Review: Sprint Epic 4G by Samsung

Epic 4G Features 4-inch AMOLED Display and Full QWERTY Keyboard

In June, Sprint launched the first 4G smartphone, the EVO 4G, onto the market with great anticipation and fanfare. So how does Sprint top the EVO 4G? With the new Epic 4G from Samsung, of course. The Epic 4G offers a great combination of features including the 4.0-inch AMOLED display, that is sure to wow with its super bright screen, vivid colors and high contrast ratio, and the full QWERTY keyboard. It also comes with a 1GHz Hummingbird processor, 5-megapixel camera with 720p video recording plus a front facing VGA 640x480 camera for video chatting, and, of course, 4G WiMax connectivity, which is Sprint’s biggest advantage over its mobile competitors currently.

We take a video first look at the Sprint Epic 4G by Samsung
 
Hardware
The 4.0-inch 800x480 AMOLED LCD capacitive multi-touch touchscreen is one of the nicest screens we have seen yet on a phone, and even better than the smaller but higher resolution, 3.5-inch 960x640 Retina display on the iPhone 4, in our opinion. Its super sharp, vivid colors and high contrast ratio make it a true pleasure to look at and videos just pop on the phone. At the bottom of the screen, there are four capacitive backlit touchscreen buttons for Menu, Home, Back and Search. We would have preferred real buttons but it seems most phones have opted for the touchscreen ones instead. You do get four physical versions of these buttons on the physical keyboard which brings us to the slide out keyboard. The full QWERTY keyboard is the best keyboard we have used on a phone, period. It is large and spacious, mainly due to the large 4.0-inch display. So large, in fact, that they had room to give numbers there own keys versus hitting shift to type numbers. This is a real time saver and makes the phone very usable indeed. Like the EVO 4G, the Epic 4G comes with two cameras though they are not as high in resolution with a 5-megapixel camera and a VGA front-facing camera versus 8-megapixels and 1.3 megapixels, respectively for the EVO 4G. It comes with an LED Flash though, here too, it has only one versus two for the EVO 4G. Te Epic 4G also captures video at 720p (1280x720).
 
For connectors, the phone comes with a micro-USB port for charging and PC connection along with a standard 3.5-inch headphone jack at the top. The top is a weird place to find the micro-USB port especially if they ever build a dock for it. The Epic 4G, doesn’t come with a HDMI-out like the EVO 4G and Droid X, however,  so you won’t be able to plug it into a HDTV so if that’s a deal breaker, look at those other phones.  Samsung probably figures that most people won’t need this capability and they are probably right. The phone also comes with 16GB of memory which is plugged into the microSD slot which is inside the cover above the battery.
 
Software
The phone comes with Version 2.1 of Google’s Android mobile OS with Samsung’s Touchwiz 3.0 UI overlay. The Touchwiz UI is very organized with applications looking like the iPhone though it is more utilitarian than other Android UIs such as HTC’s. The Home screen features an area on the bottom if the phone is upright or on the right side if the phone is in landscape mode for Phone, Contacts, Messaging and Applications. The phone is bundled with a host of Samsung-specific Android apps such as ThinkFree Office, which gives you a spreadsheet, word processing and presentation, Media Hub, where you can rent, buy and download TV shows and movies and Buddies Now, which gives you Contacts at a glimpse. Of course, the Epic 4G also comes with a nice WebKit-based browser that includes pinch-to-zoom functionality for browsing, maps and more.
 
Being a Sprint phone, it also comes with some nice Sprint-specific apps such as SprintTV, with mobile steaming versions of various TV channels such as ABC, Sprint Navigation, Sprint’s GPS app and service that is a bit redundant with the also included Google Navigation, Sprint Football and NASCAR apps, which give you some exclusive football and car racing content, and Sprint Zone, which gives you access to your Sprint account.
 
Apps
As for apps, Android is quickly catching up to the iPhone, with over 65,000 apps in the Android Market as of this review, though there is still a gap here, both in terms of quality and quantity. With that said, that gap is shrinking by the day and as the installed base of Android phone continues to grow, so will the number of apps as developers will see the money in developing Android apps. You can already find some of the most popular iPhone apps already ported to the Android such as WHERE, Yelp, AP, Kindle, Facebook, SlingPlayer, etc.
 
Gaming
Gaming on Android phones such as the Epic 4G still lag far behind the iPhone. While this is improving, iPhone games, just like the apps, are still clearly more polished and the bigger game companies have only just begun to port their games to Android. EA Mobile, for example, has 4 games on Android including Need of Speed: Shift and FIFA 10 Soccer while Gameloft has 9 games including Assassin’s Creed. If you are going to game on an Android phone, however, the bigger 4.3-inch screen definitely comes in handy here.
 
Connectivity
The 4G is definitely one of the key features for getting this phone and if you are in a city that has 4G, this is the phone for you. 4G is available in over 50 cities including Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Portland, Kansas City, Seattle, Charlotte, etc. but if you are in cities such as New York City, Los Angeles or San Francisco, the three biggest cities for smartphone usage, you won’t have 4G, at least yet, though Sprint says it will cover those cities by the end of 2010. You will also have to pay $10 extra for 4G even if you don’t actually get the service in your area yet, so this is something to think about.
 
Since we are based in Los Angeles, we could only get 3G service though it was fairly quick compared to the other 3G mobile carriers. We were getting between 700 kilobits per second up to 2.7 megabits per second with an average of 1.2 megabits per second compared to an average of around 500 kilobits per second with Verizon and 600 kilobits per second on AT&T. We did travel to Las Vegas and Dallas where 4G was available and in these cities, the 4G service screams. We got between 2 up to 10+ megabits per second with an average of over 3 megabits per second in these two cities, good enough to watch YouTube in HD and pull up web pages really quickly. Keep in mind that these were not scientific tests so your mileage may vary.
 
Another cool feature on the Epic 4G is the Sprint Hotspot feature that allows the phone to become essentially a WiFi hotspot using the phone’s 4G or 3G broadband connection, essentially like a Overdrive or MiFi hotspot. Keep in mind that you will have to pay $20 more for this privilege but that beats paying $60 more for a dedicated broadband modem or MiFi in addition to your mobile phone bill. It will also drain your battery more quickly so the phone should be plugged in if you plan to use this feature. That being said, we got over 3 hours of use on battery using the Hotspot with continuous web usage.
 
Battery Life
We got about 6 hours of battery life with moderate usage including some web browsing, running a few apps and talking on the phone so carry extra batteries or a charger if you plan to use the phone to any degree other than talking on it. Another thing that can help you extend battery life is a task-killing app like Advanced Task Manager, which will kill apps that are running. Because the Android OS allows background apps and multi-tasking, you do need to keep tracks of apps running in the background and make sure to close them with an app like this or these apps will suck your battery dry. This doesn’t just apply to the EVO 4G but all Android phones in general.
 
Conclusion
The Epic 4G is an excellent phone, especially if you want the great 4.0-inch AMOLED display and/or the spacious full QWERTY keyboard. If a 4.3-inch screen, higher resolution camera or HDMI–out are more important, then the EVO 4G and Droid X are the better choices. For a great all around Android phone with a keyboard to boot, the Epic 4G is definitely high on our list of phones to get.
 
The Epic 4G is available now from Sprint for $249.99 with a two-year service agreement with a new line activation or eligible upgrade. There is a $10 premium data add-on for the 4G service as well.
 
We compare the Sprint Epic 4G with the EVO 4G, Droid X and iPhone 4