With a slightly more appealing (brighter and clearer) AMOLED screen than the Samsung Galaxy S2, a similar processor, a gaggle of extra apps and a few added perks, the Samsung Epic 4G Touch is a decidedly powerful phone that matches the quality of the Apple iPhone 4S.
The Samsung Epic 4G Touch is essentially the same phone as the Samsung Galaxy S2, but there are some noteworthy differences. Both phones use the speedy 1.2GHz Exynos processor, which is designed to improve graphics speed for games, videos, photos and other apps.
The Samsung Epic 4G Touch is the best phone on offer from carrier Sprint, and has the distinct advantage of coming at a lower price of just $199 when you sign a two-year contract.
At 9.59mm thin and weighing just 128.9g, the Samsung Epic 4G Touch is a remarkably svelte smartphone that fits comfortably in your hand and is light to carry all day.
The 800 x 480 pixel screen uses an enhanced screen tech called AMOLED Plus for a finer pixel density. At 4.5 inches, the Samsung Epic 4G Touch screen is a hair longer than the Samsung Galaxy S2, even though the phone's dimensions of 129.7 x 69.5mm are roughly the same.
Like the Motorola Atrix 2, the Samsung Epic 4G Touch has a soft keyboard that's highly responsive to finger presses and provides a slight buzzing sensation (called haptics) when you press keys. The Epic 4G Touch has a slightly raised back cover at the base.
The 4G service on the Samsung Epic 4G Touch isn't quite what you'd expect in an age of 12MB connections. In reality, this 4G, which uses the Sprint Wi-Max network in the US, clocks in at more like 3Mbps.
That's still mighty fast, usurping the speed of many broadband connections. However, Wi-Max isn't the same as LTE in terms of raw bandwidth and low latency for streaming videos and downloading content.
The Samsung Epic 4G Touch runs Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread, an operating system that gives better power management, an easier to use soft keyboard and more stability. The front-facing camera has 2MP and the rear camera is a high-resolution 8MP for 1080p videos and super-clear photos.
At a subsidised price of $199, the Samsung Epic 4G Touch is hard to ignore. The Samsung Galaxy S2 costs around $600 or more for the unlocked version in the US, and it is readily available.
Like the Samsung Galaxy S2, the Samsung Epic 4G Touch is sparse in terms of hardware buttons. Some might object to the lack of a dedicated camera button, but that's a small ding since you can easily put the camera app icon on a home screen.
The micro USB port is below the main screen. There's a microSD card slot, but you have to remove the back cover to access it. Fortunately, once you insert an SD card (up to 32GB) you may not need to bother again. The back cover snaps off easily without any effort.
The brilliant Exynos processor is just as speedy on the Samsung Epic 4G Touch as it is on the Samsung Galaxy S2. What this means for a modern smartphone is that every screen feels responsive. In fact, flipping through home screens (there are seven of them) is faster and smoother than the iPhone 4S.
Samsung includes the most common widgets: AccuWeather, an Agenda tool, calendars, several clock options (such as classic and modern) and Google Search. Adding a widget couldn't be easier: you press and hold on any open area of a home screen and select the Widgets button.
The home screens are spacious enough for a few widgets and app icons, and all icons fall quickly into place on a grid. There is rarely any confusion about how you start apps. There's one clear icon called Applications on the lower left of the main screen where you can see all loaded apps.
Along the bottom of the screen you will also find icons for phone, contacts and messaging. These icons always stay available even when you slide to the left or right to see more home screens. The interface is highly intuitive and leaves little room for improvement.
There is a handy folder scheme for grouping icons like there is with the iPhone 4S, and it arguably works faster. When you hold down on any icon, you can drag and drop onto a folder. Then, you can click that folder to see a group of icons.
Samsung added a unique interface control feature: you can tilt the phone to change the zoom level in the browser, for example, and you can even adjust how sensitive this feature is to movements. Another trick is that you can mute a call by placing the phone face-down on a table.
Another interesting addition is that the Samsung Epic 4G Touch uses blinking lights to let you know about incoming messages, whether the phone needs a charge, and even if you have missed an alert.
Contacts and calling
To view contacts on the Samsung Epic 4G Touch, you press the Contacts button on the main screen. Here, you can view your Google contacts or add a Facebook or LinkedIn account to view those contacts.
When you press the phone dialler button, you can also use a tab for finding contacts. This makes finding a person to call clear and intuitive, without any confusion (or excessive clicking) to find the person you want.
When you do add a social network account, you can also choose to hide those listings. And, you can press a History tab to see your interactions with that contact. In Contacts, you can also see any media related to that contact, such as photos you've shared on Facebook.
To add a contact, you press a greyed out plus sign near the search box. This button isn't that intuitive to find, but once you know it's there, adding a contact is easy. You can choose to save a contact to the phone itself or to your Google account. You can't add a Facebook or LinkedIn contact.
Calls sounded abundantly clear on the Samsung Epic 4G Touch. In several tests with a guinea pig with a landline phone, our voice sounded loud and clear, without any distortion.
In test calls between the Samsung Epic 4G Touch and an iPhone 4S, the Epic 4G sounded just a bit raspy in comparison. We had no dropped calls, and no problems of a voice sounding digital or distorted.
The phone dialler is a hair bigger on the Samsung Epic 4G Touch than it is on the Samsung Galaxy S2, which means just a bit more space to press your finger and tap in digits. We did a speed test between the two phones and could dial just a notch faster on the Samsung Epic 4G Touch. The speakerphone was also loud and undistorted.
We dialled numbers fast, and we also tested the Google search function for phone dialling. That feature is hit or miss - it doesn't work nearly as well as the iPhone 4S using Siri. The Samsung Epic 4G Touch also offers a speed dial where you can assign contacts to a number on the keypad, and that worked well.
Because the Samsung Epic 4G Touch has a slightly bigger screen than the Samsung Galaxy S2, we found that messaging worked slightly better. It meant typing was just a bit faster with slightly bigger soft keys. We're not talking a monumental difference, but the Samsung Epic 4G Touch did respond well to finger presses.
Social networking is well integrated on the smartphone in terms of contacts and the Social Hub app, which matches the capability of the Samsung Galaxy S2.
You can view a stream of messages and feeds on the Social Hub, but this tool isn't integrated into the email app, so there's no universal inbox. Tapping messages for both email and text worked quickly and accurately on the large 4.5-inch screen.
The touchscreen is responsive and works well in either portrait or landscape mode. There is a dedicated Gmail app for your Google Mail and one generic email app for POP messages.
For instant messaging, you can use the included Google Talk app, but IM isn't integrated into the phone - you can't, for example, decide to send an instant message while playing a game or browsing the web. There are no bundled features for reading your text messages or IMs aloud, either.
The 4G connection available in the US on the Samsung Epic 4G Touch matches that of any other Sprint phone, which is to say the speed is good but not great. We clocked a bandwidth speed of 3Mbps.
That's adequate for most purposes, but not nearly as fast as Verizon or AT&T LTE speeds in the US of about 12Mbps.
The browser is standard issue for Android 2.3.4, without any extra frills. Pages loaded quickly and accurately, with Flash and other moving content, such as the rotating stories at TechRadar.com, displayed normally.
You can quickly zoom in with a two-finger spread or pinch to zoom out. When you do, the screen changes quickly to match the zoom level. Text reflows accurately and looks crisp when you re-format as it should.
Like every other Android 2.3 smartphone, you can bookmark web pages by pressing an easy-to-find bookmark icon to the right of the URL. Bookmarking is fast, but the browser doesn't offer any social networking features - say, sharing something you bookmark on Twitter or Facebook.
The 8MP rear-facing camera on the Samsung Epic 4G Touch is simply outstanding - one of the best we've tested. Our test photos turned out clear and bright, with an unusually high pixel resolution. Even in low-light conditions, the camera sensor still managed to capture a clear image with or without flash.
You can press a finger to choose where to focus - the camera responded faster for focusing on that area than the Motorola Atrix 2, which seemed to pause for half a second first. Scene modes are more extensive than most - there's one for Fireworks at night, Fall colours, Dawn light and even Candlelight (instead of just background low light).
Better yet, the scene modes actually work. Even on a dismal autumn day, the Fall colour mode made colours pop a bit more realistically.
FALL COLOURS: Notice the bright sky and deeper browns - the Fall colours scene mode brought out richer tones.
LOW LIGHT: In this shot of a snowman in low light, the Epic 4G Touch still managed to make the photo bright
TEXT: The Samsung Epic 4G Touch has a text photo scene mode that makes text look more crisp and readable.
Other settings include the ability to shoot multiple frames in a row, reduce or enhance exposure, change the focus mode, add effects such as greyscale and sepia, set white balance and reduce phone shake.
The shutter speed can be changed from a low of 100 up to a high of 800. A unique "blink detection" setting is intended to help you know that a subject is blinking, although we found this mode didn't work properly - we could still snap photos of someone blinking.
You can turn on guides, a review mode that shows each photo after you take it and a GPS tag that adds location data to the photo. You can also set image quality and resolution.
The Samsung Epic 4G Touch is a powerful media device. The Android smartphone supports common music file types such as MP3 and AAC and lesser-known formats such as MID and OGG.
The internal 16GB of memory is plenty for most needs, and twice that of other Android smartphones. The Samsung Epic 4G Touch also supports memory cards up to 32GB each.
Samsung includes its own Music app, which enables you to create playlists, view music by album or artist, search for a favourite song and even adjust a handy EQ setting for your style of music. We couldn't find a Music widget for the app.
Samsung also provides a Music Hub app that you can use for purchasing and renting movies and TV shows, but not music. Since this is a Sprint phone, you can also use the Sprint Music Plus app to play songs and snippets of music or buy ringtones.
Songs played loud enough on the Samsung Epic 4G Touch, but this isn't the phone you want if you tend to play music through the included speaker on the phone. Through headphones, music sounded clear enough but had a slightly distorted sound compared to the iPhone 4S.
The Media Hub app works well for finding movies and TV shows and playing them on the phone. It's a bit restrictive - this is a highly protected system that authorises playback only on your phone. The bright and colourful screen is amazingly rich for video. The TV show Fringe looked outstanding, with smooth frame rates that looked similar to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9 tablets.
Since the phone is so light, movie-watching is easier on this phone than even the Motorola Atrix 2, which is another phone with a bright and colourful screen. The Epic 4G Touch played both of the major video formats we tested, including MP4 and H.264, but didn't play an XVID video of the show The Killing.
The Gallery app is fairly routine for an Android phone - you can view albums of photos, scan through Facebook photos and share your images over email, text, Bluetooth and the AllShare wireless service. Samsung includes an obvious 'Send To' button for transmitting photos from the phone.
There's a simplistic photo editor for painting on an image, adding colour swatches and copying sections of one photo over to another. In addition to the photo sharing options such as email and AllShare, you can also post videos to YouTube.
Sprint offers an FM Radio app that's easy to use, but with basic features.
The AllShare service is another highlight of the device. You can easily install a desktop app, then stream content to and from the device over a Wi-Fi network. The app found an AllShare server quickly and made the connection, and we were sending files after only a few minutes.
Battery life and connectivity
The Epic 4G Touch has a 1800mAh battery, with talk time matching what you will find on other Android smartphones - about nine hours of constant use for phone calls, and all day (about 14 hours) of casual use for web browsing, checking email and playing games. Samsung rates the handset's battery life for 10.5 days of standby time.
Our experience with the phone is that it lasts all day if you use it only for occasional calling, running apps and checking the web. However, if you use the phone for watching videos and playing music, the battery life goes down faster than you will find on an Apple iPhone 4, but slower than the iPhone 4S.
In our tests, playing videos and music, with the 4G service enabled, the Epic 4G only lasted for about six hours. The Samsung Epic 4G Touch supports all of the common wireless standards: 802.11n, Bluetooth and GPS.
There's an app called Sprint Hotspot that enables you to share the 4G connection with five users. We prefer this hotspot app to the way this feature works on some Android smartphones, where you have to wade through a series of options in the Settings area of the phone to enable the hotspot.
There's no DLNA app on the phone, but you can share media using the AllShare service, which runs as an app on the phone and as a desktop app.
To add media, you can either load files onto microSD cards, connect over USB or share using AllShare. Samsung also offers the Kies desktop app for adding files. This tool will automatically format content for the best playback on the handset.
Maps and apps
The Google Maps app and related Google Latitude location-sharing feature worked as expected, connecting quickly to GPS in an outdoor setting.
Sprint includes the Navigation app for Google Maps, which adds turn-by-turn directions. These apps work about the same here as on other Android smartphones.
One unique feature is that you can enable "sensor aiding" on the handset, which use the onboard gyro and accelerometer to sense which way you're heading for pedestrian-level directions. The GPS on the Samsung Epic 4G Touch worked quickly and accurately. Indoors, the GPS connection would falter as expected. You can also use wireless networks to enhance the Maps app for indoor wayfinding.
There's also a TeleNav GPS app for turn-by-turn directions included as a demo.
Samsung offers the Android Market for buying and installing apps, but not the usual Samsung Apps - presumably because of an arrangement with the Sprint network in the US.
Bundled apps include the NOVA sci-fi shooter, Polaris Office for reading and editing Microsoft Office documents, a voice recorder app and all of the typical scheduling, email and photo apps.
Compared to other recent Android smartphones, the Samsung Epic 4G Touch is just a bit light on third-party apps but still has the core Android offerings.
We installed several additional test apps, including the Vlingo app for reading text messages, and found that the phone correctly added the related widget to add more functionality to the home screen.
Apps are organised in the Applications area, where icons are added alphabetically. All of the typical apps for Android phones work as expected, including the calculator, a calendar app and the messaging clients.
The Samsung Epic 4G Touch is a remarkable smartphone that's on par with, and even slightly better than, the original Samsung Galaxy S2. They are similar handsets, but Sprint has used a brighter and slightly larger screen.
Also, the phone uses blinking lights to let you know about charge state and incoming messages.
The phone is fast, has a brilliant and clear screen, lasts all day, plays media smoothly, and has a top-notch camera.
The screen is outstanding - bright and clear, ideal for browsing the web, watching movies or even reading an ebook. The 1.2GHz processor is fast enough for most Android apps. The phone offers 16GB of internal storage, twice that of most Android phones, and also supports 32GB microSD cards.
The phone is light and thin, yet has a 4.5-inch screen that makes movies and TV shows pop. The camera recorded sharp pictures and high-resolution videos that played smoothly.
There's not much to dislike. One slight thing is that there aren't any extra app stores beyond the Android Market, but that's easily remedied by downloading one.
As a Sprint phone in the US, the 4G service is a bit slow even in areas where Wi-Max should pump the bandwidth along just fine. If you don't sign a two-year contract, the Samsung Epic 4G Touch is expensive. And, there's no dedicated camera button.
The Samsung Epic 4G Touch is an almost equivalent version of the Samsung Galaxy S2 that we rated so highly. A few improved features make it one of the best Android smartphones available - however, the higher price it's subjected to and the lack of a decent 4G connection speed mean we can't quite put it in the 5 star bracket... but it's awfully close.