Sprint Samsung Epic 4G first impressions shows it can't beat the EVO 4G
Sprint is the third to launch a Samsung Galaxy S device in the US and looks to have a lock on the best model with a full QWERTY keyboard. I still think there are several reasons the EVO 4G beats it out though.
The last smartphone we saw released across all four major carriers was the HTC Touch Pro 2 and there were a couple of different iterations of the device, primarily a couple that included a 3.5mm headset jack and a couple that used the HTC USB port for a headset. A couple of months ago Samsung announced that they would be bringing their Samsung Galaxy S line to these same four major carriers. Two are available now, the Samsung Vibrant and AT&T Captivate, with the Samsung Epic 4G coming to Sprint stores on 31 August. The Samsung Fascinate will be coming to Verizon soon too, but we don't yet have a release date or price. Each of the four Galaxy S devices have slightly different designs to go along with their different names with the Sprint Samsung Epic 4G being the one with a MAJOR hardware difference in the full QWERTY keyboard. I have also noticed some differences in the software and performance in these first three smartphones as I will detail below. I have now spent over three days with the Samsung Epic 4G and have my first impressions below with several photos in my image gallery and the embedded YouTube video.
Unlike the funky frozen dinner packaging of the HTC EVO 4G, the Epic 4G comes in a standard heavy duty box with a glossy image of the phone on the front and logos of several services (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Weatherbug, etc.) in bands around the box. Inside you will find the Epic 4G, battery, A/C USB adapter, USB cable, wired stereo headset, 16GB microSD card (inserted in the Epic 4G), microSD to SD adapter, Get Started Guide, phone recycle bag, and other standard paperwork.
After opening the box and grabbing the Epic 4G, I was impressed with the feel of the back of the hardware and way the display slid up and down to reveal the keyboard. Typical of the Samsung Galaxy S devices with the Super AMOLED screens, the display looks fantastic too. I couldn't wait to charge up the Epic 4G and put it through its paces.
Specifications for the Samsung Epic 4G include the following:
Android 2.1 with Samsung Touchwiz 3.0 experience
Cortex A8 Hummingbird, 1GHz processor
CDMA/EVDO Rev A wireless radio
4 inch WVGA (480x800) capacitive Super AMOLED touch display
Integrated 1GB flash memory and microSD card (16GB included)
5 megapixel camera with flash
VGA front facing camera
Dedicated, touch-sensitive Home, Menu, Back and Search areas
Proximity sensor, light sensor and digital compass
Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n)
1500 mAh battery
3.5 mm headset jack
Dimensions: 4.9 x 2.54 x 0.56 inches and 5.46 ounces
As you can see, these specifications are almost the same as the other Samsung Galaxy S smartphones with the 4 inch Super AMOLED display, Bluetooth 3.0, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor, and more. The other Galaxy S devices have integrated 16GB memory and a microSD card slot while the Epic 4G only has 1GB of integrated memory and a microSD card slot.
The Epic 4G stands out a bit above the others, in my opinion, with the physical QWERTY keyboard, front facing camera, WiMAX radio, and camera flash.
Walk around the hardware
I have to admit the front of the Samsung Epic 4G is quite attractive with a completely flush black slab design that only has one opening up at the top for the headset speaker. Interestingly, you cannot even see that there are four touch sensitive buttons below the Samsung label since they only appear when the device is on and you are actively using them. They light up in white and go Menu, Home, Back, and Search. This is different than my EVO 4G (Home, Menu, Back, and Search) so as I bounced back and forth between them during testing I kept tapping the wrong button. I tend to use the Home button more so prefer it first since I can easily find it at the edge of the row. The backlight on these areas goes out after a few seconds so you need to remember where they are when you go to perform an action with them.
The front is dominated by the beautiful 4 inch Super AMOLED display that makes colors pop. It doesn't work as well as the EVO 4G LCD display in full sunlight, but is better than a standard AMOLED display and is usable. In comparing the EVO 4G display side-by-side I find the colors to be much better on the Epic 4G while the EVO 4G is a bit washed out with too much whiteness. However, the 4.3 inches compared to 4 inches is quite a huge difference and I still prefer the larger display of the EVO 4G.
The proximity sensor, indicator light, and VGA front facing camera are located in the black bezel area above the display. This is the only US version of the Galaxy S with a front facing camera too.
The QWERTY keyboard also dominates the front when the display is slid from left to right (up in landscape orientation). This is probably the BEST hardware QWERTY keyboard since the HTC HD2 and keyboard fans are going to love it. If you used a T-Mobile G1 before though, you may not like that you cannot assign any custom shortcuts to the keyboard like you could on that device with nearly every single key. However, the spacing is good and the tactile feedback is excellent. There is no texture on the keys so you do need to pay attention to what you are pressing on the keyboard. The slider locks solidly in the open and closed positions and seems to be something that will last for quite some time.
A physical camera button (I love having one of these) and power button are found on the right side. A mic opening is present on the bottom. A volume rocker is found on the left side.
The microUSB port (with sliding door) and 3.5mm headset jack are found on the top of the Epic 4G. The 5 megapixel camera and flash are found centered on the back. The entire back pops off to reveal the battery.
Walk through the software
The Samsung Epic 4G is an Android 2.1 device with Samsung TouchWIZ 3 user interface. As I said in my Vibrant first impressions article I like TouchWIZ 3 for the most part and do not find it too intrusive or limiting. For some reason, you cannot customize any of the four program icons on the Epic 4G while you could customize the middle two on the Vibrant and Captivate. The typical Samsung apps are present, including AllShare for DLNA sharing, Memo, Media Hub (may be activated at launch of the Epic 4G, but nothing is live yet), and an Alarm Clock application. ThinkFree Office is used as the default Office program and it lets you create a new document, spreadsheet, or presentation on the device. This is the first Office program I have seen where you can create a presentation and I will have a review of this suite up soon.
Sprint includes some of their services on the Epic 4G, including Sprint Football, Sprint Hotspot (WiFi hotspot application), Sprint Navigation (TeleNav branded GPS app and service), NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile, and Sprint TV. These cannot be removed, but the services are free and I personally find them useful.
Comparison of the Vibrant, Captivate, and Epic 4G
If I had to rank the current three Samsung Galaxy S devices I would put the Epic 4G at the top, followed by the Vibrant and then the Captivate. The Epic 4G has better hardware (keyboard, flash, better back design, front facing keyboard) and seems to perform better in most cases. I am not sure if the GPS issue has been fixed or not since I had it fail to obtain a GPS fix a few times while driving in an area with open views of the sky. I also experienced some application force close problems, but have honestly seen these kind of stability issues on all three of these Galaxy S devices so far.
The Vibrant is very good and feels great in your hand, but GPS is a complete failure on that device. I have a coworker with a Captivate and he comes to me every other day because the device keeps slowing down to a crawl and he is ticked he cannot tether since AT&T locks you out of side-loaded apps. AT&T also ruins almost all devices, except for the iPhone, with bloatware and has included the same on the Captivate.
What is best? Samsung Epic 4G or HTC EVO 4G?
I used to be a major hardware QWERTY keyboard fan, but software keyboards like Swype are turning me into a touchscreen fan so I don't always need one. I bought an EVO 4G just a couple of months ago and when I heard that the Samsung Epic 4G was launching with the fantastic Galaxy S specs and QWERTY keyboard I reserved one for the 31st of August. I was ready to add the Epic 4G or sell my EVO 4G to buy the Epic 4G, but after several days of use I am leaning very heavily towards keeping my EVO 4G for several reasons, as follows:
GPS rocks without ANY issues on the EVO 4G.
The Leap feature of Sense is very useful to bounce between the 7 screens.
The EVO 4G has Android 2.2 now.
HTC Sense gives me a better Exchange experience.
I LOVE the kickstand on the EVO 4G and find it essential for watching video.
The EVO 4G has an HDMI port. I have no DLNA devices, but do use HDMI for showing off photos and videos.
I don't like the hidden, backlit bottom button areas.
The Epic 4G feels cheaper than the EVO 4G.
The EVO 4G 4.3" display is large and shows more, especially when web browsing.
Pricing and availability
The Samsung Epic 4G will be available from Sprint on 31 August for $249.99 with a $50 rebate for those who want a 2-year contract or extension. This is $50 more than the Vibrant or Captivate, which may be attributed to the physical QWERTY keyboard, WiMAX radio, and more. Since I just purchased an EVO 4G two months ago I would have to pay the full $499.99 no-contract price to get the Epic 4G for myself and it is not worth this price unless I sold my EVO 4G to offset it a bit. If you don't yet have an EVO and want the latest Android smartphone on Sprint then you have a couple of excellent choices and really can't go wrong with either one.
If you want a QWERTY keyboard, then the Epic 4G is the device for you. If you don't care about a keyboard, then the EVO 4G is my recommended device and personal favorite on Sprint.