4G

Samsung Epic 4G review: Everything you need to know

The Samsung Epic 4G is Sprint's version of the Galaxy S and it has a number of features that make it unique from its cousins on the other carriers.

The Samsung Galaxy S has already made a big splash on AT&T as the Captivate and on T-Mobile as the Vibrant. Now Sprint has its version, called the Epic 4G, and it has a number of features that make it unique from its cousins on the other carriers -- most notably a slide-down hardware keyboard and 4G broadband capability. Here's our full rundown of the Epic 4G from a business user perspective.

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Photo gallery

Samsung Epic 4G photos: King of the Android QWERTYs

Specifications

  • Carrier: Sprint
  • OS: Android 2.1
  • Processor: Samsung 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird
  • RAM: 512 MB
  • Storage: 1 GB internal with 16 GB microSD (expandable to 32 GB)
  • Display: 4-inch Super AMOLED 480 x 800 pixels
  • Battery: 1500mAh Lithium (Li-on) battery
  • Ports: microUSB, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, six-axis gyro, digital compass, proximity sensor, light sensor and GPS
  • Weight: 5.46 ounces (155 grams)
  • Dimensions: 4.90(h) x 2.54(w) x 0.56(d) inches
  • Camera: 5.0 MP, autofocus, LED flash, 3x digital zoom, 720p video recording, plus front-facing VGA camera
  • Keyboard: 53-key hardware qwerty, vertical and horizontal on-screen qwerty, and Swype
  • Networks: CDMA dual band (800/1900 MHz), 1xEV-DO rev.A, WiMAX
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, DLNA
  • Tethering: USB and 3G/4G mobile hotspot (connect up to five Wi-Fi devices)
  • Price: $249 (with 2-year contract)

Who is it for?

Workers who do a lot of data entry on their smartphones or simply prefer a hardware keyboard will be drawn to the Epic 4G. It's now one of the best hardware qwerty smartphones on the market, and arguably the best Android device with a hardware qwerty (I give it the nod over the Droid 2 and the LG Ally). And, let's face it, a lot of business users still prefer smartphones with real keyboards, especially professionals who have been using smartphones for years and are already used to the thumb keyboards of the past on Palm, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry devices.

What problems does it solve?

The Epic 4G brings the Samsung Galaxy S to Sprint, offers an alternative version of the Galaxy S with a hardware keyboard, and joins the HTC EVO 4G as one of the first high-end smartphones running on Clearwire's continually-expanding U.S. WiMAX network.

Standout features

  • Well-designed keyboard - The Epic's 53-key hardware keyboard is one of the best physical qwertys that I've used on a smartphone, and I've been addicted to hardware keyboards since the Palm Treo and early BlackBerry days. The chicklet keys remind me of miniaturized versions of the laptop keyboards you find on the MacBook Pro and the Sony Vaio. I also really like that it has a separate row for number keys as well as arrow keys, a back button, a ".com" button, and a search button.
  • Rugged hardware - This is one of the most solid-feeling devices that I've picked up lately. Unlike the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Captivate (a cousin of the Epic 4G), this one doesn't feel like it would be toast if you ever mistakenly dropped it. In terms of durability, I'd rate this one at the top of the scale, along with the Motorola Droid X. For those who are hard on their devices and need something that can stand up to heavy use, the Epic 4G could be a good choice.
  • Snappy performance - Everything I threw at the Epic 4G, it handled like a champ -- from navigating menus, loading Web pages, opening apps, and downloading and installing software from the Android Market. I attribute this mostly to the fact that it has a Samsung CPU and so it's highly optimized. I did not test the Epic in a 4G WiMAX area, but that obviously could give it a further speed boost. My tests were done on Sprint 3G and Wi-Fi and the Epic performed quickly and smoothly on both. I even downloaded the HD trailer of Tron:Legacy on the YouTube app over 3G and the experience was totally smooth (not to mention that it looked great on the AMOLED screen and the built-in speakers were surprisingly decent). What was most interesting to me was that the performance of the Epic 4G felt much better than the Samsung Captivate, the variant of the Galaxy S on AT&T (and the AT&T network in my area is solid). Overall, performance may be the best feature of the Epic 4G.

What's wrong?

  • Bulky to carry - Because of the extra space needed for the slide-down hardware keyboard and the Epic's rounded design, this is a bulky device. It's definitely thicker and bulkier than the Droid 2, its chief competitor in the Android qwerty keyboard race. Much of that is due to the fact that the Epic has a larger screen, a larger keyboard, and larger keys with a raised tactile feel.
  • The Samsung software isn't great - The best thing that I can say about the Epic 4G from a software standpoint is that it doesn't depart too much from the standard Android OS for most things. However, there are some strong-handed customizations, and in most cases they are not improvements. Samsung replaced the Android unlock screen with a "Drag to unlock" animation, they made their own icon dock that is difficult to customize, and they've redone the applications screen so that it swipes side-to-side like the iPhone rather than up-and-down like the standard Android UI. There's also nothing to write home about in Samsung's custom Android widgets. My other beef with the software is that Sprint has loaded some of its own software apps and widgets (Sprint Zone, Sprint TV, Sprint Nascar, Sprint Football, and Sprint Navigation). None of the software is very good and you cannot uninstall the apps.

Bottom line for business

The Epic 4G is Sprint's iteration of the popular Galaxy S smartphone line. It's a durable smartphone with terrific performance all around. It's got what is arguably the best hardware keyboard for an Android device and, along with the HTC EVO, it's one of the first 4G phones in the U.S. market. It's a little big and bulky and Samsung's software layer is not that great. However, it's an easy device to recommend.

The biggest thing I don't like about the Epic 4G is the way Samsung is selling it. If you like this device, you can only use it on Sprint. I would have liked to have seen Samsung put this on multiple carriers using the same product name, the way BlackBerry has done with the Curve and Pearl.

Also read: Samsung Epic 4G: Killer keyboard and UI on a powerful Android phone

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About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

7 comments
chuckchuck
chuckchuck

I've had my eye on this phone for a while a friend of mine got it yesterday and we compared it to my Samsung Impression. The Epic felt like the Impression's "daddy" . . . the Epic is very nice, but I'm not too eager to break my ATT contract for a larger smart phone with a lot of nice features - but like the Droid 2 feels like a minor upgrade from the Droid, the Epic felt like a version 2.5 of the Impression to me. I know, no Android - but for what I do - so what.

danbowkley
danbowkley

I bought an Epic about three weeks ago, and it's by far the best mobile device I've ever laid hands on. On the 3G network, it flies...stick it on WiMax and you'll be wishing it came with a seatbelt. The only thing I miss about my HTC Hero is HTC's excellent collection of widgets. Samsung's offerings in that department don't quite suck, but they're close. I installed ADW very early on and prefer it over any other 'droid UI I've used, even though it does seem to cause some instabilities with other apps. The other gripe I have is that you have to pay an extra monthly fee (over and above the extra $10 they charge you to use a 4g device) to use the hotspot capability. This stinks, and it stinks more that they don't seem to want to tell you about it. So I rooted the phone and use another hotspot program, which took me all of 10 minutes to get working. Pluses? Way too many to list. This thing just plain flies. I actually prefer the somewhat larger size, it's incredibly responsive, and (my favorite part) the screen hs some sort of wicked anti-scratch coating on it. I suspect it's the same as they use on Blu-Ray discs but I'm not sure. Since I was still under contract with my last phone, I paid full price for the Epic: $529 out the door. In my opinion, it's worth every penny. 'Nuff said.

craig001
craig001

Right now I am not sure that I made the right decision in leaving AT&T and my iPhone. The interface seems clunky, but that may be Samsungs layer rather than Android. My wife wanted a physical keyboard so we made the switch to the Epic. My biggest complaint so far is terrible battery life. After a full charge the phone wanted to be plugged back in at 14h38min. This is with many things killed using AppKiller and the screen set to go dark after 1 miniute of inactivity. They need to improve this and offer the upgrade to all owners. At least I have another three weeks to decide if I will keep this phone or not. Definately do not like that I can not remove the Sprint installed apps - I do't need Sprint NASCAR, Football, etc. Also, I just need one screen - let me put the apps I want in the order I want so I don't have to swipe through the differnet screens to get to the app I want. Then again, it may be me since I am new to Android.

susan.davis
susan.davis

Just to be clear, the Epic synchs with Exchange without any 3rd party apps or going through your google account. I used the Exchange webmail service -- called OWA (Outlook Web Access/App) in recent versions of Exchange. It was very easy. The global address book information is available in create contact mode and for adding an email address in edit contact mode. I have not figured out how to look up a phone number in the Exchnge GAL on the fly -- i.e. without creating a new contact. What I have seen in terms of Outlook functionality is pretty much on par with most Android and WebOS phones including HTC.

mcbriendl
mcbriendl

I'm right there with you on wanting what apps I want and on only one screen. If you push down on the offending app until the screen highlights in red and then move it toward the trash can, voila it's gone. After you have cleaned off all but one of your screens and the offending ones there go into your Apps button and readd your choosen Apps to a single screen. I do believe that I also saw an option to remove screens but I'm not quite ready to do that yet. Still haven't found a way to remove an app from the phone itself but I'm far less concerned with that than a ton of apps cluttering up my screen.

Alz Paul
Alz Paul

The Epic can connect to "Exchange" accounts, but appears not to use Active Sync to accomplish this like the iPhone, HTC Evo, T-Mobile Touch, etc. As a result, you cannot move emails from your inbox to folders in Exchange and turn on the "out-of-office". When you click on the Epic Email Settings > Advance Settings > Out-of-office settings, it says "Feature not supported" even though you have the button for it!

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