Samsung had huge success last year delivering its Galaxy S line of Android phones to the global world, and for good reason: it launched as one of the thinnest smartphones in the world, the homegrown 1GHz Hummingbird processor was plenty fast for its day, and the 4-inch Super AMOLED display was a serious dazzler. Particularly impressive was its showing in the US, where Samsung managed to get all four national carriers to release variants of the phone. But could it repeat the success in 2011?
That’s where the Galaxy S II comes into play. Introduced to glowing reviews in Europe several months ago, Samsung has managed to get three of the four US nationals back on board for the sequel (Verizon, the fourth, is rumored to be holding out for the Google Nexus 4G device that could be launching in the next few weeks). Expectations are obviously high, and Sprint is the first to take a stab at it with the release of the Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch. Is it worth $199.99 on contract? Read on for my thoughts.
The packaging for the Epic 4G Touch isn’t that interesting or notable. The only thing you see on the front of the box is an ultra-colorful representation of the phone’s screen, which is definitely one of its biggest selling points, and probably the first thing customers are going to notice when they walk into a Sprint store. Like most versions of the Galaxy S II sold around the world, the Touch has a Super AMOLED Plus screen, 4.5 inches on this particular device — more on this in a bit. Inside the box you’ll find the battery, a micro-USB cable, a USB wall charger, and the usual assortment of documents and how-to’s/tips. The one thing the box is missing is a set of earbuds, but that doesn’t matter that much as stuffed-in earbuds are rarely any good.
Hardware & Design
The Touch is one of the most genuinely featureless smartphones I’ve ever seen, and that is quite amazing! Almost the whole front of the phone is screen, and the rest of the phone just blurs away when the Touch is powered on. No chrome, no over-the-top colors or design aspects. Clean and simple. On the left side is a relatively small volume rocker and a hole for a lanyard or charm.The right side just has a power button -if you are coming from a Galaxy S and Nexus S you will have no problems adjusting. The top of the phone has a 3.5mm headphone jack, while the bottom has a mic hole and a centered micro-USB port. Samsung has been especially keen for the last couple years on covering power ports with a flap or sliding cover, but not on the Epic 4G Touch.
The back of the device is a big improvement over phones like the Epic 4G and Nexus S. Samsung was obviously paying attention to the complaints of gloss overload when it designed the S II, because the battery cover has a soft textured pattern done up in matte black. The biggest problem with the glossy covers of old (other than the fact that they generally gave off a cheap look) was that they attracted a lot of fingerprint marks and made the phone always look dirty. (Yes, I am a neat-freak.) Adding to the new appearance are the embossed “Galaxy S II” and “Sprint” logos, neither of which are that large -so it gives off a clean look.
Bottom line: this is a great-looking phone. To give you a sense of the weight, the first time I picked it up, I thought the battery might not be installed. Some might like a lighter phone, but I like a device with some extra meat to it. It’s a matter of personal preference.
Internals, Display, & Sound Quality
Just like the Galaxy S, most versions of the S II feature a homegrown processor and in this case, the 1.2GHz dual-core Exynos. Samsung hasn’t been shy about the fact that Exynos throws fireballs, and everything I’ve seen on the Epic 4G Touch tells me that the hype is very real. Browsing, which can stutter on even the fastest single-core Android devices, absolutely flies like a knife through butter; even when you’re dealing with complicated layouts and embedded Flash ads.
What of that monster 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus display? It’s beautiful — think of the iPhone’s Retina display tripled. Colors came off very vivid, and vibrant. It’s not perfect, though. I had high hopes for improvements in outdoor viewability with Super AMOLED Plus; AMOLED displays tend to lag LCD in that department, and I didn’t see a huge improvement with the Touch. In direct sunlight, you can definitely squint and make out the display, but it’s not a comfortable experience even at max brightness.
Call quality on the Epic 4G Touch is very good, and max volume is very loud both for the earpiece and speakerphone with minimum distortion. There is no noise cancellation mic anywhere near the top, and my callers complained of a lot background noise when in a busy environment;but in quieter areas, I was told that I came through loud and clear.
The Epic 4G Touch is one of those rare phones where I actually feel comfortable saying you could use it in place of a midrange point-and-shoot camera. The 8 megapixel sensor produces shots that only start to look soft if you zoom in really close, but if you’re just browsing through a gallery or using a shot as your desktop wallpaper, it does a great job. The new Exynos processor was found to be a great help in autofocusing, though you still shouldn’t expect to fire off a burst of 3 or 5 shots per second like you can with your DSLR.
I found the video quality to be decent, but like all 1080p phones, the highest resolution setting tends to be at the very top of the phone’s capability. That said, it’s among the best you’ll find from a phone today.
The front camera advertises a resolution of 2 megapixels, but don’t be fooled. It doesn’t seem much better than the VGA and 1.3-megapixel front sensors out there on other phones, but, considering that you’re only going to use it for video calling or the occasional “is my hair okay?” check, that’s just fine.
Battery life, Performance, & Data Speeds
In my battery testing, I found that the Epic 4G Touch had similar problems to the original Epic 4G as that amazing Super AMOLED Plus Screen can be very hard on your battery life. Turning the phone on at 8 A.M, it would last until around 3 o’clock before it would power down and need to be charged. So, not the stellar battery-life I was expecting.
As performance goes, the Touch is definitely a screamer; clocking stock Quadrant scores in excess of 3,100. Meanwhile, Sunspider 0.9.1 yielded a 3455.2ms — a full 749ms better than the OMAP 4-powered Droid Bionic — and NeoCore clocked a respectable 59.8fps (it’s capped at 60fps, so that’s basically maxed out). Everything about the user interface backs up these numbers, too: it’s consistently smooth. Granted, Android UI performance tends to be a wild card over time, particularly as you add more apps, but I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen so far.
Data speeds, vary significantly depending on your local market and the time of day, but I was really impressed by the numbers the Touch was putting up here Dallas, when I had WiMAX enabled: in my test runs, I got speeds between 8.4Mbps and 13.1Mbps down using Speedtest.net’s app. The upstream was a little less impressive — 1.3 to 1.5Mbps — but for most, it’s the downstream that matters most. Latency swung between about 70 and 95ms.
Enabling WiMAX naturally impacts battery drain, and I thought it was interesting that the Touch comes out of the box with it disabled — it’s a stark contrast to Verizon’s strategy of shipping its LTE phones with max speeds turned on. Fortunately, enabling it is a simple matter of pulling down the notification drawer and tapping the 4G button, which is also good to know if you’re going to be outside of a WiMAX market for an extended period of time.
The Epic 4G Touch is among the best Android phones I’ve ever used, no question about it — and considering its Galaxy S II name, that doesn’t come as a big surprise. It’s also perhaps the fastest. The only problem is that a WVGA screen is getting to be a really tough sell in this price range, particularly considering the massive display that only serves to exacerbate the issue; Sprint’s EVO 3D from HTC and Photon 4G from Motorola both do qHD resolution for the same price, so that’s something potential buyers will need to take into consideration on the Sprint network.