Samsung Epic 4G: The Galaxy S with the killer keyboard

Summary: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.

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.

Competitive products

Where to get more info

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Samsung, Smartphones, Telcos, Wi-Fi

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

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