What's hot: QWERTY Android superphone! Beautiful and large Super AMOLED touch screen.
What's not: Large phone. Battery life is so-so, especially using 4G. Data plan more expensive.
Reviewed August 28, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Some of you can't live without keyboards, and that's OK. Samsung's thrilled in fact, since their Epic 4G is the only keyboarded high end Android phone on Sprint. And while all 4 major US carriers offer or will offer a Galaxy S phone, the Epic 4G (aka Galaxy S Pro) is the only version to have a hardware keyboard. Even better, the Epic 4G has a really, really good QWERTY keyboard. It's roomy and it has an embedded arrow pad, a number row and Android function keys for home, menu, search and back. Since the Epic 4G is a large smartphone with a slider that deploys on the long side, the large keyboard works best for those who have large hands. If your idea of keyboard heaven is the BlackBerry Bold 9650 or the Palm Pre, the Epic will seem positively ripe with suburban sprawl.
This Android 2.1 smartphone has a 4" Super AMOLED display and the phone is about the same size as Sprint's other 4G Android superphone, the HTC EVO 4G. Though the EVO has a slightly larger 4.3" display, they share the same 800 x 480 resolution. The Epic's slider mechanism and larger bezel surrounds (primarily on the top and bottom) even out the size between EVO and Epic. Like the EVO, this is a Hummer of a phone: hold one in your hand first if you can. Imagine it in your pocket if you're a phone-in-the-pocket kind of person. It makes the iPhone 4 seem petite.
When closed, the Epic looks a little like its keyboard-less cousin the Samsung Vibrant on T-Mobile. It works nicely in the hand as a big slate phone and the on-screen keyboard is quite good, as is Samsung's Swype keyboard input. The phone isn't flashy but it's reasonably attractive and modern looking, particularly the front face. The back is slightly sparkly gray plastic that's fairly grippy and fingerprint-proof but not chic. Given the keyboard slider mechanism, the phone isn't all that thick at 0.6". The slider mechanism is solid with no play and it locks into place at each end of its travel.
Battle of the high end Android keyboards: the Motorola Droid 2 and Samsung Epic 4G.
The Epic 4G has the same four front-facing touch sensitive buttons found on other Galaxy S phones. That's not a good thing since these buttons are all but invisible when backlighting is off. Memorize their order and location or tap the screen to turn on backlighting. We noted that the Epic's buttons require a firmer press than the Captivate and Vibrant. That means you won't activate them accidentally but you must linger on them longer when you do want to use them.
Again, like other Galaxy S phones, we love the sliding cover over the micro USB port, but wish that port wasn't at the top. The location makes it very awkward to talk on the phone while it's charging. Samsung has made one improvement over the other two Galaxy S phones that we love: it has a notification LED!
The Epic 4G has a roomy keyboard with raised, discrete keys that we love.
As with the Captivate and Vibrant, the Epic 4G runs Samsung's restrained version of their TouchWiz UI. It's unobtrusive and pleasant. Samsung customizes the icons, giving them backgrounds, organizes the app drawer into pages and provides shortcuts at the bottom of the home screen for the phone dialer, contacts, messaging and applications. The home screen is extended to 7 screens and an indicator at the top tells you which screen you're on (and allows for quick switching). Samsung's social networking software helps integrate Twitter and Facebook with your address book and their widget provides status updates on the home screen. Samsung's Daily Briefing widget has weather, stocks and AP news info (you control the update interval) and Program Monitor helps you manage running applications. And of course, all of Google's usual Android goodies are here including Maps, the Android Market, Gmail, Gtalk, YouTube, Google Voice command and search. Sprint adds Sprint TV, Sprint Navigation, NASCAR and Sprint Football. The phone can act as a high speed wireless modem and WiFi hotspot and Sprint Hotspot is the app for that (this feature requires an additional monthly data fee).
Phone and Data
The Epic is Sprint's second 4G smartphone, thus it has WiMAX 4G. Clear is Sprint's partner for WiMAX, and the coverage area is growing, but it still has a relatively small footprint with several major metro areas left out such as New York City. Nonetheless, you're going to pay $10 extra for data on the Epic 4G, just as you must with the EVO 4G. Here in Dallas, one of the first WiMAX coverage areas, we still have trouble getting a 4G signal indoors because WiMAX uses very high spectrum with poor building penetration. When you do get a good 4G signal, data speeds are a pleasing 3 to 5 megs/sec for downloads-- significantly better than EV-DO Rev. A 3G at 1-2 megs/sec average. When the signal is weak, you'll actually get better data speeds using 3G. Fortunately, you can turn off 4G (as well as the phone's other wireless radios). 4G does eat battery, so we suggest you turn it off when you don't need it. Likewise, if you're not in a 4G coverage area, turn off the radio so it won't hunt for service. The Epic switches seamlessly between 3G and 4G when both radios are on, so you need not manage the handoff yourself.
Voice quality is good on both incoming and outgoing ends, and call volume is average. The speakerphone is loud and full, and it only distorts at 90% volume and above. The phone dialer application is stock Android with tabs for the call log, favorites and contacts. When in a call you can easily transfer sound to and from a Bluetooth headset, mute a call, turn on speakerphone and start a conference call.
The Epic runs Google's excellent Webkit web browser and the Epic 4G's 4" capacitive multi-touch display makes web browsing a wonderful experience (and just as good as the iPhone's). Colors jump out and clarity is very good thanks to Samsung's Super AMOLED display. The display is viewable outdoors and has a wide viewing angle too. The smartphone has Google's YouTube player but no support for desktop-style Flash FLV video (that requires Android OS 2.2 Froyo and Flash 10.1 which should reach the Epic sometime this fall).
The Samsung works with Gmail, POP3/IMAP email and MS Exchange Email. Google Talk is standard for IM and you can download IM clients for other services from the Android Market.
Multimedia and GPS
Samsung has done a good job of improving on Android's rather pedestrian music and video players. The multimedia apps have gotten a facelift and additional features that make the Galaxy S phones more competitive with the iPhone than most other Android mobile phones. The phone can handle 720p video playback easily and with a large storage card you've got plenty of room for music and video files. Sprint TV didn't fare well when we produced our video review a week earlier, but the kinks are now worked out and Sprint TV performs well, even with a middling signal. We received the phone 2 weeks before launch, and it's not unusual for a carrier's multimedia streaming services to not quite be ready.
Here's our 10 minute video review of the Samsung Epic 4G. We test out the browser, Sprint TV and TouchWiz
and compare the phone with other high end Android smartphones.
The 5 megapixel camera with autofocus lens and an LED flash takes sharp photos with pleasing colors. This is the first Galaxy S phone we've seen with a flash in the US, and it's a welcome addition. Low light shots were a lost cause with the Vibrant and Captivate, while they come out decently with the Epic 4G. The phone can shoot up to 720p video and the quality is more than good enough (with good lighting) for YouTube uploads.
The Epic has a front-facing VGA camera; a rarity in US phones but seemingly standard on Sprint 4G smartphones (if 2 phones can be considered a trend).
The GPS has been an issue with the Galaxy S phones and Samsung should shortly release an update to tweak the GPS on the Vibrant and Captivate. Samsung says the problem is largely due to Google's new requirement to ship the phone with location services turned off. If you go into settings and turn on location services, the Galaxy S phones' GPS problems diminish (we have noticed that the setting doesn't always stick). Our Epic 4G's GPS behaved normally and we got a location fix within 6 meters in 30 seconds on a cold start (the phone had just been rebooted). In the week we've used the Epic, the GPS hasn't lost it when running Google Maps and Sprint Navigation. We do have few tall buildings in our area and a generally good view of the sky, however.
Superphones with large displays, WiFi, 3G and 1GHz CPUs aren't Energizer bunnies. 4G only makes it worse, and if you use 4G, the phone will barely make it through a full day. If you stick with 3G, the Epic should make it through a full day. The 1500 mAh Lithium Ion battery is user replaceable, and as with other Galaxy S phones, the battery meter's graphic doesn't match the actual percentage of charge remaining (49% looks like two thirds full according to the menu bar graphic).
Sprint's second 4G Android smartphone is a winner, and we continue to be impressed with Samsung's Galaxy S line. The keyboard is wonderful, the display is dreamy and build quality is solid. Though 4G coverage and speeds aren't sending us into paroxysms of joy, Sprint's 3G EV-DO Rev. A coverage is solid and fast enough to thoroughly enjoy this largely Internet-centric Google phone. And the 1GHz Hummingbird CPU is extremely fast-- there's no lag here. If you're looking for a high end Android smartphone with a QWERTY keyboard, the Epic 4G has few competitors beyond the Motorola Droid 2, and no competitors on Sprint. We have a feeling that even if the Epic faced greater competition, it would still come out at the top or near the top of the superphone heap. Our only complaint? The $10/month additional data plan fee that hurts your pocket more than the $50 higher price vs. competing smartphones.