Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluation of the unlocked Samsung Galaxy S II.
While the rest of the world has been enjoying the Samsung Galaxy S II for some time now, the U.S. has had to sit by and wait for its turn. Fortunately, the time has finally come and the Android superphone will be available through multiple carriers this fall. Sprint is first out of the gate, launching the Samsung Epic 4G Touch on September 16 for $199.99 with a two-year contract. As the successor to the popular Samsung Epic 4G, the smartphone loses its slide-out QWERTY keyboard, but gains a faster dual-core processor, larger and sharper Super AMOLED Plus touch screen, better cameras, and much more. The phone is on the large side, which will keep some at bay, but for those who can handle the size, the Epic 4G Touch will not disappoint.
At 5.1 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide, the Samsung Epic 4G Touch is a large device. The width makes it harder to grip the phone, especially if you have smaller hands, and it's not a handset that easily fits into a pants pocket. It's not going to be for everyone. That said, like the Samsung Infuse 4G, it's also quite thin and light at just 0.38 inch thick and 4.5 ounces, so the smartphone is easier to manage than one would think.
Plus, you might be willing to deal with the phone's larger size when you get a glimpse of the 4.52-inch, WVGA (800x480) Super AMOLED Plus touch screen. The spacious display and the vibrant colors make it great for viewing Web pages and multimedia. There are slightly sharper screens out there, such as the qHD (960x540 pixels) display on the Motorola Photon 4G, so images and text aren't quite as smooth, but we still found the Epic 4G Touch's screen easy to read.
The touch screen is responsive. The smartphone offers both Swype and Samsung's virtual keyboards. It registered all our taps, and we were able to easily navigate through the menus. In addition to using the standard touch interface, you can also use motion gestures on the Epic 4G Touch. With the settings turned on, you can flip the phone to mute it. With two fingers on the screen, you can tilt to zoom in and out in the Gallery and browser. Flicking your wrist left or right (panning) can move a home screen icon when you're holding it. Double-tapping the top of the phone prepares the Vlingo-powered Voice Talk app for voice commands while you're driving. However, panning and zooming weren't as responsive as we'd like. While most of the motion controls may not figure into your daily use, this type of gesture functionality adds welcome options in general.
Below the display, you'll find touch-sensitive buttons for the menu, home, back, and search functions. The left side features a volume rocker, while the right spine has a power/lock button. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack on top of the device and a Micro-USB port on the bottom. In the right-hand corner just above the display, there's an LED indicator light and in the left-hand corner is a 2-megapixel camera for video calls. The back of the phone features an 8-megapixel camera and an LED flash.
There is a microSD expansion slot behind the battery door. The latter has a textured surface, so the phone doesn't feel so slick, but like many Samsung smartphones before it, the Epic 4G Touch has a plastic build. Some metal accents or parts would go a long way in making it feel like a more premium handset.
Sprint packages the Samsung Epic 4G Touch with just the basic accessories, which include an AC adapter, a USB cable, and reference material.
The Samsung Epic 4G Touch runs Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread along with Samsung's latest TouchWiz 4.0 user interface. We're often less enthusiastic about custom interfaces--they sometimes add unwanted complexity and unremovable apps, and are usually slower to update to new OS versions. However, TouchWiz 4.0 has a few things going for it, some carryovers from previous versions of TouchWiz. There are seven home screens, for example, and the notification pull-down menu has icons for easily turning on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, 4G, and sound profiles.
Customizing the home screens is made easier, with a carousel-like setup that lets you move through the various panels to add and remove shortcuts and widgets at the same time. Previously, you had to do a long-press on one screen to change it and then repeat the process if you wanted to change another page. You can also now resize Samsung Live Panel widgets and there's a more fluid motion when scrolling through widgets lists and home pages.
Some of the changes are purely cosmetic, but they certainly add some polish to the UI. There are also some useful additions as well, such as an integrated task manager that displays all your active applications, downloaded apps with the option to uninstall, RAM status, and system storage. Also great: the ability to now capture screenshots by simply pressing the power button and home key simultaneously.
You can also customize the phone using one of Sprint's ID packs if you wish.
The Samsung Epic 4G Touch offers a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, video calling, and text and multimedia messaging. In addition to Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n/a), and GPS, the Epic 4G Touch is 4G-capable and can handle simultaneous voice and data over 4G. The smartphone can also be used as a mobile hot spot for up to eight devices an additional $29.99 per month, and there is no data cap.
As we noted earlier, it is running Gingerbread and all of Google's services are accounted for: e-mail, maps, voice navigation, search, chat, Places, Latitude, and YouTube, plus basic tools like a calendar, a calculator, an alarm clock, a world clock, a stopwatch, and a timer. In addition, Samsung and Sprint have preloaded the phone with a number of extras, including Polaris Office, Kies Air (a Wi-Fi-based PC-to-phone sync manager), Sprint Music Plus, Sprint Mobile Wallet, and Sprint TV and Movies. We're not a fan of having so much bloatware on the phone, but at least, Sprint gives you the option to uninstall some of its apps, such as Sprint Music Plus and Sprint Radio.
There is no shortage of entertainment options on the Epic 4G Touch. In addition to the built-in music and video player, the smartphone offers Samsung's Media Hub where you can download movies and TV shows to rent or own. You can also shoot your owns videos and photos with the handset's 8-megapixel camera, which is capable of 1080p HD video capture. The camera app has plenty of tools, such as effects, white balance controls, ISO settings, and more. Samsung also throws in a photo and video editor, which we appreciate. The video editor is particularly great, since it makes it easy to piece together clips with different effects and music, all from right on your phone.
Picture quality was excellent. Even with indoor shots, photos were sharp with bright, vivid colors and showed more detail compared to some other camera phones. The camera was also fast, as there was very little lag in between shots. Video quality was also good. Overall, clips looked sharp and without any discoloration, but the image can get bit choppy if you're panning from one point to another. Once you're done capturing media, you can store files to the Epic 4G Touch's internal memory (16GB) or to an SD card (expansion slot accepts up to 32GB). You can also share via the usual social network channels or to your HDTV using DLNA or with an HDMI adapter.
We tested the dual-band Samsung Epic 4G Touch in New York using Sprint service and call quality was OK. Though we had no problems understanding our callers, voices sounded a bit muffled on our end. We could also detect a bit of background noise at times, so the audio quality wasn't pristine. Our friends also encountered some white noise on their side, but that was the biggest complaint we got, so overall, they were quite happy with the results.
Samsung Epic 4G Touch call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone quality was what you might expect from a speakerphone. On both sides of the call, voices sounded far away and a bit muffled. There was enough volume to hear callers in a quieter room, but it got a bit challenging once we stepped outside. We paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones, and we were able to make calls and listen to music without problem.
Sprint's 3G and 4G networks provided reliable coverage during our testing period. We didn't experience any dropped calls, and data speeds were decent. Using Ookla's Speedtest.net app, we clocked average download speeds of 4.37Mbps and upload speeds of 1.39Mbps. Over 4G CNET's full site loaded in 13 seconds, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN loaded in 5 seconds and 4 seconds, respectively. Flash video played without problem from CNET's site, and high-quality YouTube videos loaded within seconds and played back continuously.
Under the hood, the Epic 4G Touch rocks Samsung's 1.2GHz Exynos dual-core processor, and the smartphone is fast. Apps launched immediately, and it was able to handle any task we threw at it, whether it was playing games, streaming video, or viewing Web sites, without missing a step.
The Samsung Epic 4G Touch ships with a 1,800mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 8.7 hours and up to 10.5 days of standby time. The smartphone fell short of the rated talk time in our battery drain tests, but the results were still impressive at 7 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the Epic 4G Touch has a digital SAR rating of 0.4W/kg and a Hearing Aid Compatibility Rating of M4/T3.
With the U.S. launch taking so long, we were beginning to worry that the Samsung Galaxy S II would feel like an also-ran by the time it was released on our side of the pond. However, we're glad to report that this isn't the case. The Epic 4G Touch brings another top-notch Android device to Sprint's portfolio, with its fast performance, large, vibrant screen, and excellent multimedia experience. Its large size will be a turn off for some, and if you want world-roaming capabilities, we recommend the Motorola Photon 4G. That said, we have no hesitation recommending the Samsung Epic 4G Touch as one of Sprint's top Android phones.