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
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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.