Sprint Epic 4G- Samsung Galaxy S (Pro) Review

Here we are, finding ourselves in part three of our four-part (we assume) series of Samsung Galaxy S phones. Each carrier in the US is coming out with its own flavor, and UnwiredView has been given the wonderful opportunity to scoop each one and give you the lowdown on what’s great, not so great, and what’s unique about each one. If you haven’t seen my reviews for the Samsung Captivate or Vibrant, it’s not too late; feel free to check them out at the links provided.

When first learning about each of the phones at the Galaxy S press event, I originally expected the Samsung Epic 4G to be the king of the Galaxy S phones for several reasons, and I was right. Though most of the key internal specs are the same, the Epic 4G has an edge on its siblings in that it sports a full physical QWERTY keyboard hidden underneath the same 4” touchscreen display, packs in Sprint’s 4G network, and also tosses in a frontward-facing camera for kicks and giggles.

The Epic 4G is the second WiMax-capable device to launch on Sprint so far, beat out nearly 3 months ago by the HTC EVO 4G. With the 4G capability being combined with the other Galaxy S specs, though, there are a lot of nice perks that make it just as attractive — if not more so — as the EVO.

Note: For more of an introduction on the Galaxy S lineup in general, please read my other Galaxy S reviews so I don’t repeat all the same exact stuff today. It’s time to get nitpicky and go through as much as I can about the Epic 4G, so I want to get straight to the meat and potatoes of the phone.

Design of the Epic 4G

The Epic is definitely the black sheep of the Galaxy S lineup in terms of design. For one, it comes with a large physical QWERTY keyboard that tucks underneath the usual touchscreen on a horizontal slider. With that, it makes the phone bulkier than the other phones in the lineup (at 5.46 ounces, it’s 1.2 ounces heavier than the Vibrant). In fact, I’d venture to guess it’s bulkier than a lot of smartphones on the market today. It measures out at 4.9 inches x 2.54 inches x 0.56 inches.

I wonder if Sprint has a “go big or go home” mentality when it comes to devices utilizing its state-of-the-art high-speed network. First the EVO with its 4.3” touchscreen, so big that it has its own kickstand to hold it up; and now the Epic 4G with 4” screen and full keyboard. So far we haven’t seen any plans by Sprint to launch any small smartphones or even feature phones on 4G at this point, so we’ll see what changes over the next couple years WiMax is offered.

Looking directly down at the Epic 4G I am reminded of the soft curves of the Vibrant’s design, more so than the abrupt edges and sharp corners of the Captivate. I have a feeling that the curvy look was how Samsung intended the entire Galaxy S lineup to look like, and AT&T’s Captivate shook the design expectations up a little bit. But I digress. The Epic took cues from the Vibrant in look and feel, and actually improved on it.

The front looks the same with same size screen and same exact four touch-only buttons at the bottom of it to signify options, home, previous, and quick search. The only exception is the inclusion of a frontward-facing camera on the top right. The side differs in that the Epic has three layers to deal with instead of just one or two: the top is all black (the Vibrant has a chrome bezel around it), the middle layer which features the top of the keyboard is chrome, and the bottom is also black.

Curiously, I’ve noticed that the power/screen lock button on the upper right is always placed at a different spot on each phone. For the Epic, it’s snuggled up very close to the top side of the phone, closer than the Captivate and Vibrant for sure. It also has the camera shutter button on the bottom right, volume rocker on the left, and the top has 3.5 mm headphone jack and same MicroUSB connector port complete with the clever sliding door that keeps the port hidden and safe from dust and moisture. I love the sliding door idea that’s been implemented on Galaxy S, and hope other companies will follow suit with similar designs.

The Epic’s backside also appears to be made out of a different material than its brethren. The Captivate used a brushed metal back while the Vibrant opted for a glossy plastic that showed fingerprints like no other. The Epic’s back is still plastic, but at least Sprint chose to use a textured matte style that keeps fingerprints away and adds a small degree of gripability. Interestingly enough, the front of the Epic is glossy while the back is matte. To the critics of plastic in regards to expensive smartphones, it would be hard to imagine Sprint using metal as its primary material of choice here since the phone is already heavy enough as it is.

I also noticed the battery cover snaps off and on, which is more like the Vibrant than the Captivate. This method is okay, but I much prefer the Captivate’s style with the sliding mechanism that helps keep the battery cover from budging whatsoever.

Finally, the keyboard is one of the most important aspects of the entire phone and frankly is under much more scrutiny because it is the only Galaxy S that decided to go against the mold and throw it in. The keyboard, I feel, needs to be darn good to be called worthy of the extra weight and bulk it’s adding on. I’d say it’s mostly there.

It’s hard to recommend one single keyboard for every person because everyone has different-sized fingers and thus different preferences. I like my keyboards to be spaced out somewhat, with slightly raised keys and a dedicated row of numbers so I don’t have to become intimately acquainted with the Fn key unless I absolutely have to. The Epic hits all of those points on the mark. The buttons are all spaced well and provide sufficient room to type without smashing my fingers on multiple letters simultaneously. I do wish that the buttons were slightly more raised on top; the keys are raised currently, but the tops are completely flat. I do love the dedicated row of numbers, as well as the d-pad and various Android keys (same keys as found on the bottom part of the front screen) around the outside. Samsung did a great job of taking advantage of all available real estate.

Another interesting point to note is that the backlight of the keyboard is set to be separate from that of the main screen. This way, you can be done using the keyboard for the moment but still be able to finish up a task on the landscape screen without worrying about battery life being sucked by the keyboard, of all things.

The keyboard’s slider mechanism itself is well constructed. It’s spring loaded when it’s slid open and never feels loose when in use. The more solid the sliding feels, the more likely I feel the keyboard will hold up over the test of time. It’s not a measurable type of evidence, but I always go with my gut feeling on such matters.

Other significant design differences between the Epic and the other Galaxy S phones are the inclusion of LED flash and a frontward-facing camera. Every smartphone of this caliber should have both of those features, and truly helps the Epic stand out even more from its Galaxy S relatives. But at $249.99 after rebate on a new contract, it’s easy to see why the Epic 4G is so much more expensive than the Captivate and Vibrant, both starting at $199.00.

Features of the Epic 4G

The Samsung Epic 4G appears to be in the running for one of 2010’s top smartphones just in the included specs alone. It not only contains all the same internal specs as the other Galaxy S phones — 4” capacitive touchscreen with Super AMOLED, 1 GHz Hummingbird CPU, 16 GB included memory, 512 MB RAM, and let’s not forget the HD 720p video recording capability — it also throws in extras like LED camera flash, keyboard, and use as a 3G/4G mobile hotspot (more on this later). And it holds up well against the competition, since there really aren’t too many smartphones in the market today that can beat the Epic 4G in specs.

4G is incredibly nice to have on the Epic. Just using 4G alone would net me speeds of around 4 Mbps on average, though we’ll get more specific on speedtests later. Most phones I review are 3G seem to be sufficient for me throughout the course of my usual workday; 4G is even better. And Sprint has definitely found ways to make it worth your while to have it, too. One example is the Epic’s ability to broadcast as a mobile hotspot, allowing up to 8 other devices to take advantage of these 4G speeds no matter how fast they go natively. When the EVO 4G came out, Sprint boasted that unlike AT&T, they could actually make the iPhone go 4G speeds. Sprint knows it has an edge with 4G only for a little while, and it’s trying to take every opportunity while it can.

Another perk that goes along with the 4G speed is video calling capability. Certainly, one of the Epic 4G’s crowing jewels is the frontward-facing camera that can be utilized for video conferencing. As it is only available on a select few devices, this is still a huge novelty and selling point for the Epic 4G. I was disappointed to find out, however, that there is no way to access the front camera through the actual camera app itself; it turns out that the camera is only accessible to third parties such as Qik. This definitely makes the iPhone 4’s front camera more appealing as it can be used via the camera app in addition to several video-conferencing services already available. Even though I personally don’t need to record myself, it at least is nice to use the camera just as easily and frequently as the backside camera. I hope Sprint and Samsung will release some type of update to allow this.

I also discovered Quick Launch on the Epic, which enables you to assign each key to a different application, making it much easier to find hard-to-find apps hidden deep in your expansive app tray. Some are preset; for example, hit search + b to get to the browser, and search + c to get to contacts. Makes sense, right?

For bloatware, the Epic also throws in a few preloaded apps of its own that the Captivate and Vibrant don’t have. The included Qik app is a no-brainer since this is the only Galaxy S that uses video calling. Sprint also pitches in with its obligatory apps such as NASCAR, Sprint Football, Navigation, TV, Sprint Zone, as well as the Sprint hotspot app.

Another key difference in the Epic is the unlock screen. On the others, all that’s required to unlock the touchscreen is a simple swipe of your finger any which way. However, on the Epic 4G the only way to unlock it is to press a small lock button in the middle of the screen and drag your finger up. It’s a minor irritation, one that can be overlooked in light of the other improvements the Epic has. I’m also wondering what happened to the puzzle lock screen, which was prominent on the Captivate and Vibrant. The Puzzle Lock shows up anytime you have a missed call or text message you need to read (as opposed to the standard swipe if all is normal), and appears as a stray puzzle piece that you need to drag and drop in the proper hole in order to unlock the phone and immediately jump to the messages screen.

With the Galaxy S phones, Samsung has introduced a syncing program called Kies — not sure how it’s pronounced or what it means — that when plugged into the computer, the Galaxy S can interface with it in order to back up all of your data as well as transfer files, contacts, and music. While it doesn’t automatically come with the Epic 4G, it can be found on Samsung’s site, and once installed on your computer it will automatically start up anytime you connect the Epic to your computer.

Speaking of pictures, here are a few that were taken using the Epic 4G.

And I also captured HD video on all three Galaxy S phones using my backyard as the background. Here’s the video outlining all 3:

Performance of the Samsung Epic 4G

Finally, we discuss the Epic 4G’s performance.

For 3G usage, the battery life is comparable to the Captivate and Vibrant, and with moderate use will easily last all day. Full use, whether you are calling, web browsing, emailing or playing games, you should expect to see roughly 4 hours of battery life. 4G is a different story because it is an incredible battery hog. Once I used 4G and kept it on, even barely using the phone, it was lucky to reach 4 hours at best. If you plan on using 4G on a consistent basis, I will strongly recommend being close to a power source like car charger or USB cord if you’re at your desk.

When I tried using the GPS without the assistance of WiFi, I had struggles. Some of the time I would get an error message that tells me “your location is currently unavailable”, but then would go back into the maps app 5 minutes later to get a much more accurate reading. This leads me to believe the Galaxy S line is still feeling the effects of a defective aGPS unit inside. I would’ve figured the Epic 4G would feature a improved and fixed aGPS, but it must have already been on the production line by the time the bug was discovered and broadcast through the media.

As mentioned earlier, the 4G network can achieve decently fast speeds, especially compared to the 3G norm; many times my speedtests would indicate speeds up to 4 Mbps, instead of the typical 1-1.5 for 3G. With that said, however, I did indulge myself by using the mobile hotspot service on the Epic 4G (which is available to you for $29.99). I made sure I was in a 4G zone and was getting a healthy signal, activated the hotspot, and hooked my iPhone 3GS up to it as a WiFi connection. When I ran a new speedtest I was shocked by what I saw: 1.4 Mbps download and .3 Mbps upload speeds. But when I ran a speedtest directly on the Epic itself I was seeing 3.7 Mbps download. I have no clue why this is the case, and perhaps it was just a fluke. Sadly I didn’t have another opportunity to try it out on a different device, but this completely confused me as to why there is such a large difference. If that’s normal, I do not want to be paying $30/month for that kind of service difference.

I didn’t notice any difference in processor performance from previous models. They all run the same 1 GHz Hummingbird processor, which certainly offers fast transitions and program loading times. Any differences in performance in this regard will be minor, at best. I also saw no difference in call quality or volume on the phones, either.

Final Thoughts on the Epic 4G

If you’ve read my Captivate and Vibrant reviews, it’s no secret that I love the Galaxy S series of smartphones. I feel they combine style and comfort with state-of-the-art and modern design. The Epic 4G is no deviation from that, though there are a few extra things to love and a few to hate. I love the addition of the full keyboard, especially the feel of the keys, dedicated number row and clever use of available real estate,  though I don’t like the extra weight and bulk that comes as a result. I love the 4G but don’t like that I have to pay an extra $10 for the privilege, even though my house is not in a 4G zone (I need to drive 15 minutes into town to get my 4G results).

I’m also not a fan of the Sprint mobile hotspot seemingly giving less than satisfactory speeds when compared to the device that’s actually running the 4G itself. They should be the same speeds, especially when only one device is connected. I can understand lower speeds with multiple devices being connected all at once, but that doesn’t explain the huge difference in performance when it was only one device.

I am also sad that the GPS is still not satisfactory, but will reserve ultimate judgment until the official bug fix is released sometime this month.

So the Epic 4G is, I feel, the most feature-packed Galaxy S device and the better of the two Sprint 4G phones out on market today. But you will need to decide for yourself if that makes it worth getting the extra data services involved with 4G and the hotspot ability. Not to mention the additional features mean the phone is more expensive than its comparable brethren at $249.99 with contract and after rebate.

You can also get Sprint’s Samsung Epic 4G from Amazon.com for $99

Take a look-see at my gallery of pics below.

But I can’t get ahead of myself in recommending the Epic 4G as the number one Galaxy S phone yet, because I’m still anticipating the release of the Samsung Fascinate on Verizon, also sometime this month. Once I have reviewed all four devices, I can better share a direct comparison between all of them.

Author: Brad Molen

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  • gtl408

    Great review! I just have a few things to add:

    Aside from the differences from the other Galaxy cousins that you had mentioned, the Epic includes a notification LED, an included task manager, and only 1 GB of internal storage versus the 16 GB that both the Vibrant and Captivate possess. Also, you can access the front camera through the camera app. You have to change the shooting mode to self portrait. Finally, another method of unlocking the screen is to just slide out the physical keyboard.

  • me

    Front facing camera is available by selecting the “self portrait” mode in the camera app.

  • me

    Front facing camera is available by selecting the “self portrait” mode in the camera app.

  • Brad

    I can verfiy that. I own the epic.

  • Matt

    FYI…you can acces the front camera from the camera app..it’s just not intuittive and a little difficult to find at first…but it’s there

  • Gmarbury

    Have you actually used KIES with epic 4G? Other sites says it’s not supported. If so where did you get it

  • Flyer129

    I have the phone and think it is the best one yet.