The Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch is the smartphone equivalent of a runway model. It’s gorgeous to look at. It’s a bit larger than life, yet still maintains a trim figure. And it has a name so long you need to take a gulp of air when you’re done speaking.
But it’s not some brainless looker — the phone’s performance is every bit as stellar as its figure. Powered by a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor and rigged up for Sprint’s 4G network, it’s a spritely, responsive handset capable of some very fast data speeds.
The Epic 4G Touch is Sprint’s version of Samsung’s next-gen Galaxy S II phone. Other carriers are picking up the hardware, though each of them are adding their own modifications. Sprint’s build is slim, with a tapered silhouette that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. Both the power button and the standard volume rocker are positioned on the sides, near the top, so you can reach them when you’re holding the phone in either hand. Nice touch.
Watching streaming Netflix movies was more enjoyable on the vivid, 4.52-inch Super AMOLED screen than on just about every other smartphone screen I’ve seen.
The phone is surprisingly light for its size since most of the case is molded in high-quality textured plastic. And don’t worry about the fragility of the large screen — it took two tumbles off my bed onto a hardwood floor and didn’t blink an eye. By comparison, my iPhone 4 took the same drop and suffered a dented corner.
The Epic 4G Touch runs Android 2.3.4 with Samsung’s own TouchWiz skin layered on top. Also sprinkled in are some Sprint-centric apps. Sprint Zone gives you a list of recommended apps (meh), and Sprint ID lets you switch between different home screen layouts for different experiences like games or social networking. It also comes with Sprint TV, which offers streaming movie and television titles. That video content, however, is so compressed it’s almost unwatchable. Stick with Netflix, HDYouTube offerings and your own HD rips. In fact, watching streaming Netflix movies was more enjoyable on the vivid, 4.52-inch Super AMOLED screen than on just about every other smartphone screen I’ve seen.
Like we noted in the hands-on, the lock screen is kind of funky and takes a bit of practice to master. Rather than a short swipe, you have to grab and drag the screen all the way to the edge of the screen. If you let go too soon, it’ll stutter as it shunts off-screen, or it will (annoyingly) snap back into place. If you have big hands, you’ll be OK. But in general, in all the places where you may be used to navigating with side-to-side flicks and swipes, like in the photo gallery app, a slightly longer drag is required.
Speaking of photos, the Galaxy S II’s 8-megapixel rear facing camera is fantastic. Pictures are crisp and subtly over-saturated. The camera app itself features a good autofocus mechanism and a super-charged LED flash. There’s also a separate photo editing app if you want to tweak things like brightness, saturation and contrast, crop a photo or add a blur effect (it’s no Photoshop). My only complaint is that it takes too long to actually snap a photo — with the flash on, attempting to take pictures of my cat’s face resulted in half a dozen pictures of the side of her head as she tried to run away from the blinding brightness. 1080p video recording and playback are superb.
I found the phone’s touchscreen keyboard to be roomy and easy to type with in landscape mode, but not so much in portrait mode. Again, maybe you’ll fare better if you have larger hands.
Some other keyboard notes. Although you can press the symbol button to swap out alphabet keys for numerical and punctuation keys, there are shortcuts — simply holding down the respective key for an extra second will let you swap A for an ampersand, or F for a 5. Also, the default is for auto-correcting text input to be off, but it’s actually pretty good. I recommend switching it on in the device settings.
You’ll look mildly ludicrous holding this giant smartphone up to your ear, but voice performance is decent. Call quality is about average, and Sprint’s voice coverage here in downtown San Francisco is good. The on-board speakers don’t get particularly loud, and are ill-suited to playing audio or using the speakerphone if more than one or two people are listening in.
As I mentioned, there are several flavors of Galaxy S II phones on the way for different networks. This flavor of Galaxy runs on Sprint’s CDMA/WiMAX 3G and 4G networks. Although 4G coverage was spotty around the Bay Area, I found web pages loaded speedily and apps downloaded quickly regardless. But (perhaps we should call this “the curse of 4G”) extensive use of the 4G radio to stream media and push gobs of data will cause your battery life to plummet. Unless you alter your network and brightness settings, like we recommend on other 4G phones, you may find yourself with a useless candybar of glass and plastic before the end of the day. Keep the screen brightness reined in and only surf 4G when you need it, however, and it’ll definitely last a good 12-18 hours.
Overall the (deep breath) Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch (whew!) is a smart option if Sprint’s service fares well in your area. But if you aren’t planning on watching movies or TV on your smartphone, then that rich, spacious screen will go to waste.
WIRED The 1.2 GHz dual-core processor provides standout performance — apps open and close quickly, transitions are smooth and gameplay is great. One of the better smartphone cameras. Big screen is fantastic for games and videos.
TIRED Battery life is a drag. Onscreen keyboard is difficult to type on in portrait mode. Will go in a pocket, but doesn’t exactly “fit” in a pocket. Badly in need of a nickname.