the weather widget displaying the image for night in the middle of the day. Under heavier loads, with lots of apps open or a number of apps in the background, the Evo 3D becomes very slow, to the point where I was opening the task manager regularly to kill apps I wasn’t using right then. I’m unsure whether there’s a memory leak causing the slowdown or whether HTC’s TouchSense software isn’t quite optimized for the device, but there is definitely something slowing it down.

The software has been better optimized for high-stress battery workloads, and battery life is improved compared to previously tested 4G devices. This is for two reasons: first, the 4G antenna doesn’t activate until users choose to activate it (through pop-up alerts), and over Wi-Fi the Evo 3D is very efficient. In fact, it’s almost like to the Palm Pre, which at the time stated the phone was built to be even more efficient, power-wise, on Wi-Fi than on a standard 3G cell signal. I can’t confirm that the same is true with the Evo 3D, but battery life is surprisingly resilient over Wi-Fi.

Battery life on 3G lasts a solid day and a half under regular use, though it’ll go on for a day under heavy stress. As a 4G hotspot, users will average just over 4 hours. Using the 4G antenna under a heavy workload, battery life depends. I managed to get a full day’s worth while in 4G areas, but throw in GPS and constant music streaming and the phone will last around six hours. On a recent trip to San Francisco I used the Evo 3D very heavily, as my sole email, GPS, and computing companion, and it lasted the whole day, sans the 1-hour flight. This was with utilizing 4G when available, which is impressive.

Performance

Overall performance of the Evo 3D based on benchmarks is good for graphics processing, but average overall. The 1.2GHz dual-core CPU is powerful, though the Evo 3D stays in the middle in every benchmark, almost always between the two older and two newer devices. This would be fine, since technology always improves, except that the gaps in performance are huge, from 10-25%. Take a look.

Overall the benchmarks show that the Evo 3D is slightly more powerful than last season’s handsets, but not nearly as fast as the best of this current season’s. And with upcoming holiday smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Motorola Droid Razr, the Evo 3D will look very aged, very quickly.

In real-world tests, the Evo 3D functions very well, though it has a tendency to crash applications. I’ve noticed this in recent HTC devices running Gingerbread. Future software updates will level out these bugs, assuming HTC and, in this case, Sprint, support frequent updates for the device. If the Evo 4G is any indication of future support for the Evo 3D, users can rest assured knowing that they’ll be receiving plenty of firmware updates.

The handset is speedy and runs apps quickly and smoothly, and also performed well on the new streaming test. I streamed via Amazon Prime two episodes of Arrested Development (at 480p), one over 4G and one through Wi-Fi. Over 4G, even with 5Mbps down and 2Mbps up, the video was blocky, shuttered, and when skipping sections audio and video weren’t in sync. Over Wi-Fi there were no such problems, which means that the network speed in this case is the culprit. The capacity of the network is certainly enough to stream a single TV episode, but the bandwidth just wasn’t available.

The larger concern I had with the benchmarks performed are for HD content. The Evo 3D crashed regularly when attempting a 720p graphics benchmark, meaning the phone cannot handle streaming 720p video to an outside device. While the option isn’t available on the phone, interested buyers should know that heavy 3D graphics may not work on the Evo 3D.

3D & Camera

Perhaps the defining factor for many buyers, 3D on the Evo 3D is surprisingly different from what is available on many 3D devices, such as the Nintendo 3DS. There is no slider that adjusts depth. Instead, the Evo 3D uses a one-size-fits-all display, where if the depth doesn’t match your eyes, too bad. As bad as that sounds, keep in mind that every 3D theater and a lot of 3DTVs are exactly the same.

However, in the case of the Evo 3D, actually using the 3D camera for photography and video can be an eye-hurting experience. If you don’t have extreme depth differences and if objects aren’t too close to the cameras, videos and pictures will look just fine. If you do, be prepared for self-induced eyestrain and headaches.

One note I will make is that this issue of depth extremes is a problem which NVidia showed me over two years ago with the first 3D cameras, but has since been fixed. In a brief test with LG’s competing 3D phone, the LG Thrill 4G, depth extremes caused no eyestrain. The Thrill, however, uses a depth slider.

3D on the 4.3” display has an extremely limited viewing angle. If you aren’t looking at the screen straight on, then the 3D effect is severely limited, if at all noticeable. This, technically speaking, is no different from 3D on a big screen, but it effectively means you won’t be watching any 3D content on the phone with a friend. The full 3D effect is very hard to share on the handset.

I watched the included film The Green Hornet in 3D, as well as a demo for the game Spider-Man 3D, and both provide good 3D depth that isn’t strenuous. 3D stills and video I recorded range from painful to surprisingly pleasant, though the former is more often the case. Users planning to shoot in 3D often must take time and learn just how depth works. More 3D videos can be viewed here on YouTube, though you’ll need a 3D-capable device or glasses.

Picture quality is good. 3D images are harder to tell the quality of, mostly because they pop so much (compared to their flat counterparts) that as long as objects are in focus, they look good. 2D stills look good, but lack the sharpness and clarity I expect in handsets today. For 3D shooting that’s just fine, because the 3D effect makes bits stand out. However, as you’ll see in the samples below, colors are accurate and the 5MP shooter can produce some great images.

Video quality is good, though the Evo 3D is one of the last phones of this generation with 720p video (likely). Audio quality is also excellent. The microphone picked up voices even over the sound of heavy wind and waves at the beach. 3D quality is likewise good, and when ported off the phone appears as an MPEG4 file, where the video appears split, showing the two views of the camera. With proper software and a 3D display the video can be viewed in 3D.

Conclusion

Some months back a friend asked whether he should upgrade to the Evo 3D when it came out. At the time, he was using the Evo 4G, but needed to upgrade his father’s phone and wanted to hand-me-down it and upgrade his own handset. Because of the obvious similarities between the two phones, I said it depends on whether he cares about 3D and how heavily he’s already used the Evo 4G, because of wear, use, and battery life.

That stance was wrong, mostly because 3D isn’t the most important aspect of this phone. Prospective buyers shouldn’t forget that it’s an Evo first, and 3D-capable second. As a device, the Evo 3D isn’t the fastest or best, but it is consistent, highly capable, and boasts a better battery than the Evo 4G. 3D is good, and it may be a selling point for 3D fanatics, but everyday consumers should not forgo the Evo 3D just because of the second word in it’s name.

Call quality is good, apps are fast, battery life is strong for current 4G devices, and it has strong performance overall. With practice users will enjoy taking 3D photos and videos, and individuals can enjoy 3D films and shows on the handheld just fine. The Evo 3D is a definite step up from the Evo 4G, and a very good smartphone for anyone to enjoy.

Pros:

  • Improved battery life, good 4G lifespan
  • Phone quality is exceptional – maintains a strong signal, good voice quality
  • 3D capabilities are good…
Cons:
  • …but the screen has a small sweet spot for viewing and there’s no depth slider
  • Software crashes are regular and reoccurring, due to HTC firmware
  • Benchmark and overall performance is excellent, for last season’s models

Rating: ★★★½☆

Very Good

Bottom Line: The HTC Evo 3D is a very good handset, especially for users who must have good call and voice quality. 3D is more of an added bonus than a primary function.



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.