TECH REVIEW: HTC Evo 3D

HTC has recently announced the launch of one of its latest smartphones, the HTC Evo 3D in Malaysia (middle this year). For those of you who don’t really know who, or what HTC is, the company previously known as High Tech Computer Corporation is one of the “world’s largest players in wireless handsets” today (Forbes, 2011, p.1). From a humble contract manufacturer in 1997, HTC is now larger than Research In Motion, the company behind Blackberry, and looks set to overtake Nokia as well in terms of market capitalisation. Amazing huh?

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The Evo 3D is a unique offering because it is one of the few smartphones available on the market with a 3D-capable image capture device (other than the LG Optimus 3D, and LG Optimus Pad). Running on the Android 2.3.4 “Gingerbread” OS, the Evo 3D is a slate smartphone capable of recording both stills and motion photography, in addition to possessing a autostereoscopic screen.

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IMHO, the proclivity towards 3D imaging lately is a weird, but rather predictable trend in the world of entertainment and technological devices. The usefulness and practicality of wielding a 3D-capable smartphone now, however, seem to be still up for contention.

First Impressions


Like most HTC devices, the unmarked white box that stores the Evo 3D is insipid. The lack of a handle to open the box can also be a bit aggravating at times, often leaving the user wondering why wasn’t the box given at least some attention. Inside, the box houses the usual suspects; the unit, chargers, USB connectivity cable, and headphones.

The unit itself is nothing stellar, sporting the same aesthetic appeal that clearly defines HTC design, with the logo, and four buttons (home, menu, back, search) at all the regular places.

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What sets this unit apart from the bewildering amount of different models from HTC is, of course, the utilization of two camera units at the back of the Evo 3D. The grooved back casing adds a touch of class to the smartphone, with a dedicated aluminium camera on/shutter release button.

Right beside the shutter release button is the 2D/3D selection button, also machined in aluminium.

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The Evo 3D also comes with a 4.3-inch Gorilla Glass by Corning. Gorilla Glass is now optimally used in the smartphone (and other wireless devices) industry because of its basal qualities of strength, scratch-resistance, and optical clarity. The relative strength of the glass also allows a thinner, and by proxy, lighter device. This is a key factor in portable devices, as the amount of features and gadgets crammed into each smartphone today inevitably increases its weight.

The size of the Evo 3D, especially its width, is perilously close to the limit of my grasp, and that is more often than not, a bad thing. Using my left hand, I can easily swipe the phone from the left of the screen to the right, but it is harder to swipe from other direction. This further increases the chance that I might one day not be able to hold onto the phone, especially when my hands are damp or wet. However, the grooved design on the back casing does help increase grip (which may well be its primary purpose).

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Hardware

The front of the Evo 3D is simple enough, with the 1.3MP video-call camera to the left of the earpiece, and the proximity sensor to its right. The capacitive touchscreen, all 4.3 inches of it, covers the majority of the phone, sporting a resolution of 960×540 (qHD, 16:9 aspect ratio). At the bottom of the screen is the four standard HTC buttons, with two small slits below the unit for opening the back casing (e.g. changing SIM, microSD, removing battery, etc.).

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The autostereoscopic (glasses-free) screen enables the user to “see” 3D images and videos taken on the Evo 3D, and this remains, IMHO, one of the unique and more appealing features on this unit. The Super LCD screen, made by Sony (featuring VSPEC III technology), is sharper in rendering text, but also consumes a bit more power in the process. The Gorilla Glass may help in increasing daylight brightness for the Super LCD screen, since previous iterations of HTC’s phones suffer in this aspect.

The volume controls, dedicated camera button and 2D/3D selector are all located on the right side of the Evo 3D (when one is facing the screen), while the microUSB 2.0 socket can be found opposite the volume buttons. The power/lock button sits on the top right corner, while the 3.5mm earphone jack is located in the left corner. The Evo 3D feels solid and durable to the touch, its 170g weight in the “normal” range for smartphones this size.

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There is a slight bulge, measuring in at about 1mm, where the dual cameras sit. This is potentially the area where the most damage will be seen over time, as there are no covers or protectors on the Evo 3D (unless you go and buy one, of course). Granted, there is a slight chrome bump at the outer edges of the exterior camera assembly, which may offer some protection. The space utilized by 2 cameras also means that the entire camera assembly will suffer more fingerprint marks than average, given how people normally stabilise the phone using the index finger.

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The Evo 3D is powered by the same dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon system in a Qualcomm MSM8660 chipset with an Adreno 220 GPU previously used in the HTC Sensation. Unlike the Sensation, however, the Evo 3D is equipped with a bit more RAM (1GB rather than768MB).

Software

The Evo 3D is an Android OS phone, with HTC’s proprietary Sense user interface smacked on top. User experience isn’t remarkable in any manner, but it gets the job done. Practically, however, I am sure each individual user/owner will find at least 5 quirks about the Evo 3D, even if one an ardent supporter of HTC. For example, the layout of the keyboard is not as comfortable to use as, say, the iPhone’s, or even Nokia’s N9’s, for that matter.

The entire GUI is very familiar to regular HTC users, and frankly, quite annoying for those who aren’t accustomed to it. Other than the subjective appeal for design and user-friendliness, the wallpaper/icon combination is a bit distracting. The number of buttons on the Evo 3D is also rather distracting, with another menu button, a phone button, and a personal settings button right above the standard 4 buttons; 7 dedicated buttons! The GUI makes one feel as though HTC’s designers are suffering from obsessive compulsive personality disorder, putting in as much buttons and UI material just in case you might need it one day.

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The Evo 3D also has some unnecessary functions built into the GUI. For example, swiping the screen from the left all the way to the right quickly will cycle the entire menu range once, a harder push will cycle it twice. If I may ask, other than entertainment purposes, what other need is there to see your virtual menus rotate in a circular fashion on your screen? Exclusively, this is not a problem, but the function sometimes asserts itself whenever I want to cycle through the menus faster. So instead of getting to the second menu on the right fast, I will instead cycle back to the same menu, twice. The vertical-sliding menu layout is also counter-intuitive to human nature (people, on average, read better horizontally than vertically).

App-wise, the HTC does not disappoint. It has most, if not all the basic smartphone functions, in addition to regular social media and connectivity apps. Inclusive in the Evo 3D is Adobe Reader, Gmail, Google Search, HTC Hub, HTC Likes, Need For Speed Shift, The Sims 3, Spiderman 3D, and Youtube, among others.

Camera

Having one camera used to be enough at one time past, but now, we not only have another one in front, but also two more at the back. Arguably the most identifiable trait in the Evo 3D, its dual camera assembly, takes rather awesome 3D photographs and video, played back in a similarly awesome autostereoscopic screen.
Individual 5-megapixel cameras are spaced about 3.25mm apart from each other, giving the user a chance to impress their peers. Positioned in the centre of the dual lenses is the dual LED flash to facilitate shooting in low-light situations.

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The limitations to this setup seem to be image quality, as the 3D images are in 2 megapixels only. One also does not have the option to zoom into the photograph, which is a bit sad. These photographs are stored in two formats, MPO and JPS. 3D video is taken in 720p, 30p (h.264 encoding), using half the resolution from each horizontal frame to combine into a 720p 3D video.

Conclusion

The HTC Evo 3D IS a bump up from the Sensation, with many subtle upgrades here and there. The UI is smooth and virtually lag free, thanks to the dual core processors. At two thousand-odd ringgit, the Evo 3D’s price is justified, as it can perform many tasks required of a smartphone. The dual-core CPU basically guarantees at least 6 months of frontline performance, while Android is definitely here to stay.

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However, as a smartphone, it is not an impressive gadget, at least not to me. The design and UI characteristics are mundane in some parts, and superfluous in others. The 3D-shooting capability seems more of a marketing gimmick than a real dealmaker here. There has been word of mushrooming ecosystems catering towards the 3D market, but all these remain in its infancy now. Is a 3D-capable smartphone going to be the trend of the future? It is still too early to tell if consumer demand will enough to dictate market forces, especially for its 3D content, and the 3D entertainment industry as a whole.

References
Savitz, E. (2001, October 26, p.1). Cher Wang: The most powerful woman in wireless. Retrieved November 19, 2011 from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericsavitz/2011/10/26/cher-wang-the-most-powerful-woman-in-wireless-takes-on-apple/

All pictures taken with:
Samsung NX11

Category : Technology
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