The Samsung Galaxy S II is one of the hottest Android smartphones of 2011 in Europe and Asia. After 4 months it’s finally making its way to 3 of the top 4 carriers: Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile (Verizon is rumored to carry the LTE Nexus Prime by Samsung instead). The Sprint version is first to market, and it has an epically long name: the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch. Yes, the phone has more names than a twice married English noblewoman because Sprint wanted to retain both their Epic 4G branding and the hot Galaxy S II name. Monikers aside, this is a seriously good phone with Samsung’s Super AMOLED Plus display, their insanely fast Exynos dual core CPU, 16 gigs of storage, WiMAX 4G and an impressive 8 megapixel camera.
Sprint, like T-Mobile, has stretched the Euro Galaxy S II display from 4.3 to 4.5 inches. Bigger is better in America we suppose, but that does make the phone harder to hold despite its thinness. We love movies and photos on the bigger screen, but navigating icons and text in the OS and apps is a bit of a let down because Samsung went with the more pedestrian 800 x 480 resolution rather than the new high end standard qHD 960 x 540 like the HTC Sensation 4G and Motorola Droid Bionic. Icons look comically large and menu text is larger than necessary unless you have poor vision that’s not well corrected with glasses. Other than resolution, it’s hard not to love the Super AMOLED Plus display with its better than life super-saturated colors and high contrast. Samsung offers 3 saturation levels under display settings so you can crank up those colors even more (ouch) or tone it down just a little for more natural colors. The phone is viewable outdoors, but washes out and isn’t as easy to see as the iPhone 4 or Droid Bionic.
* Android and TouchWiz
The Epic 4G Touch runs Android OS 2.3.4 Gingerbread with Samsung TouchWiz 3.0 (according to Samsung’s specs page, that’s the version number) software that’s evolved since 3.0 since its release many months ago. There are HTC Sense-like touches here, including a carousel view of home screens (though not 3D), and the strange square backgrounds imposed on application icons is gone. The widgets are mostly the same, and are in general useful.
* Performance: Fastest Phone Ever
Along with the stunning and huge Super AMOLED Plus display, Samsung’s own dual core 1.2GHz Exynos CPU with hardware graphics acceleration is the star here. This is the fastest mobile CPU in a shipping phone, and it blows the socks off others by a wide margin. In the Quadrant benchmark, a score of 2,000 is pretty darned good for a dual core 1GHz CPU. The Epic 4G Touch scores 3,100-3,300. Wow. It averages 78 in Linpack’s multi-thread test, which is well above the top performers that manage scrores in the upper 50’s to mid 60’s. Does the phone feel fast? Absolutely. There’s no waiting when working with the camera, the web browser renders so quickly it makes up for our sometimes slow data connections and games run flawlessly. NOVA 2 HD, a game whose controls are sometimes difficult, suddenly became fluid—we are talking fast phone here. The only drawback? Since the phone doesn’t run on the Nvidia Tegra 2, you won’t be able to play Tegra Zone games.
* Design and Ergonomics
From the front, the Epic 4G Touch looks like every other slim slab phone on the market, including Samsung’s many other successful Android slate phones. It’s remarkably thin at 0.38” and impossibly light; Samsung is a master of featherweight phones and tablets. The drawback? Plastics abound, and though Samsung has moved away from the fingerprint loving piano black plastic, we’ve got a textured bland matte black back instead on this 4.6 ounce wonderphone. It just doesn’t scream quality the way a high end HTC phone does, but then HTC phones use metal unibody designs and are heavier.
The wafer-thin back cover peels off to reveal an ample 1800 mAh Lithium Ion battery and a hot-swappable microSD card slot (no card is included since the phone has 16 gigs of internal storage). Typical of Samsung, the power button is on the upper right side and the volume controls are on the upper left. This means that it’s easy to accidentally hit the opposing button, and it’s easy to squeeze one or both buttons when pulling the phone out of a slip case, pocket or purse. The 3.5mm stereo headphone jack is up top, and the mono speaker is on the back near the bottom.
The phone has capacitive front Android buttons and these are large enough to be easy to use, but not so large that we accidentally pressed them. The 5.1 x 2.74 inch phone looks like it should weigh your pocket down, but it’s absurdly light at 4.6 ounces. We actually checked to make sure the battery was inserted after pulling it out of the box—it’s that light.
* Calling and Data
The Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch has 3G EV-DO Rev. A and 4G WiMAX. In our area of the Dallas metroplex, WiMAX isn’t strong, so we spent most of our time on 3G. Outdoors on 4G, we managed an average of 2.5 to 3Mbps down and 1Mbps up according to the Speedtest.net app. That’s not terribly impressive, but if you’re in a strong WiMAX coverage area, then you’ll likely see numbers closer to 10Mbps down. On 3G we averaged 460k down and 434k up, and that’s standard fare for Sprint in our area, though it pains us to see such a high end phone hobbled by a slow data connection. As with 4G WiMAX speeds, much depends on your location, so if you usually see better numbers with your current Sprint phone, you’ll see better numbers with the Samsung.
Reception is average on 1xRTT and 3G EV-DO, but less impressive for WiMAX. Perhaps Samsung is throttling WiMAX’s radio power since it’s a battery-hungry technology. 4G reception isn’t terrible, but when we compared it to our Motorola Photon 4G, the Samsung had weaker signals (Moto tends to produce excellent RF phones).
Call quality is very clear with plenty of volume. Our call recipients couldn’t tell we were on a cell phone, and we enjoyed crisp, clear and full incoming voice. The speakerphone is reasonably loud when set to higher volumes (the last few notches make for serious volume jumps), but the speaker sounds tinny for calls, though fairly full for music playback.
* Multimedia and Software Bundle
The Samsung Epic 4G Touch has absolutely no trouble with Adobe Flash thanks to its extremely fast CPU and GPU. Flash Player controls are usable without the usual balking and pauses we see on many other smartphones. Playing HD media that’s stored locally is also a breeze and Samsung’s Media Hub is on board for Movie and TV show rentals. Sprint’s TV and music services are here as well, along with the usual bevvy of apps like NASCAR, TeleNav and Sprint ID. You’ll also get the standard Android apps including the Android Market, YouTube, email, Gmail, Search, Maps and Navigation.
The Samsung Galaxy S II has an excellent camera, and Sprint’s version is no exception. The 8 megapixel rear camera with LED flash takes some of the best photos you’ll see from a US 8 megapixel camera phone, and it can shoot 1080p that’s decently sharp with some motion blockiness. Indoor photos are particularly impressive with low noise and excellent colors even in low light. Outdoor shots are crisp but not too harshly sharpened, and have plenty of color with good accuracy.
* Battery Life
The phone comes with an 1,800 mAh Lithium Ion battery, and that’s a high capacity battery by smartphone standards. The phone needs it to power that very fast CPU and 4G WiMAX. In our tests, when in a 4G coverage area with 4G turned on, the phone lasted through a full work day on a charge with moderate use (9-10 hours). If you stream video, use the GPS for long trips or use the mobile hotspot feature, you’ll get much less, and a spare battery should be on your wish list.
It’s easy to recommend the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, even if you’ll dread telling your friends your new phone’s full name. It’s incredibly fast, extremely slim and has Samsung’s winning Super AMOLED Plus display. If you’re in a good WiMAX coverage area, you’ll revel in solid 4G speeds, and if you’re in a 3G-only area—well, you’ll get average Sprint 3G speeds and enjoy longer battery life. Speaking of battery life, the Samsung manages better than average 4G battery life, in part thanks to the high capacity standard battery. Our only complaints? It’s a plasticky phone (though solid) and we really wish it had a qHD display. The phone is large thanks to the 4.5” display—keep that in mind if you have small hands or small pockets.