Sprint Samsung Epic 4G Review
|Wednesday, 15 September 2010|
Sprint recently launched their second 4G phone, the Epic 4G from Samsung, which joined the super-popular HTC EVO 4G as the only 4G-capable phones on the market. The Epic 4G is capable of using Sprint's 3G & 4G networks, meaning that you can potentially get download speeds anywhere from 3 to 7mbps when you're in a 4G coverage area, and you can still expect up to 1-2mbps when you're in a nationwide 3G area. Since both the EVO & Epic are currently the only two phones capable of using Sprint's 4G network, many of our readers have been asking us which Sprint 4G phone is "better", but there really isn't a straight-forward answer. The EVO and Epic both have pro's & con's, and we think that each phone targets a slightly different audience. We've tested both phones extensively, and in this article we'll discuss the Epic's features and performance and how they compare to the EVO - and hopefully help you determine which 4G phone will be best for you!
First, let's take a look at some of the Epic's basic features and specs and how they compare to the EVO as well as the iPhone 4:
iPhone 4 (left) & Epic 4G (right)
Left: EVO 4G (top) compared to Epic 4G (bottom); Right: EVO 4G compared to Epic 4G
As you can see from the above pictures, the Epic 4G is a bit thicker compared to either the iPhone 4 or EVO 4G. This is because it offers a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, which we think may be one of the biggest deciding factors for those who are trying to decide between the EVO 4G or Epic 4G. When comparing the size of the Epic 4G & EVO 4G you will also notice that the Epic 4G has a slightly smaller screen. However, this doesn't bother us at all, since the Epic 4G's Super AMOLED screen provides a noticeably sharper & more detailed display than the EVO 4G. In fact, there is such a big difference in resolution that you can even notice the difference in the photo of the two phones above!
Our overall experience with the phone aspect of the Epic was very pleasant. The built-in earpiece provides good volume levels and call quality, we were able to hear everyone loud and clear during several test calls that we placed. We were very impressed with how loud the speaker phone is, and the quality of audio that the speaker phone provides. When we were using the speaker phone it sounded like a normal call, but louder, instead of sounding muffled like we have experienced on some other speakerphones. The Epic also worked great with the Jawbone bluetooth headset that we used with it, providing good quality up to about 10-15 feet away from the phone. Keep in mind that Bluetooth quality/range may vary depending on the quality of your Bluetooth headset.
We were also very relieved to see that the proximity sensor in the Epic works very well. This has been an issue with a some of the other touch screen phones that we've used in the past. The proximity sensor is what turns the touch screen off temporarily when you're talking on the phone so that your face doesn't accidentally hit any buttons on the screen like "End Call" or "Mute". One of our testers in particular has had problems with the proximity sensor on his Motorola Droid and frequently accidentally mutes calls because the proximity sensor isn't as good as it should be, so we were very relieved to see that the Epic responds very well in this area.
Internet Browsing & Apps:
With its large AMOLED screen, the Epic 4G offers a very nice web browsing experience. The web browser renders entire web pages so that you will see the entire page on the screen by default, and of course you get multi-touch functionality so you can scroll and pinch-to-zoom using your fingers just as you may have seen on the iPhone or other Android 2.1+ devices.
The Epic comes pre-loaded with many great apps for social networks, viewing documents, email, and music & video playback. We really like that the phone comes pre-loaded with Twitter & Facebook along with Samsung's own "Feeds & Updates" widget, which can be placed on your home screen to consolidate all of your friends' status updates from Facebook & Twitter into one place. Of course, there is also the Android Marketplace where you can download over 80,000 free & paid games and apps for almost anything that you can imagine.
Epic's Web Browser Renders pages for full screen view!
Since the Epic 4G's Super AMOLED screen provides such an incredible display, we were surprised to see that the Epic 4G's main camera is only 5MP (the EVO 4G has an 8MP camera). Of course, 5MP is still very good for a cell phone, and we couldn't really see any noticeable difference in quality between the photos that we took with the Epic 4G versus ones taken with the EVO 4G's 8MP camera. To make up for the slightly lower camera quality, the camera application on the Epic includes a unique feature that allows you to select which area you want the camera to focus on in the picture. This really helps users to take clear and focused pictures quickly without having to manually adjust more complicated settings that you might find on a traditional camera. The Epic's camera app also has several different photo-shooting modes that we haven't seen on any other Android phone:
Epic 4G Camera Modes:
It's also worth mentioning that the Epic is the only Samsung Galaxy S Series phone that has an LED flash for taking photos in low light. The Epic 4G absolutely has the best camera app that we've ever seen on any smartphone. We can't get over how great the facial recognition is for self portraits! The panorama mode is also amazing - it allows you to take eight individual pictures, and then the phone intelligently stitches them together and removes any overlaps to create one seamless panoramic image. This phone has some truly amazing camera modes, but the smile shot mode shows off this phone's AI & processing power the best. To demonstrate this feature we've created a quick video demonstration: Epic 4G Camera - Smile Shot Mode Video Demonstration
Photo taken in "Cartoon" mode, just one of the fun features available in the camera app
The Epic 4G also offers a camcorder mode in the camera application that records video with resolutions up to 1280x720 (720pHD), just like the EVO 4G & iPhone 4. While the video quality from the Epic is amazing, we found that the quality of videos recorded on the EVO was slightly better. We suspect that the Epic 4G's lense is not really producing 720P quality video and that it is being up-converted to this resolution, which really only adds grain to the video. We had higher hopes than this for the Epic, so if you plan on shooting a lot of video with your phone, the EVO is probably a better choice for you.
Comparison of Epic 4G (left) & Motorola Droid (right) Slide-Out Keyboards
The Epic 4G is the only Galaxy S Series phone that has a slide-out keyboard, and is the perfect smartphone for you if you send A LOT of text messages or lengthy emails on your phone and would prefer to have a physical keyboard over a touch-screen keyboard. Our tester has stuck with the Verizon Motorola Droid (rather than upgrading to one of the newer Droid models) for quite a while for this very reason. We were very pleased with the Epic's keyboard, which we found to be superior compared to the few Android phones that offer a physical keyboard. As you can see from the photos, the keyboard on the Epic provides spacing between each key, which makes it more comfortable to type on and also reduces typos. There are two other things that we like about the Epic's keyboard that allowed us to compose messages quicker than on other Android devices: dedicated number keys (although you still need to press the fuction key for some punctuation and symbols), and the fact that the Epic's solid buttons make the keyboard feel more like a computer keyboard rather than a keyboard on a smartphone. We think that QWERTY keyboard users will be very impressed with the Epic 4G's keyboard!
Close-up of Epic 4G Keyboard
As far as the touch-screen keyboard goes, we found that it was really easy to type on. Just like the EVO, the Epic offers plenty of keyboard real estate thanks to its large screen. One unique feature of the Epic's touch-screen keyboard is the Swype typing functionality. This feature allows you to basically draw a line between the letters on the keyboard that make up the word you want to type. This new technology is very good at predicting exactly what you are wanting to type, and if it is unsure will give you the option to select which word you wanted to type. Check out our video demonstration of this feature: Epic 4G's Swype Keyboard Video Demonstration
Epic 4G Performance:
Super AMOLED Screen:
As we already mentioned, the Epic 4G uses an AMOLED screen. AMOLED screens are light weight, more durable, provide faster response times (refresh rates), wider viewing angles without glares, more brightness, and most importantly, provide better power effeciency at a lower cost when compared to the Super LCD screens that other Android devices like the EVO 4G use. The difference between these two types of screens is so noticeable that you can even see the differences in the photo below. While the EVO 4G's screen looks good on its own, it looks washed out in comparison because the Epic's AMOLED screen can display more accurate colors and provides a brighter display. The resolution on the Epic is so good that you can't even see the pixels on the screen - it's almost as if it the screen was "liquid on paper". The AMOLED screen is truly a win-win as you get better image quality while gaining better battery life, which was a big complaint for many EVO users.
Screen comparison between EVO & Epic
Mobile Hotspot Feature:
Like the HTC EVO 4G, the Epic also provides a mobile WiFi hotspot option that allows up to 5 WiFi-enabled devices (laptops, iPads, iPod Touch, etc) to the internet using the phone's 3G or 4G internet connection. While both the Epic & EVO offer unlimited 3G & 4G data with the mobile hotspot feature for an additional $29.99 per month, there are some differences in each phone's mobile hotspot feature. The EVO allows up to 8 WiFi-capable devices to connect simultaneously to it's mobile hotspot, while the Epic 4G only allows up to 5 simultaneous connections. We don't think this will be a big deal for most users, as many users who are traveling with the mobile hotspot feature won't have the need to have more than 5 devices connected at the same time. For users who want to get around the WiFi client limit, the Pepwave Surf Mini allows users to connect up to 64 additional WiFi devices by re-broadcasting the Epic's WiFi network. NOTE: as of 10/2/11, the mobile hotspot feature no longer provides unlimited data :(
We really like that the Epic 4G's mobile hotspot feature has WPA security enabled by default (using the phone's 10 digit mobile number as the default password), but WPA is the only wireless security option. While most modern WiFi-enabled devices support WPA, there are some legacy WiFi chipsets that will require driver updates before they will support WPA security. Some older Windows XP machines may require updates before being able to use WPA security. We like that the EVO 4G allows you to choose WEP or WPA security, allowing you to choose between stronger security or support for older devices that can't support WPA. The Epic does allow you to disable the wireless network name from being broadcasted so that others won't see your network as an option to connect to, which is something that the EVO 4G doesn't offer. We also like that the Epic 4G allows you to choose which wireless channel that you want to broadcast on to reduce interference, another function that the EVO doesn't offer.
The Epic's hotspot feature also offers a unique "battery management" feature that can be configured to turn off the mobile hotspot feature to conserve battery if it's inactive for a specified ammount of time (between 5-60 mins). Of course, this feature can also be turned off to always keep the mobile hotspot feature active regardless if there is no activity on the connection.
Overall, even with the 5-user limit and lack of WEP support, we prefer the Epic's mobile hotspot feature over the EVO's, as it provides additional features that the EVO 4G hotspot doesn't to reduce WiFi interference & conserve on battery life (which is a big deal for Android smartphones).
We were disappointed to see that the Epic 4G doesn't offer any official way of syncing contacts, email, or calendar data with a PC or Mac. While the Epic does sync with Google services (like Google Apps) such as Gmail for email & contacts and Google Calendar, there isn't any official way to sync with your Outlook email & address book. If you want to be able to sync your Epic with your PC or Mac, you will need third party software like Missing Sync. The EVO, on the other hand, does support syncing for PC users with their bundled HTC Sync software (Mac users still need third party software, however).
Keep in mind that if you already use Google services like Gmail, then you won't need to worry about syncing your phone with your computer at all. Since the Epic uses Google's Android operating system, it will automatically sync with your Google accounts when you first set up the phone. This means that it will automatically populate the contacts & calendar on your phone by syncing with your Google account. This makes it very simple to automatically get your Gmail on the phone as well - simply enter in your Gmail address & password and you will automatically start getting your email on your phone!
If you are wanting to sync your music library to the Epic 4G, we recommend a free third party application that is very similar to iTunes called Double Twist, which is available for both PC's & Mac.
Epic users can tether via USB to provide internet connectivity to any PC or Mac. Keep in mind that tethering via USB will disable the WiFi hotspot as well as all other data services on the phone (meaning if you're tethered to one computer, you won't be able to connect any other devices via WiFi nor will you be able to use data services ON the phone itself while you're tethered!). NOTE: This feature DOES require the mobile hotspot feature.
Samsung User Interface:
Many Android smartphone manufactuers include their own twist to the Android operating sytem. Samsung's customized user interface on the Epic 4G is very polished and we love how similar it is to the iPhone interface. Of course it's not identical to the iPhone interface, but there are little things that remind us of the iPhone, such as having the four "docked" icons at the bottom of the home screen as well as having the applications menu scroll horizontally instead of veritcally as they do on all other Android devices. With the Epic you have seven main home screens available, so there is plenty of room to put your favorite widgets, and all of the applications that you use frequently.
Samsung's Custom Android Home Screen (left); Samsung's Custom Android Widgets (right)
We're very impressed with the battery life that we've been getting out of this phone. It's amazing that we can get better performance out of the Epic and still get longer battery life than on the EVO 4G. While it's not possible to give specific battery life times, as each user's experience will differ depending on how you use your phone, we were able to get a full day of use out of the phone and still had a small bit of battery life to spare! If you are a power user or plan to use the mobile hotspot feature all day without being plugged into a power source, you will be glad to know that 3Gstore includes a free car charger and spare battery with all EVO & Epic orders!
The only thing we don't currently like about the Epic 4G is that it comes with Android 2.1 installed - for an "Epic Phone" with this much horsepower, we would've expected to get Android 2.2 Froyo. This means that you won't be able to use Adobe Flash and many other Android improvements Froyo provides, like you can on the EVO 4G. However, Sprint was the first carrier to release Android 2.2 on any device when they released it for the EVO, and they are typically very good about ensuring that their devices are running the latest software, so we have no doubts that we will see a 2.2 update in the near future. Samsung has also confirmed that there will be an Android 2.2 update for the Epic in the very near future. Considering that Android 2.2 provides a 50% performance increase by optimizing applications to run faster, we can't wait to see just how fast the Epic 4G will be after the Android 2.2 upgrade!
After using both the EVO and the Epic extensively and putting them both through countless tests, several key factors caused us to prefer the Epic 4G over the EVO overall: the richer display, better performance, better battery life, and a physical slide-out keyboard. While it might not be the best choice for everyone, if you're looking for the best battery life, the best display, the best performance, and you prefer a physical keyboard then we highly recommend the Epic 4G. Users who don't need a physical keyboard or want better camera & camcorder quality may prefer the EVO instead as it provides a better camera and is slightly slimmer, but other than those differences, both phones are very similar and both are great devices to use!
The Samsung Epic is now available at 3Gstore for $249.99 after rebate with a new 2-year Sprint contract (or eligible upgrade), plus receive a free car charger and replacement battery with your order! Order at 3Gstore.com/epic
|Last Updated ( Monday, 03 October 2011 )|
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