Sprint HTC Evo Touts Kickstand, 4G LTE, Fancy Camera and ‘HD Voice’

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In an undulating sea of Android smartphones, Sprint’s recently-announced HTC Evo 4G LTE stands to be one of the company’s flagship devices for 2012 and has a few tricks up its sleeve to differentiate itself from the pack.

Sprint, you may recall, was first into the pool with a so-called 4G network (it’s complicated) here in the U.S. back in 2010, and offered up the original HTC Evo 4G as the handset of choice for connecting to the newer, faster network. The company’s decision to use the WiMAX standard for its 4G network gave it an early advantage over competitors, but as the U.S. has moved to the LTE standard, Sprint’s been forced into rolling out its own LTE network as well – an inevitability that CEO Dan Hesse acknowledged almost two years ago.

(MORE: Sprint ‘Firmly Committed to WiMAX’ But Can Add LTE Later)

Fast forward to today, and Sprint’s set to offer up the Evo 4G LTE, a 4.7-inch smartphone running the latest version of Android (4.0) and with a chipset capable of connecting to the 4G LTE network that Sprint hasn’t even rolled out yet – the network will go live in select markets later this year, with full deployment by the end of next year.

HTC has loaded up the new Evo with a dual-core processor, 720p screen resolution, two cameras, the latest version of the company’s custom “Sense” interface, a big 2,000mAh battery, “Beats Audio” processing and a feature called “HD Voice” – more on that later.

Everything’s ensconced in a package “crafted from aluminum spaceframe in an anodized black finish,” HTC’s lead designer Jonah Becker remarked at the company’s joint press event held with Sprint in New York on Wednesday. And much to my colleague Jared Newman’s delight, I’m sure, “We’ve brought back one of the favorite features from the original Evo,” beamed Becker.


Doug Aamoth / TIME

Yes, the kickstand is back. There it is in the middle of the red strip above – flip it out and the new Evo props up for hands-free movie watching at an 80-degree viewing angle and other fits of merriment. “I like to use mine as an alarm clock,” said Becker.

(MORE: Sprint’s HTC Evo One May Bring Back the Kickstand)

HTC spent a fair amount of time talking about the phone’s rear-facing eight-megapixel camera as well, promising that its sensor lets in “44% more light than other smartphones” and sports a “Smart Flash” function that adjusts the power of the flash based on how far away the subjects in your shots happen to be. Add to that a burst mode capable of snapping four shots per second – up to 99 shots – and the ability to grab stills as you’re shooting 1080p video. The phone features a “mechanical, machined-aluminum” camera button, too.

Here’s a quick video demo of the burst-shot mode and the stills-from-video feature:

Sprint also invoked the old “pin drop” marketing it used back in the ’80s to boast about the sound quality of its voice calls, announcing that the Evo 4G LTE would be the first of its smartphones to sport “HD Voice” calls. This is a wideband audio codec that’s in use by about 30 other wireless providers around the world, one Sprint rep told me, but Sprint will be the first carrier in the U.S. to support it. You’ll need to have an HD Voice-capable handset and be speaking to someone else with an HD Voice-capable handset for the feature to work, but the company is planning to infuse its other handsets with the technology.

I participated in a test call demonstration inside an isolated sound booth, speaking with a Sprint staffer first using the original Evo that was rolled out in 2010, then with the new Evo and I can tell you that the voice quality is indeed much better. It didn’t seem “pin drop” good, but the biggest difference was how well it was able to filter out background noise. The rep had a music track playing at about 50% volume out of a speaker located right behind his head, which was picked up sufficiently by the original Evo but seemed to be blocked out about 90% or so using the HD Voice technology found in the new Evo. Of course, real-world tests will ultimately tell the true tale. The rep’s voice still sounded digitized, too – not like he and I were in the same room or anything like that. The background noise filtering is potentially the bigger story here.


Doug Aamoth / TIME

Aside from that, you’ve got a fairly standard, solid smartphone with a big screen and a snappy interface. The “Beats Audio” processing that’ll be making its way into more and more HTC devices makes music sound better – that’ll depend somewhat on the quality of your own music tracks and headphones, of course – and Sprint’s promise to keep its “unlimited” data plans truly unlimited when it rolls out its 4G LTE network will help the phone’s cause as well.

Sprint’s HTC Evo 4G LTE will be available for pre-sale at $200 with a two-year contract starting on Monday, May 7, with a shipment date Sprint simply pegged as “in the second quarter.” If AT&T is more your speed, the somewhat-similar HTC One X will be out shortly as well.

Here’s a handful of writeups about the Evo 4G LTE from around the web if you’re interested:

(MORE: Ask Techland: What’s the Deal with 4G? Is the New iPhone 4G?)