Sprint EVO 4G Sluggish in Northwest

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Oregon State Capital Building
The Oregon State Capital Building in Salem, Oregon.
On Friday afternoon, I drove 45 miles south from Portland to the Oregon state capital, Salem. Leaving Portland I noted that the EVO 4G continued to pick up a strong 4G signal as I moved south toward Salem. I continued checking and found that 4G was available on the freeway for nearly 20 miles outside Portland. In one location, the phone clocked one of the highest 4G speeds of any of my tests (almost 3 mbps). As I drove, I clicked on the high-resolution YouTube video and observed that its quality, while not quite HD, was as good as that of any streamed video I’d seen in the previous two days. I continued to pick up the 4G signal until I was about halfway to Salem.

The Sprint GPS service running on the EVO 4G took me directly to city center, to the Oregon State Capital building, where I parked the car and began testing. I had begun connecting with 4G service shortly after I got off the freeway and headed into town. When I parked the car it was still on, and the Overdrive hotspot established a 4G connection immediately. Unfortunately, the speeds weren’t very impressive. The EVO 4G connected at a download speed of 1.5 mbps--a good speed for 3G, but pedestrian for 4G. The Overdrive didn’t do much better: Its downlink speed was about 1.8 mbps.

Salem Map
My testing locations in Salem, Oregon (from left to right): State Capital Building, Salem Airport, Oregon State Hospital.
Elsewhere in Salem, I had less success connecting the EVO to 4G. First I drove across town to the Oregon State Hospital, but couldn't connect the EVO 4G to the 4G network even after turning 4G off and on in the phone’s settings (this trick had worked before). Oddly, the Overdrive couldn't connect with 4G either. Abandoning that test location, I drove to a Kmart parking lot near the Salem Airport, where I succeeded in connecting the EVO to 4G, but only after walking around the parking lot, turning the phone’s 4G radio on and off. The Overdrive connected immediately at the airport. But again, the download speeds I saw were unimpressive: 970 kbps (not quite 1 mbps) on the EVO, and 1.5 mpbs on the Overdrive.

Predictably, the high-quality YouTube video I watched in Salem wasn’t perfect. Though the video was watchable at both the State Capital and the Airport locations, I noticed some minor artifacting and jitter--not enough to ruin the experience, but lacking the smooth, fluid look of HD video.

Surprisingly, at both of the 4G locations in Salem, the Qik live video app worked better than it did in most of my other Pacific Northwest city test locations. The live video stream (shot from the EVO phone) popped up on the Qik site (on my 4G-connected laptop) after only about 3 or 4 seconds. At the capitol building, the delay after the video began streaming was only about 3 to 4 seconds, which ranked as one of the best performances I saw from the Qik app anywhere in the Northwest. With that short a delay time, I could almost imagine what viable video conferencing might be like in 4G--but it was still a stretch. At the Salem airport, the delay between the live video and its display on the site lengthened to 7 or 8 seconds.

At both Salem locations, the Layar app registered nearby eateries--with directory information--after a few seconds of delay. Searching for nearby tweeters, the app needed a few seconds to detect them (displaying them as blue bubbles on the horizon), and then another few seconds to display their profile pictures.

Day-Two Conclusions

Many people in the media have been waiting for the release of the “first 4G phone.” We were thrilled at the look and feel of the HTC EVO 4G phone when it stole the show at CTIA this year, and we hoped that this powerful phone running on the first available 4G network (Clearwire) would represent a quantum leap forward in mobile computing.

Alas, after two days of using the phone in 4G country in the Northwest, I have the sense that the great phone is still looking for a great network. The Clearwire 4G network is definitely faster than the Sprint 3G network, but my tests suggest that it’s not 10 times as fast, nor as fast as advertised, nor fast enough to usher in a new wave of high-bandwidth mobile apps (such as videoconferencing). At this point anyway, the 4G signal will merely make the apps you already use in 3G run marginally faster. No revolution here yet.

Stay tuned for the final article in this series, which will explore the specific connection speeds I recorded on the EVO during my two days in the Northwest.

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