May 21, 2013
Attack of the Monster Phones
Posted on Sep 12, 2010
The Droid X’s camera was designed rather ingeniously to take mental pictures. It does this by allowing you, after a little game of cat-and-mouse with the shutter button, to pull up a camera window that claims to take photos. When it wants to. Have something in mind? Click the shutter button and maybe it will cooperate with you. More likely, you’ll have an excellent memory of the image you wanted without all the fuss of storing it or e-mailing it to loved ones.
That’s not entirely fair. The Droid X has a dedicated camera button, a great feature, only it takes a while to get used to, and the effect is as if you’ve slipped out of space-time. There’s a lot of half-press to focus, full-press to snap, listening for audio cues, giving it a second to catch up. ... Much of the guesswork and confusion go away, along with your mental picture problem, eventually. What will remain are relatively decent photos.
They both do video; however, the Evo brutally drains all life from what is meant to be HD footage. The result is choppier than what the Droid X produces, and harsher. Neither will win any YouTube subscribers, at least where quality is concerned.
In addition to the 8MP sensor, the Evo has a second, 1.3MP, front-facing shooter meant for video conferencing. Unlike the iPhone 4, you can video chat with anyone over your phone’s non-WiFi data connection. As with the iPhone 4, you’ll have more trouble finding a chat partner—one who doesn’t charge, anyway—than it’s worth.
Note: To see photos and video taken with both phones, click here.
I just remembered I should say something about call quality. But you don’t buy a giant phone with a 4.3-inch screen because you’re interested in making phone calls. The Droid X and the Evo both make them and both sound good. Can we move on now?
Playing around with the Evo without 4G is like reviewing The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” on sheet music. It’s great—in theory. It shows a lot of promise. If only we could get to one of the smaller California towns (as of this writing: Modesto, Fresno, Stockton and Visalia) that Sprint has so far decided to bless with 4G. I decided to hell with it, got in my car and headed to Visalia, the closest place to Los Angeles with 4G.
Three hours later I made three important discoveries. (1) Sprint’s 4G in Visalia, Calif., really sucks. (2) Visalia, Calif., is less safe than 97 percent of American cities, according to a website that got into my head. And (3) Alejandra’s, to which I made a timid sojourn following discovery No. 2, has decent sopes.
Back in my hotel room, with the door bolted and a plastic glass full of fortifying whiskey beside me, I took stock of the situation. I came to this town, the nearest with 4G, armed with two phones. The Evo is capable of 4G and 3G, the Droid X just does 3G. Here’s the thing, though—the best 4G speeds the Evo could muster (just over 2 Mbps download) were only slightly faster than the Droid’s 3G (average 1.4 Mbps download). And the Droid’s 3G on Verizon was almost three times as fast as the Evo’s 3G on Sprint (average 0.54 Mbps download).
Still, the 4G was faster, and faster always equals better, even if you’re slower in everyplace that isn’t Visalia. Advantage: Evo.
The situation then deteriorated.
Both phones have a really handy feature. They can instantly become WiFi hotspots, sharing their cellular data connections with other WiFi-equipped devices. Once you enable this functionality, in other words, your laptop and your iPod can wirelessly connect to your phone and access the Internet.
Both devices performed well. Setup was simple and both beat the hotel’s complimentary WiFi for download speeds. But carried over WiFi to my laptop, the Evo’s 4G speed really stumbled. Although I usually got slightly faster speeds, the margin shrank somehow to be just a sliver faster than the Droid X’s 3G over WiFi. What’s worse, I got a consistently better signal from Verizon, so the average download speed was actually faster on Verizon’s 3G than Sprint’s 4G. Kicking the Evo while it was down, the Droid clobbered the HTC device in upload speed. In fact, both devices’ 3G outperformed, by a wide margin, the 4G’s upload speed, which barely registered on Ookla’s speed test running in my laptop’s Firefox browser.
Let me make something clear at this point. I was not Visalia-adjacent. I was not somewhere in the vicinity. I was in downtown Visalia, right next to the convention center. I was not there to check out the University of Phoenix; I went to that dot on a map for 4G. This is one of only four cities in California that has it, and I was barely getting a signal, a signal that vanished when I went to dinner two blocks away. A signal that flickered and nearly died when I carried the phone across the room. “OK,” I thought to myself. “You’re not going to get such great speeds without a strong signal.” But where was I supposed to find a strong signal? Chicago? I drove three hours to get to the signal I had, I was in the epicenter of this 4G town and I felt like I was wandering around the room trying to steal my neighbor’s WiFi.
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