Samsung Epic 4G Touch First Impressions

Aaron Baker – 
Published: September 14, 2011

One of the most hotly anticipated Android handsets is en-route to the United States.  Announced at Mobile World Congress in February, Samsung's Galaxy S II has taken the market by storm, with five million units sold in 85 short days.  The Epic 4G Touch is Sprint's variant of the popular device, and it'll be available in retail stores on Friday, September 16 for $199.99 with a two-year agreement.

Sprint's Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch (as it's called in full) is an incredible smartphone on a carrier that offers an excellent value proposition, but Sprint's network data issues are becoming increasingly hard to overlook.  Today's mobile devices require data at every turn; whether you're updating the weather, downloading apps, or checking your email, you're using data at every turn.  A poor data experience can make or break your overall taste towards a device, and unfortunately, that's the concern I have with the Epic 4G Touch.  The handset is feature-packed and just as awesome as the international version, but the poor data speeds cripple the experience and will inevitably lead people to wonder "what's wrong with this phone?"

Network issues aside, I've had the Epic 4G Touch (which I jokingly call the "EpTouch" due to the long name) for about 24 hours, and for the time being, it's Sprint's best smartphone.  Here's why:

  • Samsung turned it around big time in the processor department, going from last in most benchmarks to first.  The 1.2 GHz dual-core Exynos processor is a huge improvement over the single-core Hummingbird chip, and like the international version of the Galaxy S II, the Epic 4G Touch is incredibly fast in all tasks.

  • EpTouch's 4.52-inch Super AMOLED Plus display is huge, but boy, is it gorgeous.  The size makes for a big piece of phone and is somewhat awkward to hold in the hand, but it's masked quite well thanks to the svelte 9.6mm thick body.  For whatever reason, the curves of the device aren't working in my favor.  I've dropped the phone or had it slip out of my hand no less than seven times since I've gotten it.
  • Epic 4G Touch ships with Android 2.3.4 and TouchWiz 4.0, which is a night-and-day difference over previous builds of Samsung's UI.  TouchWiz 4.0 is fast, offers improved widgets and custom features, and is up-to-date with competitors like HTC's Sense and Motorola's custom user interface.  They've trimmed a lot of the fat and made it aesthetically appealing.  I didn't care for TouchWiz 3.0, but 4.0 is (at present) my favorite Android skin.
  • Like the international variant, Sprint's Galaxy S II model ships with an 8-megapixel camera.  Still pictures are excellent, but the 1080p video recording could use some work.  Audio quality was pretty distorted and choppy, and while the picture was decent, I've certainly seen better from other 1080p-enabled handsets.

  • To compensate for the large display, Samsung upped the battery to 1,800 mAh, and so far, it has performed well.  With moderate use like calling, text messaging, emailing, browsing the web, and downloading a few apps, I'd say you should be able to make it through most of the day.  LIke other recent Samsung devices, the Epic 4G Touch takes a long time to charge.  If you're like me and live off of the quick 15 minute charges between meetings, events, and the like, you'll want to carry a spare battery.
  • While voice calling has been fine, Sprint's data network performance has been mostly terrible, which pulls away from the overall positive experience with the phone.  In most of my network tests, 3G data speeds have often been slower than dial-up (I'm usually averaging between 0.02 and 0.30 Mbps on the download), and their 4G (WiMAX) coverage has been oddly spotty lately.  As I type this, I'm sitting in uptown Charlotte - literally, the center of the city - and I'm not getting a 4G signal.  It took me 72 seconds this morning to post an update to Twitter, and just over six minutes to download an app.  It's like throwing a Toyota Corolla's engine into a Ferrari; the phone has so many high-end, data centric features that can't be utilized to their maximum.
  • The whole "datagate" ordeal is frustrating, because Sprint is one of my favorite wireless carriers.  They're the underdog; the one that I've always wanted to see succeed.  They've struggled over the years in both churn and customer satisfaction, and they've historically done a great job with trying to turn the negative perception around.  I'm afraid this data thing, if left unchecked, will put a painful blemish on their record.

I've been really impressed with the Galaxy S II since my hands-on time with it a few months ago.  Months after its release, it's still the Android star; the most popular, sought-after Android device since the HTC EVO 4G.  Thanks to the lofty unsubsidized price, I rarely recommended it to buyers.  Now that three of the four US carriers are picking it up and adding their own flavor to it, it's an Android device that's I'd recommend to anyone.  Design preferences are always subjective, but the Epic 4G Touch packs a few extra goodies over the original like a large display, notification light, and a larger battery.  Unfortunately, Sprint's network appears to be going through some serious issues at the moment, so the phone's capabilities are often handicapped by painfully slow data speeds.

Check out the unboxing below, and stay tuned for more on the first US carrier-branded Galaxy S II!

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