Sprint’s new high-end smartphone is called Epic 4G Touch and it is one of the variants of the tip of Samsung’s spear: the Galaxy S2. At its core, the Epic 4G Touch is powered by a Samsung Exynos dual-core processor (soc) that runs at 1.2GHz. This gives the Epic 4G Touch very high performance when crunching numbers, and its co-processors have enough muscles to power the most demanding games and multimedia apps out there.
On the outside, the Epic 4G Touch Galaxy S2 phone is a little bigger than the original Galaxy S2. At 4.52” (display diagonal) and 130g, it feels a bit bulkier than its cousin, but don’t let the size fool you: the 130g weight is still lighter than the 3.5” iPhone 4.
Finally, this version comes with Sprint’s 4G WiMax network (read more about 4G networks), so, on paper it looks pretty awesome. How does it live up to the expectations in a real-world usage? Read this review and tell us what you think.
4.52″ AMOLED Plus display (800×480)
1.2Ghz Samsung Exynos Dual-Core application processor (SoC)
16GB of internal storage. Optional (32GB) microSD
8 Megapixel (back) + 2 Megapixel (front) cameras
Size: 2.8 inches x 5.1 inches x 0.38 inches
Battery: 1800 mAh
What’s new (vs. original Galaxy S)
Dual-core system on a chip: The Galaxy S2 is powered by a Samsung Exynos dual-core system on a chip (or SoC) running at 1.2Ghz. Although Samsung doesn’t communicate about sub-components, the graphics processor is a Mali-400MP, which is a very capable GPU, one of the best -if not the best- on the market. This new hardware platform should lift the Epic 4G Touch to the top of the performance charts, but we will get back to this later on.
4G WiMax: Keep in mind that while it is better than 3G, it is not as fast as 4G LTE (as deployed by Verizon in the US). That said, WiMax phones don’t usually use as much power as today’s LTE phones when transmitting data, although things are slowly getting better for LTE. For more information, read my post about the different 4G networks.
1080p video recording: the Galaxy S2 is the first smartphone platform that records in 1080p – with very good results. It’s surprising because usually I dismiss even 720p recording in real-world usage as many phones don’t do a good job with it and video are choppy. Strangely, I found 1080p to be the most usable video recording mode on this phone… I’ll get back to that later.
Low-light photography: Samsung didn’t make much noise about this, but they should. The Galaxy S2 platform has much better low-light photography capabilities than the original Galaxy S Series. That’s because of a combination of sensor and software, and I like what I’m seeing.
We all use our smartphones differently, that’s why I should tell you what I do with them: I check my email (with Microsoft Exchange), and I reply very moderately because virtual keyboards are slow to type with. I browse the web several times a day to check on news and stocks (mainly on mobile sites), but I rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all. On the “apps” side, I use a couple of social networks, and I rarely play games on the go. In the evenings, I may use my phone as a TV remote from time to time. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful.
Epic 4G Touch External Design
The Epic 4G Touch is a slightly different beast than the international Galaxy S2 and the AT&T Galaxy S2 versions of the handset. Obviously, it runs on Sprint’s 4G “WiMax” network (read more about 4G networks here), but it also has a 4.52” display (versus 4.3”), a larger battery (1800 mAh vs. 1650 mAh) and weighs a bit more (130g vs. 116g). We will cover all the differences in the review.
Chassis: the chassis design closely resembles the original Galaxy S2 and keeps the original frame design, but there are small differences. The camera Flash is underneath the lens, and the loud-speaker is on the left side at the bottom.
Although the Epic 4G Touch is a huge phone, it weighs only 130g, which still a bit lighter than the 137g of the iPhone 4. Of course, the light weight comes from using plastic instead of glass/metal in many places.
This may sound bad, but I haven’t noticed any differences in rigidity while I was using it. It’s not as rigid as the iPhone 4, but it’s solid enough. I’m not sure how it would resist if you were to drop it on a solid surface, but I’m pretty sure that it is less likely to shatter than an iPhone 4. There is simply less glass to break (the iPhone 4 has glass on the front and the back). Of course, the front glass is still a sensitive part, but unlike the iPhone 4, if the phone lands on a corner, the glass is not in direct contact with the landing surface.
Now, I really love the “feel” of touching glass and aluminum, and in an ideal world, I would surely want such a design in a lightweight and less fragile form. But in reality, that is not possible, at least, not today. Yes, it’s about making compromises (again). As a user, you will have to choose between a very light phone that may have a “plastic” feel, or a glass/metal phone that is much heavier for its size.
I have also heard from a number of people (especially HTC users) that the light weight makes them feel like this phone is not solid. I wish that we could crash-test the phones, but this sounds to me like a matter of personal preferences more than a matter of sturdiness. When in doubt, get one in your hands before you pull that credit card out of your pocket.
There’s no question that the Super AMOLED display used in the Epic 4G Touch has an amazing contrast and saturation. Colors literally “pop” – sometime a bit too much. AMOLED displays are not really known for their color accuracy, so images tend to be more “colorful” than usual. Ironically, most users will perceive this as a “positive”, so it really depends on your taste. If you care about color accuracy, then IPS LCD or TFT LCD displays would be better – at the expense of the contrast ratio (black level). I find the over-saturation to be fine, and it is even enjoyable when watching movies and photos.
Notification LED: A lot of people have asked me, so I can confirm: yes, the Epic 4G Touch does have a notification LED.
Indoors, the Super AMOLED Plus screen does very well, and watching movies or viewing photos are a real treat. Contrast and brightness are great. I can’t wait to see the 7.7″ version of the Galaxy Tab with an AMOLED display. Even better: I can’t wait to have a 55″ AMOLED TV…
Outdoors, on a sunny day, it’s a different story. The screen can be very difficult to read in direct sunlight, especially if you are using a dark wall paper and lock screen. For best readability in direct sunlight, I always recommend using a light (if not white!) background on your home page or applications. You can also crank the brightness to the maximum, but beware of the battery life repercussions.
There’s a catch in using bright background images: AMOLED displays tend to use more power when displaying bright images, so a good chunk of the Android user interface and application interfaces on Samsung AMOLED devices is usually dark, and there is often no way to change that.
In terms of sheer display resolution, the Epic 4G Touch is still using a 800×480 resolution, which is inferior to today’s qHD 960×540 resolution that many high-end Android phones are using. Obviously, this won’t cripple the user experience, but the display does matter a lot, and it would have been nice to get a resolution upgrade at some point. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Note has a 5.3” 1280×800 display (!). The upcoming Samsung Droid Prime is also rumored to have a superior screen.
Call Audio Quality (good): The audio quality is good, although I tend to think that the Nexus S is still has the best audio quality. That said, I’m under the impression that the Epic 4G Touch has a slighty better sound quality than the AT&T Galaxy S2 that I have on hand. I would not make this a decision factor, and I only wish that I could scientifically measure the difference.
Dialing: no problem there, dialing a number directly from the numeric pad, or doing so from one of the contact is easy. If there are a couple of numbers that you call on a regular basis, I recommend creating a “direct shortcut” on the home screen. That makes it a one-tap call. You can’t get any faster than that.
Contacts (syncs with Outlook over USB): Contacts can be synchronized from many sources. Google of course, but also Facebook, Exchange and more. Those who use Outlook without using Microsoft Exchange will be happy as Samsung Kies utility can synchronize contacts, calendar todo lists and memos from Outlook. More on that below.
Web Browsing: web browsing is very good, although a number of devices actually have better displays, which implies better readability and/or more information visible at once on the web page. That said, The Galaxy S2 will handle web browsing without any problems.
Obviously Flash (10.3) is supported and it will let you access many websites from small business and restaurants. You can also play with select casual games, which opens a new realm of games to your android device. But, don’t expect any miracles: only games that use light computing power can be played. Also, there is no decent “fullscreen” mode, which is annoying. Finally, most Flash content is still designed for a mouse and keyboard.
Android 2.3.4: this Galaxy S2 is powered by Android 2.3.4, which is the latest (and probably the final) 2.x version in existence today. If you are really curious, you can go to the official Android developer website to look for all the changes from one version to the next:
Samsung software: As it is the case with almost all the Android handset makers, there is a level of customization that comes with Samsung products, sometime for the sake of being different, sometime that turns out to be really useful. I’ll skip the pure “differentiation” part, but here are a few functionalities that you may be interested in:
Live panels: What Samsung calls “live panels” are really widgets. They are little applications that you can drop on your home screen, and they will show some sort of quick-access information, like email notification, battery life or weather information.
I don’t use them much because some tend to consume power to stay updated, but I really like the Task Manager Widget as it lets me know how many applications are currently running. If I feel like there are too many, I can quickly go into the task manager app and shut them all off (except the ones that Samsung deems as “part of the system”).
Kies 2.0: To put it simply, Kies is Samsung’s equivalent of Apple’s iTunes. It lets users synchronize with a PC over WIFI, sync contacts with Outlook, Yahoo and Google, manage songs and playlists, backup photos and files.
For Outlook users, the synchronization over USB is undoubtedly the biggest value. This is an option that few Android phones have, as Android has been designed to be synchronized over the air.
Kies is also handy if you have a larger number of media files (music, movies) to manage. Kies can also take care of converting videos to make sure that they are compatible, or optimized for the Galaxy S2.
Virtual keyboard and Swype: although smartphones are mostly touch-screen focused, most people still spend a lot of time on text-based applications like email, chats or social networks, so the keyboard quality is paramount. Unlike the original Samsung Galaxy S2, the Epic 4G Touch does not feature the stock Android virtual keyboard. Fortunately, the “Samsung keyboard” is almost identical, so it’s not a problem.
The keyboard itself is fairly responsive, and it is comparable with other Android phones or the iPhone 4. That said, the Windows Phone 7 (WP7) keyboard firmly remains the king of responsiveness. Even if you don’t plan on moving to WP7, try it when you can.
Swype is truly different. Instead of “tapping” on virtual keys, you can swipe your finger from one letter to the next to form complete words. Instead of going into a long description, here’s a video that shows how Swype works.
Exchange Email (OK, can be slow): Unfortunately, the email experience is a bit different from the AT&T Galaxy S2. For one, the background color is black (and cannot be changed), which makes email difficult to read outdoors. I’ve complained about this with pretty much every Samsung Touchwiz device until the Galaxy S2 featured a white background. Note that the black background comes from the fact that AMOLED screens use more power to display a white image (see the “display” section)…
The AT&T Galaxy S2 can also show a 2-line preview of the email, which the Epic 4G Touch does not have. It’s not a big deal for me, but it is something that you may want to think about.
Finally, I have experienced many moments during which the Email app was slow and unresponsive. The phone was running on the same WIFI network, and no amount of “reboot” or “kill apps” would change that. I don’t see a logical reason for this, so at this point, I’m not implying that this happens on every Sprint Epic 4G Touch, but this is definitely something that I will look at again if I can get my hands on a similar handset (I may try to hard reset it too). The downside of this is that the Email app can make the whole system unresponsive, and use more battery.
The GMail app doesn’t suffer from this problem at all, so the responsiveness issue seems to be contained within the Email app at the moment.
Facebook (very good): You have a few ways to connect with Facebook. The Android app is the logical one: it works well, and it is updated regularly and it provides you with notifications, which is important if you have an active social life. You can also go to m.facebook.com, which is the mobile site. It’s not as nice, but it won’t pull data in the background, so this may be the most battery-efficient way of using Facebook.
Finally you can use Samsung’s Social Hub, which is a content aggregator. Unfortunately for me, Social Hub was not able to use my Facebook credentials. I’m not sure if this a common problem, but it did not work with my FB account.
Google Maps (awesome): As of late, I found the mapping experience to be much better on Android devices, and that certainly has to do with the fact that Google has been improving its mapping application on its own platform (surprise surprise…), while leaving other mobile OSes (mostly) in the cold. It’s not a bad tactic to gain an edge, and the net result is that Android users have been getting steady improvements, while others have mostly stagnated.
First, Android users get free turn-by-turn navigation. This is a big deal as this feature can cost quite a bit of money on other platforms. Secondly, new features like “download map area” are introduced on a regular basis. This one is supposed to let you preload an area the size of a city, this is really cool. Here’s how to enable it:
1/ in Google Map, do Menu>More>Labs>enablecache map area
2/ go to the map, select a place, expand the place’s options and choose “pre-chace map area”
In my case, Google Maps has pre-cached the city of San Francisco, and it is going to boost Google Map’s speed.
Skype (very good): chat, calls and video calls work very well. For calls, I really like how it is integrated to the phone’s dialer as well. When I’m traveling abroad, I always have the option to call via SkypeOut and that saves me real dollars. [skype for Android]
This phone also supports video calls, and just like other Android devices, the video is transmitted in 16-bit colors (65k), which is frankly good enough, although we can hope that 24-bit (16M) colors will be eventually an option over WIFI.
If you plan on leaving Skype “on” at all times, be aware that it can be a voracious battery life user.
Photo and Video capture (excellent)
First of all, I have uploaded photo and video samples to the Ubergizmo Flickr account, so that gives you a change to download the original images, and see for yourself.
As a Samsung Galaxy S2 variant, the Epic 4G Touch is just as good at video capture than the European and AT&T models that I have played with. Overall, I think that this is one of the best camera phone on the market today. In terms of absolute photo quality, the Epic 4G Touch is better than the iPhone 4 because the images are less noisy.
The Galaxy S2 has also a Panorama mode that is effective. Although it is quickly becoming a common feature, the Panorama was first introduced to us on Android by the LG Optimus 2X, and has seen a steady adoption since.
Low-light photography: Even in low-light photography the Epic 4G Touch does very well, and I mostly don’t have to use the flash, which makes photos more natural and warm. The iPhone 4 may sometime get an edge in low-light because it is tuned with a higher ISO (I think), so it really accepts “more noise” in exchange for “extra light sensitivity”.
Video recording: the video recording reflects the photographic qualities of the phone. It works great in broad daylight and 1080p movies are very good. I recommend using the 1080p mode when you can, as it is worth it. Low light video capture is also very good (for a phone). I can use it in parties without a problem.
Entertainment / Play (excellent)
Gaming (excellent): the Epic 4G Touch can run games very well. Thanks to its Mali-400 graphics processors, game like Raging Thunder 2 Lite run at very high framerate (I suspect 60fps). I’m pretty sure that it can run the most demanding games available today. I promise, I’m going to start looking for more challenging games to illustrate upcoming reviews.
Video Playback (excellent): video playback is not an issue, at least on the internal screen. I have been able to download a couple of 720p and 1080p game trailers designed for desktop PCs, and the Epic 4G Touch has been able to play them without breaking a sweat. I couldn’t even feel the warmth in the back of the phone.
Speaker quality (fair): the speaker quality is decent, but it is not the best out there. Even though the Epic 4G Touch is a bit bigger than the original Galaxy S2, the sound properties of the speaker are comparable. No change there. To me, the iPhone 4, the LG Optimus 2X and the Motorola Atrix have a more powerful speaker system.
System Performance (very good)
When talking about the performance of a consumer electronics device, I always try to separate the “measured” and “perceived” performance. Measured metrics are obtained by running synthetic (not always life-like) benchmarks to stress specific parts of the system.
On the other hand, “perceived” performance is the user observation and perception of performance. Although they should correlate, I would always place perceived performance as being the most important thing. After all, what is performance good for if you can’t tell?
The Sprint Epic 4G Touch (Galaxy S2) score right at the top of the list and leaves everyone else in the dust. During the process I have noticed that our AT&T Galaxy S2 numbers were off in the previous review. As you may expect, both Galaxy S2 phones have similar performance.
GUIMark 2 Flash graph test [link]: This test measures the Adobe Flash performance. Flash is a widely used multimedia platform and you can find it virtually everywhere as advertisement, video or other forms of interactive web page module.
This is the only benchmark that the Epic 4G Touch does not win. It does OK, but if you consider that other phones handle more pixels, there is quite a margin. I suspect that this has mostly to do with software optimizations.
I have ditched Neocore in favor of Nenamark 2 because it is clear that Neocore has become too old and has been pretty much maxed out. Sequences can run at 57-60FPS without any problem and the phone is pretty much waiting on the display at that point.
Nenamark2 is more challenging and the Optimus 2X with a Tegra 2 chip scores just above 25FPS. The Mali 400 graphics processor of the Epic 4G Touch impresses with a whooping 47FPS. That explain what we saw earlier with games. The downside of this benchmark is that it crashes on many of the older phones that we have in the lab.
Perceptually, the Epic 4G Touch is a very fast phone. Its user interface is responsive and I have not experienced any hiccups. The only thing that I bumped into is the Email application. That is the only one that has experienced regular periods of slugishness. I will have to reset the phone and try again because I don’t see a reason for this behavior.
Battery Life (very good)
Overall, the battery life is very good. With my usage pattern, the phone can easily survive for the day, and I actually charge it only every other day so far. Of course, if you start using games and watch HD videos, the battery will deplete much faster, but the baseline is very good in my opinion. While it may be better than the AT&T Galaxy S2 because the battery is bigger (1800 mAh vs 1650 mAh), don’t forget that 4G WiMax and a slightly bigger screen may be more taxing as well.
As you can see in the photos, when you use intense applications, the battery life can be drained very quickly. I don’t expect gamers to be shocked by the battery drain, but many people are surprised by background network activity as apps that pull data in the background are less obvious battery offenders.
I have run a couple more apps during 30mn to see their immediate impact on the battery life. Here are the results so far:
Raging Thunder Lite 2: 13% of battery
Youtube (WiFi) : 6% of battery
I have been surprised by these numbers, as they are relatively low if you consider that Raging Thunder runs close (or at) 60fps. The Youtube number is also relatively low in comparison to other Android devices that I have tried in recent month. I don’t recommend extrapolating this too far (can you really play Raging Thunder for 3.86 hours or watch Youtube for 8.3 hours?), but this is an interesting experiment.
The easiest way to save on battery life is to shut down stuff that you don’t need, and quit apps that you don’t use. The Android Power widget is a convenient way to toggle a number of things, including Wifi, GPS, display brightness. The Samsung task manager is an easy way to watch and exit user apps that are running. Both are the low-hanging fruit in battery conservation. For more tips, head to our Android battery life page.
4G Network: I have noticed that the 4G Network shuts down automatically when WIFI is on. This is a really good idea because there is no point in leaving the 4G radio ON if WIFI is available. And because it is automatic, you don’t even have to remember. Nice touch.
Overall, I find the battery life to be very good. If I just use my phone as I described in the Context the phone can last for two days. In practice, it may last only 24hrs + 1 work day (8hrs+) depending on my usage. The bottom-line is that I usually don’t need to worry about charging it every day.
The level of performance of the Epic 4G Touch is very high and its size makes it very comfortable to use. It feels and performs like the original Galaxy S2, in a slightly different form factor that keeps all the properties of the Galaxy S2. This is by far the best Sprint smartphone today and one of the Android phones out there.
And yes, I’m taking into account the whole “plastic” feel of the phone – there’s no denying that, it’s there. Samsung’s detractors have been quick to point this out, and I don’t expect things to change. Put simply, this seems to be the price to pay for the light weight and thinness. This huge 4.52” phone is lighter than the 3.5” iPhone 4…
I’m a bit worried about the email app that seems to experience difficulties to fetch data from the network, and uses more CPU than anticipated. I don’t see a logical reason for it, and I’ll run more tests to see if this is due to my Exchange server.
I hope that this review has given you a good overview of the Samsung Epic 4G Touch (Galaxy S2) from Sprint. I tried to cover most of the areas that one may want to know, but if there is something else that you would like to ask, or if you simply want to provide some feedback, please leave a comment below. I’ll try to reply as soon as I can.