Eyes-on with glasses-free HTC Evo 3D smartphoneIt runs 3D games, plays 3D movies, and even shoots video and snaps pictures in 3D—all without glasses. Meet the HTC Evo 3D, sure to be one of the hottest smartphones of the summer.

Billed as the first glasses-free 3D phone in the U.S., the Evo 3D went on sale through Sprint on Friday, and for the past few days I’ve been taking the jumbo-sized phone for a test drive. So, is a no-glasses-required 3D display the next must-have feature in smartphones? Read on.

Available for $199 with a two-year contract through Sprint (unlimited voice and data bundles start at $79 a month, including a $10/month “premium” data fee), the Evo 3D packs in most of the features you’d expect in a cutting-edge Android phone.

Armed with a massive 4.3-inch screen (compared to just 3.5 inches diagonally for the iPhone), a state-of-the-art dual-core processor (“dual-core” basically means two processors on a single chip, good for faster and more efficient performance), support for Sprint’s speedy 4G WiMax network, and a front-facing camera for video chat, the Evo 3D will certainly hold its own against such high-profile Android competitors as the Motorola Atrix, the Samsung Infuse and HTC’s own Sensation.

Eyes-on with glasses-free HTC Evo 3D smartphone

A sample 3D shot in the Evo's photo gallery; notice the double-image look you'll get if you're viewing from the wrong angle.

But let’s jump right to the good stuff—namely, the Evo’s 3D-capable display, which uses similar technology to that of the recent Nintendo 3DS gaming handheld for its glasses-free 3D effect.

(Note: It goes without saying that my 2D photos of the Evo don’t do justice to the phone’s 3D display … but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway.)

Unlike the 3DS and its eye-popping 3D menus, however, the Evo 3D’s home screen is stuck in 2D—and indeed, you’ll have to go digging around in the phone to find any 3D images or videos to gaze upon, so don’t be surprised if your first look at the phone’s roomy display feels disappointingly flat.

That said, just open the Evo 3D’s picture gallery app and you’ll find about a dozen artificial-looking 3D snapshots. They’re interesting, all right, but also very much in the vein of those old 3D View-Masters—that is, rather than having a real sense of depth, these sample shots look like a series of cardboard cutouts, one placed in front of the other.

Eyes-on with glasses-free HTC Evo 3D smartphone

The Evo 3D's stereoscopic, dual-lens camera, complete with a control for switching the camera to 2D mode.

Much better are the 3D photos you can take with the Evo’s dual-lens, five-megapixel camera, which you can view directly (and perhaps only, depending on whether you own a 3D TV) on the phone’s display. But while the 3D shots I took with the Evo looked a little more “real” in terms of depth perception, the images themselves looked fuzzy and washed out—mainly because each eye must split the full resolution of the full five-megapixel 3D image.

Another serious problem inherent in glasses-free 3D displays is that you must hold the phone at precisely the right angle for the 3D effect to work; angle the phone’s screen the wrong way by a degree or so, and your snapshot will turn into a flat mess of double images.

Same goes with the Evo’s 3D video camera, unfortunately—yes, you may notice a reasonable sense of depth, but don’t expect a razor-sharp image, and careful not to move your head.

Eyes-on with glasses-free HTC Evo 3D smartphone

It's hard to appreciate the depth of the 3D image in "The Green Hornet" on the Evo 3D's 4.3-inch screen.

The Evo 3D also comes loaded with a 3D movie: “The Green Hornet,” starring Seth Rogan. I admit, I didn’t sit through the whole thing (sorry, life’s too short), but I scanned to a few of the actions scenes.

How did they look? Well, fine, I guess; sure, I noticed the dual machine guns popping dramatically out of the Hornet-mobile’s hood, and I saw some loose fenders flying directly at my head.

But as big as the Evo 3D’s 4.3-inch display is, at least as far as smartphones are concerned, the screen is simply too small to get that “holy cow, I’m right there with them!” feeling that you do in the theater. Ultimately, I didn’t feel the novelty of 3D was enjoyable enough to make up for the necessary loss of image quality.

Finally, I tried GameLoft’s 3D “Spider-Man” game, which comes pre-loaded with the Evo 3D—and again, the 3D effect had a cardboard cut-out View-Master appearance to it, not to mention jagged-looking graphics thanks to the loss of image resolution.

Eyes-on with glasses-free HTC Evo 3D smartphone

Gameloft's "Spider-Man," complete with a touch control for tuning the 3D effect.

Thankfully, “Spider-Man” comes with a control for turning down the 3D effect—yet the feature only points out the lack of an actual 3D display control on the Evo itself. (The Nintendo 3DS does have a 3D hardware slider, handy for turning the 3D look down, or even all the way off, once your eyes have had enough.)

Of course, you could always get the HTC Evo 3D and never bother with its 3D features, and indeed, it seems like a perfectly fine phone based on my brief test drive—peppy, with a razor-sharp display in two dimensions, and running on the latest version of Android (2.3 Gingerbread, for those in the know). And at $199 with a two-year contract, the Evo 3D’s price tag is on a par with other Android smartphones in its class.

But if you’re asking me whether I think the Evo’s glasses-free 3D display is a life-changing or otherwise essential feature, well … no, it’s not—and unfortunately, the Evo suffers from a lack of truly impressive 3D games or other content. (The Nintendo 3DS, on the other hand, has the benefit of some pretty impressive games up its sleeves.)

Have any questions about the HTC Evo 3D, or any experiences of your own to share? Let me know!

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