Sprint Announces HTC Evo 4G Pricing, June Release

Sprint will put the HTC Evo 4G, a smartphone designed to leverage the carrier's expanding 4G network, on sale for $199 on June 4. The HTC Evo 4G runs Android 2.1 and comes equipped with features such as video chat and dual cameras. Sprint hopes that the combination of powerful hardware and applications will allow it to reclaim market share, which has been steadily eroding over the past few quarters in the face of strong competition. In its rush to introduce a 4G-capable smartphone to the market, Sprint decided to initially leverage WiMax technology, which threatens to be eclipsed in the longer term by LTE.

Sprint will offer the HTC Evo 4G smartphone June 4, CEO Dan Hesse announced during a May 12 presentation in New York City, and retail for $199. The device leverages Sprint's expanding 4G network to provide bandwidth-intensive features such as video chat, and features a 1GHz Snapdragon processor for powering games and other multimedia applications.

Sprint likely hopes that a successful smartphone will allow it to reverse its steady customer and revenue erosion over the past few months; in the fourth quarter of 2009, the carrier lost some 148,000 subscribers, a good deal less than the 545,000 lost during the third quarter of that year.

The HTC Evo 4G runs Android 2.1, with Sprint boasting access to more than 35,000 apps on the Android Market. During Hesse's presentation, the device's integration with Google features was immediately apparent; two Sprint executives used the phone to take snapshots of a book cover showing the nearby Guggenheim Museum, and then used Google Goggles-which conducts searches based on images-to suss out the exact location.

"You get the full Internet," one of the executives said as an aside, while Web surfing-an allusion to the smartphone's support for Adobe Flash, which is used to run many Websites' rich content. Over the past few months, the tech world has been inflamed over Apple's refusal to support Flash for its mobile devices-a strategic move that other companies, including HTC and Hewlett-Packard, have attempted to use as a competitive differentiator for their own products.

The HTC Evo 4G can utilize 3G networks, but many of its features seem especially keyed toward the theoretical high speeds of 4G. Besides the high-quality video streaming and downloading that Sprint has chosen to highlight in its promotional materials, the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera can be leveraged for video chat; and a Spring Navigation feature provides 3D maps and step-by-step driving directions.

Sprint first introduced the HTC Evo 4G during March's CTIA Wireless 2010 convention in Las Vegas, using a high-profile press conference to show off the 4.3-inch capacitive touch screen as the ideal way to watch multimedia content while on the move. At the time, however, key details of the device-such as pricing and a release date-were being kept under wraps.

Sprint currently offers 4G capability in 27 markets, with plans to extend to Houston, Boston, Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco by the end of 2010. In order to build out the network, Sprint plans on investing more than $1 billion in WiMax technology, which Dan Hesse admitted could be soon eclipsed by LTE.

"WiMax was a tried, true, tested 4G technology," Hesse told an audience during his CTIA keynote March 24. "LTE will likely be the larger of the two 4G standards, but for us, we couldn't wait. Because of our spectrum position, we have the option to add other technologies later, but this allows us to get into the technology quickly."

First to market, Hesse added, was of the essence of his company's 4G strategy: "That is our competitive position."

Success for the phone itself, though, is a more complex proposition.

"All the reports are that the Evo 4G is a great little machine," Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, wrote in a March 25 e-mail to eWEEK. "I'm thinking that what HTC needs is more (and better positioned) carriers. Success in the phone business is denominated in tens of millions of units. I don't think the Evo (or any phone, really, short of the iPhone) is enough to boost Sprint out of the doldrums."

Other analysts suggested that the Evo 4G, despite its powerful hardware, has a chance of succeeding only if it leverages those capabilities in a way that ultimately appeals to a broad range of customers.

"Sprint's new 4G Mobile WiMax device will only really come into its own when it has a variety of applications that take advantage of the faster speeds of 4G, and that will take time," Mike Roberts, an analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media, wrote in a March 24 research note.