Eric Stewart: Running Off At The Mouth

A Day With The Samsung Epic 4G

by Eric Stewart on Sep.01, 2010, under Cell Phones & Providers, Technology

Okay, so I’ve had my Palm Pre for a little over a year.  WebOS is a beautiful operating system and it was a welcome change from the Blackberry situation I was running into at the time.  However, the polish I was hoping to see over time hasn’t come and the device (even after getting a replacement unit) was beginning to feel … well, dated.  And while I’ve been disappointed that they haven’t made it legal to shoot JobsCult members (would you people shave your heads, buy your turtle-necks, and drink your Kool-aid already?), the grass was certainly beginning to look at lot greener in the land of Android.

Enter into this situation: The HTC EVO 4G and the Samsung Epic 4G.

After quite the drawn-out wait, the Samsung Epic 4G (the Samsung Galaxy S device for Sprint) was finally released yesterday.  I got brave and picked up one (well, actually, two – the wife got one) at the Sprint store (yes, I’ve heard you can get it cheaper and without having to mail in a rebate elsewhere, but I always feel more comfortable going to Sprint directly when there’s a plan change involved) on opening day.  We were the second and third persons to pick up our phones; number one got a t-shirt (curses!).

Froyo (Android 2.2 operating system), while being out for a while, hasn’t quite made it to the Epic yet (though, in spite of the screams of doom from naysayers about the history of Samsung and their Behold II, I fully expect it to show up by the end of the year).  It supposedly helps devices work a bit faster.  That being said, 2.1 on the Epic is no slouch.

The Palm Pre felt good in the hand.  The Epic will have moments of requiring both of your hands.  One handed operating is not impossible, but can be tricky.  It is quite the massive slab of a phone, but Swype (which is included later in this review) makes it possible.

The Pre’s keyboard, while better than nothing, was small and occasionally annoying.  The Epic’s is HUGE.  Five rows!  The dedicated number row is going to take some time to get used to – I’m so used to having to hit an Alt/Sym key of some sort in order to type a number.  It has got a good feel to it and if you’re stuck on the hardware keyboards like I am, it’s worth 0.3 inches of screen real estate to have it.

Your other option for text input is Swype.  There are two strong feelings I have about Swype:

  1. It’s incredibly forgiving when you are Swyping words in its dictionary.  I’ve been horrible in hitting the right letters and had it rarely question what I was trying to input.
  2. It’s incredibly annoying when you’re dead accurate on what you want to put in, if said word is not in its dictionary.  Names can be the bane of Swype.

In spite of #2 up there, Swype is pretty cool and works perfectly fine for quick messages, particularly SMS messages, and can save you some time (as opposed to constantly opening the hardware keyboard).

There is no comparison when it comes to the screens.  The Pre (3.1″ if I recall correctly) doesn’t have the raw size that the Epic (4.0″) does.  While both were bright in my opinion, the Epic just seems to “pop” a little more.  Add to that the “polish” that the icons and apps seem to have as opposed to the Pre, and the Pre’s looking a little weak.  <DAY 2>Went outside with the phone today.  If you have your brightness up all the way, the screen is usable on a sunny day.  If you have it all the way down (like I do) to save battery power, then the screen is useless.</DAY 2>

My favorite app this morning (it was dark and the stars were out, because I get in so early) was Google Sky Map.  Turn on the GPS (or feed it your location) and point the thing at the sky, and it will tell you what you’re looking at.  It found Orion and the Moon well enough for me, and I was using an entered zip code instead of the GPS.

I would suggest replacing your VoiceMail icon with Google Voice and at the very least configuring your cell service’s voice mail to redirect to Google Voice instead.

Possibly more a feature of Samsung’s TouchWiz 3.0 interface rather than Android, the Contacts app was fairly good at mimicking WebOS’ Synergy, linking the same contact from different sources fairly accurately.

Call quality seemed better to me than my Pre.

While a great phone all around, the Epic is not without its flaws.  Here are some of the issues I’ve discovered:

  • The (Android?) mail application does not appear to support message sorting.  Simply put, I value the ability to move an email message out of my inbox into a save folder greatly and consider this a huge (though, given everything else, forgivable) oversight.  Hopefully this will be resolved when Froyo is released for the Epic.
  • The mail app also does not have an “all” mail setting; it limits you to downloading only the most recent month’s email.  As much as I sort stuff out of my inbox, I also have a few items that hang around in my inbox for several months for a variety of reasons.
  • The app for IMAP and Exchange email is separate from the GMail app.  That’s just silly and inconvenient.
  • While plugged in, the keyboard is awkward to type on.
  • You cannot (without an additional application) provide SMS tones per contact (to be fair, even the Palm Pre needed a patch to do this).
  • Since that point above requires an app that serves as a replacement to the default messaging app, it is annoying that on this version of the Galaxy S phone you cannot remove any of the four default icons that reside at the bottom of the screen.  At the very least, I wouldn’t mind being able to tell the “Messaging” icon to launch a different messaging app than the default one. So your best bet when you get Handscent SMS is to make it your default app:
    • From your home screen, “Menu”, “Settings”, “Applications”, “Manage Applications”
    • “Menu”, “Filter”, “All”
    • Find “Messaging” and select it
    • Look under “Launch by default” and if there are defaults set, “Clear defaults”
    • Next, when you open your “Messaging” icon from the home screen, you’ll get the “Messaging” thread manager (not Handscent’s yet).  But when you click on a thread, you’ll be able to choose a new default for the action.  Choose “Handscent SMS” and you’ll never see much more than the thread list in the old “Messaging” app ever again.
  • The desk cradle accessory has the tendency to hit the ringer volume rocker such that it silences the ringer volume.
  • The “free” Asphalt game is a demo and cannot be deleted from the unit, even after your 5 minute demo time has expired.
  • I haven’t found a 4G signal in Tampa – we may just not have it yet.  I think we’re due to get it by the end of summer though.
  • While I haven’t had WiFi drop out on me without reason (IE, where other devices also drop wireless signal), it seems like the WiFi signal strength indicator will not coddle you.  It reads what could either be a more honest indication of signal strength, or a weakness (flaw?) in the unit’s ability to get a decent signal from a distance.
  • Haven’t seen any change in the battery indicator or the LED that lets you know the battery is fully charged. Scratch that – my phone was plugged in long enough for the LED to turn blue and the Epic to ask me to unplug it. Still, I do kind of miss the (available via patch) battery percentage indicator I had on my Pre.
  • Appear to be having some sort of issue with the Facebook app’s notification page – nothing showing up.  However, this appears to be an issue with the app itself and not the phone; it’s apparently happening on other Android phones. See the tips below for a resolution for this issue.

What I can’t speak to:

  • Battery life:  My situation is hard on batteries to start with, as my office is in a basement with some “roaming” access and occasionally very weak Sprint access.  This tends to kill the battery quick as the unit keeps dropping/changing signal.  I usually keep a charger of some sort in my office because of this.
  • Video using Qik: I haven’t gotten the wife on to it yet to even test this.
  • GPS: Haven’t had a reason to test it.  I keep it off since it does tend to have an impact on battery life.

On the whole I’m happy with the purchase, though I will admit it is a shiny thing and there’s no telling when I’ll find something that will make me take it back to Sprint for something else.  I’d like to say I’ve learned my lessons from my previous experiences (just click on the “blackberry” tag to the right for examples) but you never know …

Finally, a tip or two:

  • If you’re new to Android, don’t forget about the “menu” button (the left-most one on the Epic).
  • From the home screen: “Menu”, “Settings”, “Sound & Display”, and at the very bottom, “Keyboard timeout” – change the keyboard timeout to something longer (like, say, “Same as Screen timeout”) to prevent the Android buttons from going dark too quickly.
  • There are a couple of “system” apps installed that could use updating, not the least of which is Facebook.  The default Facebook app had some issues with notifications (Cannot retrieve notification. Please try again later. Error message: [601/parser error: unexpected ‘-‘at position 64.]) for me, and I was alerted by AppBrain (and it’s accompanying app) that there was an “update” available.  At the very least, search for Facebook in the App Market and download/update it.

I’ll be adding more tips here to my full review as they occur to me or I come across them.

:, , ,

2 Comments for this entry

5 Trackbacks / Pingbacks for this entry

Hi! Did you get all the way down here and not find an answer to your question? The two preferred options for contacting me are:
  • Twitter: Just start your Twitter message with @BotFodder and I'll respond to it when I see it.
  • Reply to the post: Register (if you haven't already) on the site, submit your question as a comment to the blog post, and I'll reply as a comment.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.