Samsung Epic 4G Android Smartphone Review

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The Epic 4G runs Android 2.1 (Éclair) with Samsung’s Touchwiz 3.0 skin sitting on top of it. Samsung promises that it will upgrade the Epic 4G to Android 2.2 (Froyo) at some point, but it has not stated when this will happen. At the time this review posted, however, the rumors were swirling that the Froyo update was imminent. There are a total of seven home screens to which you can add widgets, shortcuts, and folders. You can also pick custom wallpapers that pan across all seven home screens. At the bottom of every home screen are the same four permanent app icons: Phone, Contacts, Messaging, and Applications. Perhaps just to be different, the Epic 4G’s Applications screen scrolls sideways, instead of up and down like it does with the default Android OS or even most other Android devices for that matter.

From left to right: The default main home page,
a home page with Sprint-branded widgets, the phone interface.

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Note that we’ve come across a handful of Android apps where their respective developers state the caveat that their apps either don’t work right or are not supported on Samsung Galaxy S phones, such as Skype. We suspect that this is a function of compatibility issues with the Touchwiz 3.0 interface, and suspect that these issues will eventually be resolved.

From left to right: The first page of default apps,
the second page of default apps, the Sprint Football app.

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A number of Sprint-branded apps come pre-installed on the phone. One is Sprint Zone, which gives you access to your account, news from Sprint, tips and tricks, and suggested apps to install. Two sports-related apps that provide, news, stats, and video clips are Sprint Football and NASCAR. Sprint Navigation is a GPS-based navigation app; but we found it took a frustratingly long time for the app to generate routes—sometimes upwards of several minutes.

The Media Hub app.
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The Epic 4G also comes with a number of multimedia-minded apps. The Media Hub app is an application that lets you rent or purchase TV shows and feature-length films that you can watch on the phone. Sprint TV has similar offerings, at least as far as TV clips and full TV shows go—some of the content is free and some you must pay for. The AllShare app connects with other DNLA devices over a Wi-Fi connection so that you can stream music, videos, or photos to the Epic 4G. You can also stream media from the Epic 4G to other DLNA devices; or you can even play media from one DLNA device onto another DLNA device, essentially using the Epic 4G as a remote control.
From left to right: The AllShare app,
the Sprint Hotspot app, the Epic 4G's Wireless & networks settings.

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If you opt to pay for the $29.95 per month Mobile Hotspot service, you use the Epic 4G’s Sprint Hotspot app to turn the phone into a Wi-Fi router—essentially creating an instant mobile Wi-Fi hotspot via the phone’s 3G or 4G connection for up to five devices. When you use the Sprint Hotspot app, it only works if the Epic 4G’s Wi-Fi antenna is turned of—the Epic 4G will still be able to act as a Wi-Fi router to other devices, but it won’t be able act as a Wi-Fi client itself. When the Mobile Hotspot app is not running, the Epic 4G can connect to a Wi-Fi router itself for a faster connection to the Internet. One significant exception to this is when the 4G antenna is turned on—when 4G is being used, you can’t use the Epic 4G as a Wi-Fi client.

From left to right: Samsung widgets, the Feeds and Updates widget,
the screen that appears when you tap the AccuWeather Clock widget.

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One of the Epic 4G’s preinstalled apps is an e-mail client, simply called Email. It’s a useful app for connecting to POP3, IMAP, and Exchange accounts. This app is really just a renamed version of the free Android e-mail app, K-9 Mail. As far as we could tell, there was no difference in functionality between the two versions. Business users will appreciate ThinkFree Mobile, with which you can create, edit, and view Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. Another useful app is Swype, which makes text input a breeze when using the onscreen touch keyboard—text input is much more accurate with Swype than with the default Android OS onscreen keyboard.

Tap the Program Monitor widget to see the active applications (left),
installed apps (center), and memory information (right).

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Finally, the Epic 4G also comes with a number of Samsung-branded widgets you can add to the home pages. A number of these are clock widgets, which display information that is commensurate with their names: AccuWeather Clock, Calendar Clock, and Y! Finance Clock. Buddies now is a widget that shows social network updates from users you add from your contacts. Feeds and Updates is a widget that shows the latest status updates from Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. The Program Monitor widget shows you how many apps are currently active, using green-colored graphics; if the device’s CPU is getting hammered by any of the apps, it turns red. Tap the widget to see to the Active application screen, which shows each active app and the option to end any of the individual apps or all of the apps. You can also select the Package tab to see all of the installed apps, with the option to uninstall any of them. The Summary tab shows how much of the phone’s RAM is being used, how much space remains for additional installed programs, and how close to full the external SD card is.

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