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The first Galaxy S II variant has finally made it to U.S. shores and it’s just as glorious as we had expected. We’ve been fans of the phone ever since the international version graced our presence some months ago and this time around the Epic 4G Touch sports a WiMAX radio and some great software optimizations not seen on the original. Still, with the Android competition heating up and two more Galaxy S II variants on their way to T-Mobile and AT&T, is the Epic 4G Touch the way to go? Read on to find out!
The Epic 4G Touch is the first of the Galaxy S II variants to land in the states, and while we need to spend some more time with the AT&T and T-Mobile versions, something tells us that our favorite will remain Sprint's offering. We rather like the design of the Epic 4G Touch over the others, even if they are very similar in design.
The Epic 4G Touch is one of the two handsets that has received the screen bump to 4.52 inches. Before you completely dismiss the handset for being too big, one needs to realize that screens are measured diagonally, and you're not getting an extra half inch of screen on the top or the bottom. The extra screen real estate is dispersed well and doesn't make the handset look half as big it may sound, and since it's so thin, it's much easier to handle than you may think.
Other than the massive display, the front sports the four standard Android button on the bottom for Menu, Home, Back, and Search, as you'd expect on most Android devices today. Above the display where you'll find the 2 megapixel front-facing camera, ambient light and proximity sensors, ear piece, Samsung logo, and notification LED.
The right spine of the handset houses only the power/lock switch, which I used not like as much but it does feel more natural with larger displays. Top of the phone sports the 3.5mm headphone jack, along with a small tab to take off the battery cover. The left spine is also pretty bare, housing only the small volume rocker and a hole for a lanyard piece but you do need to take the back off to place it.
The back of the Epic 4G Touch doesn't escape the original Galaxy S II's design aesthetic and still offers up everything we liked about it. The textured backing makes you want to forgive Samsung for its heavy use of plastics throughout the handset, even though its to keep the handset light, and light it is! You'll find the 8 megapixel camera on the back, which is vertically placed, unlike the international and AT&T versions. Below the sensor is the single LED flash.
Smack dab in the middle on the back of the handset is the Galaxy S II logo, with the Sprint logo hanging out at the bottom. Both are slightly raised but are smooth to the touch. Below the battery cover is the signature Galaxy S hump, the main identifier of the Galaxy S family. It's less dramatic from the original Galaxy S or the Nexus S but it's still there.
Taking the battery cover off is easy enough and is removed by bending the tab on the top of the handset back. Like the original Galaxy S II, the battery cover is stupidly thin and feels somewhat flimsy.
Samsung didn't have to do much when designing the Epic 4G Touch because it's based off of an already gorgeous handset. Retaining most of the original Galaxy S II's design elements, the Epic 4G is virtually identical and that's very much a good thing.
The ultra thin handset is one of the thinnest smartphones available today and even if its subtle hump on the back dethrones it as the thinnest smartphone around, we're just fine with it. Even turned off, the Epic 4G Touch draws you in with it's simple, yet beautiful design and just wielding a handset with such a massive display is a conversation starter alone.
The textured battery cover almost makes the handset look as if it was made of metal, and while it's anything but, the textured backing looks great and makes for a better in-hand feel.
No surprise here: The Epic 4G Touch is comprised of mostly plastic, which is Samsung's material of choice when it comes to its smartphones. That said, unlike the original Galaxy S, the Epic 4G Touch feels almost as solid as any other handset that's made of metal, but much lighter. The lightness can give it a cheap feel to the handset when in the hand but overall the in-hand feel is solid through and through.
As we said before, the textured battery cover makes the handset feel less cheap than previous versions of the Galaxy S family, and while we really hope that Samsung sees value in the use of metals when it comes to its upcoming handsets, the Epic 4G Touch is one of the most solid plastic handsets we've come by.
TouchWiz is hardly anyone's favorite Android skin but it's come miles since it first debuted on the original Galaxy S. Still, it's far less bloated than HTC Sense, and while it lacks the sex appeal of Sense, TouchWiz is more usable and unoffensive than ever.
Samsung introduced some novel gestures in TouchWiz with the international Galaxy S II and said gestures have since made it to the latest Galaxy Tab 10.1 update. The gestures utilize the accelerometer and gyroscope, which have been found in phones for some time now, so it's nice to see some innovation using them. Samsung basically makes moving a widget or an application icon faster by letting you tilt the phone from side to side to change home screen panels. Also, by placing two fingers on the screen, you can zoom in and out of pictures and the web browser by tilting the phone to and from you. The latter gesture is a much better experience when in landscape mode, but it works in either orientation.
Samsung has also made some nifty tweaks for navigation through the homescreens and app drawer. The dots lining the bottom can now act as a sliding bar for quick access to any homescreen with a simple swipe. I honestly didn't think I'd really use this new feature but it's actually very helpful if you have your home panels filled with apps and widgets. Another small tweak that I'm not exactly sure was present in previous versions of TouchWiz is that the pages of the app draw are in an infinite loop, allowing you to swipe past the last page and go directly to the first.
Samsung provided some new applications within the latest version of TouchWiz, including a very easy to use Video Maker and Kies Air, which allows you to backup virtually everything on the phone to a website and you can access the backed up content from any computer.
One of my least favorite things about TouchWiz is the way you add widgets to your homescreen. I can see why this way of doing it is implemented but I don't believe it's anywhere near as functional as the stock Android way of doing things. When you hit Menu>Add, the entire homescreen panels zoom out and four options appear at the bottom for widgets, shortcuts, folders, and wallpapers. When you select widgets, you're only given four at a time and must scroll through them all to get to the desired widget. If you like to use a lot of widgets like me, scrolling through tons of widgets four at a time can get a bit tedious, especially when there are multiple sizes for the same widget.
Without diving in too deep into simple core features of the handset like this, I've always enjoyed TouchWiz's Smart Alarm and I have tried to find a simple alternative in the Android Market to no avail (suggestions welcomed). Smart Alarm begins to play very light, soothing music that gradually gets louder before the actual alarm, which is a much nicer way to wake up over the stark sound of a loud alarm.
Running on Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread, the Epic 4G Touch ships with one of the latest versions of the world's most popular mobile operating system. The Google-made software offers up unrivaled applications for Google services, like Maps, Gmail, Voice, Talk, and more. The Android OS used to be treated as a second-class OS compared to iOS but it's insane popularity has put the two neck and neck in many ways. What Android lacks in style and elegance, which is getting better with each release, it makes up for in functionality.
Overall, TouchWiz has come a long way, but some people may not like the obvious iOS similarities.
We already knew that the Galaxy S II is one of the most powerful handsets we've ever come across and we figured we'd share a couple of benchmarks with you. We ran Quadrant, Neocore, and Linpack three times each and the results below are the averages.
Quadrant - 3332
Linpack (multi-thread) - 83.399
The GPU seems to be locked at around 60FPS, much like the original Galaxy S II. While we're not complaining, we're still waiting for some better Neocore scores to beat out the NVIDIA Tegra 2 in the T-Mobile G2X.
While it may not look all that different, it seems as if Samsung has done a lot of tweaking to the web browser on this phone. It's honestly closer to the iOS browser than any other Android browser we've seen, and it seems as if it's been completely rebuilt. Is this a bad thing? No, but some features the stock Android browser support are no longer there, which still may not be that big of a deal to people.
On the surface, the browser looks pretty standard. We still question why Samsung gives a dedicated brightness setting in the browser but we could imagine that some people may like it. Anyway, the browsing experience is solid as it can get but there are a few similarities to the iOS browser that were interesting to see.
I'm no developer and I'll try to explain the best way I can without pretending that I know everything but these are just some observations I've come to find after using the stock Android browser, Epic 4G Touch browser, and the iOS browser. The Android browser renders the entire page when it's loading and it appears that the iOS browser renders only what's viewing on the screen, which, if you scroll too fast will result in a checkerboard look and you have to wait for that section to load. This is something you'll see present in the Epic 4G Touch's browser, which was peculiar enough.
Another thing I noticed, like the iOS browser, there is no text wrapping feature on the Epic 4G Touch, which is something I've always loved about the stock Android browser. This may be best described by the pictures below but it's essentially this: When browsing a website on the Android browser, if you zoom into a text area that's not perfectly aligned to the display, all you need to do is quickly double-tap on the screen and the text will automatically render itself to the size of the screen, without adjusting the zoom level. Doing this on both an the iOS web browser and Epic 4G Touch will zoom the entire page out and proceed to fit the text within the screen. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in any way but the way Android handles text on web pages allows you to adjust the zoom less.
Other than those extremely specific quirks that irritated me, the browser on the Epic 4G Touch provides solid experience. It's a bit of a mix between Android and iOS, but with Adobe Flash.
The Epic 4G Touch brings a solid set of multimedia options to the table, ensuring you'll never have a bored moment with this Galaxy S II in your pocket. The DLNA supported handset will allow you to share media to and from your device with AllShare and purchase movies and TV with MediaHub.
There are two dedicated bars on both sides of the screen within the camera application and since the display is so large, you're really not left wanting more screen real estate for the viewfinder. The right side houses a dedicated button for quick gallery access, the shutter button for taking pictures and a camera/camcorder toggle.
The right side, which is our favorite part of the software, houses five icons - four of which are customizable. The fifth is a dedicated settings icon. You can either tap on menu or go through the settings button to get access to edit your shortcuts, of which there are many. So if you're constantly taking pictures with different effects, you can make that one of your easy access shortcuts, etc. The implementation is pretty awesome and Samsung has definitely stepped it up with its camera software. Eat it .. everyone.
The camera itself performs like a champ and we're not surprised in the least bit. The original Galaxy S II was one of the few handsets that claimed to record in full HD and be able to back up that claim. The only other CPU that seemed to be able to take on the task just as well was again the NVIDIA Tegra 2. The Epic 4G Touch handles 1080p HD well but it's more shaky than we were hoping to see.
Call quality on the Epic 4G Touch was pretty exceptional from the times I used it but using it as a phone was the furthest thing from my mind. Still, call quality was crisp and clear, so you won't have to worry about that anytime soon.
Battery life on the handset is stupidly impressive without the WiMAX radio on, and after 16 hours of moderate usage (WiFi on the entire time, GPS on, screen brightness 100%, some light gaming, decent amount of web surfing) the Epic 4G Touch still had 19% battery left. The next day, with a decent amount of the time having the WiMAX radio on, the handset lasted a little less than 13 hours before it needed to be recharged.
That said, your experience may vary, especially after a few weeks of use and having loaded up a good amount of apps onto the handset. Of course, using the WiMAX radio will give you a significantly shorter life with frequent use but we're not talking "LTE short."
I've personally been waiting for this phone to arrive ever since I parted ways with the international version I reviewed back in May, and everything that's changed within the Epic 4G Touch is welcomed for the most part. Unlike the AT&T and T-Mobile variants, the Epic 4G Touch lacks NFC but since it's virtually non-existent right now in the United States, I'm just fine without it.
Even with the rumors of T-Mobile's Galaxy S II sporting a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, it's certainly not enough for me to want to stay with team Magenta, or sign a two-year contract with them, at least. I've been needing a reason to switch to Sprint for a while now (even with my preference for GSM) and the Epic 4G Touch may be that reason. Plus, considering that you can grab this guy for only $99 at WalMart, it's more than worth it.
But wait! Is the Galaxy S II the phone to get right now? Absolutely. I'd pick any Galaxy S II variant over the likes of the Droid Bionic, EVO 3D, Sensation, Thrill 4G, etc. If you've had your doubts about Samsung phones in the past, it's time to get over that hang-up right now.
The only other phone I'd consider waiting for is the next Nexus handset, which is also expected to come from Samsung. That alone may be enough worth waiting for, and we can expect it to deliver the goods. If you're in the market for an Android phone and can deal with waiting a little longer, I'd say wait just a little longer to see what the Nexus Prime (or whatever it will be called) brings to the table. If you're in the market for an Android phone and you are looking to walk into a store and get it that say, you'll likely have very, very few complaints with the Epic 4G Touch.