Samsung GALAXY S II, Epic 4G Touch review

Samsung’s fastest-selling smartphone ever has finally landed in the United States. The GALAXY S II will be sold by Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T, and Verizon is expected to offer a similar phone in the near future. Sprint’s model came to the market first under the Epic 4G Touch moniker and I have been using it nearly non-stop for the past week. The “Samsung GALAXY S II, Epic 4G Touch” has stiff competition among the ranks of Sprint’s 4G phones. Can it keep up? Read on for my full review during which, for the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to the device as simply as the Epic 4G Touch.

Hardware

There are undoubtedly plenty of people who will think the lightweight and thin Epic Touch 4G feels cheap. I don’t blame them. HTC sells rock solid devices with beautiful aluminum or soft-touch rubberized uni-body cases and Apple’s iPhone 4 is made of metal and two sheets of glass. The Epic Touch 4G isn’t nearly as sturdy, but it is better looking than most phones and certainly gives off a premium vibe. Sprint’s model is almost identical to the European GALAXY S II but it offers a slightly tweaked industrial design. Its edges and corners are rounded, as opposed to the squared corners on the AT&T and European models.

The Epic 4G Touch is powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz Samsung Exynos processor that was noticeably swift at executing any process I threw at it. Applications opened and closed almost instantly and it was noticeably faster than the DROID Charge, which has a single-core 1GHz processor.

Samsung’s Epic 4G Touch offers a stunning 4.52-inch Samsung Super AMOLED Plus display. Despite sporting a lower-resolution 800 x 480-pixel display than several other handsets with qHD screens, the Super AMOLED Plus screen remains my favorite on the market. The colors blow me away every time and the screen has received more than a few compliments from friends and strangers who have seen it.

The volume rockers are easily within reach on the left side of the phone, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top, a power button rests on the upper-right side and there’s a microUSB port on the bottom. Given the phone’s hardware muscle, one might assume it would have an HDMI-out port as well. Unfortunately this isn’t the case, however, but you can purchase an accessory to connect the phone to your HDTV.

Software

Samsung pumped several new features into TouchWiz, its UI overlay for Android, but it still is not my coup of tea. The UI is quick, the widgets are improved, and the colors are less in-your-face, but I still prefer stock Android to any sort of custom user interface. Everything always feels faster and I prefer Google’s color scheme choices and menus. Thankfully, Samsung has added a few email text and background color options, so those who dislike the black background as much as I do have one less thing to complain about.

My favorite feature of the fresh TouchWiz build is Samsung’s new zooming function. On websites and while viewing photos you can hold two fingers on the screen and move the phone away from you on a horizontal plain to zoom out, or pull it toward you to zoom in. It’s a fun but arguably useless feature. Most may find that simply pinching to zoom is more efficient.

The Epic 4G Touch comes equipped with the Swype keyboard, which many people enjoy and use regularly, but I am still not a fan. Thankfully there’s a Samsung keyboard option that did the trick just fine.

Camera

The 8-megapixel camera on the Epic 4G Touch took excellent pictures, just like the AT&T Infuse 4G and the European version of the SII. Colors look amazing on the Super AMOLED Plus screen and the images looked solid when I transferred them to my computer, too. I took the Epic 4G Touch to the bar on a Saturday and a friend snapped a few pictures with her iPhone. I decided to give the Epic 4G Touch camera a try and passed her the phone instead. The differences between it and the photos taken with her iPhone were noticeable: the flash didn’t blow out subjects much as the iPhone and shots were clearer on the Epic 4G Touch as well.

The Epic 4G Touch is capable of recording 1080p video with continuous auto-focus, which was a welcome feature. I don’t often use my phone to record video, but a few clips played back on my computer looked excellent and were free of pixilation. If you are looking for a phone that can capture solid photos and videos, the Epic 4G Touch is a great option.

Data and Calling

Calls placed with the Epic 4G Touch were loud and clear. I didn’t have any complaints during a number of calls placed from New York City. There wasn’t anything astounding about the voice quality either, though, and data in New York City was a real mixed bag. There were times when I could not access Sprint’s 3G network even though it reported a medium-to-full signal. I tethered the device to my laptop to work for a few hours using its 3G connection and the overall experience felt much slower than AT&T’s network, which I typically use for work. My average 3G download speed barely reached over 1MBps and upload throughput was half that. Sprint’s 4G WiMAX network offered much better download speeds, about 8Mbps on average, but it takes a toll on the battery life and so I typically left it turned off.

Battery

The Epic 4G Touch is definitely one of the better Android phones when it comes to battery life. Its 1,800 mAh battery was able to power through a full day with moderate usage and even idled through the without issue. I also appreciated the option to toggle between 3G and Sprint’s 4G WiMAX network. With only 3G on I was easily able to get through a full day with moderate usage and even through the night while idling. With 4G WiMAX enabled, it’s obviously a different story.

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for a new Android phone today, look no further than the Epic 4G Touch. Samsung’s GALAXY S II family is my favorite batch of Android smartphones on the market right now, although I admittedly haven’t had a ton of time with the Motorola DROID BIONIC, which has also earned BGR’s praise.

I hope Samsung considers using a metal chassis on future GALAXY S devices so that the exterior is just as top-notch as the interior. Sprint’s 3G network in New York City also leaves much to be desired, but its 4G WiMAX network serves up excellent data speeds. The stellar 8-megapixel camera, fast dual-core processor, good battery life, thin body and incredible display are just a few reasons why I’ll be keeping Epic 4G Touch in my pocket for the time being.

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