Not long ago, I had the opportunity to review HTC’s first 4G device, the EVO, which quickly became Sprint’s flagship mobile device. At the end of that review, I concluded the device was fantastic and powerful, but I had problems with the size. It was too large to be effective as a phone, but too small to be a tablet. It seemed to fit into a new, in-between niche, which I did not really feel needed to be filled. Much to my delight, however, HTC did not stop there. It was not long before they added a new edition to the EVO family with the EVO Shift, which was just as good as the EVO, but slightly smaller and with a sliding keyboard. It was exactly the phone I wanted from the original EVO. Now, they have added to the family once again, this time going the other direction with a 7-inch tablet. Let’s take a closer look at this latest edition to the top-selling EVO family of devices.
What’s In The Box: I am constantly discouraged by what we find (or do not find) in the box along with these devices right now. Mobile devices used to include a dock, case, screen protector, and other accessories. Most of that is gone now. Today, the HTC EVO View includes almost nothing in the box. Along with the manual, you will find a charger and a sync cable. I was surprised to find two separate cables, rather than the more common sync/charge cable which connects to either the USB port or an AC adaptor. That’s it. There are not even headphones in there. Additionally, you can purchase the Scribe stylus for handwriting and drawing (which is included free for a limited time).
Hardware: I was extremely impressed by the hardware on this device; even more than the original EVO. The 7 inch form factor results in a device which is just shy of 5 inches wide. That means it is just the right size to be held in one hand, which is the biggest difference between this device and a larger device like the iPad. The device is also paper thin, coming in at half inch thick.
I absolutely loved the plain and simple design. It is one of the most uncluttered devices I have used (though some may say it is following the iPad design.) On the face you will find the 7 inch, 1024×600 capacitive touch screen. We’ll talk more about that later. Additionally, you will find the first of two cameras. This is becoming commonplace on tablets, and turns the device into the perfect video conferencing accessory.
Beneath the screen are four soft buttons, which virtually disappear when the screen is in sleep mode. When active, these buttons are (left to right): home, menu, back, and pen options (if you use the Scribe pen).
On the bottom of the device is the sync/charge port. Disappointingly, this is not a standard jack, so other mini or micro USB plugs, even those which came with other HTC devices will not work.
There is nothing on the left hand side (as you face the device). On the right are your volume controls.
On top of the device you will find the power/sleep button as well as the headphone jack (again, headphones not included).
Flip over to the back of the device and you will find the second camera. Both cameras are 5 megapixels.
Slide off the top of the device to reveal the microSD memory expansion slot.
Android OS: The EVO View tablet is powered by the android Operating System. More specifically, the Gingerbread release. We have already looked at Android quite extensively in past, so I am not going to spend a lot of time here or we will never get to the rest of the review. I did find, however, that Android worked extremely well in this tablet format. I previously reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Tab and found it really fell flat with me. Since then, however, the Operating System has been overhauled in dozens of subtle and not-so-suble ways to make it more tablet friendly. Toss in the HTC Sense UI, which I think significantly improves upon the operating system, and this device offers a spectacular user experience. Although we are not going to take an extensive look, here, I do want to check out a few highlights of the Operating System.
Let’s start with the lock screen which was just fantastic. Without unlocking the device, you have access to up to four apps. Just drag one down to the circle to open the app, or drag the circle up in order to unlock the device to the home screen. Additionally, you have the option of adding the weather (which includes some cool animation) to this screen as well.
With this iteration, the HTC Sense UI contains and eight screen home screen (an increase from the seven we have seen previously).
HTC has also added some really cool animation when switching from one screen to the next, as well as some nice three dimensional effects.
Like previous iterations of Android, these screens are fully customizable by adding your favorite apps and widgets.
In addition to some of your favorite Android widgets, HTC has also included a few new favorites, including the Watch (videos) widget, MyShelf (books and bookmarks), and a number of new looks at mail, calendars, music, people, and plenty more. You really need to see all of the available widgets (with plenty more available from the App Store) to believe it.
Finally, the interface has four soft shortcut buttons on the screen, which was a huge improvement over what we have seen previously. By default, the four buttons include App List, Notes, Reader, Video, and Settings. However, by tapping and holding, you can swap any shortcut into this space. This is absolutely perfect, as it ensures your most popular apps or shortcuts are always right at the tips of your fingers, no matter what screen you are currently using.
This all worked really well, and proved to be a vast improvement over what we have seen from the operating system in the past.
Reading and Books: One of the biggest reasons I switched from a laptop to a tablet/iPad was the ability to read ebooks. So, when I was testing the HTC EVO View, the ability to read ebooks quickly and easily was important to me. By default, the device comes with the Kobo-based ereader installed. This worked extremely well. The page-turn animation was smooth, and the controls were easy to use. So far so good.
More important than the organization of the app, however, is the ability to read on the screen. I love reading on my iPad. By contrast, I find reading books on my phone to be a real chore, with barely a sentence appearing on the screen at a time. As you would reasonably expect, the reading experience on the EVO View fell somewhere between the two. Frankly, I found the reading experience on the EVO View to be acceptable. It still felt a bit cramped with little more than a paragraph on the page at a time, but it worked well enough and was more than sufficient, allowing you to enjoy the text, without the distraction of constant page turns.
Of course, if the default Reader app does not cut it for you, don’t despair as there are plenty of e-book readers available in the App Marketplace. As you might expect, you will find Google Books in there, as well as Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook, to name a few of the more popular options. The nice thing about this is that each of these readers offer different controls, layouts, and animation. This means you have plenty of (free) opportunities to find the best option for you.
Internet Connectivity: The HTC Evo View comes equipped with the standard Android browser, which works just as well as ever…and even allows you to view Flash content, which not all mobile devices offer (without naming any fruity names). Of course, if this stock browser if not for you, then once again, you can head over to the App Market and check out the vast supply of free browsers, including many fan favorites like: Opera, Skyfire, Firefox, Dolphin, and plenty of others.
The EVO View also comes equipped with both 3G and 4G connectivity, promising blazing fast speeds for your Internet browsing activities. While 3G worked fine, I was completely unable to connect to the 4G network. Sadly, this is less a comment on the device, which had no problem scanning for the network, and more to do with Sprint, which seems to have stalled in its efforts to activate its high speed network.
In addition to connecting on its own, the EVO View is also able to serve as a hotspot for any other Wifi connected devices. This is a fantastic feature. I typically use the Sprint Overdrive, which can (theoretically) connect to both sprint’s 3G and 4G networks. Combining that functionality with a device I would already be carrying with me anyway is perfect. In my opinion, every device should include this capability.
Email and Messaging: One of the most important features to me is email and messaging. On any device, I use this functionality more than just about anything else (other than Angry Birds, maybe). I use Gmail, and as you can imagine, setup is pretty simple on this Google-created device. There are two ways to access your Gmail account, one is with the built in Gmail app, the other is with the mail app. I am not going to talk much about the Gmail app, except to say that it is essentially a window to the mobile web version of Gmail. The only problem I had here was that I felt like I got double notifications with the mail and Gmail apps competing for my attention with information from the same account.
Of course, the built in Mail app is much more flexible than the Gmail app. In addition to Gmail, the Mail app can also connect with Hotmail, Yahoo, or any other Pop3/IMAP mail account, as well as any Microsoft Exchange service.
I was really impressed by the Mail interface, which has been cleaned up considerably when compared with previous Android versions. If you have multiple accounts, you can choose to view any of the individual accounts, or the universal inbox which shows all of your accounts at once. One feature I really liked was the color coding next to emails in the universal inbox. This makes it quick and easy to identify which account the messages are connected with.
From the ibox, of course, simply tap any message to open and read the message. I did find the controls here (reply, reply all, forward,etc…) required a bit of a learning curve. The icons were simply not terribly self explanatory. Otherwise, the messages display well and are quite easy to read. I will say that I prefer the iPad’s email layout, but only because the dual pane inbox makes it much easier to simply scan through my messages.
The other thing I noticed about the Mail app was the home screen widget. There are now three different widgets from which you may choose. Additionally, these widgets can be setup to show email from any of your accounts, or from the universal inbox, collecting all of your accounts into a single widget. In the past, this inability to show multiple inboxes in a single widget has been one of my big complaints , and I was thrilled to find that this had been resolved.
In addition to email, the EVO View allows you to send SMS text messages. I was pretty impressed by this functionality as well, which has been significantly updated and now offers an extremely attractive interface. Now, I know what many of you are thinking…this is not a phone, so how can you send text messages. Since the EVO View connects with Sprint’s network, it will be assigned a phone number, which will allow you to send and receive text messages.
What impressed me the most, though, was not simply the EVO View’s ability to send and receive text messages, but its ability to send virtually any attachment as a text messages. Many devices I have used allow you to attach photos and nothing more. Even attaching videos can be a stretch. The EVO View impressively adds to this capability. Not only can you attach pictures and videos, you can also send audio files, app recommendations, GPS locations, contacts, appointments, and plenty more. In the past, I have used a third party app for text messaging from Android. With this updated app, I never felt the need to supplement with another app.
Calendar: One of the most ironic parts of the Android operating system has always been the calendar. I absolutely love Google’s calendar online, and I use it for almost everything. Their mobile iteration, however, just never measured up for me. While it does have all of the normal views: daily, weekly, monthly, agenda, and today, I just never felt like they functioned as well as other devices. In both week and month view, all you will get is shaded areas showing appointments. For me, a bit of shading does nothing more than require me to click to another view to really see what you have going on. That being said, it does do a fantastic job of syncing with Google Calendar and pulling in all of the information from all of your connected calendars, I just wish Google had done a better job designing the user interface. Additionally those of you who eschew Google may just be out of luck here. There is really no way to sync a non-Google account with this calendar.
Camera and Photos: I have to admit that I have never been a fan of using my phone or mobile device as a camera. This opinion has transferred to tablet devices, which are just too large and bulky for me to feel comfortable framing a picture. It’s like trying to take a snapshot with my TV. All of that being said, there is a famous maxim among photographers that the best camera you own is the one you have with you. In other words, that fancy DSLR is not going to do you much good when you are out for a walk on the beach with the family (unless you felt like lugging 25 pounds of equipment with you). Which brings us to the advantage of the EVO View, it is small enough that you will almost never have an excuse to leave it at home, meaning you will always have this camera with you.
As I mentioned earlier, there are two 5 megapixel cameras. One on the face of the device and one on the back. To access either camera, just tap the camera icon (as an aside, I really miss the hard button for access to the camera). From the main screen, you can toggle between the front and rear cameras or between video and still cameras. Which essentially means you have four cameras in one. Not too shabby. Additionally, you can use the onscreen controls to add effects to your photos, zoom in or out, or access the photo album and view your stored photos and videos. Tap the menu button to access the settings and change all of the common controls for your photos or videos. I have to say that although I was not crazy about using the device as my primary camera, I was impressed by the quality of the pictures it took. I mean, it is not going to compare to that DSLR…but if you don’t have your DSLR with you at all times, then it really does not matter how this compares.
Once you have finished taking photos, you can view them in the album, which worked just fine. all you have to do is swipe to switch from one photo to the next. What I really liked, though were the sharing options. The EVO View offers virtually every method under the sun to share your photos. Additionally, you can even perform some minor edits on your photos from here
Video: One of the things I love about the iPad is watching video on that fantastic ten inch screen. I like to watch video on the go, but really watching it on a 2-4 inch phone or mobile device has just never made sense to me. So, if this device is going to compete with my iPad, it has to be able to display video effectively. The screen is obviously smaller than the iPad, but I still found it did a fine job handling video (honestly, the picture really does not do it justice). I was able to stream video content from the Internet without any skips or freezing. The screen itself, seemed to offer a nice middle ground between the iPad and mobile device. While bigger is always better when it comes to video, this screen worked well enough for me.
The one complaint I did have here related more to the market than playback itself. While the app did a fantastic job of playing videos…finding videos may be more difficult. Most of my favorite streaming options are simply not available (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu). There is, however, the Android Watch video store, which includes a very nice array of videos which you can download and play on your device. I did find the newest available videos were about six months old, so you will not find the latest releases, which was disappointing. The device really seemed to suffer from this lack of selection, but once you do find something to watch, the quality was great.
Battery Life: I was pretty impressed by the battery on this device. While it was not my primary device for the entire time I was testing it, I did use it fairly consistently off and on during the day. With that moderate to heavy use, I managed to eek out a pretty impressive three days between charges. Not too shabby. On the other hand, I was disappointed to find that the battery is not removable. The removable battery has always been one of the hallmark features of devices not named after a fruit. Furthermore, the removable battery plays a critical role in your ability to upgrade the device. Hopefully this will not become a growing trend with more mobile devices.
Memory: The HTC EVO comes with a whopping 32 GB of memory built into the device. This would be fantastic if the operating system and firmware did not take up so much space. When it is all said and done, that 32GB becomes a mere 20GB in practice. That is one-third of your memory gone before you have even begun. Disappointing. Still, that is not nearly as big a deal as it could have been. Hidden under the back of the device is a memory expansion slot, allowing you to add a micro SD card for virtually unlimited storage.
The Scribe Pen: Although it is not included in the box, if you want to do any kind of drawing or handwriting recognition (such as notes) then you will want to pick up the Scribe pen with your EVO View. Trust me…trying to draw a picture with your finger just does not work well. I really liked this option, though I will say that I found the Scribe pen to be a little skinnier than I would have preferred.
Using the pen is simple. A menu in the lower right corner allows you to change pen style and ink colors. Additionally, you can use the two buttons on the pen itself to erase or highlight text.
This worked great, and is a fantastic addition to a device which does not have a hardware keyboard. It makes taking notes simple and is as natural to use as any pen or pencil.
Conclusions: At this point, the question everyone wants to ask is whether this is the one which will finally be the iPad killer. Frankly, I have no idea how to answer that question. I do not really think one device sets out to kill another. Each device has to stand on its own merit. Personally, I am a huge fan of the iPad and its capabilities. With that being said, this is the first Android tablet I have used which would really make me think twice about my decision the next time I decide to upgrade my device. I cannot say this is an iPad killer…but it is certainly encroaching on iPad’s space. If not a killer, then a seasoned competitor for sure. I, for one, have to say that it is refreshing to find some legitimate competition entering this space.
The HTC EVO View is available from Sprint for $399.99 with a two year contract. For a limited time, the scribe pen will be included free with the purchase of the View (normally $79.99).