Not all phones are revolutionary -- or need to be. Some, like the HTC EVO Shift 4G from Sprint, are worthy just because they fill an important gap in a product line.
The original HTC EVO 4G was a rock star: It was the first true 4G phone, designed to be a multimedia master. The thing even had a kickstand so you could prop it up on your desk and marvel at it. That was followed on Sprint by the Samsung Epic 4G, a Galaxy S phone that combined an excellent screen with a slide-out keyboard.
The Shift ($149.99 with a two-year contract) is more pedestrian. It's got a slide-out keyboard and a 3.6-in. 800-by-480-pixel screen; while not as spectacular as the Super AMOLED screens on phones such as the Galaxy S, it's more than sufficient. There's only one camera -- a perfectly fine 5-megapixel unit that does still shots and video. The processor runs at 800 MHz, not the 1 GHz performance that top-of-the-market phones feature, but the Shift doesn't feel sluggish.
As befits a slider keyboard phone, the Shift is a little chunky at 4.6 by 2.3 by 0.6 inches in size and weighing 5.9 ounces. That makes it half-again thicker than an iPhone 4 and an ounce heavier. But the Shift has a very pleasant rounded rubberized back that hides the added heft well.
Keys on the backlit keyboard are flat, with very minimal doming. There are ".com," "@" and emoticon keys as well as a joystick pad -- all of which are nice touches. The phone is wide enough that keyboarding is definitely a two-thumb operation, and there's plenty of room between keys to allow for typing accuracy.
The Shift comes with the current mainstream release of Android: Version 2.2, a.k.a. Froyo. This is particularly important for people who need solid Exchange support, since Froyo is the first Android version to support Exchange calendars, global address books and security features. (For those keeping score at home, the latest cutting-edge version of Android is Version 2.3, or "Gingerbread.")
At a Glance
HTC EVO Shift 4G
Price: $149.99 with a two-year contract from Sprint. Additional fees include $10 per month for the Premium Data add-on and $29.99 per month for the Mobile Hotspot add-on.
Pros: 4G speeds, good keyboard, Android 2.2 (Froyo)
Cons: Only one camera, adequate but not great display, nondeletable apps included.
Where the Shift shines is with 4G networking. Although your speed will vary depending on where you're standing and the state of the network at that instant, a good 4G connection will fly. In addition, the Shift supports tethering and can act as a hot spot, spreading that fine 4G karma around to as many as eight people nearby, at least until you burn through your battery.
The software that Sprint has included with the Shift isn't too obnoxious, although there are some nondeletable apps, including ones for NASCAR, football and Sprint TV. There are also more useful ones, including QuickOffice and Peep, a Twitter client.
If you want a legit 4G hot spot Android phone with up-to-date Exchange support and a hard keyboard, this is your phone. It's not flashy or revolutionary, but it'll get the job done.
Dan Rosenbaum, by day a search strategist and content maven, has been reviewing mobile technology since the 1990s. His MicroTAC and StarTAC phones are still in a box somewhere.
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This story, "Review: Sprint's HTC EVO Shift 4G" was originally published by Computerworld.