The latest in the Samsung Galaxy family of phones, Sprint's Epic 4G runs on the Google Android 2.1 platform and features a 4-inch "Super AMOLED" touch screen display. The lightweight handset is powered by a 1-gigahertz processor and supports blazing-fast WiMax 4G connectivity for data downloads.
It also doubles as a hotspot for up to five Wi-Fi devices to share the 4G simultaneously. With its slide-out QWERTY keyboard and social media apps, the phone makes staying connected with friends on Facebook and Twitter a snap. Other features include Bluetooth capability, Swype text entry and a 5-megapixel camera with high-definition video recording. For navigation, the Epic comes downloaded with Google's Navigation app but can also subscribe to Sprint's Navigation service.
Finally, a Social Hub feature syncs contacts with Facebook and most email accounts, including Microsoft Exchange. Because of its versatility, Samsung is positioning the Epic as a phone for business as well as entertainment.
At first glance, the bulky Epic exudes a quaintly outdated look. Compared to the slender iPhone 4 and other palm-sized handsets, it stands out like a Hummer in a lot full of compacts. The largest model in the Samsung Galaxy series, the phone measures a hefty 4.9-by-2.5-by-0.6 inches. But Samsung sacrificed small and sleek for performance and screen size when it designed the Epic. And in spite of its chunkiness, the 5.5-ounce phone feels light in the hand, even though it won't fit in any pocket.
All trepidation about the phone's size dissipates when the Epic's colorful, 4-inch display lights up. It dwarfs the iPhone 4's 3.5-inch screen, while it doesn't quite measure up to the 4.3-inch screen on the Evo 4G. The Epic is equipped with an accelerometer and can be set to automatically switch the screen orientation when rotating the phone.
When typing, you have a choice tapping on a virtual keyboard or thumbing the slide-out, full keyboard. Backlit raised keys press solidly and respond quickly for no-nonsense typing. Designated keys to the left and right of the keyboard also provide "Search," "Home," "Back" and program functions. And on the bottom right corner of the keyboard, four-way directional keys make editing texts or email a breeze.
When the phone is activated, the same basic buttons found on the keyboard -- "Search," "Home, "Back," and Menus" exist on the front screen as touch-sensitive keys on the bottom of the phone. Each key brings up an elegant, pop-up menu for its respective function. However, the "Back" button in particular is buggy, and sometimes won't respond at all. Other times, instead of going back to a previous screen, it simply quits an application. Samsung has not yet fixed the issue, which some users say gets worse over time.
In the settings menu, you can choose whether or not the soft keys respond with a vibration feedback, and set the intensity of the vibration -- a small detail, but a nice option to have, in case you don't want the phone to go crazy in your hand every time you press a button. Just like the Droid or the iPhone, the home screen uses a grid of application icons -- called a "drawer" -- that can scroll. The Epic has a limit of six pages for icons.
Other physical keys on the phone include a power switch and a camera activation button on the right edge of the phone. Among the Galaxy models, the Epic is the only phone that features camera lenses on both the front and back of the phone, as well as a LED flash on the back lens. A volume rocker sits on the phone's left spine and a 3.5-millimeter headset jack and micro-USB port rest on the top edge. The back of the phone houses the speaker, the battery and the microSD card slot, which you can access by removing the back cover. Out of the box, the Epic comes with a standard battery, a USB power adapter, a dock connector to USB cable and user manual.
Compared with the Evo and other smartphones now featuring 8-megapixel cameras, the Epic's 5-megapixel capability seems almost quaint and commonplace. But the Epic stands in good company alongside the iPhone and the Droid X, and 5-megapixels are nothing to sneeze at. Pictures shot with the Epic look crisp and bright. Of course, the large and colorful screen helps show them off, but even in low light without the internal LED Flash, the photo quality is good. For self-portraits, the Epic has a lens embedded in its front screen.
The camera activates with the push of a dedicated button on the right spine. Instantly, a shutter button and tap-to-focus guide appears on the touch screen. Press the "menu" button on the right side of the screen and an array of settings appear on the touch screen. In the "Shooting Mode" section, choices include single or continuous shots as well as panorama and special effects. Other basic controls include flash settings, white balance, exposure, auto or manual focus, screen review time and timer. The camera shoots in eight resolutions ranging from 2,560-by-1,920 to 800-by-480 pixels.
More experienced shooters can delve into the camera's manual ISO settings. Social media hounds who use mapping apps will love the setting that embeds GPS coordinates into a photo's metadata. The camera also comes with a robust set of scene modes from the usual beach and snow setting to "Firework" and "Fall color." And finally, you can choose center-weighted, spot or matrix metering for your shots and adjust the contrast, saturation and sharpness. Once taken, photos can be cropped and rotated using a suite of editing tools, then share to social media apps or set as wallpaper.
The camcorder activates from the camera screen and shoots video in two sizes, "Normal," or 720-by-420 pixels, and "Limited," or up to 50 seconds for MMS set at 176-by-144 pixels. Like the camera, settings include flash on or off, exposure, white balance, contrast, video quality and audio on or off. Normal mode shoots HD video at a cinematic speed of 24 frames per second. Although holding the phone steady presents a challenge, the video comes out crisp and clear, just like the photos.
The Epic uses the Android 2.1 software. Many of its features can be found in other Android-based phones, including the Evo 4G and the Droid 2. The phone comes fully integrated with Google Mobile Services, which means the phone integrates Gmail accounts as well as other Google services such as Calendar and Google Talk. Each service appears as an app in the browser, and all updates made on the phone are saved in real time to the Google computing cloud and accessible by other devices. In addition to the Gmail app, the phone's email app combines inboxes from other POP3, IMAP4 and Exchange accounts.
The lightning-fast operating system on the Epic runs on a 1-gigahertz chip using TouchWiz 3.0 interface, which is Samsung's re-skinning of the Android user interface. Although TouchWiz provides widgets and functions that spruce up the home screen, one concern is whether Sprint will be able to keep up with Android updates, which might make the phone less desirable to early adapters.
Like other phones running Android, and the iPhone 4, the Epic has the ability to run multiple apps simultaneously. For keeping track, the screen has a handy "Task Manager." You can switch to a different app at any time by pressing and holding the Home key. The Task Manager pops up with a menu of the last six apps opened.
There's no shortage of social media. Samsung's "Social Hub" incorporates contacts from various email accounts and social networking sites, instantly filling up the phone with numbers and addresses of friends across the social network spectrum. The phone also comes pre-installed with a Facebook widget that streams thumbnails of the latest updates from your friends and clicks through to a Facebook App. Another app called "Feeds and Updates" streams a combination of Facebook, Twitter and MySpace updates in real time.
The phone comes with 1-gigabyte of internal memory and allows for up to 16-gigabytes of memory in microSD cards. You'll probably want to take advantage of the microSD cards for storing photos, video and music, since 1-gigabyte isn't a lot of storage space by today's standards. Samsung claims 21 days of standby and 7.5 hours of talk time, but owners report a different story, with battery life lasting less than 7 hours.
With so much video content now available on smartphones, screens are becoming more sophisticated -- and Epic's 4-inch display boasts cutting-edge technology. It offers 16.7 million colors at a resolution of 800-by-480 pixels. Samsung developed its "Super AMOLED" technology for television screens and mobile displays, and the display the super-thin screen uses less power than other LCD technology. Super AMOLED also features a wider viewing angle, higher refresh rates and less outdoor glare than other screen types, which makes it easy to read in sunlight.
Images pop on the screen with vivid color and contrast. During a side-by-side viewing with the iPhone 4, the screen produced higher color saturation and brighter colors, but the whites looked dull. And while Epic's screen is larger, images appeared stretched out, whereas the proportions looked good on the iPhone 4.
Waking up the phone presents a small annoyance. Whereas the iPhone and the Droid wake from sleep with the touch of a dedicated home button at the bottom of the screen, the Epic's power button is located on the top right side, closer to the back than the front. Since it's also flush with the phone, it's difficult to find and press firmly. The same issue arises when putting the phone to sleep.
The home screen has seven pages for most-used apps, which can be added, deleted and rearranged by touching and moving the icons. The phone comes with some apps and widgets pre-loaded on the home screen, including Voicemail -- which, oddly, is not accessible from the Phone dialer -- Android Market, CNN, YouTube, ESPN and a widget, called "Buddies Now," for select contacts.
Sprint has also included an elegant Google Browser widget with Google Voice search functionality, the Sprint Navigator map application, Sprint TV and Sprint Zone, an app to download Sprint programs and media, and pay bills.
A pull-down notification tray at the top of the touch screen features a wireless manager for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, 4G and GPS settings. The tab lists incoming email, alerts and messages, which is handy for reviewing and prioritizing tasks. Finally, the home screen features personalized wallpaper and a toolbar at the bottom with shortcuts to phone functions, contacts, messaging and applications. The applications menu is laid out in a grid with endless pages. New apps from either the Sprint Zone or Android Market download directly to the apps menu.
Call quality on the Epic sounds good, with occasional static and a slightly tinny quality on both the receiving and calling side. The microphone degrades on speakerphone as well, although the speakerphone sounds clear and has robust volume even though it sits on the back of the phone. Overall, audio clarity is good, but not exceptional.
When recording video, the microphone picks up ambient noise. Depending on how far away the camera is from the subject, audio quality will sound canned and unclear. However, this is to be expected from built-in microphones in any video recording device. Unlike the iPhone 4, the Epic does not come pre-installed with a voice memo app, but apps for recording calls or memos are available in Android Market, which you can access from the home screen.
The Epic's music player sorts songs by artist, albums, songs and playlists. They can also be added as ringtones, and you can load tracks onto the phone using a microSD card, or download them from the Sprint Zone. You can also download music streaming apps such as Pandora for customized radio, or buy music through the preloaded Amazon MP3 app.
Built for social networking and multimedia, the Epic comes stuffed with messaging options. Besides voicemail, SMS and MMS, you can easily send messages to contacts on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace by installing those apps to the home menu. In addition to Gmail accounts, you can combine POP3, IMAP4 and Exchange accounts in the email app. The Epic's slide-out QWERTY keyboard makes typing SMS and emails easy and efficient.
Along with full-blown social networking apps, three widgets built into the home screen provide more options for interacting with contacts. "Buddies Now," a widget, can be set with favorite contacts for one-touch email or calling. "Feeds and Updates" streams incoming status updates from Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. And finally, a simple Facebook widget shows recent posts by friends. Clicking on the post opens that friend's profile for quick wall posts on the go.
The great thing about owning an Android-based phone or an iPhone is the ability to download apps that provide an even greater scope of connectivity. Skype and similar apps that support VoIP calling are available in Android Market, as well as AIM account aggregators such as IM Plus or eBuddy Messenger. Last but not least, the Google app offers Google-based messaging services such as Google Voice (for phone and SMS messaging over Wi-Fi) and Google Talk (for Instant Messaging Google contacts).
The Epic's 4-inch screen was built for a reason. Television shows, movies, games, books, apps and music can all be streamed or downloaded and watched on the Epic. The Android Market now offers more than 65,000 apps -- not as many as Apple's App Store, where apps number more than 200,000. But as more and more media outlets and content providers produce apps for both the Android Market and Apple's App Store, it's not inconceivable that most apps will be available in both stores in the future. Just as with a Droid model or an iPhone, the entertainment provided by apps on the Epic is seemingly unlimited, and curated by the users themselves.
Another resource for Epic owners is the Samsung Media Hub. Similar to the iTunes store, media purchased on the media hub can be used on up to five registered devices. The Hub features movies, next-day TV shows and other media available for purchase or rent. Sprint also offers its own store of options in the Sprint Zone, including games, Sprint TV, music and radio. Sprint TV channels include SyFy, CNN and ESPN mobile TV. All of these services are available for a fee from Sprint.
With its 4G connectivity, the Epic can download longer-format television shows and movies more quickly than devices that use AT&T's 3G network, such as the iPhone 4. While the super-fast 4G network is a selling point for Sprint, it should be noted that the Sprint's 4G network isn't available in all markets. You should also check to see if your local area has coverage, and not assume that just because you buy a 4G phone that you can use the network.
The Epic not only connects wirelessly to the Internet, it works as a mobile hotspot and can share 3G and 4G speeds with up to five Wi-Fi devices. Similar to the Droid 2, HTC Evo and the iPhone 4, the Epic runs on a 1-gigahertz processor, the fastest on the market today. Yet oddly enough, in a test side by side with the iPhone, the Epic's browser loaded more slowly than the iPhone's -- with both running on the 3G network.
The browser runs with Flash Player 10.1, which makes for a seamless video viewing experience. Unlike the browsing on the iPhone or Droid 2, the Epic's webpages use a special mobile layout. They don't look the same way they do on a computer screen, but you can pinch, scroll and tap the images and content as you can on these other phones.
The 1-gigabyte of internal storage is small by today's standards, so fortunately Samsung has included a microSD slot for up to 16-gigabytes of memory in microSD cards. Even so, if you want to download music and television shows, know that 16-gigabytes run out quickly. The iPhone 4 and the HTC Evo 4G both support up to 32-gigabytes of memory. Having only 16-gigabytes of storage requires some shuffling and sorting of content, or possibly acquiring a library of microSD cards to accommodate a larger media library.
The Epic runs on Sprint's super-fast WiMax 4G network, as well as the Sprint 3G Network, depending on the 4G's availability. WiMax only transmits data, not voice calls, and when the 4G network is on, it drains the battery more quickly than the 3G service. The Epic connects to computers via a micro-USB cable, to transfer music and other media between devices. It also comes equipped with Bluetooth 2.1 and can connect to compatible devices such as speakers and headsets.
Some users have claimed that the phone is not road-warrior-friendly, since the Bluetooth dial-out feature doesn't work for outgoing calls. At the same time, the phone does have a Voice Dialer function that works on speakerphone.
Like the Evo 4G, the Epic has a download edge over smartphones that run on 3G. This makes it desirable for the 4G service alone. However, taking into consideration that Verizon and AT&T plan to roll out 4G networks in 2011, there promises to be more competition soon. And since the Sprint's 4G service is only available in select markets, WiMax only makes sense as a selling point if you can actually use it now.
As far as smartphones go, the Epic offers the same Google integration services as other Android phones such as the Droid X and the Droid 2, and you have the choice of over 65,000 apps in the Android Market. The phone's TouchWiz operating system has some bugs, but in general it responds quickly and includes helpful widgets such as the Google Search Bar and the notification tab. The touch screen is easy to navigate and easily customizable.
By far the phone's biggest selling points are its gorgeous, 4-inch display and its slide-out keyboard. From both productivity and entertainment standpoints, the Epic stands out. ♦
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