Sprint's EVO 4G in 4G Country (Washington State): Not So Fast

Tacoma

I parked my car in downtown Tacoma, Washington, and set up shop in a Starbucks in the ground floor of a city office building there. I had a little trouble getting the phone to connect with the 4G network, but after I stepped outside and played with the EVO’s wireless settings a little, the 4G symbol appeared on the screen. Next, I drove down by the water at the Port of Tacoma and parked in a small strip mall across the street from the docks--and picked up 4G immediately, on both the EVO 4G phone and the Sprint Overdrive hotspot that I used to connect my laptop.

City Center, Tacoma, Washington.
In downtown Tacoma, the YouTube HQ video took perhaps 5 seconds to load. When it did the picture contained some rather large, square-shaped artifacting, and the sound and video did not seem to be synced perfectly. At the port, the video looked better: The artifacting was smaller and less widespread, and the syncing issue I noticed downtown seemed to have disappeared. The video still didn’t look like high-quality, high-definition video, but it was certainly watchable.

Testing the Qik app, I initiated a live stream from the EVO and waited for the stream to display at the Qik site running in a browser on my laptop. And waited. After a few minutes I gave up. The stream may have been uploading to the Qik servers from the phone, but it was not making the return trip down through the 4G network to the Sprint Overdrive hotspot. The same thing happened when I tried initiating a stream from across town at the Port of Tacoma. The phone appeared to be shooting and sending a stream, but I couldn't monitor it on the laptop.

When I used the Layar augmented reality app in downtown Tacoma to detect eateries nearby, results populated the screen quickly, but surprisingly few little hamburger-and-French-fries symbols (used to signify restaurants in the area) showed up on the screen.

At the Port of Tacoma, the 4G-connected Layar app quickly detected the two or three restaurants in the small strip mall in back of me. Using the app to detect tweets being sent by people in the area, I didn’t come up with much--evidently, dockworkers and fry cooks don’t tweet much.

So far, I was not very impressed by 4G. On to Seattle.

Seattle

The Space Needle and downtown Seattle, as seen from my testing location on the shore of Lake Union.
I tested my set of three apps at four locations in Seattle: near the Space Needle, in the central business district (tall buildings), at the edge of Lake Union, and at the University of Washington campus. At the Space Needle and Lake Union locations, I had trouble keeping the EVO phone connected to the 4G network consistently. I sometimes succeeded in reconnecting with 4G by manually instructing the phone in its settings menu to reconnect--a trick that seemed to work best outside--but in other cases the phone, after having lapsed into 3G mode, could not reconnect with 4G.

In all Seattle locations, however, I could test the YouTube HQ video in 4G mode. The video continued to look watchable by Internet video standards, but it still contained some pixelation and didn’t move in the fluid way that you see in true high-def video. In my first two testing locations in downtown Seattle, the video showed smaller pixelation and less jitter than it did from my Union Lake and University of Washington locations. The video I watched looked somewhat better at all four of my Seattle locations than it did at either of my Tacoma locations earlier in the day.

I had a hard time with the Qik live video app in all four of my Seattle testing spots. I noted a delay of at least 5 seconds between the initiation of the recording on the phone and the display of the video at the Qik site running in a browser on my laptop. And after the video started playing in the laptop, it often stalled a few seconds later. Once it began running again, the delay between the live stream and what I saw on the laptop was significant--usually 7 to 10 seconds but sometimes as much as 20 seconds. With performance like that, I have to wonder how well videoconferencing among smartphones connected on the 4G network will work.

In this screenshot from the HTC 4G phone, the Layar app detects Twitter users in the area, and displays their pictures and their tweets. The phone did this very quickly in good 4G coverage areas.
The Layar app worked very well in Seattle, immediately detecting and displaying information about numerous food places in my testing areas. I could also detect and display the tweets of nearby Twitter users, but in most locations their profile pictures failed to register and overlay on the horizon (as viewed through the camera of the EVO phone). On the University of Washington campus, however, the Layar app was truly impressive. The app immediately registered perhaps 50 tweets in the general area, and immediately displayed the profile pics of the tweeters superimposed on their locations on campus.

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