The Evo 3D: More Than Meets The Crossed Eye

You might get dizzy staring too deeply into the Evo 3D, but Sprint Nextel Corp.’s newest flagship phone is worth risking a little motion sickness.

The Evo 3D, the first smartphone in the U.S. that can shoot and display 3-D pictures and videos, is the latest unconventional device from Sprint. The wireless provider has embraced its underdog role and introduced a number of unique products over the past few years in an effort to expand its portfolio and lure customers away from its much larger rivals.

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The Evo 3D stands out largely because of its 3-D screen, but it’s a solid phone without the gimmick.

Some have paid off, including last year’s smash hit Evo 4G, which was the first phone able to connect to a speedier next-generation wireless network. Others, such as Kyocera Corp.’s dual-screen Echo, fizzled. If consumers enjoy the Evo 3D as much as I have over the past few days, the phone, which is due out June 24, should follow its namesake predecessor’s blockbuster success. The Evo 3D, which is made by HTC Corp., will be $199.99 with a two-year contract.

The smartphone stands out largely because of its 3-D screen, which doesn’t require special glasses for viewing, similar to Nintendo Co.’s 3DS portable game player. While it’s the first 3-D phone in the U.S. market, the Evo 3D will be followed by the Thrill 4G from LG Electronics Inc. later this year.

I both love and hate the 3-D feature, depending on how I hold the phone. When you stare at the screen correctly, the pictures pop and the depth of field is really impressive, particularly if it’s an image or video you captured yourself. But staring at the screen at the wrong angle—which is easy to do—can lead to headaches or crossed eyes thanks to the unfocused double image. Some friends who saw the screen were blown away by the images; others were bothered by them and had to avert their eyes.

If I stared at a 3-D video or picture for more than a few minutes, my eyes would get tired. Granted, my eyes also get tired during 3-D films that require glasses, but the time commitment is much longer with a movie.

The phone comes with the 3-D version of “The Green Hornet,” accessed through the phone’s HTC Watch application. The movie’s subtle 3-D effect worked well on the small screen.

Playing ‘Spider-Man’

The Evo 3D comes with the first level of Gameloft SA’s “Spider-Man,” which is tuned for 3-D. The game was enjoyable, although I’m not sure how my eyes would have fared after getting through some more levels. The game had some glitches: It twice froze the phone, which required me to pull the battery out to reset it. Sprint expects more 3-D games to be released.

Beyond the 3-D gimmick—and for now, it really is just a gimmick—HTC has created a winner with the Evo 3D. It uses the latest version of the Sense user interface, which I regard as the most customer-friendly of the phones running on Google Inc.’s Android software. (I purchased an HTC phone for my mother because of its ease of use.)

The latest version of Sense adds a few new visual flourishes such as a carousel effect when swiping between pages, which causes pages to spin as they are swiped and allows for a more fluid motion when switching menus.

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The dual 3-D camera on the back of the Evo 3D.
A Clever Lock Screen

The smartest addition is found in the Evo 3D’s lock screen. HTC allows you to customize the lock screen to display updates from Twitter and Facebook accounts, or show the weather or stock information. It also allows you to choose four commonly used apps that you can immediately jump to from the lock screen. The feature is intuitive and makes a lot of sense. Apple Inc. is planning something similar with its iPhone lock screen for the next version of its iOS software.

There are, however, the occasional hiccups with the user interface. While there were times touches didn’t register, the screen is typically extremely responsive, sometimes leading to an unwanted action, like a random program or menu opening.

Overall, the phone is quick thanks to its dual-core 1.2 gigahertz processor. Running multiple programs at once, such as streaming music from Pandora and using the Internet browser, didn’t slow it down.

Bigger Battery

Battery life was a major complaint with the Evo 4G, with the big screen and the 4G antenna sucking up a lot of juice. The Evo 3D comes with a larger battery, which helped a little bit. I was able to go through nearly an entire work day, while keeping the 4G radio on for most of the time, running it as a hot spot to power a tablet, and making a few phone calls. Sprint says the phone gets six hours of talk time; it doesn’t provide a figure for standby time.

While the Evo 3D has several strong points, working as a phone isn’t one of them. Voices on calls made to both land lines and cellphones weren’t crystal clear, although they were serviceable. Making a phone call with any outside noise was difficult. Sprint says it hasn’t experienced problems with the call quality.

A Good-Size Phone

When I held the Evo 4G a year ago, I regarded it as a bulky phone. But with a steady stream of hefty 4G phones on the market, the Evo 3D, which has a large 4.3-inch screen and is the same size as the Evo 4G, is pretty much par for the course. I like the design and the sturdy feel of the phone, and don’t find it too large. One minor gripe is the dual-lens 3-D camera, which juts out slightly from the back, making me self-conscious because it can’t lie flat on a table.

A lot of the hype on this phone will be centered on its 3-D capabilities. But take away the 3-D and you still have one of the better smartphones in the market.

Walter S. Mossberg and Mossberg’s Mailbox will return next Thursday. Write to Roger Cheng at roger.cheng@dowjones.com.


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