Sprint's Evo 4G Could Be a Good Fit for Business Users

News Analysis: Sprint's new HTC Evo 4G smartphone can do a lot, but you have to decide if what it can do matches your business wireless needs. Factor in whether 4G services are available in your area and whether the device's reportedly limited battery life will handle your enterprise mobility chores.

Sprint's June 4 launch of its HTC Evo 4G smartphone is attended by more than the usual hype because it's the first 4G device to be introduced in the United States.

This Android 2.1-based phone uses Sprint's new, and still incomplete, 4G network as well as its widely available 3G network. The device comes with a ton of features, a couple of which might be useful to business users.

But whether Sprint's Evo 4G is useful to you and your company depends on many factors, not the least of which is whether the phone is something you actually need. The Evo 4G does have some capabilities that make it attractive. For example, it can work as a hot spot for up to eight WiFi devices using its 4G capability to provide decent throughput to the Internet or your company's network.

The Evo 4G also can support video conferencing through its front-mounted camera; and because it's an Android 2.1 device it'll support your corporate e-mail. But whether this constitutes a reason to drop everything and start buying Evo 4Gs for your company is another matter entirely.

To some, the decision is fairly obvious. "It's always viewed that more throughput is better," said analyst Craig Mathias. According to Mathias, principal of Farpoint Group, better bandwidth should also mean better capacity, and it should be there when you need to do something like download a big presentation.

Capacity can turn out to be a huge issue for some carriers. AT&T, for example, has started a usage-based pricing model for its data plans as a way to help it deal with capacity issues caused by the Apple iPhone. Sprint, with its existing 3G and new 4G networks, both of which support the Evo 4G, has more ways to provide capacity.

But Mathias noted that there are other factors companies need to consider when thinking about a move to a 4G device. The first is whether Sprint has 4G service in the area where you plan to use the device. If it doesn't, and your area isn't scheduled to have 4G available in the immediate future, you could be paying for a capability you don't need. Likewise, if you don't think you're going to need the built-in video conferencing or the hot-spot capability, you could save money elsewhere.

But a 4G phone could also make sense. "If customers have coverage where they need to communicate, and if they believe that the technology has a future across their depreciation horizon, and if the price is right, then yes, absolutely," Mathias said.

In general, there's a lot to say for the Evo 4G. Sprint has priced the 3G/4G data plan at a reasonable level, and it offers "unlimited everything." In addition, while the universe of Android applications isn't as broad as it is for the iPhone, it's still pretty broad. What's more important is that you can use third-party and custom-developed applications without having to have the manufacturer's blessing.

While your company may not routinely need 4G speeds in day-to-day operations, there may well be times when the capability is necessary. This is especially true of the WiFi hot-spot support, when it might be the only means available of getting to the Internet at conferences, meetings or when your ISP is down.

But there will be tradeoffs. Mathias suggested that hand-held video conferencing is both a security issue and likely to make people on the other end seasick. Likewise, all of these capabilities have tradeoffs in terms of things like battery life. It's likely that users will have to be more deeply involved in managing the services that their phones are using at any one time than they're used to so they can get the phone to stay alive long enough.

Power management aside, the Evo 4G is clearly aimed at beating the iPhone at media streaming, video quality and ease of use. While it may seem that most of its features are meant for entertainment and consumer applications, the same can also be said of the iPhone. But you'll notice that the iPhone is becoming ubiquitous in corporate life.

So does the Evo 4G make sense for your company? The answer is probably yes, if you have or will soon be getting 4G service in your area. But as is the case with most smartphones, it doesn't make sense for everyone. For users who primarily use their smartphones for e-mail, for example, perhaps something with a physical keyboard makes more sense. For applications where security is a huge issue, then you'll need to pick something that fits your security needs.

But there's a lot that can be said for the capabilities of the Evo 4G, at least for some business users, and in some business circumstances. It's reasonably priced, the data plan is reasonable and, except for problems with battery life, it appears to be a good device. And the extra bandwidth can't hurt-especially if it ensures that you'll have the capacity you need.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...