One week with Samsung's Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch

Samsung's latest Android device is one of the best phones you can buy right now -- but it may not be the right choice for everyone.

Within the realm of Android, it's hard to think of a name that carries more weight than Samsung's Galaxy S. Last year's first-gen model won over millions of fans -- and with the newly launched Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, Sammy is clearly aiming for another home run.

Epic 4 Touch
The Epic 4G Touch is fast, sleek and fun to use.

After using the phone for a full week, I can safely say the company has hit it out of the park. The Epic 4G Touch, available now on Sprint for $200 with a two-year contract, is everything you'd expect it to be: It's fast, it's sleek and it's fun to use. All considered, it's easily one of the best Android phones I've tested.

(AT&T and T-Mobile both have similar Galaxy S II phones coming out soon, by the way; see my Samsung Galaxy S II FAQ for details.)

I carried the Epic 4G Touch in place of my own personal device for seven days. I wanted to get to know the phone inside out, going beyond the standard review-style evaluation and seeing how it performed in the real world -- the way a real person would use it.

Here's what I found.

Body and display

The focal point of the Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch is undoubtedly its 4.5-in. touch screen display, built with Samsung's new Super AMOLED Plus technology. If you can get past that silly-sounding name (What's next -- Mega AMOLED Turbo?), the thing is a true work of art. The display is crisp and bright with bold, brilliant colors that are like candy to the eye. The displays on other phones, even recent high-end devices, look lackluster in comparison.

Display aside, the Epic 4G Touch has a rounded frame and relatively thin profile, about 0.4 in. in depth. It's light, too, weighing just 4.6 oz. -- a full ounce less than Sprint's Motorola Photon 4G, which seems ironic since the Photon has a smaller screen. The Epic 4G Touch has a textured back with the Galaxy S II logo embossed in the center. Altogether, it makes for a classy-looking device that feels good to hold.

Generally speaking, the phone takes a minimalist approach with its design: The body has a two-button volume rocker along its left edge and a power button on its right. The only ports are a headphone jack on the top and a charging/MHL port on the bottom. The Epic 4G Touch can connect to your HDTV via that bottom port, but a separate adapter (listed at $39.99 on Samsung's website) is required.

Unlike Samsung's international Galaxy S II model, the Epic 4G includes an LED indicator on the top of its face. This is a handy feature that's missing from many current Android models; it allows you to see your phone's activity at a glance, with flashing lights to indicate various events like missed calls or new emails.

In terms of cameras, the Epic 4G Touch has an 8-megapixel rear camera with flash and 1080p video capture. It also features a front-facing 2-megapixel camera for video chatting (or the occasional vanity pic, if that's your thing). I found the photo quality from the main rear camera to be outstanding; it might not be able to replace a photo enthusiast's standalone camera, but for on-the-go image snapping, it delivers excellent-looking pictures.

Under the hood

Any phone can look and feel great, but unless it has the right amount of processing power, using it is akin to talking with a Jersey Shore cast member -- nice on the eyes, but maddening on the mind. Thankfully, the Epic 4G Touch is no lightweight in the noggin.

The phone runs on a Samsung Exynos 1.2GHz dual-core processor along with a full 1GB of RAM. To translate from geek-speak, that's about as high-end as you can get right now -- and it shows. Apps open instantly when their icons are touched; home screens swipe back and forth without so much as a stutter. Put simply, this phone is fast.

The speed is evident even in the device's start-up sequence: I timed 19 seconds between pressing the phone's power button and being at the lock screen and ready to roll. I performed the same test on the Motorola Droid X2, which has a dual-core 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM; on that phone, the start-up process took about 50 seconds. All that RAM makes a difference.

Speaking of speed, the Epic 4G Touch is capable of using Sprint's 4G data network. Going from 3G to 4G is no small step up: Web pages load noticeably faster, and the phone feels like it's shifted into a higher gear. Unfortunately, 4G access was intermittent in my area -- the phone sometimes took a full minute or two trying to reconnect to 4G after waking up from sleep mode -- but this may have very well been the fault of Sprint's local network availability as opposed to anything on the phone itself. Samsung does provide an easy way to disable 4G and use 3G exclusively, and I found myself doing that much of the time.

Android battery life is a common concern among smartphone owners, and Samsung's latest offering goes a long way in addressing that concern. The phone comes with a meaty 1800 mAh battery that, in my experience, was consistently able to make it through a full day of normal to moderate usage (and believe me, I give my phones a workout). To my surprise, I never once saw the tank hit empty.

The Epic 4G Touch has 16GB of internal space and supports up to 32GB of external storage. An SD card is not included with the phone at the time of purchase.

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