First, we’d like to thank Sprint for sending us our review devices, they’ve been awesome and have looked after us with all our requests and questions.

We’ve all dreamed of super phones that can do everything we want and a little bit more; we’ve thought about the best parts of every phone we’ve ever owned and how it would be cool if all parts came together in one phone.  Samsung listened and released a series of phones that we now all know as the Galaxy S line of phones.

Every major manufacturer has released a slight variation on the Galaxy with its own little tweaks and customizations and they have taken the world by storm, for one good reason…

“The Samsung Galaxy S series of phones is the single best Android Smart Phone design released to date and throws out one amazing user experience”

Don’t get me wrong, they have their flaws, as does almost every smart phone ever released.  Even if you don’t think they have flaws, someone does.

I’ve done smaller reviews of the Samsung Vibrant from T-Mobile but decided to do some long term testing of the Sprint EPIC 4G and see how I felt after a longer period of use.

I was hoping to get the latest Android 2.2 update for the EPIC, but it keeps getting delayed and I didn’t want to put off my review any longer.  I will try to give you guys an update once the devices have been upgraded.

Overview:

Here’s a quick recap of the base specifications for the Samsung Galaxy S and in particular, the Sprint EPIC 4G model from Sprint:

  • 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird Application Processor
  • 4-inch Super AMOLED capacitive display with dedicated graphics hardware
  • Android 2.1
  • 4G data speeds (WiMAX)
  • 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot capability
  • 1GB ROM
  • 513MB RAM
  • Rear 5 MP camera/camcorder with autofocus with LED flash
  • 720p video recording
  • 5 Row keyboard
  • Front facing VGA camera
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Expandable memory: 16 GB microSD card included

There are a few things that separate the Sprint EPIC 4G from its siblings. The EPIC 4G has the front facing camera for video calling, LED notification on the front, and of course, this is the only Galaxy S so far that has the hardware keyboard and the front facing camera for video chat.

The first thing I’ve noticed with the Sprint EPIC 4G,  Sprint’s version of the Galaxy S, is the feel of the phone itself.  It feels a lot more substantial than the T-Mobile Samsung Vibrant reviewed previously.  I realize this phone has the added advantage of a hardware keyboard to give it more weight, but the overall feel is just more solid.

While I loved the Samsung Vibrant, it almost feels like an empty shell, it’s so light.  Some people like that as it’s less to carry around so I guess this would be personal preference.

Sliding open the keyboard is solid and stable yet smooth and with a firm location at either end of its travel.  Everything about this phone just feels like quality.  There are a few things about the phone that I don’t like, but we can get into that in the sections below.

Sprint and Samsung also included some enhanced software packages to improve your smartphone experience on the Sprint Network, including:

  • AllShare
    AllShare is Samsung’s media savvy interface that lets you play content from other uPNP / DLNA compliant media devices on your local network as well as send media from your phone to other devices on your network such as the latest Samsung LCD TVs with Internet connections.
  • Asphalt 5
    A device with this much processing power needs an application that can show it off and Asphalt 5 racing is the game they provide.
  • Media Hub
    Media Hub gives access to a decent sized library of moves and TV shows to purchase and watch directly on your phone.
  • NASCAR
    Allows NASCAR fans to keep track of the racing action right form their phones
  • qik
    qik allows you to make video calls to other qik users.  This is the only way to make use of the front facing camera of your device.
  • Sprint Football
  • Sprint Hotspot
    For those of you who want to share your Internet connection with your local computer, you can use the Sprint Hotspot application to create a WiFi hotspot.
  • Sprint Navigation
    Never get lost again with Sprint’s custom GPS navigation application.
  • Sprint TV
    The title pretty much speaks for itself and provides access to TV shows and video demand content over the Sprint network.
  • Sprint Zone
    Sprint Zone is there to help you manage your Sprint account better, give you help, provide you with the latest Sprint News and also give a list of suggested applications.
  • ThinkFree Office
    ThinkFree Office is a Microsoft office compatible document management application that not only allows you to read Microsoft office documents but also edit them on your phone.

The Samsung AllShare feature is actually very cool for anyone who has a compatible Media player to connect to.  Luckily I have 2010 Samsung LED TV and by simply launching the Allshare application and selecting play file from my phone on another player, i was instantly presented with a list of devices, one of which was my Samsung TV.  Selecting my Samsung TV from the list brought up a request screen on my TV, the simply selecting “allow” played the media from my phone in High Definition glory.  Very cool and big plus here for Samsung.


Phone Calls:

A lot of reviews today fail to focus on the main reason we all purchase our smart phones: to make phone calls. It’s pretty hilarious the number of reviews you see that really don’t give this basic information about the phones they review.

The Sprint EPIC 4G is the first phone I’ve used for any length of time on the Sprint Network so I have nothing to compare the quality of this phone to.  The calls on this phone are very clear of background noise and static but the voices of everyone I talk all seem a little muffled. Don’t get me wrong, I can still hear everyone clearly and have an enjoyable conversation (depending on the topic of course), but it’s not as clear as those of my Nexus One and G2.  I thought maybe it was related to the phone, but then I was sent an EVO to use as a comparison, and that sounded similar.  It would in no way deter me from using Sprint as my everyday carrier, but T-Mobile sounds a little clearer to me.  Of course it could also be the area where I live and signal quality, who knows.  But this review is not about Sprint, it’s about the EPIC 4G.

This area of the phone gets 4 stars from me.

Phone Call [rating:4] 4/5


Keyboard, Buttons and Navigation:

The keyboard on the EPIC is not one of my favorites but the mechanism used to slide the keyboard in and out is one of the nicest feeling mechanisms I’ve used on a smart phone.  There is no play between the keyboard and the screen portion of the phone in either its open or closed position.  The movement of the slider is very smooth indeed and the keyboard positively slides out into position and locks itself in place ready for use.  While it has such a positive spring loaded movement, it’s also incredible easy to slide, even with one hand.  A definite 5 stars for this area of the phone.

The keys of the keyboard are pretty reasonable, but not the best I’ve used.  The whole thing is very flat, which is obviously to make it easy to slide in and out, but I find myself not really feeling the keys themselves if you know what I mean.  The keyboard on the T-Mobile G2 is very similar looking, but for some reason, I can feel the keys more and find it easier to type and find the letter I’m looking for.

Keyboards are also a very personal thing and everybody has their own preferences.  The keys are firm and you can feel the press of each key quite positively, so the keyboard on the EPIC 4G is by no means bad, I just find it difficult to get used to.

The phone has volume rocker buttons on the left side that have a nice positive feel to them and on the right hand side is the power button and a dedicated camera button.  The power button location is one of my gripes about this phone and the other Galaxy S series phones.  Every time I go to press the power button, I find that I’m pressing the volume buttons as well since they are located exactly opposite the power button and it’s just natural to grab the opposite side of the phone when you go to press the power button.  Not a big issue, just an annoyance.

On the front glass are the quick keys for Menu, Home, Back and Search.  The quick keys are incredibly frustrating as they are completely invisible when the phone is sleeping and when they do light up, they don’t stay illuminated all the time the screen is on.  This probably would not be a problem if all Android devices had their quick keys in the same order, but many phones now appear to have them slightly differently arranged.  I’m constantly touching at the bottom of the phone to get them to illuminate so I can work out which button I need to press.  Even when not illuminated, you can still see the quick keys on many other phones I’ve used.

So a couple of small design flaws for me that prevent me from giving this section a 5 star rating.

UPDATE: Well well, thanks to a friendly tipster, I just found out that the the quick key back light can be changed to match the same timing as the screen as it uses the keyboard’s back light timeout setting found in the settings.  The default is 6 seconds but I changed mine to match the screen timeout. Much better!

Swype and the demise of the Android hardware keyboard!

One other area to note is that Swype is included on the EPIC 4G and in my experience, almost negates the use of the hardware keyboard.  I’m a big fan of Swype and TRY to install the beta version on any phones I have that don’t come with it pre-installed.  Because of this, I’ve become very proficient in the use of Swype and very rarely open any of my hardware keyboards.  This can be said of any phone with a hardware keyboard, like the T-mobile G2 I’m also testing on.

One other area of concern is the Lack of Trackball/Trackpad on the EPIC 4G.  This may, once more, be a personal preference, but I don’t think any Android device should be without some form of hardware navigation.  It’s just to difficult trying to place the cursor using your finger on the screen and I just don’t like having the software cursors on the keyboard taking up the space that could be used to make it easier to type.

Keyboard [rating:4.5] 4.5/5


Interface:

By now you all know that Samsung has its own twist to the Android Interface in the form of Touchwiz. Just like many other manufacturers and carriers trying to find a niche that will differentiate their phones from everyone else’s.  TouchWiz adds its own look and feel to Android and in some respects is slightly iPhone-ish.  When you go into the application menu, for example, the icons have colored boxes around them as shown below:

This could have been a nice feature except you can’t change the colors it uses and there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to how it assigns them. TouchWiz can be turned off, but you end up with the original Android launcher and it’s not really worth it on such a nice smart phone as this.

The home screen is slightly modified from the standard Android Launcher and has 3 set buttons on the bottom for the Phone, Contacts and Messaging.  It would have been nice if you could change these to your choice of applications.

Samsung has included their own selection of widgets you can use along with the standard Android selection most devices already have.

The version of TouchWiz on other Samsung Galaxy S variants is TouchWiz 3 but due to the EPIC having a keyboard and requiring the screen to rotate, they had to use a heavily modified version of TouchWiz 2.5. TouchWiz 3 found on the other variants allows you to add and remove homepages and rearrange icons easily and it’s a shame they didn’t decide to update TouchWiz 3 to work on the EPIC.

Some of the features in TouchWiz are nice. When you pull down the notification bar, you have instant access to settings like turning on and off Wifi, Bluetooth, 4G, and GPS. I really like this feature and it’s something that should be an option on all Android phones.

The other complaint is that the interface feels laggy.  The Samsung Galaxy S range of devices are all based on the same memory architecture that places certain parts of the system in a slower area of memory and is what most people blame for the laggy feel.

Interface [rating:3.5] 3.5/5


Display:

The only way to start off this section is WOW. The Samsung Super AMOLED screen is the best I’ve ever seen on any Android phone, period. At 4 inches in size, it’s also what I consider the ideal size for a smart phone of this caliber.  While some people love the 4.3 inches of some of the high end HTC devices, I actually think this 4 inch screen from Samsung is perfect.  It does help that it also has the Super AMOLED technology that makes it as clear as looking at a piece of paper.

You can view the screen from almost any angle and in direct sunlight and according to Samsung, there is no additional battery drain to use this technology.  They actually go so far as to say that you get battery savings using this technology as each pixel is its own power source so black pixels never get lit and save battery life.

Interface [rating:5] 5/5


Performance:

Overall the performance of the EPIC 4G is very good.  Besides the lagginess on the home screen, any application you throw at the Galaxy S series gets gobbled up in the powerhouse inside this device.  Games run like a dream and this device sets a benchmark for other devices to follow on the games front.  The dedicated graphics processor takes a load off the main processor and the two combined simply scream through any game.

The same can be said for most of the applications you use on this device.  They are all very responsive and it’s a pleasure to use.

Performance [rating:5] 5/5


Battery:

Overall the battery performance on EPIC 4G has been pretty poor for me.  I’ve been leaving 4G turned on to get the speed I want from my device and I’ve been lucky if I get through the work day.

I’ve tried training the battery multiple times performing a full charge with the device turned off and on and then draining it all the way until the phone shuts itself off.

I am a fairly heavy user of my devices.  I use two pop email accounts and I also link to my corporate Microsoft Exchange server but all these account are set to update every 15 minutes.

This is how I configure all my test phones and the 2 nearest comparisons to the EPIC 4G are the Nexus One and T-Mobile G2 both of which last considerably longer in my testing.

So are the battery problems related to the software, the screen or the radios using 4G?  I can’t confirm, but I need more battery life than this from my everyday Android device.

Battery [rating:2.5] 2.5/5

Camera:

The Samsung Galaxy has one of the best cameras of any of the Android phones I’ve tested to date.  Some phones have more mega pixels than the 5 MP camera found in the Samsung Galaxy S series, but the combination of the camera hardware and software make the EPIC 4G a pleasure to use for taking camera and video. Video can be captured in High Definition 720p and come out crystal clear in the test I’ve made.  The Samsung Vibrant I previously reviewed had no LED flash for the camera and still managed to take great photos in low light conditions.  The EPIC just takes this one step further and adds the option of the LED flash for assistance in low light situations.

The camera application has so many options that you almost get lost, but not quite.  Anything you want to adjust, you can. 10 different shooting modes from standard single shots, to an excellent panorama mode and picture effects like the cartoon and vintage modes.  Manual and auto flash control and exposure compensation. The usual array of ISO, white balance, face detection and more are all within easy reach of the camera overlay controls.

Here are a couple of sample shots I took:

Camera [rating:5] 5/5


Summary:

The Good:

  • Amazing 4 inch AMOLED Screen.
  • 1GHz Hummingbird processor.
  • Front facing notification LED (Missing on the Vibrant).
  • Build quality.

The Bad:

  • Power button location.
  • Laggy home screen due to memory architecture.
  • Quick Key illumination (UPDATE: Adjustable in the settings).
  • Samsung has a history of not getting updates out to the users.

Would I recommend this phone or any of the other Samsung Galaxy S series to my friends and co-workers? Absolutely.  The device is amazing and most of the issues I found with the EPIC 4G will hopefully get resolved with software updates in the near future.  Battery life is better on all the Android 2.2 devices I’ve ever run so a 2.2 update for the EPIC 4G should improve this, and let’s hope they bring the TouchWiz up to date with the rest of the Galaxy S series.

Overall the device gets a 4 star rating from me and I could easily see this turning into a 5 star rating when Samsung / Sprint decide to get their updates out to the users.

Overall Device [rating:4]


If you want to purchase and Sprint Samsung EPIC 4G, you can head over to the AndroidSPIN Cell Phone Store for some of the best prices around.


10 Responses

  1. Ej Montiz

    I love Mine, my biggest issue was the power button being placed on the side instead of the top, its directly opposite to the volume rocker, so trying to hit one or the other i usually end up hitting both but other then AWESOM PHONE

    Reply
  2. marcus

    I’m enjoying the Epic, got it since day 1. Although I love physical keyboards, I’m finding out that I really don’t use it often thanks to Swype. The only major complaint I have is the battery. I’m certainly willing to trade for a bigger physical battery that gives maybe double the runtime. Although in the Epic’s defense most high-end smartphones need a recharge by dinner time. I’m looking into the TMO Vibrant or ATT Captivate now just because I don’t use that keyboard much. The Epic is an awesome device though!

    Reply
  3. Up Interactive

    I loved the Samsung Vibrant, it almost feels like an empty shell, it’s so light. Some people like that as it’s less to carry around so I guess this would be personal preference.

    Reply
  4. Intmc

    It looks like a real beauty. I’m a fan of the Qwerty keyboard… just hope it has a solid build, not like the cheap plastic feel of the Galaxy S Vibrant. And the Bluetooth is only 2.1? I believe the Vibrant is 3.0. Too bad about the lack of a dedicated flash drive… phone perfection is just so elusive!

    Reply
  5. Intmc

    It looks like a real beauty. I’m a fan of the Qwerty keyboard… just hope it has a solid build, not like the cheap plastic feel of the Galaxy S Vibrant. And the Bluetooth is only 2.1? I believe the Vibrant is 3.0. Too bad about the lack of a dedicated flash drive… phone perfection is just so elusive!

    Reply
    • Allen Kiehl

      This is a really nice phone, and if you love a physical keyboard then it’s even better. I got the opportunity to review this device, and from my perspective the phone has an excellent build.

      Reply

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