May 25, 2013
Attack of the Monster Phones
Posted on Sep 12, 2010
It has been some months since I reviewed these two phones, and an update is long overdue. The day that Verizon announces it’s getting the iPhone seems as good a time as any to take care of overdue business.
I ended up making the Evo, which I reviewed rather favorably below, my own personal phone. Sadly, it has been something of a disappointment. First and foremost, the battery life, which I disparaged at the time, has only gotten worse. The more programs I install, the more widgets I keep open, the more the phone struggles to get through a morning, let alone a day. It’s pathetic. I recently went for a jog and literally outran my nearly fully charged phone.
Sprint’s network has also let me down. My 3G speeds have been consistently poor, to the point that I’ve actually found myself missing AT&T. No matter, I thought. 4G is coming. Then it came. Where to begin? In Los Angeles, where I live, certain neighborhoods don’t have any coverage at all. Some neighborhoods have coverage outside of buildings only. Even if you’re lucky enough to have coverage where you need it, turning on 4G drains the Evo’s battery even quicker and it also slows down the phone, adding a slight delay to ... everything.
In light of the excellent-looking 4G LTE (read: faster and better than Sprint’s wimax) phones coming to Verizon, the new Nexus S from Google and the iPhone on Verizon, I would strongly caution against buying either phone reviewed below. Alas, with technology, time marches on. With smart phones, it sprints.
Editor’s note: This review of the Droid X and Evo 4G phones refers to some jargon that is explained in greater depth in this companion article.
Something always seemed odd about the proposition that I had to have an iPhone. Such a proposition is made to us all, because Apple of course thinks everyone should have an iPhone, now and forever. Certainly Apple has built something that, as it evolved, worked very well for me, for my parents, my nephew, most of my friends and the endless variety of people who can be seen doing what they do in subway cars, in elevators, racing down highways, all dragging around the same white earbuds.
As good as it is, the iPhone cannot be all things to all people. Humans don’t just think different, as it turns out, they are different. It’s a fact that came to mind every time I slid my thumbs onto the iPhone’s remarkable, but tiny, virtual keyboard: They covered everything from Q to P. Yes, I have big hands, hands that are not my nephew’s or my mother’s or my friend Joel’s, with his lithe musician’s digits. I have the claws of an Eastern European peasant. They were given to me by my log-rolling, earth-tilling ancestors, and they were clearly meant more for throwing things at Russian czars than typing out e-mails at Starbucks.
Luckily we’re in the middle of a smart-phone boom, and competition has made for a huge variety of very good devices. There are bigger phones with bigger screens now. The Google Nexus One and its cousin, the HTC Droid Incredible, for instance, have 3.7-inch screens, which are fast becoming the standard alternative to the iPhone’s 3.5-incher. That’s a start. A new Galaxy S line from Samsung has a 4-inch screen. More like it, sure, but why stop there?
There’s something about living in an empire on the verge of collapse that makes you want to arm yourself with something monstrous, and that is what I’ve gone for. There are two truly huge phones on the market that make all others appear as though they were designed for children and midgets. These machines are enormous, and well made. And when these giants of plastic and glass and metal are put to work, they flaunt some of the biggest muscles ever squeezed into something you could still drop in your pocket.
(There are actually even bigger devices, such as the Dell Streak, that could technically be considered phones, but they would be better described as small tablets or computers, and there’s no getting them into your jeans.)
Both the HTC Evo 4G and the Motorola Droid X have 4.3-inch screens, and both are so large by comparison with most other phones that when I showed them to friends and family, there were quiet gasps. Use them on a daily basis, however, and the spectacle fades. In fact, I got so used to the size that I now struggle to use the smaller but positively normal iPhone. I find myself squinting and tapping deliberately to overcome its lack of real estate. Even the new iPhone 4, which squeezes a higher resolution than any other phone into 3.5 inches, comes off as the smart-phone equivalent of a New York apartment. It’s lovely, but where exactly am I supposed to put my shoes?
The Evo and the Droid X share more than size; they both run Google’s Android mobile operating system, and both phones have a similar list of features (1-Ghz processor, 8-megapixel camera with 720p HD video recording, HDMI-out, 512 MB of RAM, up to 32 GB expandable storage and so on). But for all these commonalities, HTC and Motorola clearly have very different visions of how to make a phone, and they have manufactured and programmed their devices accordingly.
The Droid X is more attractive and runs on Verizon’s famously fast and reliable network. Its battery lasts longer than the Evo’s, although that’s not exactly lavish praise. It has 8 GB of internal storage and a free 16 GB flash card thrown in, for 24 GB out of the box, compared with the Evo’s bundled 8 GB. The Droid can also stream media directly from the phone over your wireless home network to any DLNA compatible device, such as the Xbox 360. But the Evo has a major trick up its sleeve. It runs on Sprint’s decent-but-not-Verizon-quality network and it’s huskier than the Droid X, but the Evo is the world’s first 4G phone. Unless you live in Chicago or another nascent 4G market, that doesn’t mean much ... yet. Technically, the Evo is a generation faster than the Droid X, but it all depends on what Sprint’s pending national network is really like—and how soon the carrier and its partners finish building it.
Both in software and hardware, the Evo is just soft. It’s not bad, but everything is rounded corners and gently sloping panels and it just feels a bit cheap after a while. It’s an odd sensation to have when handling something so top-notch, so loaded with guts and heft.
The Droid X, on the other hand, is hard, cold and much more attractive. It’s clear when holding it in the hand that the Droid’s designers must drive nicer cars, wear more elegant clothes and work from more tastefully decorated cubicles than their counterparts at HTC. The people who designed the Droid X have imbued it with a sense of classiness and elegance missing in the Evo. The Droid strikes many as having a teen angst aesthetic, but if you do away with those distractions—the giant probing eye background and that “droid!!!” alert that will have you reaching for the bedside pepper spray before you realize it’s just a text message—you’re left with something minimalistic and clean-looking, a phone you might find on a coffee table next to an architecture magazine.
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