If it ain't broke, why fix it? The original Galaxy S II earned one of our best review scores, topped our back to school guide and recently earned a mention in our smartphone buyer's guide for the second time in a row. Add in the stellar sales figures we mentioned earlier, and Samsung has surely found success in its top dog. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Sprint mixed in the same secret sauce into its version of the worldwide hit handset, called the Epic 4G Touch. Whereas the phone's predecessor, the Samsung Epic 4G, was a radical change in look, feel and design from its global counterpart -- Sprint slapped a mediocre QWERTY keyboard on its version of the Galaxy S, for crying out loud -- this one fortunately doesn't depart far from the original design.
Still, there's no mistaking the latter over the former, as the latest Epic found plenty of ways to not just stand out but enhance the global GSII. As preposterous as it may sound that an already wonderful phone may have been improved upon by a carrier
, we think Sprint's variant may have done just that: beefing up the screen, adding an LED notification light, using a larger battery and adding a couple capacitive touchscreen buttons could indeed make the phone even more desirable than it already is, as painful as it may feel to admit it.
Such enhancements are also likely responsible in part for the phone's extra heft. The Epic weighs in at 4.55 ounces compared to the original's breathtaking 4.09; it must've gained an extra mm when waiting in customs, too, as the handset ballooned from a svelte 8.49mm (0.33 inches) to a slender 9.65mm (0.38 inches) during its transition. This may be a letdown for anyone who absolutely must have the thinnest phone -- the original comes close behind the 7.7mm-thin NEC MEDIAS N-04C -- but it's likely that the vast majority of interested buyers will only see a marginal difference between the two.
An adjustment that'll definitely get noticed, though, is the Epic's bump in display size to 4.5 inches, a full two-tenths of an inch of additional real estate on the screen to take advantage of Samsung's colorful Super AMOLED Plus technology. Adding a whole four mm to its width, the device doesn't feel much wider in our hands when compared to the original, contrary to our darkest fears; in fact, it nestles in our average-sized mitts quite comfortably, though we can definitely understand that anyone with more petite palms may not experience the same type of luck.
Also sure to get some attention is the usual change in navigation buttons, with all three US models opting to use four capacitive touchscreen buttons here instead of the global's three-button layout consisting of a physical home key in between the capacitive menu and back buttons. The fourth button, missing entirely on the original, is the search key. Frankly, we were expecting to see this layout on the domestic versions -- the first Galaxy S phones launched in the US last year opted for the same setup, not to mention that devices launched in the US seldom depart from this four-button system. Sorry folks, if you loathe the search key that much, it appears that your only choice is the unlocked version.
The Epic 4G Touch took some other liberties to spice up the Galaxy S II design. The corners are slightly more rounded, the speaker grill has been moved from right to left (and mic from left to right), the screen lock / power button has moved closer to the top right corner and the camera is shaped like an oval instead of a rectangle, with the lens and LED flash oriented up / down rather than left / right. And before we forget, the inclusion of an LED notification light -- not present in the original -- is a minor yet very welcome change, allowing us to quickly see that we have a new message awaiting us. There are a couple other obvious adjustments that had to be made underneath the battery cover as well; since the Epic 4G Touch is a CDMA-based phone with no global GSM roaming capabilities (a point that may dissuade international travelers from choosing it), the SIM card slot is notably missing and the microSD port has slid over to take its place.
Completely unchanged in the Epic is the somewhat questionable build quality of the Galaxy S II. We love Sprint's decision to go with the same textured battery cover that serves well to protect the back of the phone from dings, fingerprints and scratches, but unfortunately the number of revolutionary changes in the global's flimsy plastic material can be counted without raising a single finger. You'd best be protecting your crown jewel if you're a clumsy dropaholic, because we could painfully envision it smashing into little pieces (in slow-motion, of course) when coming into contact with a tough-as-nails concrete floor.
The Epic 4G Touch also retains the signature bump just below the battery cover -- for better or worse -- and doesn't deviate in its size. Moving around the phone, we also see the same 3.5mm headphone jack on top, a volume rocker on the upper left that has been given an indent in between the up / down and a microUSB charging port. Contrary to the original Galaxy S series, this particular port lacks the clever sliding door to keep dust and moisture out while the phone isn't charging, which was a small disappointment.
Underneath the hood, Samsung and Sprint have kept the Epic true to its fraternal twin's roots, retaining the top-of-the-class 1.2GHz dual-core Exynos CPU and 1GB of RAM primarily responsible for the phone's buttery-smooth performance and amazing benchmarks (discussed later in the review). It features the same 8 megapixel rear camera and 2 megapixel front-facing cam; the Epic also has 16GB of built-in storage and its included microSD port is capable of extending that capacity out to 48GB. Its battery is also a fair amount larger at 1,800mAh, versus the Galaxy S II's 1,650mAh. Naturally, the UMTS / HSPA radio has been swapped with an EVDO / WiMAX one, though as we mentioned earlier, we would've preferred to see at least GSM for global roaming.
We were rather bold in the original Galaxy S II review by stating that the device's display was spectacular enough to rival the iPhone 4's Retina Display -- say what you will about Apple's 15-month old flagship, that's still no easy feat to match. But it's a testament to the superior nature of the S-AMOLED technology used in Sammy's Super AMOLED Plus screens, which offers the deepest blacks, the most saturated colors and the best viewing angles that you can find on any other phone on the market. Head over to our Galaxy S II review, where we go into excruciating detail on why this is so.
Suffice it to say for this review, the Epic 4G Touch doesn't disappoint in its display either. We say this with just a smidge of surprise, since it made the screen even larger but yet used the same WVGA (800 x 480) resolution. The pixel density is obviously lower in this case, as there's more screen space to pack the same number of pixels in. To our delight, however, the Epic's display looked just as beautiful in spite of the size difference. This was great news to us, since we were able to enjoy the same viewing experience and
do so with more real estate on the screen. And what's better, we took the phone outside in the middle of a sunny day and were still able to see the screen clearly, despite being exposed to direct sunlight.
To take things an extra step, we compared the Epic's Super AMOLED Plus side by side with the IPS WVGA display in the T-Mobile G2x, cranking the devices' brightness up as high as they could go. The G2x, which has a higher pixel density by nature of its 4-inch display, still appeared dimmer and more pixelated.