Samsung Galaxy S II Sprint Epic 4G Touch Review (Video)
The Epic 4G Touch is a second-generation Epic device on Sprint that’s based on Samsung’s Galaxy S II specs. In this review, we’ll explore to see if this Galaxy S II variant deserves an epic name, given that it had removed two favorite features of the device that it replaces–a keyboard and a dedicated camera button. Now that we’ve had a few weeks to handle the device and make it a part of our daily life, let’s find out.
The front of the Epic 4G Touch is dominated by a large 4.5-inch bright Super AMOLED Plus display, the same variety that’s used on the Verizon Droid Charge and the international Galaxy S II editions. The device has a front-facing camera on the upper left hand corner, an earpiece speaker, and an LED indicator light on the right hand side that would blink every time you have a notification, such as missed calls, new mail, and new SMS. The downside is that the light blinks once every ten seconds, which may not be often enough so that you can quickly glance down at the phone and know that there’s an incoming notification–BlackBerry blinks its new notification LED indicator once every three or four seconds. The upside is that the light is unobtrusive and if there’s nothing blinking, the bezel looks black and flush so it doesn’t look choppy aesthetically, and the slow blinking light means that it’s unobtrusive when you’re watching a movie as you won’t be staring at a blinking light until you answer the notifications.
Right below the massive display rests the four capacitive touch Android navigation buttons–menu, home, back, and search–and gone is the three-button layout of the international version. The four button arrangement is a better arrangement is a much better choice as you have quick access to the search button now.
The device is minimalist in terms of buttons and clutter. On the left hand side of the device, you’ll find a lanyard loop up top and the volume up and down buttons right below. The volume buttons are a bit small, especially when you take into consideration the largeness of the entire device, and on the right hand side is the power button. For Android users who use other devices prior to moving to Samsung, this will take a bit of adjustment as the power button is traditionally located up top. In this case, only the headphone port is located on top. On the bottom of the device is the singular microphone port, which means that there isn’t a second or third microphone to cancel out background noise.
On the rear of device, the bump is less prominent than on the first generation Galaxy S 1 devices or even the Droid Charge. The Epic 4G Touch almost looks flush. The rear battery cover is textured plastic, rather than a soft touch finish, but the texturing helps in making the device easier to hold so that it won’t slip.
Underneath the battery cover is a capacious 1800 mAh battery, which is among the largest battery capacity released standard on a smartphone to date. There is also a slot for a micro SDHC card to expand the device’s 16 GB on-board storage.
On the rear, you have access to an 8-megapixel camera that can record videos in 1080p HD quality.
On the Epic 4G Touch, you’ll find two notable omissions from the original Epic 4G. First, there is no dedicated camera shutter button. Instead, you’ll have to initiate the camera and snap pictures utilizing the touchscreen. Second, there’s no more dedicated landscape-oriented sliding keyboard on this device.
Though the Epic 4G Touch is one of the slimmest smartphones on the market, it isn’t quite the slimmest. The device is just a hair thicker than the iPhone 4, even without consideration of the ever so slightly protruding bump on the bottom rear. In terms of the display size, and for those who are concerned that 4.52 inches for a screen is too big, the device doesn’t feel that big, and the slimness of the Epic 4G Touch does help in giving the illusion that the smartphone is smaller than it actually is. Compared with the slightly smaller 4.3-inch display of the Samsung Droid Charge, the Epic 4G Touch appears to be about the same size in terms of length and width, though it is a tiny bit wider than the Charge.
The Epic 4G Touch utilizes Samsung’s latest AMOLED-based display. The company had abandoned the Pentile sub-pixel arrangement of the original Galaxy S and upped the brightness and outdoor visibility of the latest Super AMOLED Plus display, which offers vibrant, if not over-saturated colors, coupled with dark, rich blacks, and better battery life.
The downside with the phone is that it has a resolution of 480 X 800, or WVGA resolution. The resolution pales when compared to Apple’s iPhone 4 Retina display, which has 960 X 640 pixels on a smaller 3.5-inch display, making it a sharper display utilizing LCD technology, or even the new qHD resolutions employed on current generation Android phones, which clocks in at 960 X 540 pixels.
When compared to some of the qHD screens, especially the Droid Bionic, which has a PenTile sub-pixel arrangement, the Super AMOLED Plus display on the Epic 4G Touch appears crisper because it doesn’t utilize the PenTile arrangement. Images and text appears less pixelated when compared to PenTile LCD, though a higher resolution Super AMOLED Plus screen would have been a great bonus.
Call quality is great on the Epic 4G Touch. Other callers noted that we sounded loud and clear, but in noisy environments, background noise also picked up through the microphone as well. This is due to the fact that there isn’t a secondary or tertiary microphone to cancel out background noise, as we’ve noted before. As far as earpiece speaker and the rear loud speaker, calls came through loud and clear with minimal audio distortion at the highest volume settings.
The Epic 4G Touch, like its European cousin, is powered by a dual-core Samsung-made 1.2 GHz Exynos processor that’s based on the ARM architecture. In use, the Exynos chipset is very fast and the touchscreen is very responsive. Launching applications and commanding the phone occured with minimal or little lag, and based on a non-scientific observation, the Exynos chipset appears more responsive than the Texas Instruments processor on the Motorola Droid 3 and seems to be as fast, or a bit faster, as the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset clocked at the same speed on the Sprint HTC EVO 3D and even the NVIDIA Tegra 2 chipset clocked at a dual-core 1.0 GHz speed on the Motorola Photon 4G.
Couple the capable processor to Sprint’s 3G/4G network and you should have good browsing speeds. Sprint operates its 4G network on WiMax technology, which promises to deliver 3-6 Mbps on the download speeds. The Epic 4G Touch is par for the course here, and we wished that WiMax delivered faster speeds like on LTE. That said, Sprint’s 3G CDMA speeds were pretty fast in actual use, and I didn’t find myself turning on 4G as much, considering that 4G is pretty spotty where I’m at.
I was able to get 10-12 hours of solid usage between 3G and 4G connectivity on the phone on a single charge with moderate to heavy browsing, constant push emails, and a few calls, each under thirty minutes.
The Epic 4G Touch is an Android smartphone utilizing Gingerbread and the device comes with both Sprint ID and TouchWiz. This means that users who prefer a more vanilla build of Android could activate Sprint ID and get a more vanilla appearance of Android. For those who prefer a TouchWiz feel, Samsung’s latest implementation is a lot more refined and will offer a number of widgets to suit your daily life.
Samsung had made some great refinements to TouchWiz, but we feel that there was a bit of dissonance with the overall implementation of some elements of TouchWiz. Overall, the TouchWiz layer that’s been added to the Epic 4G Touch is a lot more usable and looks more elegant.
TouchWiz allows users to access 7 homescreens and you can either flip through them by swiping horizontally, or keeping your finger at the bottom of the home screen buttons and slide your finger to accelerate to the screen pane you want. Unfortunately, though, the screens don’t cycle through, which means that if you approach the last screen, you can’t continue to swipe again to go to the first home screen, and instead you’ll have to back track. The experience isn’t so when you open the app drawer. The apps are arranged in horizontally sliding pages, like the home screen, but unlike on the home screen, you can cycle through the pages of apps in the app drawer once you’ve reached the end or beginning of your pages.
Another nice implementation that Samsung had added is widgets that you can resize. This way, you can conserve home screen space or give widgets more prominence depending on your needs. The downside is that you can’t resize all the widgets and only a few of the widgets come with this functionality. You’ll just have to test out for yourself which widgets can be resized, and for those that can, there’s a nice grid that appears once you tap and hold on the widget that shows the various sizing options. The functionality doesn’t appear as polished as the Motorola widgets, but its a nice step in the right direction for a device with a huge display that can serve almost double duty as smartphone-tablet hybrid.
Camera and Video
We’ll be updating this space for photo and video samples in a short while, but in early impressions of the camera, I’ve noticed that the 8-megapixel camera autofocus camera does well in both bright outdoors condition and low light conditions. It’s among the top camera on a smartphone, and the resulting image quality is on par with the Droid Charge’s camera performance. The camera interface has been refined though on the Epic 4G Touch. In addition to toggling between the front and rear cameras, toggling the flash, and switching between video and photo modes, there’s now an on-screen settings button that will give you access to all the camera’s settings.
The camera will also allow users to tap to focus as well and can capture images in both full 8-megapixel standard size photos or a wider-framed 6.5-megapixel shot. Additionally, for those that want to capture a panoramic image, there’s also an option to do that, along with smile detection and a number of other features.
In terms of performance, this is a capable camera and the only thing that’s really missing is the inclusion of an optical zoom. For the features, you’d think you’re shooting with a touchscreen-based low-end or mid-range point and shoot, and not a cell phone.
For avid photographers and videographers, there’s even basic video and photo editing apps included free on the device to allow you to crop, touch up, and polish your artistic creations.
If you subscribe to a plan, Sprint will also allow you to use your smartphone as a mobile hotspot. The carrier is the only major carrier currently to offer unlimited data plans, but beginning early October, Sprint will start capping mobile hotspot tethering so you will no longer have unlimited tethering.
The Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch is definitely a much more refined and polished experience than the original Galaxy S (Epic 4G). The phone has a much improved Super AMOLED Plus display, great battery life, 4G WiMax connectivity, and a refined TouchWiz experience that can be replaced with a more vankilla Android feel thanks to Sprint ID.
That said, the Galaxy S II is also a device that has a few quirks, and Sprint will make you choose what features you really want from the 3 flagship 4G Android smartphones on the network’s lineup. The compromise is such: if you want 3D, you’ll be limited to the HTC EVO 3D; for globe trotters, the logical choice is the world-phone Photon 4G, and for camera and screen lovers, the Epic 4G Touch will fulfill the craving for vivid colors. That said, no matter what device you choose, you’ll end up with a great smartphone. But given my few gripes in this review about the phone, it is one of the best smartphones on the market today and will be a grat device for those who want a fast device, a large screen, and a camera with few compromises.