By Seth Weintraub
August 17, 2010

The hardware is the best I’ve used.  The software needs some upgrading.

If you are excited about Sprint’s (s) new 4G landscape slider phone, the Samsung Epic, you aren’t likely  a touch screen typing convert yet.  That’s OK.  I am a convert to touch screen typing and I’d have no problem recommending the Epic 4G to anyone…with a few caveats.

If you are considering moving over to Android from BlackBerry, this is your phone.  You won’t miss a beat with the keyboard but you may find yourself using the very capable stock and Swype software keyboards more and more, especially in one-handed portrait mode. Consider it software keyboard training wheels.

First-rate hardware
The device is the third U.S. carrier version of the Samsung Galaxy S line, which I reviewed here – and for the most part, the opinions still stand.  The Epic 4G is a WiMAX/CDMA version of the T-Mobile Vibrant/AT&T Captivate with some notable additions:

  • Physical Keyboard.  (Best I’ve seen on an Android device and probably one of the top keyboards on any phone, ever.)
  • Front-facing camera (super low res)
  • Flash on rear-facing 5 megapixel camera.
  • No visible buttons on the front without backlight (longer learning curve)

Those features, especially the keyboard, make it considerably thicker than its AT&T (t) and T-Mobile cousins.  But you are rewarded with a a fantastic 5-row keyboard that includes ergonomic Android Menu, Home, Back and Search buttons. Having all of those keys means that you don’t need to hit a function key to type a number and you even have an arrow curser array.  That speeds up my typing considerably.

For people like me who don’t mind a software keyboard, the slide out saves room on the screen, allowing me to see more of an email or webpage as I type.  This is a significant perk.  For one-handed typing, I use the soft keyboard, and I’ve even started using Swype with my thumb, with different levels of success.  You could use the flip-out keyboard, but it is a bit too big to use with one hand.

Compared to the Droid 2, the keys are more spread apart and have a better ‘click’ feel.  If keyboard was your only criteria, the Samsung Epic 4G would be your best choice of phone, hands down.

Strangely, for the ‘@’ symbol you do need a function key — but Samsung made a “:)” that doesn’t need a function click.  Very strange. I’m not in the more smileys than”@” symbol demographic so I think this is a mistake.

The battery is roughly similar to the other two Galaxy S phones and is definitely bested by the Droid 2. A Froyo update may help here, but there are no guarantees.

Like just about every other smartphone on the market, the battery life is significantly better than the EVO (which has improved slightly with software/firmware updates).

The screen is bright indoors and readable outside thanks to Samsung’s Super-AMOLED display, making it better than just about any screen on the market.

Software is a weakness
Samsung’s Epic 4G suffers from the same GPS issues as I talked about in the Captivate/Vibrant review. Samsung has since come forward and acknowledged the issue and promised a fix in September with Froyo.  Until then, you can’t rely on your phone’s GPS to get you around.  It is that simple.  I can’t get a GPS signal at home and A-GPS is often not reliable enough to pinpoint me on the road.

Google has also moved to a policy of making you enable A-GPS in Maps, so you agree to having anonymous data collected on your whereabouts.  Since this was enabled by default before, you’ll need to manually go into your Settings>Location to enable it.  Many people won’t know to do this, making the Location service that much worse.

Froyo is another issue.  I’ve grown fond of the improvements in the Android OS 2.2 and especially features like ‘Voice Actions’ since the previous Samsung Galaxy S review.  Samsung is late to the game in updating and using a 2.1 Android phone, no matter how good the hardware is, which is a downer.  September is the official word for when the phone will get an update.  Sooner would be better than later.

Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay is the closest to Apple’s iOS look and feel.  Like I’ve said before, I like the pure Android of the Nexus One over any of the manufacturer overlays.  One nice addition is the landscape version which locks in automatically when the keyboard is deployed.

Wrap up
So who is this device for?  If you don’t want a physical keyboard, take a pass.  The Vibrant or Captivate are going to be a better experience because they are significantly thinner and lighter.  However, if you are like the 30% of those polled in a recent survey who require a hardware keyboard, you are going to love this device.  Also, if you’re glued to Sprint, this will woo some EVO owners over with the smaller but brighter screen, better battery life and keyboard.  It even weighs less.

If you are in a Droid 2 vs. Epic 4G toss-up, the Droid 2 wins in battery life, GPS and Froyo. The Epic 4G wins in screen, keyboard, camera and 4G network (where available).

The key to me is that this phone’s flaws are all software related and should be fixed by September. But there is no guarantee.

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