Oct 03 AT 11:25 PM Taylor Wimberly 21 Comments

It’s been awhile since I reviewed an Android device, so let’s jump right to the point. The Samsung Galaxy S II is the best Android phone of 2011. At least for another week (maybe less). We often joke that new Android phones come out every week, but next week happens to be special. Google and Samsung are holding a live stream event on October 11 so we can “get a look at what’s new from Android.”

In case you haven’t been paying close attention, this is when we expect Google to announce all the surprise features coming to their next version of Android, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich. We should also find out more about the release window for Google’s next flagship device, the Samsung Nexus Prime.

Having said that, I’ve been using the Sprint Epic 4G Touch for the last several weeks, and I’d like to post a quick 10-point review. I really love the 25-page phone reviews that I find on other sites, but the reality is that most consumers just care about the major pros and cons of a device. We felt the perfect mix of the two styles was to create a list of the top talking points for a device, fit them into a 10 minute video, go into written detail where needed and provide an overall ranking of the device on a scale of 1 to 10.

We feel that this current format will allow us to be more flexible with the details we cover and allow our authors’ voices to come out. Check out how the Epic 4G Touch measured up, and let us know how we can continue to improve the review format.

1. 4.52 inch Super AMOLED Plus display

Galaxy S II with 4.5-inch display (center) compared to other 4-inch displays

When you buy a high-end Samsung Mobile device, you expect the best in display technology. The Galaxy S II does not disappoint. Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays have long been some of the best screens we’ve seen on Android phones, and the new Plus series takes it to the next level.

Super AMOLED Plus uses a common RGB subpixel arrangement instead of a PenTile RGBG pixel matrix. This means the subpixels in a group increase from eight to twelve, resulting in finer detail. The screen technology is also brighter, thinner and 18% more energy efficient than traditional Super AMOLED displays.

Samsung is transitioning to higher 720HD resolutions on their newest Super AMOLED Plus displays, but the Epic 4G touch is only 800×480 WVGA. That might disappoint some people, since Motorola and HTC have moved to qHD (960×540) displays. But I don’t really see a major reason to have such a high resolution on a display under 5 inches. I have no problem with sharpness or readability with WVGA resolution on the 4.5-inch display used in the Epic 4G Touch.

My last two phones (Nexus One and Nexus S) both had Super AMOLED displays, so I knew what to expect,. But I couldn’t tell a huge difference with the newer Super AMOLED Plus. I did notice the Plus displays are a little brighter, and they offer better battery life over traditional AMOLED displays. I have no complaints.

2. Dual-core 1.2 GHz Exynos 4210 processor

Dual-core processors have become the standard on high-end Android phones, but I’ve generally been satisfied with my single-core Nexus S. It offered an overall snappier experience than some recent releases. The Galaxy S II is the first Android device that makes me forget about my Nexus S. Its performance is so responsive that my old single-core phone now feels slow.

Visit Anandtech if you love benchmarks.

I’m normally the one obsessed with benchmarks that measure how the latest processors stack up, but I’m reminded with every new Android device that the overall user experience is more important than a couple of benchmark scores. Having said that, Samsung’s dual-core 1.2 GHz Exynos 4210 system-on-a-chip contains an ARM Mali-400 GPU that is the fastest we’ve seen. Very few games actually take advantage of this faster GPU, but it’s nice to have the power under the hood for next year’s titles.

For a full set of benchmarks, head over to the excellent review posted by Anandtech.

3. Samsung Media Hub

Google now provides movies for rental through the Android Market, but Samsung goes above and beyond by allowing users to purchase or rent both movies and TV shows with Media Hub. Movie rental prices are competivie with Google at $2-3, and most titles can be owned for $10-17. The TV show library has a nice selection with multiple seasons for most series. Individual episodes can be owned for $0.01-2.99.

Best of all, Samsung allows users to play back the content they purchase on a HDTV via the MHL port.

4. Android 2.3.4 with TouchWiz UI and Sprint ID

All the announced versions of the Galaxy S II will ship with the latest Android 2.3.x and Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. Sprint’s edition also includes Sprint ID, which allows users to easily switch between different packs that contain a selection of apps and widgets.

Normally we frown on some of the customized UIs that get slapped on top of Android, but Samsung’s TouchWiz UI does not get in the way. It provides an experience that might be more friendly for new users. If you’re one of those people who prefer a more stock experience, you can use Sprint ID to download a “Clean ID” that includes a blank homescreen and the traditional launcher from Android 2.3.

I really like how Sprint ID is progressing, and I hope the concept eventually gets picked up by Google. It’s a fun way to explore all the ID packs that Sprint has to offer (MTV, Fantasy Football, NASCAR, games, auto enthusiast, etc.) and it only takes seconds to switch between different packs.

Speaking of the software, I also appreciate the additions of AllShare for DLNA streaming, Kies Air for wireless file syncing, My Files for file management and Video Maker to edit videos.

Sprint still includes their normal library of value-added apps like NASCAR, Sprint Music, Sprint Radio, Sprint TV and TeleNav GPS, but thankfully most of these can be removed by the user.

5. Unlimited 4G WiMAX data

Most unlimited 4G plans have now been replaced with usage tiers, but Sprint still allows true unlimited data while connected to a 4G network for only $79 per month. AT&T and Verizon now charge you extra for going over 2 GB and T-Mobile throttles your speed after 5 GB, so it’s nice to see Sprint still sticking with unlimited plans as long as they can.

Sprint now limits mobile hotspot data to only 5 GB for an extra $29.99 a month, but data generated on the phone remains unlimited. I think Sprint is overcharging for mobile hotspot data, so keep that in mind if you plan to tether.

Data speeds on Sprint 4G continue to be a mixed bag, so check your local area to see if you have coverage. Download speeds can peak at 10 Mbps, but they are often in the 2-5 Mbps range and slower than competing 4G networks.

6. Mobile High-definition Link (MHL)

The Galaxy S II was one of the first phones to include mobile high-definition link (MHL), which provides uncompressed 1080p HD video transfer, 7.1 surround sound, device remote control and charging all through a single port. Hooking up a smartphone to a HDTV normally requires two cables (HDMI + charging), but the latest HDTVs that support MHL can accomplish this with a single thin cable.

7. Dual cameras

Sample photo taken with the Galaxy S II.

The Galaxy S II contains an 8 megapixeal camera on the back and a 2 megapixeal camera on the front. I am not a camera expert, but the Galaxy S II takes the best looking photos of any Android phone I’ve used. Please don’t take my word for it; I invite you to browse the thousands of photos on Flickr taken by a Galaxy S II.

8. Build quality and design

Even though it is made primarily of plastic, the Galaxy S II feels like a high-end device. Some smartphone fans say that plastic casing is a deal-breaker, but it’s no big issue for me. Samsung improved their battery cover with a textured finish that gives it some extra grip and won’t show finger prints.

I was a little worried that the 4.52-inch display might make the phone too large, but the Epic 4G Touch fit nicely in my hands. It is surprisingly thin (9.6mm) and light (129g), which makes up for the slightly larger size. If you have smaller hands, I’d suggest visiting your Sprint store to check out how it fits.

9. Hackability

Hardcore users that like to hack their Android phones should love the Galaxy S II, Epic 4G Touch. The device has already been rooted, a modified recovery image is available and custom ROMs are starating to appear. Popular ROMs like the community-driven CyanogenMod are already available for the international version of the Galaxy S II, so there’s a good chance they’ll be coming soon to the Epic 4G Touch.

10. No near field communications (NFC)

Google Wallet could come to the Epic 4G Touch, but don't expect wireless payments just yet.

Sprint was the first carrier to support Google Wallet with the Samsung Nexus S, so it’s a major mystery why the Samsung Epic 4G Touch lacks a near field communications (NFC) chip. The AT&T and T-Mobile versions include this feature, so I have no idea why Sprint requested it to be removed.

Sprint did include their own app called Mobile Wallet, but it only allows you to store your credit card info for online purchases on select online sites.

We’ve heard that special stickers might one day add NFC-capabilities to Android phones, but those are still MIA. We are disappointed with the lack of built-in NFC on the Epic 4G Touch.

Final Thoughts

Sprint Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch9 / 10

I’d love to review an Android phone without talking about the next major device coming out, but it’s just too hard to ignore with this timing. The Galaxy S II is my new favorite Android device, but I will not be investing my money in one with the Nexus Prime launch on the horizon.

The original Sprint Epic 4G still runs Android 2.2, even though Android 2.3 has been out for almost a year. That pattern is likely to continue with the Epic 4G Touch. I’m sure that Sprint will eventually upgrade this device to Ice Cream Sandwich sometime next year, but why wait that long when you could just purchase the Nexus Prime and get guaranteed software updates from Google?

If Verizon somehow pulls off a Nexus Prime exclusive launch window, then Sprint customers might want to consider the Epic 4G Touch depending on when they want to make a purchase. We don’t know how this will play out, but Google should provide an answer next week. If it was my money, I’d wait.

Reviewing an Android phone is hard when things change so fast. But if we look at the Epic 4G Touch in a vacuum, then it’s an excellent purchase. That’s why I’m scoring it 9/10. Just don’t come complaining if you purchase it this week and Google announces a superior version next week.

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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  • ZEROleaf

    Nice Review. Considering I waited and waited for the Verizon SGS2 and was disappointed. I’m crossing my fingers the Nexus Prime comes out for Verizon.

  • hatsune miku

    great review! I love this phone to dead and I only have one complain, it’s too big. I’m only 5’6″ and it’s just way too big for me and sadly I’m returning it. Anyone know if there’s a limit on how many times you can return a phone, this will be my second sprint phone returned in 6 months.

  • Interpol91

    Great review Taylor! As a current Samsung Epic 4G owner, I have grown annoyed of the lack of software updates. The Epic has had Gingerbread leaks since early this year but leaks can never compare to a full update. As a result, my next phone will be the Nexus Prime so I can be guaranteed the latest and greatest Android version.

  • howdy

    Excellent reading your reviews again Taylor. Hope you continue to contribute!

  • Shawn Shawn

    They seem to have gotten it right, this phone does look great but, everyone and I mean everyone is waiting for the prime. I don’t think it’s coming out this month but I hope it does. Ah well NBA 2k12 will hold me over….with some porn I guess…jk

  • Richard Yarrell

    I love the review and the 10 point theme great idea. I must say myself that Samsung has stepped up there game and sprint users should be proud of this device. Samsung definitely has my attention and I look forward to there future devices here in the ladder part of 2011 and upcoming 2012. While it’s no secret I only buy Htc that has always been that way I am starting to appreciate the innovative technology solutions that Samsung has brought to market. At the end of the day it’s all about innovation and competition which as consumers we benefit when manufacturers like Samsung and Htc bring there best devices to market. All I can say is better day’s are definitely ahead for our leading android manufacturers both samsung and htc and I love the ride.

  • Richard Yarrell

    Next biggest happenings.. Sprint’s big announcement October 7th. Samsung’s/Google unpacked event October 11th when we all find out when the Nexus Prime will be landing on all carriers. Then there is CES on January 10th 2012 which will be pretty big. Then all the other events Mobile World Congress February 27th 2012 followed by CTIA on May 8th thru May 10th 2012. Major things will be seriously happening on the technology front these next 6months. I am wondering which US carrier will be the first to bring to market a 5inch phone my money is on Sprint but i am really liking that Samsung Galaxy Note it looks like a great device. 2012 will be all about Quadcore devices and the race is on.

  • SherlockHomeboy

    Good review that reached the same conclusion that I did when considering the Epic Touch 4G. It’s just too close to the possible release of the Nexus Prime and frankly I want ICS the second it is released so that leaves me with very few options. Still a great device that I would recommend to anyone looking for a new Android phone.

  • Paul Atreides

    If the coming announcements disappoint me, this will be my next device. Great review. Played with this device at the Sprint store, it’s lightning fast and the screen is gorgeous!

  • ben dover

    The biggest fail for this phone is the timing. If the US variants would have released back when the SGS2 released worldwide, many of us including myself, would already own this phone.

    With the Nexus Prime right around the corner, you can’t help but pass on the epic touch.

  • http://www.anthonydomanico.com Anthony Domanico

    You *HAD* to bring up the video review, didn’t you Taylor? Way to set higher expectations.

  • triangle

    Great review, Taylor. The only thing that I believe is factually incorrect is the ability to hook up the phone to a TV and watch movies from media hub. In fact, I wish it were true, but it doesn’t seem that Samsung has the rights to display movies on TVs, so they have blocked that functionality. Until they fix that media hub is a FAIL.


    great review Taylor.. I have the same feelings. why buy it now wit the next installment of the Nexus so close.. Makes no sense.. The Nexus series has proven that vanilla android make all the difference when it comes o being fast.. If a dual core can run this fast on a bloated piece of hardware then a dual in a pure android phone is going to fly… I will wait. Hopefully Verizon doesnt find a way to get an exclusive window on it.

  • E

    Show us the nexus prime already !!!!!! That’s what we all want

  • watbetch

    WiMAX coverage is so horrific on my Epic 4G that it’s best left off. In a moving car I get no less than 4 disconnects per mile and at home I get no coverage until I come out to my driveway, then once I turn off it disconnects AGAIN..

    What do you fall back on? 300Kbps 3G

    Sorry, but that makes the Epic 4G Touch a loser.

  • iPhone 4S Disappointed and Need a new phone

    No review of BATTERY LIFE???? Good/bad? What, this thing has a cord?

  • http://www.brokemanstech.com Juan

    I pretty much completely have the mentality as the author. For a while I was in love with the Galaxy S II and couldn’t wait for it to come stateside. Unfortunately, it came stateside far too late to convince me to not wait for the Nexus Prime.

    My only worry right now is that the Prime will indeed be a Verizon exclusive. I feel that is an extremely bad move on Google’s part and is only remaking the mistake Apple made with the original iPhone.

    I’m hoping beyond belief that the Prime makes its way to the Yellow Network and soon. I want to sell my Epic 4G and move on to a device I feel a lot more comfortable with.

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  • rosy jones

    trying to sell my samsung epic for $200.. it’s in pristine condition seeing as how I only bought it about three months ago. where can i sell it for this amount of cash???