NEW YORK Sprint Nextel, the No.3 U.S. mobile service, is hoping to turn heads next month with the EVO 4G LTE, an HTC Corp phone with an advanced camera, a big screen, a high-speed wireless connection and crisper voice call quality.
However the device may not immediately support fast data services and the new sound technology as it is expected to hit store shelves before Sprint launches services based on a multi-billion-dollar network upgrade it plans to kick off around mid-year.
The EVO 4G LTE will have much of the same technology HTC is putting into phones that rivals AT&T Inc and T-Mobile USA plan to sell, but Sprint is hoping that its popular EVO brand and some design changes will help make the device a hit.
Fared Adib, Sprint's vice president for product development told Reuters that it made sense for Sprint to stick with the EVO brand as the company has sold 7 million EVO devices in the roughly two years since its first launch.
The latest device, which customers will be able to pre-order for $199.99 starting on May 7, comes which a 4.7 inch display. It also comes with an 8 megapixel camera with features that are more often found in high-end cameras than smartphones.
For example, the phone's camera can take multiple shots when the user presses a button once, a feature known as continuous shooting. It can also capture still photographs even when the camera is in video mode.
"It's something professional photographers will appreciate, but everyday photographers will also want it," Adib said.
Adib would not give the phone's exact launch date but said that the company typically launches its devices a few weeks after pre-orders begin.
The phone will support a new high-speed fourth generation (4G) service Sprint is building into its network with a technology known as Long Term Evolution. Sprint is investing $7 billion on LTE, which is expecting to increase data speeds by about 10 times its older network.
Sprint plans to launch LTE services in its first markets around the middle of 2012, according to its president of network operations, Steve Elfman, who told Reuters at a Sprint event that LTE network support "will follow" soon after the phone launch.
While this may disappoint some customers, looking to immediately take advantage of the phone's faster speeds, Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart said it may not hurt sales too much.
"Would you buy a 3G Sprint phone with a two-year contract when you know that it's about to move to 4G?" he asked.
The same will be the case with the device's so-called High Definition (HD) voice capability, which Sprint may be the first to launch in the U.S. market. HD voice makes calls clearer and reduces the amount of background noise, according to Sprint.
The technology will work once Sprint has upgraded its network and will also require both customers to have phones supporting HD Voice.
Ovum analyst Jan Dawson said that the phone should help Sprint hold the interest of its existing customers who are looking to upgrade their phone to the next new thing.
But he added, "I don't think there's anything in this phone that will make customers move from another carrier."
(Reporting By Sinead Carew; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Matt Driskill)