Editors' note, August 18, 2010: Upon further analysis, we have upgraded the rating of the Samsung Epic 4G to 8.7.
Portions of the user interface section were taken from our review of the Samsung Vibrant since both phones have the TouchWiz user interface.
Out of all the phones in the Samsung Galaxy S series, the Epic 4G strikes us as the most desirable for power users. Like all Galaxy S phones, the Epic 4G has a large Super AMOLED touch screen, a 1GHz Hummingbird Cortex A8 processor, and it will have access to Samsung's upcoming Media Hub store. The Epic 4G layers on several enticing extras that its line mates don't have--such as a slide-out keyboard, a front-facing camera, an LED flash, and most intriguing of all, it supports Sprint's nascent 4G WiMax network. The latter feature makes it the second 4G phone in the U.S. after the HTC Evo 4G.
Perhaps the Epic 4G's biggest downside is its price. At $249.99, it is the most expensive Galaxy S phone that Samsung makes, and that price is with a new two-year service agreement and after a $100 mail-in rebate. As with the Evo 4G, Sprint charges a mandatory $10 per month for its 4G data. According to Sprint, the price is justifiable because of the extra services you get for the price--4G speeds, unlimited data, and the use of it as a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot, which costs an additional $29.99 a month--but we think the add-on should be optional since its 4G service is not available nationwide.
However, we think the Epic 4G truly deserves its name as its design and feature set make it the all-in-one powerhouse in the Galaxy S family.
While it is not the sexiest of the Samsung Galaxy S models--that honor goes to the Samsung Vibrant for T-Mobile--the Epic 4G is not a bad-looker either. Its rounded edges, curved corners, and glossy black surface give it a sleek and elegant look that is minimalist and eye-catching. Yet, at 4.9 inches long by 2.54 inches wide by 0.56 inches thick and 5.46 ounces, the Epic 4G is perhaps the SUV of the Galaxy S phones and might be a tight fit in most pockets. Still, we appreciate its heft as it contributes to a decidedly solid and durable feel in the hand.
The Epic 4G's 4.0-inch Super AMOLED display absolutely mesmerized us. It can display 16 million colors and has a WVGA resolution, which enables it to display vibrant graphics and fantastic looking video. The screen also has a wider viewing angle and a higher contrast ratio when compared with a traditional LCD. Thankfully, unlike older OLED displays, the Super AMOLED screen also looks great under bright sunlight.
We found the touch-screen display to be quite responsive. It didn't take long for it to register our taps, and flipping through menus and lists felt intuitive and second nature. If you like, the Epic 4G provides vibration and sound effects as touch feedback, though we didn't think it was necessary. The accelerometer kicked in very quickly, less than a second, to change the screen orientation when we rotated the phone. We're also glad that the Epic 4G has a proximity sensor, which turns off the screen when we hold the phone to our ear during a call. As for input methods, you can use Swype or the standard Android virtual keyboard. Underneath the display are four touch-sensitive keys for the menu, home, back, and search, which are standard for Android phones.
While you can always use the virtual keyboard, the Epic 4G also has a slide-out physical keyboard. Just slide the display to the right and you'll find an incredibly spacious QWERTY keyboard with five whole rows of keys. The physical keyboard gives you a dedicated row of number keys as well as four physical versions of the touch-sensitive controls we mentioned earlier. As we're not big fans of touch-sensitive controls, we're very pleased with the latter. Not only is the keyboard well spaced, but also the keys are highly clickable, with just the right amount of tactile response when pressed. It's certainly one of the better mobile QWERTY keyboards we've tested.
The Epic 4G's other physical controls are the volume rocker on the left spine, and the power/screen lock key and camera button on the right. The phone has 3.5mm headset jack and a Micro-USB port on the top, while its back houses the camera lens and an LED flash. We should note that the Samsung Epic 4G is the only Galaxy S phone with an LED flash for the camera. It is also the only Galaxy S phone to have a front-facing camera, which is located to the upper right of the display. The microSD card slot is located behind the battery cover.
Sprint ships the Samsung Epic 4G with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset with interchangeable ear bud covers, and reference material. You can also purchase a docking station and a battery charging station, which are available separately. For more add-ons, please check our cell phones accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Like the rest of the Galaxy S series, the Epic 4G runs on Android 2.1 with Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 interface. The latter is definitely improved from previous versions, with some enhanced functionality and a more polished look.
To start, there are new widgets, including one called Feeds & Updates and another called Buddies Now. Feeds & Updates streams updates from Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, and you can choose to display content from one, two, or all three of the social-networking Web sites, as well as set the refresh rate, ranging from 30 minutes to once a day. Buddies Now is like a favorites list and lets you immediately call or text those contacts, as well as comment on any of their updates. There are a number of other Samsung widgets, Android widgets, and other shortcuts, all of which can be added to one of seven home screens.
The home screens can also be personalized with live wallpaper, but there are two elements that remain on each screen: the pull-down notification tray on top, which now includes wireless manager and profile functions, and the toolbar along the bottom with quick-launch buttons to the phone dialer, contacts, messaging, and applications. Pressing the latter takes you to a nice grid view of all your apps; they're spread out over several pages, which you can swipe from side to side. The menu icons are also neatly arranged inside squares for a more unified look. We much prefer this layout over the standard Android one, where you have to scroll up and down. It feels more natural, easier to navigate, and is easier to use than the standard Android interface.
Also, for those worried about how the TouchWiz interface may interfere with future Android updates, according to Samsung, the entire Galaxy S portfolio will be upgradeable to Android 2.2, and it has made tweaks to the user interface that will make it easier to adapt it to future Android versions. However, the company also noted that without really knowing what Google has planned down the line, there may be a time where updates can't be supported because of hardware limitations or other factors.