The Samsung Galaxy S II hits the U.S. in a big, fast, thin, light way
Thin and light is how Samsung rolls these days. That's no surprise -- it's been doing so for a while now.
It's time to add fast to those superlatives. OK, how about faster. That's really the bottom line with the Samsung Galaxy S II, Sprint Epic 4G Touch. That's its entire, official name, punctuation and all, depending on who you ask. It's a little ridiculous, to be sure. But a big, fast phone perhaps deserves a bombastic name.
The SGSIISE4GT, which is how we're abbreviating it at least one time, is the first version of Samsung's Galaxy S II to be released in the United States. The phone's been around in its RoW (rest of world) form since we first saw it at Mobile World Congress way back in February, and it's safe to say we Americans have been chomping at the bit for this guy.
The Epic 4G Touch is the third phone for Sprint to have both a dual-core processor and Wimax data. Just as with Verizon's Motorola Droid Bionic and Sprint's own EVO 3D and Photon 4G, that presents an interesting situation with battery life. You've got a power-hungry radio with a power-saving processor. Throw in the 4.52-inch (that's four-and-a-half freakin' inches, folks!) Super AMOLED Plus display in a form factor that's just 0.38 inches thick, and Sprint's got the makings of a monster on its hands.
Design: Just about the thinnest, lightest and fastest smartphone available today.
Performance: Fast, fast, fast. (And did we mention it's fast?)
Could be too big for many people with its 4.52-inch display, and we experienced lackluster data speeds on Sprint's network.
If the size doesn't bother you, the Epic 4G Touch is easily the best phone on Sprint at the moment. And while its hulking (yet excellent) display is tempered by its thinness, it's still going to be too large for some.
Inside this review
Let's see how many ways we can say "light" and "thin" in a 10-minute video.
Here's the Galaxy S II mantra; you'll be hearing it a lot: Big. Thin. Light. Fast. Repeat as needed. And it will be repeated alot as the other U.S. carriers get their phones out. But Sprint's first to the plate, and it's bringing a whopper of a device.
There's no other way to describe the Epic 4G Touch. It's big. It's got a freakin' 4-and-a-half-inch (4.52 inches for those counting at home) display. And it's not just any display -- it's Samsung's own Super AMOLED Plus. Not content with the mere eight subpixels you get in each pixel on a Super AMOLED display, the "Plus" adds four more. Will you notice? Eh, likely not, unless you have two phones side by side. But we can pretty easily say the Super AMOLED Plus display is about as gorgeous as any other we've seen, with LG's "Nova" display coming in a close second on the Optimus Black.
The overall design is a straightforward black slab. You've got the usual buttons below the screen, and above it is the 2-megapixel front-facing camera, light sensors and earpiece. There's also a notification light hidden to the right of the Samsung logo. That's a blessed addition and something that's been missing in too many of the manufacturer's phones of late.
The back of the phone is more big black slab. It's got a very slight reverse chin down at the bottom along with the rear speaker. The 8MP rear camera is nicely centered toward the top. Unlike other phones, the Epic 4G Touch isn't chunky at the shooter. The camera's flush with the rest of the device. It's just the tiny chin at the bottom that sticks out.
It's thin and light
The Epic 4G Touch actually is the second device of supermodel proportions (that's tall and thin) to be released in the United States. AT&T put out the Infuse 4G earlier this year, and the devices are roughly the same in terms of waistline and heft.
If you're going by the numbers, the Epic 4G Touch is 2.7 inches wide, 5.1 inches tall and 0.38 inches thick. It weighs just 4.55 ounces. It shouldn't go flying out of your hand -- the textured battery cover will see to that -- but its weight definitely belies its size.
As we saw in the Epic 4G Touch teardown, things are pretty well crammed into the phone. But there's still room for an 1800 mAh battery under the impossibly thin and flimsy battery cover. Note that there's no SD card included -- you'll have to provide your own.
Here's where we normally would get into "What's under the hood." So ... let's get into what's under the hood. The Epic 4G Touch has Samsung's "Exynos" processor, which we're pretty sure is Latin for "Wow."
Actually Exynos, like NVIDIA's famed Tegra 2, isn't just a processor, it's what's known as a "System on a Chip," or SOC. That means the raw processing, the graphics, audio, video, the camera -- everything's handled by the Exynos SOC. The only real spec you'll hear about from the SOC, though, is that the Epic 4G Touch has a 1.2GHz dual-core processor. That means a few things: One is that, yes, this thing has some pure horsepower behind it. And because the processor is dual-core, it can split the load and not work as hard for some tasks, and that means better battery savings.
Benchmarks (which really aren't all that useful in properly comparing hardware) will consistently show the Galaxy S II phone as being faster than just about anything around. In our use, the Epic 4G Touch is a screamer, no doubt about that. Flipping through home screens and the app drawer is effortless. And the camera app -- usually one of the slowest apps to launch on any smartphone -- is pretty darn quick, though we'd still like to see a little time shaved off it.
The Epic 4G Touch also has about 835MB of RAM available for running programs -- you'll see it reported as 1GB most places -- and that's a big contributor to the phone running smoothly, too.
You've got a fair amount of storage on the phone -- 2GB for installing apps, and 11.5GB of internal storage for music, pictures, movies and whatever else you want. That internal storage actually is treated as if it's an SD card, so you can move apps to it, too. And that's important, as the Epic 4G Touch doesn't actually come with an SD card. You'll have to supply your own, and the phone will take up to a 32GB card.
As for data speeds, they've kind of been all over the board. Sprint's 4G Wimax speeds obviously will vary depending on your location (if you have it at all). We bounced between having mediocre 4G speeds to what we'd consider to be normal 4G speeds to what we'd consider poor 4G speeds, all while (supposedly) connected to Wimax. We're not sure if that's because of Sprint's network or any potential radio issues on the phone. (More on that in the Epic 4G Forums.)
Battery life was surprisingly good. Not surprising because of the dual-core processor, Super AMOLED Plus display and larger 1800 mAh battery, but because we were often bouncing between 3G and 4G so often we expect the battery to take a huge hit. (Note that Sprint has included a toggle switch for the 4G radio in its pull-down notification settings, seen above.)
Samsung's got a new version of its TouchWiz user interface on the Epic 4G Touch, all on top of Android 2.3.4. It's still pretty colorful here -- yeah, we've probably said "cartoonish" or "clownish" at some point in the past -- but at least Samsung's staying consistant while adding new features.
Let's look at the home screens. You've got seven of 'em, bookended by blanks, on which you can put whatever you want. It's all anchored by icons for the phone dialer, contacts, text messaging and app drawer at the bottom. They're customizable (you'll need to change the app drawer from "alphabetical" to "customizable"), and we'll gladly swap out contacts for something more useful. (You can get to your contacts easily enough in the phone dialer.)
There are a few new useful widgets on board here -- the AP Mobile widget cycles through the latest news, Vlingo has a trio of voice-command buttons, and there's a full-screen calendar widget. And Sprint's loaded on its Sprint Zone, Sprint TV, NASCAR, Sprint ID and TeleNav apps (to go along with app icons for Email, Voicemail, Calendar, the Android Market, Gmail, Google Talk and YouTube). We're more than willing to bet that Sprint ID will go unused for a majority of Epic 4G Touch owners.
Notice what's sorely missing from that list? If you're going to want to do any web browsing, you're going to have to dive into the app drawer first. (We'd recommend adding that to one of your home screens right away.) Same goes for the camera -- and that exclusion is made even more ridiculous by the fact that there's no physical camera button. Why are those not on any of the home screens by default?
One thing of beauty, over which we've already gushed on video, is the way you add items to the home screen. Samsung's gotten rid of the typical list view, which covered the home screen you were adding to, and moved your choices to the bottom of the screen. Marvelous!
Other software of note
The Epic Touch 4G has all of the other usual apps you'd expect to find on a Sprint-Samsung phone. There's Samsung's AllShare app, which lets you wirelessly share pictures, music and the like. Kies air is Samsung's sort of SSH-type app (it's described as "a mobile application which enables Wi-Fi PC-to-phone connections and browser-based management.
The sole preloaded game is N.O.V.A. 2. There's Samsung's basic file browser, Polaris Office and a tasks app (not to be confused with the task manager Samsung's tucked in here), plus an interesting little video editor. And, of course, there's the aforementioned suite of Sprint apps.
The task manager
A word or two on the task manager: This isn't one of those task killers that we rail against. Instead, this is a rather proper task manager that gives you an easy way to exit (OK, force close, if you must) an application should it hang. It will also let you "Clear RAM" by closing out inactive processes or processes running in the background that you might not be using. It's nicely laid out and easy to use. We're just not sure how often you'll actually have to use it -- apps are generally better about not crashing these days, and there's plenty of RAM on the phone. But it's better to have it than not, we suppose, and you can't use it to auto-kill processes you really have no business killing, so it's pretty benign.
The Epic 4G Touch has a pretty strong Vlingo presence. If that's new to you, think uber-voice dialing. There are three main features here. One is the usual tap-and-speak. You tap a button to tell the phone you're about to talk to it, and it listens and performs and action. That's built into Android as-is, but Sprint's added Vlingo's excellent app into the phone as well.
Then there's "Voice Talk," which is even more seamless. Look for a little green dot (you see it in the top right of the image above), and that means the phone is already listening for you to give it a command. It works really well. Only problem is getting out of an app once you've launched it.
And finally there's "Driving mode." The big difference there is that incoming notifications will be read aloud. So think about who's in the car with you before turning that one on.
Samsung's baked a bunch of motion-control features into TouchWiz. Some of them are more useful than others. Why you'd want to use multitouch and gestures to move around the browser or homescreens is beyond us. Flipping the phone to silence it, however, is old hat. Sammy's got tutorials to help you out. (Go to Settings>Motion settings to find them.)
The Epic 4G Touch has Samsung's custom camera app, and it's pretty darn good. Remember that you get to it through the app drawer -- you'll have to add a shortcut to the homescreen yourself.
Above is what you see when snapping a a picture. While the camera app looks pretty simple, there are a ton of features tucked in there. Probably our favorite, though, is one that was removed. In previous versions of Samsung's camera app, pressing the power button would activate a lock that would keep you from being able to do, well, anything. That's blessedly gone.
You've got a range of resolutions at which to shoot, from 0.3MP (480x640) to the full 8MP (2448x3264), which is what we used in the examples below. You've also got a bunch of shooting modes, including panorama.
Images below open in full resolution in a new window
By default, the camera shoots video at 720p, but you can crank it up to 1080p.
Other odds and ends
More Epic 4G Touch items of note:
- There are two keyboards on board -- Samsung's keypad, and Swype, which is active by default. You'll probably want to leave it that way.
- The speakerphone is crisp and clear, as were phone calls.
- The Wifi hotspot supports up to eight devices simultaneously.
- Root access has already been achieved, for those of you who need it.
- Have we mentioned it's thin?
- And light?
- And fast?
The wrap up
Look, we've not said much here we didn't already know about the Galaxy S II from our review of the European version. And, frankly, we're pretty happy with the customizations Sprint's done, both in physical appearance (the larger screen and more rounded corners) as well as some of the software enhancements (Vlingo, specifically).
Sprint's got its usual bloatware on board, but much of it is uninstallable, and all of it is ignorable. It puts money in Sprint's pocket and allows for phone subsidies, so we'll put up with it.
Here's the bottom line: The Galaxy S II is easily the fastest, thinnest and lightest Android smartphone you can get. Sprint's first out of the gate in the United States -- the other carriers will follow shortly. And while Sprint appears to have a few data issues with the SGSIIE4GT, for our money, if you're going to pass on this one, you're going to need to give us a good reason why.