Motorola Photon 4G vs. HTC EVO 3D

Introduction and Design

For as long as the modern smartphone has been around HTC has been the go-to manufacturer when Sprint wanted a top-tier device.  At first it was with Windows Mobile phones like the Touch Diamond and Touch Pro 2 and as the market shifted towards Android so too did HTC with offerings like the Hero and EVO 4G.  You could probably even say that as HTC shifted towards Android so did the market, but there was another manufacturer who had both a major influence on the proliferation of Android and was conspicuously absent from Sprint’s lineup: Motorola.

Last year HTC’s EVO 4G really only had competition from the Motorola Droid X in the Android world (Samsung’s pure Google Nexus S came pretty late in the year) but they were on competing networks so users didn’t have an easy choice between the two.  As usual, Sprint and HTC brought out the heavy artillery in June with the EVO 3D, a dual-core beast with third dimension capabilities.  But this year there is a new player; Sprint and Motorola have renewed their partnership and the first major device from the two is the Photon 4G, another dual core beast with specs that can give the EVO 3D a run for its money.  Which 4.3” qHD superphone is right for you?  Read on to find out…


Despite both being pretty even in dimensions and both being black slabs with a large display, four capacitive buttons below and a camera on the back, the two devices are both uniquely HTC and Motorola.  It is a credit to both of their design teams that the personalities of the two companies can shine through in each of these products.

For HTC it starts with the circular capacitive buttons, now a hallmark of the EVO family.  The deep black is contrasted nicely by silver milled aluminum buttons, the shiny HTC logo and of course the signature HTC-red camera trim.  The design is modern but classic, with nothing but the finest materials and top-notch craftsmanship.

Motorola’s Photon 4G, on the other hand, manages to be a bit more in your face.  It is not as bold as the DROID devices, but the aggressive angular lines remain.  The display housing and surrounding trim are a dark silver, shiny enough to stand out but dark enough to be elegant.  The bright silver kickstand jumps out against the flat black battery door but the edges are tapered so as to fit comfortably in your hand.

Both devices are large but they manage to mask their size with good design.  We like the textured back and red trim of the HTC but appreciate the overall feel of the Photon 4G.  This category really comes down to personal preference, but you’re going to get an excellent product either way.

Both displays are 4.3” qHD.  The EVO 3D of course has 3D (stereoscopic) capabilities, but they aren’t incorporated into anything but multimedia (movies, pictures and games.)  There are no 3D elements to the user interface and so far there aren’t many 3D apps out there either.  Some users appreciate it more than others, but for us when it works it is like a magic eye picture and it is impressive.   That said it’s still a novelty.

The Photon, on the other hand, eschews novelty for quality.  Its qHD panel is brilliantly bright and crisp and is the clear winner when put next to the EVO 3D.  The viewing angle is a touch better, colors are more vivid and the screen really stands out against the phone.  With the EVO 3D it is very good, but tends to blend in more with the hardware.  The added brightness make it slightly better to read in bright lighting conditions, although both will ultimately fade out in strong, direct light.  If 3D movies aren’t a top priority than the Photon 4G is the choice.

Motorola Photon 4G 360-degrees View:

HTC EVO 3D 360-degrees View:


Motorola uses an NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual core processor running at 1GHz and GeForce graphics processor.  HTC has opted for the third generation (S3) dual core Qualcomm MSM 8660 running at 1.2GHz with an Adreno 220 GPU.  While the Tegra 2 processors are quite powerful, the S3 Snapdragons with the Adreno 220 are the best of the best right now.  Not only does it run faster, but since the native speed is actually 1.5GHz we have a feeling there will be much more to get out of them as user development gets underway.  We’ve already seen the EVO 3D overclocked to 2GHz before the phone had proper root and an unlocked bootloader.  Advantage: EVO 3D.

The EVO 3D has 4GB total with about 1GB available for app storage, whereas the Photon 4G has 16 total, 2.75GB for apps and another 9GB available for general storage.  Both phones will accept 32GB microSD.

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Both the HTC EVO 3D and Motorola Photon 4G run Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but the Photon is slightly newer by being 2.3.4 whereas the EVO 3D is 2.3.3.  That matters little as neither support Google Talk video chat.  The Photon 4G is running a modified version of Motorola’s “don’t call it Blur” UI and SprintID.  You’ll find the same Motorola widgets, the same Motorola skinning of many core apps and the same unified messaging and social networking services as on past Motorola devices.  The widgets are ok, the rest we could do without.  Thankfully the dock can be customized with three apps of your choice, plus the SprintID app.  This lets the user download various skins or themes for the device, but in reality offers little to nothing on a device like this.

HTC’s Sense continues to be the best Android skin in our opinion, and version 3.0 is better than ever.   For starters the lock screen is actually functional, letting the user select four apps that can be launched by dragging them to the unlock ring.  Messages, emails and calendar events pop up right on the lock screen as well adding more functionality to it.  The overall interface incorporates HTC’s vast portfolio of widgets (over 70 and counting) and their skin goes deep into the UI.  Where other manufacturers mostly skin the core apps, HTC Sense actually makes them better than the stock Android experience by adding functionality with an emphasis in interconnectivity.  For instance, viewing a contact is a hub for all of the information you need on them: their contact details, Facebook updates and photos, text message and email history and so on.  We love  some stock Android around here, but if it’s not pure Google then give us HTC Sense.

The better processor and GPU come into play here as well.  Despite the much more memory and graphic intensive nature of Sense, the EVO 3D managed to outperform the Photon 4G in real world performance.  It’s not that the Photon was slow, it’s just that the EVO 3D managed to be faster while providing a much more graphically rich experience.


If 3D matters to you than the EVO is your phone, but if not then read on for a more detailed comparison.  The EVO 3D uses dual 5MP cameras to capture its 3D images, but of course can shoot in 2D mode as well with just one of those cameras.  We found results to be above average but not spectacular for a device of this nature.  Under proper lighting conditions results were quite good but it did not do so well in low light situations.  HTC offers a lot of control with the camera, which we appreciate.  It can shoot videos in 720p, but like past HTC devices isn’t very good at doing so.

The 8-megapixel camera on the Motorola Photon 4G takes decidedly better images than the EVO 3D with plenty of detail and accurate color reproduction.  It loses some of its luster in low light situations despite the dual LED flash, but this is a phone not a camera so we can’t dock it too much.  HD video capture at 720p was much better than the EVO 3D.  The one drawback is that there is very little user adjustment with Motorola’s camera software so what you have is pretty much what you get.

Motorola Photon 4G Sample Video:

HTC EVO 3D Sample Video:


Both devices handle all types and resolutions of video we threw at them.  The EVO 3D has the advantage of being able to play 3D content.  For those who have problems with 3D pictures, they found the movie mode to be much more pleasing.

Motorola and HTC have included more comprehensive music players than the stock options.  The HTC player holds true to the Sense philosophy with sliding “tabs” along the bottom for artists, albums, playlists, songs, genres and composers.  With SRS sound was actually pretty good from the single speaker in the back and was equally good thorough headphones.

Motorola’s music player incorporates your library, podcasts, internet radio and FM radio into the interface, so it wins points for easy convergence.  It interestingly pulled its own artist images for our music library.  The Photon 4G’s speaker is louder than the EVO 3D, but the EVO had better quality sound.  The Motorola player has suggested internet radio stations, YouTube videos and news articles based on what you’re listening to.  In terms of overall layout they are both good, but the Motorola Photon 4G offers a more comprehensive experience from all media angles.

All of that said, neither support Google Music Beta and we found ourselves installing the inferior music  player on both devices for the convenience of streaming our music from the cloud.

Performance and Conclusion:

Both phones performed very well in call quality, so you really can’t go wrong either way.  The Photon has the better battery rating, but with either device you should be able to get a full day of use unless you’re a heavy power user.

There is no clear cut winner in this battle and it seems that HTC will finally have some real competition on Sprint .  The Motorola Photon 4G is a very capable device with a brilliant screen and lots of horsepower.  Its 8MP camera produced very good results and the battery is the best we’ve seen from an Android device on Sprint.

The HTC EVO 3D on the other hand has an added element- or should we say dimension - that so far no one can compete with.  The 3D remains a novelty for most though so luckily HTC has packed some real power under the hood with an S3 Snapdragon and Adreno 220 GPU.  Sense 3.0 is the best Android experience this side of Mountain View and HTC has again managed to put their touch on another iconic phone.

You can’t really go wrong either way, but if we were choosing we’d pick the EVO 3D.  It wasn’t the best at everything, but it has the better user experience, more advanced components and HTC has always been more developer friendly.  What may eventually set these two phones apart is what comes out of XDA, and for our money the EVO 3D has a lot more potential.  We’re excited to see Motorola back in the fray at Sprint though and expect some wonderful products in the future.

Motorola Photon 4G vs. HTC EVO 3D:

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