Also, for those worried about how the TouchWiz interface may interfere with future Android updates, according to Samsung, the entire Galaxy S portfolio will be upgradeable to Android 2.2, and it has made tweaks to the user interface that will make it easier to adapt it to future Android versions. However, the company also noted that without really knowing what Google has planned down the line, there may be a time where updates can't be supported because of hardware limitations or other factors.
The Samsung Epic 4G is a CDMA phone that supports 3G and 4G connectivity--3G is in the form of EV-DO Rev. A, while 4G is in the form of Sprint's WiMax. While we weren't able to test the 4G connectivity at the time of this writing, you can read our review of the HTC Evo 4G to get some idea of our experiences with Sprint's 4G WiMax service. Like the Evo 4G, you can use the Epic 4G as a mobile Wi-Fi hots pot for up to five devices. However, bear in mind that this mobile broadband hot spot service costs an extra $29.99 a month.
Unsurprisingly, the Epic 4G comes with a few basic smartphone features like the speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, text and multimedia messaging, visual voice mail, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS. The latter is compatible with Sprint's Navigation service, though we're slightly partial to Google's Maps with Navigation app. The phone book is limited to available memory and there's room in each entry for multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, IM handles, group IDs, photo caller IDs, and more.
You can merge all your contacts from your various email and social network accounts into your phonebook with Samsung's Social Hub feature. The phone is often smart enough to link the contacts for you, but we found we had to do some manual linking for a few of our contacts. As for e-mail, the Epic 4G works with Gmail in addition to your own POP3, IMAP, and Exchange accounts, and you can view a combined in-box for all your e-mail if you like. As with the other Galaxy S phones, this works best if you have relatively few e-mail folders-- too many of them will result in a rather cluttered interface. The calendar also syncs nicely with your Google or Outlook calendar.
Since the Epic 4G has a front-facing VGA camera, it makes sense that Sprint has included the Qik video chat app with the phone. With Qik and the front camera, you are able to make and answer video calls provided the other person also has a Qik account. You can also video chat with someone who has Qik running on a PC. The Qik video chat service is free, but there's a premium service that provides higher resolution and video archiving for $4.99 a month. You can use Qik with Wi-Fi, 4G, and 3G networks, but its video is noticeably choppier when connected via 3G.
Other apps on the Epic 4G include the alarm clock, the Android Webkit Web browser, the calculator, Facebook, the memo pad, Google Talk, ThinkFree Office, the voice dialer, Google voice search, the Asphalt video game, and YouTube. Since it is a Sprint phone, you also get a few standard Sprint apps like Sprint Zone, Sprint Navigation, Sprint Football, Nascar Sprint Mobile, and Sprint TV. You can get more apps via the Android Market.
The Epic 4G's beautiful Super AMOLED display makes the phone well suited for watching media. You can watch content from YouTube and Sprint TV, though the video quality from both sources doesn't quite do the display justice. Thankfully, eventually you'll be able to rent and purchase content on the Epic 4G from Samsung's Media Hub that will launch later this year. According to Samsung, its service will include both TV shows and movies; however, we don't yet know the names of the content partners. If you like, you can load your own videos--the Epic 4G supports MP4 video formats in addition to DivX- and DivX HD-encoded media files. The phone is also compatible with Samsung's AllShare service that lets you wirelessly share stored media (that includes pictures, HD video, and more) to other DLNA-certified home electronics.
As with all Android phones, you can purchase and download songs from the Amazon MP3 store, and of course, you can load your own music via USB or microSD. The music player has 5.1-channel surround sound and it has a pretty album cover interface similar to Apple's Cover Flow. The phone only has 1GB of internal memory, so we would advise the use of microSD cards for storing media. The Epic 4G can take up to 16GB microSD cards.
Last, but definitely not least, is the 5.0-megapixel camera, which can record video in HD. Its picture quality is pretty impressive. We thought the images looked sharp and colors were nice and natural. Low-light shots weren't so hot, but, thankfully, the Epic 4G has an LED flash that helped considerably. Some of the camera settings include ISO, blink and smile detection, and panorama mode.
We tested the Samsung Epic 4G in San Francisco using the Sprint Nextel service. Call quality was very good for the most part. There was a tiny bit of voice distortion in our caller's voice as well as the occasional static, but that didn't ruin the overall call. They came through loud and clear, albeit a little tinny.
Our callers said the same about us; they detected no background sound. However, they said the voice quality was noticeably tinny and harsh. Still, its voice clarity wins out in the end, and they had no major complaints with call quality. The same goes for the speakerphone-- as expected, there was a slight hollowness and echo effects to the calls, but it was overall clear and clean.
We tested the handset's 4G support in Seattle using Sprint's and Clearwire's WiMax network. On the whole, coverage was reliable, though it can be spotty depending on your exact location. We found reliable service in the airport and its immediate surroundings, the downtown area, the Capitol Hill neighborhood, and the city of Renton, Wash. We also took the Epic 4G for a ride on Seattle's light rail between the airport and downtown. We bounced back to 3G a couple of times during the trip, specifically in the Tukwila and Rainier Beach areas. We also didn't get 4G service in tunnels, but that's understandable.
When we were connected, the service was strong and graphics-heavy Web sites loaded quickly. Airliners.net fully loaded in 15 seconds and Giantbomb.com took 25 seconds. In contrast, mobile sites like CNN took barely any time at all. YouTube videos were fast, as well, and we downloaded apps from the Android Market. It took about 15 seconds to download a track from the Amazon MP3 store, which is comparable to our experience on the Evo 4G. For your reference, Sprint says its 4G WiMax network can provide wireless speeds up to 10 times faster than today's 3G, with average download speeds ranging from 3Mbps to 6Mbps and peak download speeds of up to 10Mbps and upload speeds of 1Mbps. Compare that with 3G's average download speeds of 600kbps to 1.4Mbps and peak download speeds of 1.3Mbps.
Connected via Sprint's 3G network, the phone performed well. We loaded the BBC mobile Web page in just 5 seconds, and the full CNET page in just 12 seconds. We experienced only a few seconds buffering time for YouTube videos, even in high quality. We enjoyed the high-quality YouTube videos for the most part, but we still noticed some artifacts and inconsistent color tones in the background. The default MP4 video file that Samsung provided looked much better because of its HD quality
Connected via Sprint's 3G network, the phone performed well. We loaded the BBC mobile Web page in just 5 seconds, and the full CNET page in just 12 seconds. We experienced only a few seconds buffering time for YouTube videos, even in high quality. We enjoyed the high-quality YouTube videos for the most part, but we still noticed some artifacts and inconsistent color tones in the background. The default MP4 video file that Samsung provided looked much better because of its HD quality.
The 1GHz Hummingbird Cortex A8 application processor did its job well. Apps launched quickly, and we didn't experience too many hiccups with menu transitions and multitasking.
The Samsung Epic 4G has a 1,500mAh lithium ion battery with a rated battery life of 7.5 hours talk time and 21 days standby time. The Epic 4G had a talk time of 6 hours and 43 minutes in 3G. According to FCC radiation tests, the Epic 4G has a digital SAR of 0.68 watt per kilogram and has a Hearing Aid Compatibility Rating of M3/T3.