android-sprint-epic-4g-touch

Hello, and welcome to the very first TechNorms device review. We’ve been in the business of helping you root, modify, and hack your Android phone for a while now. However, we feel there’s more to do. Say you’re looking for a new phone. What should you buy? That’s where we come in, once again. We decided to cast a critical eye at some of the latest (and not-so-latest) gadgets on the market. We’re going to sort out the winners and losers so nobody else gets stuck with some crappy update-less phone. It sucks to buy a shiny new phone and find out the bootloader is locked or it won’t get any updates (looking at you, HTC Thunderbolt).

We’re starting our reviews small. This is an older device. It’s already a generation behind. And you can buy it for a song out of contract on eBay. If you’re stuck in a two-year commitment and want something new for $150 or so, consider one of the best-selling Android phones ever made. We’re talking about a classic device that can still hang with the latest and greatest on a speedy dual-core processor. It’s the Samsung Galaxy S II. We took a look at the Sprint version, confusingly named the Epic 4G Touch. Here’s why smartphone buyers on a budget should take a look at this classic phone.

Hardware

The first impression we got upon picking up the Epic 4G Touch was one of lightness. It’s impressively skinny and light at only 4.55 oz. The slim form factor makes it pocket-friendly.

epic-4g-touch-front-side-screen

The front side features a Gorilla Glass screen. Above the screen lies a 2-megapixel camera, light sensor, and E4GT-exclusive notification LED. The reverse of the phone is covered by a well-designed plastic mesh grille plate. It’s good for keeping a grip on the phone and doesn’t pick up fingerprints. The back piece tapers down to a black plastic chin which bulges ever so slightly from the rest of the phone. In the center of the back plate is an 8-megapixel camera. Image quality from this shooter tends to be strong except in low-light conditions. Stay in decent lighting and images will stay crisp.

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Note: This is the extended battery case. The normal back broke in a tragic packing accident.

The two sides are held together by a black plastic frame visible on the sides. The power button rests on the right, with the volume rocker on the left. Both make satisfying clicks when pressed. The rocker feels slick and unreliable, though. At the top of the frame is a headphone jack. The bottom has the standard micro-USB port.

The Galaxy S II changed more than its name when it came to Sprint. Unlike its cousins on other carriers, the Epic 4G Touch clocks in at 4.5 inches of screen. Beneath that extra .2” are four capacitive hardware buttons for home, menu, back, and search. Sprint’s version lacks the large hardware home button featured on the international GS II and III. Unfortunately, there is no NFC support like in the AT&T and T-Mobile versions.

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Aside from NFC, the Epic 4G Touch feels like it made improvements in all the right places. A larger screen and notification LED make it undeniably better. The E4GT also is powered by a slightly larger battery. These are the kind of changes we can get behind. Well done, Sprint. With that said, we ran into hardware issues. We had no idea there was a larger battery in it, as the Epic 4G Touch chugs juice.

After enabling a battery percentage, it was amusing to watch the number tick down at a quick pace. That huge screen drains the battery prodigiously. We can’t stay angry with the screen, though. There’s a lot to love with 4.5 inches of Super AMOLED goodness. Gradients look good, icons appear sharp, and the colors are superb. The saturation and vividness of the E4GT screen made our PC monitor look dull.

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The real issue with the Epic 4G Touch is that it’s too much of a Samsung phone. It feels cheap and plasticky. The screen is stellar, but the rest of the frame feels mass-produced and low-budget. It lacks that “quality” feel that HTC and Apple put into their devices.

Network

The Epic 4G Touch is a remnant of another era. It hails from the good old days when Sprint wanted to push its WiMax 4G network. That proved problematic as LTE 4G (like you’d find on Verizon and AT&T) is much faster. Since the E4GT’s release, Sprint decided to phase out WiMax in favor of LTE. The Epic 4G Touch uses WiMax.

The good news is Sprint’s aging 4G network still offers truly unlimited data and isn’t going anywhere. The bad news is the E4GT won’t be able to pick up those lightning-fast new LTE networks as they roll out city by city. Understand that buying this phone means being left behind on LTE.

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WiMax is not fast. Over multiple tests, we could not achieve speeds faster than 98 kB/s down and 189 kB/s up. That’s slower than the 3G speeds, which clocked in at 136 kB/s down and 60 kB/s up. Note that those are kilobytes, not kilobits. WiMax is slow. It’s the 4G of the past. However, it is truly unlimited. There are no pesky caps or throttling lying in wait for data-heavy users. That quality alone makes the Sprint network worth considering.

Performance

Quadrant 3311
Vellamo 340
AnTuTu Benchmark 10014
Sunspider 0.9.1 1788.5 ms (lower is better)
CF-Bench 6631

The dual-core 1.2 GHz Exynos processor is amazing. Coming from an ancient single-core phone, this feels like lightning. Animations are fast, smooth, and almost lag-free. TouchWiz does not seem to slow it down.

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The Epic 4G Touch runs superbly. It scored decently on the benchmark tests behind the S III and One X. In everyday use, it flew. Emulators, Netflix, saving ClockworkMod backups and flashing new ROMs was fast. Games ran without a hitch. Samurai II: Spirit of Vengeance ran at 60 frames per second even with the processor slightly underclocked. Although it doesn’t have the very latest internals, this phone runs like a charm.

That performance has a cost, however. Using an in-house battery testing app, we found the Epic 4G Touch to have mediocre battery life. We did our best to test multiple scenarios under “normal” loads such as reading RSS feeds, texting, and browsing reddit.

ROM Governor Kernel Data Type Screen Time Total Time
TouchWiz 4.0.4 ondemand: 200-1200 MHz 3.0.15-SPH-D710.FH13-CL663858 [email protected] #3 3G 3h 10min 11h 36min
TouchWiz 4.0.4 ondemand: 200-1200 MHz 3.0.15-SPH-D710.FH13-CL663858 [email protected] #3 WiFi 1h 40min 13h 4min
CM10 Beta 2 ondemand: 200-1200 MHz 3.0.15-CM-gde5a7c0 3G 1h 22min 4h 49min
CM10 Beta 2 ondemand: 200-1200 MHz 3.0.15-CM-gde5a7c0 WiFi 52min 6h 32min

We also performed a video rundown test that looped Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind at maximum brightness, maximum speaker volume, 3G data, and one TechNorms email account checking once per hour in the background. The battery lasted 5h 42min before dying.

Software

For reference, this section is a commentary on the stock TouchWiz experience as it is out of the box. We made no modifications and tried to use as many of the default apps as possible. This is intended to be representative of the “default” experience.

android-touchwiz-stock-launcher-bright

Like we mentioned before, the Epic 4G Touch hails from another time in cell phones. The newer, more subdued TouchWiz of the Galaxy Note and S III isn’t on this phone. Its bright mishmash of colors and icons hearken back to when the word “subtlety” was missing from Samsung’s vocabulary. It’s not all bad. TW looks friendlier than Holo. The colors also do a great job of showing off the AMOLED screen. The skin looks decent. It’s not as childish as Sense and not as futuristic as Holo… just decent.

The Epic 4G Touch shows its age again through its plethora of preinstalled apps. Samsung included first-party apps for sharing, downloads, a reskinned gallery, Google+, Kies air, Media Hub, G+ Messenger, a music player, file manager, photo editor, Office, typing and Social Hub. That’s not even counting all the crappy Sprint apps.

android-touchwiz-launcher-allshare

This is a personal pet peeve of ours. We strongly dislike mandatory bundled apps. They are often terrible and take up valuable space. Moreover, there’s just something galling about a phone manufacturer forcing you to have a crappy app against your will. Samsung takes… well, not the high road, but not the low road either. The Sprint apps are removable, and the Samsung apps are acceptable.

AllShare sends media to any DLNA-compatible devices via wifi. Gallery adds date-based sorting. Contacts includes gestures for quick calls or messages. The file manager is a welcome addition. We also liked the default keyboard, Swype. Gesture typing is preferable to hunting and pecking. The rest of TouchWiz has the same helpful spirit. Samsung opted to include a panel of quick toggles in the notification bar. That, a built-in font changer, face unlock mechanism and option for displaying battery as a percentage make for genuinely useful additions.

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Embittered toward manufacturer skins as we are from the disaster of Sense 3, TouchWiz on the Epic 4G Touch is acceptable. It’s not as aesthetically pleasing as Holo, but that’s a personal opinion. The rest of the changes from stock Android are moderately useful. By the standards of manufacturer skins, that’s a success. Well done, Samsung.

Apps & Ecosystem

Android has never enjoyed quite as much software support as iOS, although things have been improving. A quick trip to the Play Store turns up dedicated apps for Spotify, Netflix, Minecraft Pocket Edition, Grand Theft Auto III, Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Twitter, and the ubiquitous Jetpack Joyride.

Almost all the major players in mobile have an Android app by now. However, Android greatest strength is still its greatest drag on app selection. Fragmentation is rampant. Google does not police the store nearly as much as Apple does theirs, and it shows. Too many apps are unoptimized for every screen size. Too many apps don’t follow Holo design guidelines. Too many apps don’t even support tablets.

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Android is also lacking in game support. Big names like Infinity Blade and smaller names like Hundreds and Kingdom Rush don’t support Android. There’s plenty of apps to choose from… just not as much as on iOS. One major advantage over other platforms is Android’s integration with Google services. Google Calendar, Drive, and Gmail are all best experienced on Android. Everything integrates into the OS seamlessly. The Epic 4G Touch handled all the apps we installed well. The 800×480 resolution meant even low-res apps looked fine. The excellent processor also ran everything at smooth speeds.

Updates & Support

In the year since the Epic 4G Touch’s release in the United States, Samsung has offered slow but steady software support. The main issue is that the E4GT came out only a few months before the Galaxy S III, which took priority.

Samsung-galaxy-sIII

This unfortunately means slow updates. The official Ice Cream Sandwich OTA did not arrive until this July. For those keeping score at home, that’s almost exactly nine months after Google announced ICS. Future support appears to be slow but reliable as well. The official Jelly Bean update was leaked onto XDA early, and was finally made available via Kies about a month ago.

Hackability

The Epic 4G Touch presents a tricky quandary for rooting. We found ourselves lost in a maze of guides, starter posts, and drivers. Our phone came within one shaky patch of being a Gorilla Glass-coated paperweight.

samsung-odin-flash-tar-stock

For some godforsaken reason, Samsung decided to make the recovery part of the kernel and include a separate “download” mode for installing software. This choice baffles us. It makes installing new ROMs unnecessarily complicated. It limits the Android enthusiast to a few stable kernel/recoveries. It’s infuriating. Rooting the Epic 4G Touch proved to be difficult.

Pro tip: install Samsung Kies, then get the drivers from XDA. When something goes wrong (and it likely will), use Odin to flash the stock .tar file. The process felt unnecessarily complicated.

android-cm10-beta-2-rom

At least the Epic 4G Touch enjoys a strong level of support from developers and Android enthusiasts on XDA. Although not officially supported by major developers such as Cyanogen and AOKP, there is a wide selection of custom ROMs available. CM10, AOKP, MIUI, ParanoidAndroid, anTable1d CodenameAndroid all have custom ROMs up and running.

We flashed a CM10.1 ROM by dastin1015 that does a beautiful job of porting 4.2 to Android. It was fast, smooth, and remarkably stable. AOSP Jelly Bean on the Epic 4G Touch is smooth and stable enough to be used as a daily driver.

android-google-now-search-weather

The good news? The E4GT has the hardware and the dev support to run the latest updates without issue. The bad news? Getting the ROM installed. Good luck.

Final Thoughts

The Samsung Epic 4G Touch is a great phone with a few great flaws. The Super AMOLED screen and Exynos processor are a powerful combination. However, they also drain the battery at a powerful rate. Then there’s the network problem. The E4GT is married to WiMax, the network of the past. Sure, the “4G” is unlimited, but it’s slow.

Consider carefully whether you can live without LTE before buying this phone. Despite those flaws, we enjoyed using the Epic 4G Touch. Out of the box, this phone is good. After rooting and a new CM10 ROM, it’s even better. At $150 off-contract on Swappa and eBay, it’s also a smart buy for the budget-constrained. If you can live with the caveats, don’t hesitate.