Samsung Epic 4G Review

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As we’ve mentioned in the past, Samsung’s Galaxy S series of devices are a really big deal for the company. They represent the best engineering the company can muster both in terms of hardware and software for a smartphone device.

This is the third installment of Samsung’s Galaxy S superphone (not including the unlocked European version), and reinforces the likelihood that Samsung will have a Galaxy S on every U.S. carrier by the holiday season of 2010. Read on for our full review of the Sprint Samsung Epic 4G!

BOX CONTENTS

The box the phone comes in is conspicuously small. Breaking from Google’s plain-and-simple packaging, devoid of “clutter”, Sprint’s packaging is a bit more “busy”. The front of the box sports the Sprint logo, a picture of the phone with keyboard extended, the name of the phone, and the Galaxy S heritage. Overlaid across all those are some graphical elements including various social networking icons. Three of the four sides contain a few logos, or nothing at all. The top-side holds a sticker with various numbers and barcodes. The bottom of the box is filled with text describing box contents, fine print, and various logos.

Once inside the box you’ll find two “Getting Started” guides (one in English and one in Spanish), an “Important Sprint Information” booklet, and a registration/survey solicitation card, all nestled in their own box with a convenient pull-tab to help get to the phone below.

Sitting beneath that you’ll find the phone, complete with pull-tab to help you get the phone into your hands as quickly as possible. We’ll talk about the phone a little later.

In the bottom you’ll find an A/C power adapter (or “wall wart”) with USB port on the side. This wart is two-pronged (no ground) and very compact — impressively compact. You should’t have any problem fitting this into your surge-strip or PDU (power distribution unit). To recharge the phone and for connecting to your computer is a USB to microUSB cable.

Also included is a pair of in-ear headphones with three sizes of “squishies” to fit your ears just right. They also serve as a hands-free headset with inline microphone and mute-button.

Almost as an afterthought, Samsung included a microsd to sdcard adapter. While this isn’t absolutely necessary to the operation of the device, it makes adding files or transferring pictures and videos to your computer easy. While you can do this via the USB cable, it may be easier in certain circumstances to use an sdcard than mount a USB device.

HARDWARE

slider open front

slider open back

It’s likely the biggest draw to this phone is its slide-out keyboard. The slider mechanism is spring-assisted to easy opening and closing. Despite this addition, the phone is still very thin.

soft buttons

The Android buttons (menu, home, back, and search) are at the4 bottom of the screen, and like the Nexus One are the buttons are “virtual”. Unlike the Nexus One the buttons are all but hidden when the screen is off.

back

The back of the phone is clean with an “inverted chin” on the bottom which makes the phone easier to hold and operate one-handed.

inside

Inside the phone you’ll find a 1500mAh battery and microsd slot, which is accessible without removing the battery. Included with our review phone was a 16GB class 2 microsdhc card.

top

On the top of the phone you’ll find the microUSB port and 3.5mm headphone/headset jack. The door over microUSB port is a nuisance and you’ll likely just leave it open rather than fight it open and closed.

Width: 2.6 inches

Depth: 0.6 inches

Height: 4.9 inches

Weight: 5.5 ounces

Screen: 4 inch, 800 x 480, Super AMOLED, 24-bit (16.7 million colors)

Keyboard: on-screen (Sywpe); slide-out QWERTY, grid-arrangement, spring-assisted mechanism

Processor: 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird

RAM: 512MB

ROM: 512MB

Storage: microsdhc slot, capable of 32GB; comes with a class 2 16GB card

Battery: 1500 mAh, Lithium ion

Wireless data:

– IEEE 802.11b/g/n

– Bluetooth 2.1 EDR

– 4G WiMAX

– Sprint 3G

– Hotspot host capability (up to five clients)

SOFTWARE

The Epic 4G comes with Android 2.1, on top of which Samsung has added their own custom Touch Wiz launcher which is quick and easy to use, but places your icons on titles, which is a little too iPhoney, in my opinion. It’s easy enough to swap out Touch Wiz for your favorite launcher, or even the stock Android launcher, if you so desire.

Sprint has a Football (professional and college) app, as well as a NASCAR app. Both are full of stats, scores, news, and all kinds of other information that sports-fans will like. Neither are very well written, failing to take advantage of Android’s capabilities. Each app requires significant wait-time while each new page of data in the app loaded. I was expecting an experience like that of the Android Market: elegant, refined, smooth scrolling, and intelligent loading of data as the page is scrolled — unfortunately that’s not the case with these apps.

Sprint Navigation is the Sprint equivalent of Google Maps Navigation. I prefer Google’s version over Sprint’s, but Sprint’s does what you would expect.

Since the Epic 4G isn’t running Android 2.2 Froyo (yet?), they include Sprint Hotspot, which is a hotspot app that can serve an internet connection over WiFi to up to 5 clients using your phone’s 3G or 4G connection. Froyo has this capability built-in, so we might see this app go away when and if Froyo is pushed to this phone.

Sprint TV is the potential “killer app” for this phone. I say “potential” because it fails miserably. The content isn’t searchable and is poorly organized. The majority of the content is teasers or clips of episodes (there is no option to “show only full-episodes”). The video quality is decent, but no where near what you’d be able to watch on your HDTV via the optional HDMI cable. And, get ready for this one, you are forced to turn off WiFi while using this app. (Watch the Software Review video for my rant about this.) However, you do have “premium channels” that you can pay an extra monthly fee to get, which has the potential to replace whatever paid TV service you’re using at home — once you can stream over WiFi, and output HD to your TV.

In short, don’t let the Sprint apps be an enticement to buy this phone over some other phone.

CAMERA

The Epic 4G comes with a very functional away-facing camera. At 5.0 megapixels with an LED flash, image stabilisation, and video recording at 720p, this is a VERY formidable camera! The audio recorded along with HD video is nothing short of remarkable (see the video below to see what I mean).

camera

Just below the 5-megapixel still, 720p video camera is an LED flash which helps when taking pictures in low light.

side power camera

The camera has a physical button, something missing from the Nexus One. Pressing the power button when in the camera app “locks” the camera app so other button presses are ignored. This was very useful.

There is a front-facing camera, but Fring couldn’t “see” it, so I was unable to test any sort of video calling.

CALL QUALITY

Call quality and voice network availability was clear and consistent regardless of my environment or location. Although I could not see a second microphone for active noise-cancellation, everyone I talked to said my voice was clear and crisp, with no noticeable background noise.

PERFORMANCE

This is the fastest phone I have every used. Hands down. Boot times are quick. Wake from sleep is instantaneous. Screens scroll smoothly, even when running high-CPU Live Wallpapers.

NETWORK SPEED

Sprint 3G speeds are laughable. I consistently got around 300kbps download speeds over 3G, with latencies in the 500ms range. Web page resolution time took a significant amount of time, as did downloads.

Sprint 4G, on the other hand, is AMAZING! When I was under a WiMax umbrella YouTube videos loaded and began playing almost INSTANTLY. Web pages were ridiculously fast to load. EVERYTHING on the phone seemed snappier. Testing showed download speeds above 5Mbps consistently with spikes to 7.5Mbps closer to the tower, with 1.5Mbps up-speeds. Latency, however, was still in the 300ms range, which is still slower than my T-Mobile 3G, which is almost always below 200ms.

In some low-signal areas, I did have to turn 4G off, then back on to make a connection to the tower. But once I did, the signal held, and the speed… the speed is just one of those things you have to see to believe.

Although the WiFi in this phone includes 802.11n, I had problems downloading over WiFi consistently. Turning the WiFi off, then back on would resolve the issue. I was able to reproduce this behavior at three locations, with two different brands of wireless routers.

Also, the hand-off between 3G/4G and WiFi is a bit verbose. I was given the impression by the on-screen messages that I had to manually toggle between 4G and WiFi, which isn’t necessarily the case. It works like you think it should, with automatic negotiation between the fastest possible connection, but it gives you the impression that you have to manually do something to get that to work.

BATTERY LIFE

The first few days you have this phone you’ll think it has the most terrible battery life of any phone you’ve ever used. After a few days of use, the battery life returned to what I expected it to be. The cause of this, I propose, is due to the “awesomeness factor”. You will spend so much time just playing around with this phone in the first few days, you’ll suck the battery much faster than after you have everything set up, and some of the novelty has worn off.

On all Android phones the biggest battery consumer is typically the screen. That’s no different on the Epic 4G. To help combat this Sprint went as far as enabling auto-brightness and adding a new setting to automatically adjust screen brightness based on the what’s being displayed on the screen. Both of these worked extremely well and I didn’t notice when the brightness was being increased or decreased.

Sprint also shipped the phone with a static wallpaper as the default setting. You can still change it to one of the Live Wallpapers we’re used to from other Galaxy S phones, but I have to think they didn’t default to one of these wallpapers to save battery life.

Bluetooth, 4G, and WiFi are all turned off by default, and the screen-timeout is set to 30 seconds.

Once I changed all of these settings I was able to run from 7am to 2:30pm on a full-charge. This included reading all my Feedr feeds, Gmail, listen to podcasts via Listen on my way to work, making several phone calls, surfing a lot of pages, and watching a few YouTube videos. Additionally, most of my co-workers saw that I had a new phone and wanted to “play” a bit. Without the “coworker novelty time” I’m certain I’d have gotten through to the end of the business day, and could charge up in the car during the commute home. That having been said, I’d recommend connecting the phone to power in the car and while at your desk, just in case you need that extra juice.

PROS

+ Fastest Android Phone I’ve ever Used

+ 4G WiMax

+ 802.11b/g/n

+ Physical Keyboard

+ 720p video recording with AMAZING audio

CONS

– Poor user-experience with Wi-Fi/4G/3G switching

– Terrible latencies over 3G/4G

– Very limited coverage of 4G

– Extra monthly 4G fee

– Some Sprint apps don’t work over WiFi or 4G

CONCLUSION

The Samsung Epic 4G is arguably the best Android-powered smartphone available for Sprint. It rivals the HTC EVO 4G and is rightfully positioned amongst today’s most powerful Android smartphones. It ranks among the short-list of the best Android phones available today.

Hardware: 4/5

Samsung Software: 4/5

Sprint Software: 1/5

If you’re on the Sprint network and want a physical keyboard on your phone, this is the phone for you. If you don’t care about a physical keyboard it’s a tie between the Epic 4G and the EVO 4G.

In short, after the newness of the phone has worn off and your battery life returns to normal, you won’t be disappointed with the Spring Samsung Epic 4G.

PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY

The Epic 4G will be available from Sprint on August 31, 2010. If you are signing up for a new line of service with a two-year agreement (or with an “eligible upgrade”) expect to pay US$249.99, after US$150 “instant savings” and US$100 mail-in rebate.

“Early reservations” to buy the phone on the release-date are full, but sign-up here and Sprint will notify you when you can buy this truly “epic” phone.

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video.Read more about Joe Levi here.