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Overview

What's Good: Speedy processor; 4G connectivity; excellent physical QWERTY keyboard; front-facing camera for video chatting.

What's Bad: Doesn't ship with Android 2.2 out of the box; $249.99 price is $50 higher than other high-end smartphones.

The Verdict
: The Samsung Epic 4G is the most feature-packed device out of the Galaxy S series, and is one of the best Android handsets to date.

Introduction

The Samsung Epic 4G is the third Galaxy S device to launch on a nationwide carrier, and it's the most feature-rich unit of the bunch.  It takes the existing features that are standard with the Galaxy S devices and adds 4G support, a front-facing camera, Sprint's mobile hotspot service, and a physical QWERTY keyboard.  All things considered, the Epic is one of the best Android devices on the market right now, but is it for you?

Design & Features

When the series launched, I was quick to point out the plastic feel of the devices.  The Epic 4G is made of plastic as well, but the larger build, chrome sides, and matte battery cover makes it feel less cheap than others in the group.  The phone ships in a mid-sized box with an AC adapter module, USB cable, premium earbuds (which are quite nice), instruction manuals, and a 16 GB microSD card (installed in the device). 



The left side of the device contains the volume rocker, while the right side offers the power button and camera shortcut key.  The top houses the 3.5mm headphone jack and microUSB charging port.  Like the other Galaxy S devices, the Epic's charging port has the sliding microUSB port cover, an excellent alternative to the flimsy plastic "flap."

Measuring in at 4.91 inches tall by 2.54 inches wide by 0.56 inch thick, and weighing 5.46 ounces, the Epic 4G is noticeably bulkier than most Android devices on the market.  It's a big device, but it was small enough to fit into my pocket without an issue.  The Epic offers the same 4.0-inch "Super AMOLED" display that the other Galaxy S devices do, and it really shines.  Colors are crisp, and pictures are absolutely beautiful.  As I've said before, it's a nice balance between those devices with 3.7-inch and 4.3-inch displays.

Usability & Performance

The Epic packs the same 1 GHz Hummingbird processor that the other Galaxy S devices ship with, and it's fast.  During my testing, I experienced little to no lag.  The Epic offers Android 2.1 with Samsung's TouchWiz user interface.  Admittedly, I was frustrated that the Epic 4G didn't ship with Android 2.2 out of the box, but Samsung has committed to upgrading the series to Froyo by the end of September.

Out of the manufacturer-installed custom skins, TouchWiz is my least favorite.  That said, it has grown on me since I first saw it at the Galaxy S announcement in New York City this June.  With four shortcuts and boxed icons, it closely resembles the iPhone's menu interface.  That said, I've also argued in the past that vanilla Android isn't ideal for the regular consumer due to its intricacies.  For the average consumer, TouchWiz is an excellent option.  For those that don't like the design, there are apps in the Android market that mask it.

The Epic 4G ships with a few Sprint goodies like Sprint Football, NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile, Sprint Hotspot (more on that later), Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV, Sprint Zone, Qik (for video chats), and Asphalt 5 (a game).  Unfortunately, there's a minuscule amount of internal memory.  Samsung and Sprint offer a large 16 GB microSD card to compensate, but but the lack of Android 2.2 means that there's no native ability to store apps on an SD card.  If you're a heavy app user, you may find yourself running out of space until Android 2.2 rolls out.

The Epic offers a physical QWERTY keyboard, and it is absolutely fantastic.  Typically, I prefer keys that are together (like Motorola DROID 2) as opposed to the island keys on the Epic, but the experience is excellent.  Samsung offers a dedicated row for the space bar, period, comma, and other symbols.  Within a few minutes, I was typing with ease.  Every now and then, I noticed that the keyboard would miss a letter every now and again, but it stopped when I slowed my typing.  For the touchscreen fans out there, Samsung offers Swype and the stock Android keyboard out of the box.  Interestingly enough, the Samsung keyboard found on the Vibrant and Captivate is missing.



The phone has a 5.0-megapixel camera with autofocus.  Editing options include ten shooting modes, the ability to change the exposure value, focus mode, scene mode, resolution, white balance, ISO, metering, and more.  For a 5-megapixel shooter, picture quality was fantastic.  The camera shortcut button helps tremendously, as it provides a physical autofocus button as opposed to tapping the screen.  That benefit alone gives the Epic an edge among the Galaxy S series.  Like the EVO, a front-facing camera is also installed for video chatting purposes. 

I've worked with the Epic 4G in the Charlotte metro area, and call quality has been very good.  Callers reported good call quality on their end, and I was able to hear them with no distortion.  Though the Epic's signal strength indicator tends to fluctuate a bit more than other devices, calls constantly went through.  When testing the device in a Sprint dead zone, I was able to receive a call, despite having zero bars of service.  During the call, I watched the indicator rapidly fluctuate between one and two bars of service.  The earpiece is incredibly loud.  It's so loud that I had to turn it down, which is a great quality and something I've never had to do on an Android device.  The speakerphone worked well, and I was able to carry on a quick conversation with a friend.  The Epic offers Bluetooth 3.0, and in testing, call quality was very good.  I paired a headset to the device, and callers were pleased.

Data speeds have been somewhat disappointing on the Epic 4G, though I'm experiencing them on the EVO as well, leading me to believe that it's a temporary network issue.  Throughout most of my testing, I obtained download speeds between 600 and 900 Kbps.  While in uptown Charlotte, I attained a download speed of 2,289 Kbps and an upload speed of 497 Kbps.  I tried again one minute later, and attained a download speed of 455 Kbps, and an upload speed of 150 Kbps.

Like the EVO, the Epic requires Sprint's $10 "Premium Data" charge.  There's some negative talk about it on the internet, but at the end of the day, Sprint's price plans are still cheaper than most alternatives out there.  Sprint's Mobile Hotspot service is an additional $29.99 monthly, though the Epic only supports five simultaneous connections.  In testing, it connected without a problem, though data speeds seemed to be slower than normal. 

Sporting a 1,500 mAh battery, the Epic 4G offers an estimated talk time of 6.5 hours.  With moderate use that included calling, text messaging, e-mailing, browsing the web, downloading apps, and use of Gtalk, I was able to make it to the evening before the device required a charge.  With light use, or auto-sync capabilities turned off, you should be able to make it through a day.  It's not the greatest, but given Android's history in the battery life department, it's acceptable.  On a similar note, the Galaxy S devices seem to take longer to charge than other smartphones, and the Epic 4G is no exception.  Those that thrive off of quick charges between meetings may be frustrated with the Epic.

Conclusion

Feature for feature, the Samsung Epic 4G is the best Android device out right now, and certainly the best device in the Galaxy S family.  With a snappy 1 GHz processor, 4-inch Super AMOLED screen, 5-megapixel camera, and a fantastic QWERTY keyboard, it takes what it's given and does it exceptionally well.  I'm a bit concerned about the 4G data speeds, but the fact that I experienced the same on the EVO 4G leads me to believe that it's a temporary network issue. 

The Epic 4G is 249.99 after mail-in rebate, making it an expensive $350 out the door.  While an additional $50 doesn't seem like a huge increase in the scheme of things, I'm concerned that the higher price point will discourage users from purchasing.  That said, Sprint offers competitive price plans, so there's good long-term value.  For those able to afford the higher cost up front, it's a packed device that should please many.


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