Is Sprint's network ready for the HTC EVO 4G?

HTC EVO 4G review scores won't come until the summer, but skeptics are already questioning Sprint's data coverage map.

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    Without HTC EVO 4G review units, it's hard to tell if Sprint can live up to its data promises.
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Sprint took many people by surprise when it unveiled the HTC EVO 4G this week. The upcoming smart phone is attractive, powerful, and will take advantage of Sprint's next-generation 4G data network.

But is 4G ready? Sprint insists that its 4G towers are already up and running in 27 cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Portland, and Seattle. That covers 30 million potential customers. By the time the HTC EVO 4G goes on sale this summer, Sprint will wire more cities – with the hope of quadrupling its coverage by the end of the year.

"But given Sprint's spotty history with WiMAX, who knows if the company will deliver on those promises?" writes PCMag.com, in an article headlined "Don't Buy '4G' Phones for 4G Features – Yet." "Since we don't know for sure, we would strongly recommend prospective customers who don't already have 4G coverage to look at Sprint's data coverage map. Assume for a moment that your city won't get 4G, and the HTC EVO 4G becomes a less interesting prospect."

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Sprint's map won't tell the whole story. AT&T stumbled in several cities when its 3G network could not handle the increased demand of iPhones. Monitor colleague Matthew Shaer says that in his Brooklyn neighborhood "one out of every two of our [iPhone] calls is dropped, usually after less than 15 minutes. Data works well in most places, but dead zones abound, and one can often find oneself walking a full city block before 3G service resumes." Without thorough, independent testing, it's hard to tell if Sprint will hit similar problems. HTC EVO 4G review units won't come out for months now.

Of course even if 4G service falls through, the HTC phone will revert to perfectly adequate 3G. In fact, even if you're not living in a 4G city, the EVO has a lot to offer: a lovely 4.3-inch touch screen, Android operating system, and two cameras – one for photos, one for video calls. You are signing a two-year contract, after all. Perhaps Sprint will reach your hometown before your 24 months are up.

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