Sprint's EVO Smartphone Breaks Down the 4G Wall

Sprint's new EVO smartphone is the first ever to run over a 4G wireless data network named WiMax. 4G, or fourth generation, is designed to deliver faster speeds for downloading movies and uploading live video. But EVO requires a great deal in the way of tradeoffs, and WiMax, so far, is more important for the bragging rights it gives Sprint than the benefits it provides consumers.

The EVO is made by Taiwan-based HTC, which turns out the most impressive handsets this side of Apple (AAPL). Its 4.3-inch screen—the same size as on HTC's recently released HD2—dwarfs the 3.5-inch screen on the iPhone 3GS and new iPhone 4. Just above the screen is a front-facing camera, perfect for video chatting. The slightly bowed back contains an 8-megapixel camera with dual flashes and a handy kickstand for propping the phone up to, say, watch a movie on an airplane tray table. The EVO comes with HTC's Sense user interface, which coexists well with Google's (GOOG) Android 2.1 mobile operating system, and sells for $199.99 after a $100 rebate on a two-year contract. In short, nice phone, nicely made, at a decent price.

Sprint's pitch, however, is more about the network than the hardware. For now, that network is a work in progress. Sprint says 4G has been deployed in 33 markets. Some are major—Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas—while others are anything but: Milledgeville, Ga.; Salem, Ore.; York, Penn. Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco are scheduled for later in 2010.

If you're lucky enough to live in Milledgeville, you'll likely see better performance, though perhaps not as much as Sprint's claim of up to 10 times faster speeds. You'll also probably see worse battery life; the EVO couldn't make it through a normal day's use with the 4G radio turned on. Then there's WiMax's future to consider. Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) are working on 4G networks using a rival standard—LTE, for Long Term Evolution—that has been embraced by many international carriers. If WiMax suffers against the competition, Sprint customers will suffer, too.

Ironically, just as Sprint was introducing its 4G network, Apple was unveiling its iPhone 4—which, name aside, runs only on 3G networks. Despite initial interest in Sprint's new network, in any battle of the 4s, Apple is likely to remain No. 1.

Sprint EVO

The world's first-ever smartphone to run over a 4G network sells for $199.99 after a $100 rebate

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