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Samsung Epic 4G review: Part 1

Samsung Epic 4G

Epic – that’s a big word. Sprint and Samsung are suggesting that this member of the Galaxy S family is not merely vibrant, fascinating or even captivating. No, they’re saying it’s epic, like the Godzilla of smartphones. That’s a bold claim, especially in such a competitive space. After all, making an epic claim like that could lay you wide open if the device is an epic fail. We held back on asking Sprint for a review unit until the carrier switched on 4G in New York. The network went live a few days ago and here’s our review, so what kind of epic is the Epic 4G?

First impressions of the Epic 4G

The Epic 4G ships in a regular Sprint and Samsung branded box. Inside are an assortment of guides together with wired headphones that serve as a hands-free set, a USB cable and power adaptor. The power adaptor is one of those nice small block designs with a USB port that allows owners to connect the same USB cable as supplied for the Epic 4G’s connection to a computer. That’s a nice touch for travelers and we’d like to see more manufacturers following suit (several already do this).

The Epic 4G itself is a smart-looking device. It’s a Galaxy S device and as such the front surface is an all black glossy affair. The back is matte black with a chrome surround separating the two. Sliding the screen up reveals a landscape keyboard with flat keys bordered by the chrome surround. Some reviewers have commented that the Epic 4G is too plasticky compared to other flagship competitors, but we think the Epic 4G’s look and feel works well, especially with the keyboard exposed. Below the screen, capacitive Menu, Back, Search and Home buttons light up when needed.

There’s a front facing camera for video calling as well as a five megapixel rear camera with LED flash that is also capable of shooting HD video at 720p. Around the sides are a volume rocker, dedicated camera two-stop shutter and power button. The top of the Epic 4G houses the headphone socket and micro-USB charging port. Hidden inside the back plate is a MicroSD card slot, and the Epic 4G ships from Sprint with a 16GB MicroSD card already fitted. While we prefer externally accessible MicroSD card slots, the one on the Epic 4G is accessible without needing to remove the battery although you do of course need to snap off the back plate.

The five row keyboard is fully featured, with a well designed partially staggered Qwerty layout. The Epic 4G sports a dedicated number key row, as well as dedicated cursor arrows and keys replicating the front plate’s Menu, Back, Search and Home buttons. There is also a dedicated key to access emoticons. Symbols are accessed either using the Fn or Sym keys. Samsung have clearly put some good thinking into the keyboard design.

Hiding beneath all of this is a Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor humming along at 1GHz.  There is 512MB RAM and 512MB ROM, WiFi supporting 802.11b/g/n and GPS.  The screen is a Super AMOLED at 800×480 and the whole package weighs in at 155g.  That’s pretty respectable compared to the closest keyboard-bearing competitors; the Epic 4G is 14g lighter than the Motorola Droid 2 and 25g less than the T-Mobile G2.

All that horsepower is driving Android 2.1, with and update to 2.2 believed to be on the way. Samsung has layered its Touch Wiz skin on top of that, and Sprint has added its own apps such as Sprint TV and Navigation that are included in the Simply Everything package.  As with the HTC Evo 4G, Sprint asks for an extra $10 each month to enjoy the privilege of unlimited 4G data (although the equivalent plans still undercut Verizon and AT&T) and the Epic 4G itself costs $249.99 on a new contract after rebates.

If that’s got you all hot and bothered, stay tuned for the rest of the review which is coming soon.  Or if you just can’t hold yourself back, dive into the gallery and sample photos that we shot using the Epic 4G.

Neil Berman

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Nov 8, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Think Android is not ready for Enterprise? Actually it’s Good

 

Android Good emailThere’s been plenty of noise surrounding the iPhone’s supposed march into the Enterprise, but little discussion about Android.  The iPhone natively supports Exchange email but it’s a little trickier with Android.  Of course, companies that have made the move to GMail will find Android smartphones like Sprint’s Epic 4G to be useful partner devices.  However these companies are probably more likely to be smaller businesses with a small footprint that want to reduce the costs associated with an Exchange/Outlook environment.  That thought fits with the recent discussion I had with Sprint, who told me they had seen the Epic 4G being picked up by plenty of small businesses but less so among larger companies.

The fundamental issue with the iPhone and Android in Enterprise is security.  BlackBerry has long been the darling device of the Enterprise market due to its encyption and security capabilities.  But using the Epic 4G, I’ve come to believe that this device is possibly the best consumer/corporate device on the market at present.  It combines the consumer friendliness of Android with a great keyboard, all rooted (sorry for the Android pun) in first rate hardware.  So how can the security concern be overcome?

There is a nifty piece of software out there from a company called Good, that allows Android (and also iOS) devices to receive Exchange email and calendar data in a secure smartphone app.  It takes a little more effort to implement than just regular Exchange, but it provides a secure container on the phone that is likey to satisfy many of the more stringent corporate IT security policies.  Good is totally self-contained on the device, allowing the user to have other apps and media just like normal.  Compare this situation with a corporate BlackBerry that is typically locked down to only be capable of making calls and sending messages from company accounts.

With Good on Android or iPhone, it’s a win-win.  Employees are able to have an awesome smartphone like the Epic 4G and the IT security folks still get what they need.  At the start of the year I predicted that BlackBerry had peaked in terms of market share; software like Good could make RIM’s outlook all the more precarious.

Neil Berman

Nov 4, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile, Software | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pre-launch review of Sprint 4G WiMAX in New York City

I’ve been using the Samsung Epic 4G on Sprint’s WiMAX network in New York this week. The 4G service is due to go live officially on November 1 and, in short, it rocks. I’ll go into the Epic 4G in more detail in a separate post, for now I’ll concentrate on reviewing the 4G service itself.

I’ve been connecting to Sprint’s 4G service in a few areas; although primarily in downtown Manhattan and the commercial waterfront area of Jersey City. In all cases I’ve experienced consistent download speeds indoors of 4.5-5Mbps and upload speeds of 1Mbps. Outdoors the speeds have been around 3-4.5Mbps down and 1Mbps up. These are average download speeds measured with the Speedtest.net Android app. The specs of Sprint’s WiMAX service suggest that peak bursts could be up to twice those speeds.

What does this mean in real life? I was able to download apps in the Android Market faster than I could search for the next ones. Downloading podcasts and streaming videos became a trivial matter. I even tested using the Epic 4G as a mobile hotspot streaming an HD YouTube to the new MacBook Air, which worked like a charm. Basically it’s been like having a home internet connection in my pocket.

That speaks to the dicussion I had with Sprint about customrs using their phones or an Overdrive to replace their home internet connection. In an instant I saw that this is a real option. For an average user in a good coverage area, Sprint’s 4G service is should be quick enough to replace a typical home internet service. Taking the Epic 4G as an example, you could carry it as a daily phone and then put it into hotspot mode when you get home to provide your home internet service. For someone paying a typical $40 per month on home internet, that’s a decent savings. Whether that’s feasible though would depend upon your type of usage and network coverage.

One thing that’s really surprised me is how well the 4G signal has held up in my usage, given the higher frequency being used for WiMAX in this deplyment compared to 3G. This is probably due to thehigh density of pico cells that Sprint has deployed to provide coverage across the city.

There are still a could of dead spots here that Sprint said they are going to continue working on. But overall if the speeds remain this good post go-live then this is a service I can recommend in a heartbeat. The post go-live experience will be the true acid test though. As a friend said over dinner, if we had tested the iPhone a week before launch in New York City then it probaly would have been a superb experience, but as more and more iPhones placed strain on AT&T’s network,the quality of the experience degraded.

Will Spint’s 4G WiMAX network experience similar issues if there is a rush of subscribers? We’ll have to wait and see. But if it holds up, it will be a strong offering. The other variable is how successful Verizon’s 4G LTE deployment will be when Big Red lights it up shortly. If you’re in a good coverage area though, Sprint’s 4G WiMAX could be all you need for both mobile and home internet.

Neil Berman

Oct 29, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Preview of Sprint’s 4G service in New York City

Sprint Epic 4GSprint will be officially turning on its 4G service in New York City on November 1, and were kind enough to toss a Samsung Epic 4G our way for some pre-launch action.  Monday’s 4G launch will cover the five boroughs, as well as some nearer areas of New Jersey and parts of Long Island.  Sprint has already lit up various other cities around the country with 4G, and by the end of the year will have covered 55 markets.  The story doesn’t end there, as the carrier told me that it will continue the rollout next year which will include solidifying coverage across the New York City area.

Although the service goes live officially on Monday, it is largely available right now while the Sprint techs make their final pre-launch checks.  For newcomers, Sprint chose to base its 4G service on WiMAX which promises average download speeds of 3-6 Mbps, with peaks of 10 Mbps.  Those speeds Sprint Epic 4G 3will easily allow customers to stream HD video, do high quality video calling and download large files quickly in good coverage areas.  When I fired up the Epic 4G I saw 5 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up as you can see in the photo, which is frankly phenomenal compared to 3G speeds.

At those speeds you might expect people to start abandoning their home internet connections, especially since Sprint does not currently have data usage caps for 4G.  I asked Sprint for their views on this and they openly encourage people to use either their 4G phone’s mobile hotspot feature or the Overdrive mobile hotspot as a home internet replacement.  Sprint doesn’t offer a wired internet service so it makes good business sense for them to try to attract new customers this way.  I expect the other carriers will do the same thing when they launch their 4G services…and the traditional ISPs might wince at the prospect.

Sprint Epic 4G 2Sprint does face a couple of challenges with its 4G rollout.  Firstly the other carriers are snapping at its heels; notably Verizon has announced that its 4G LTE network will be available on some cities by the end of the year and AT&T is working to get its 4G LTE network ready during 2011.  Sprint’s head start has probably allowed it to lock in a good deal of 4G early adopters onto two year contracts though with the Samsung Epic 4G and the now iconic HTC Evo 4G.

Sprint’s second challenge is a technical one, rooted in the frequency being used to deploy WiMAX on the wireless spectrum.  As a guide, lower frequencies tend to penetrate buildings and distance better than higher frequencies which is why GSM customers often see EDGE coverage in weak signal areas – EDGE has been deployed at a lower frequency in the spectrum than GSM 3G and CDMA EVDO, so it can reach more places.  WiMAX is being deployed at 2.5GHz, which is a step above the 3G frequencies, so Sprint has had to install WiMAX transmitters more densely compared with EVDO to provide good coverage.  New York City presented its own unique challenges to the deployment due to the high density of large skyscrapers.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be giving the Epic 4G a good workout, as both a daily 4G phone and mobile WiFi hotspot, so stay tuned for our review.

Neil Berman

Oct 26, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Hardware, Mobile, News, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch review

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 8

Sitting all over America today are people who yearn to upgrade to a smartphone without paying through the nose on a monthly basis for the privilege. Meanwhile sitting in various Virgin Mobile warehouses is the LG Rumor Touch smartphone. Tying these two things together are Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk unlimited data and text plans, which start at a very reasonable $25 per month with 300 voice minutes. So is this the disruptive force that will make smartphone adoption ubiquitous?

First impressions of the Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch

The LG Rumor Touch is a new addition to Virgin Mobile, offering a 3 inch touchscreen with slide out keyboard, email/web/social-networking integration and downloadable Java apps. It runs a proprietary LG Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 9operating system that supports touch throughout. Other notable features include a regular 3.5mm headphone socket, Bluetooth, a micro SD card slot and a 2 megapixel camera with video recording capability.  There’s no fancy OS here or App Store, but the specs are a good match for social-networking-cash-maximizing-wanna-get-something-that-works-and-doesn’t-break-the-back people.

Speaking of dosh, the LG Rumor Touch costs $149.99 and you then have a choice of no-contract pay monthly unlimited data, web, text and plans that have different voice minute allowances. The $25 plan buys you 300 mins, $40 gets you 1,200 mins and $60 buys unlimited talk time. Even better, while there is sales tax applied to the monthly cost, there are none of those pesky hidden charges that can take a $70 monthly contract cost up to around $80-90 when the bill arrives. The Beyond Talk sales tax, at least in New York, takes the $40 plan to just under $44 at the time of writing. And since there’s no contract you can cancel at any time or go up/down plan levels. So when compared to typical voice+data contracts over two years these Virgin Mobile plans can deliver significant savings.

While that all sounds great it’s clearly only useful if the LG Rumor Touch is any good, so is it?

Using the Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch

The LG Rumor Touch feels good in the hand. It appears to be well made and the slide out keyboard feels like it has a solid locking mechanism. The whole device is reasonably light at 4.59 ounces and is compact enough to hide in a pocket with ease.

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 11The social networking and email integration works well enough, although I had difficulty getting new email notifications to come through willingly from online email services.  I found that generally had to load up the email app each time I wanted to access my email, even though I had told the Rumor Touch to run the app to the background when not in use.  This would probably not be an issue for a light user who might only check their email once or twice a day, but I found it annoying to have to wait the few seconds for the email app to load each time I wanted to check my mail.   There’s Facebook integration out of the box and apps like Google Maps and Opera Mini can be easily downloaded.  I was impressed with how quickly the Rumor Touch downloaded and rendered Google Maps data, including satellite images.

On the subject of web content, Opera Mini is definitely a worthy download for the LG Rumor Touch as the built-in web browser is fairly weak. It tends to display information in more of a WAP format compared to how a state of the art smartphone would fully render a page. The Rumor Touch does download information fairly quickly though, as Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint 3G network to provide its service. However one online issue I encountered frequently was that the LG Rumor Touch often failed to play YouTube videos. I have to assume the issues were due to network congestion because while on some occasions YouTube video streaming worked fine, trying to stream the same videos on other days failed. Even when YouTube playback was successful the LG Rumor Touch often thought about the task for upwards of 30 seconds before starting to play the video clip, which is too long in my opinion.

The music player and camera can both make use of the LG Rumor Touch’s micro SD card slot, so with a high capacity card installed it’s possible to carry a large amount of media. The music player works well enough but unfortunately does not play in the background when other apps are in use. That was surprising, especially since most other apps on the LG Rumor Touch can be sent to run in the background.

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 5The camera is decent for general use, although its 2 megapixel resolution lags behind some of the competition. It’s fine for occasional snaps though. There’s also video camera functionality offering QVGA resolution, which is only 320×240.  It records video, but not to a high standard and is no rival for the HD-capable cameras on high-end smartphones.  Nevertheless the feature is useful as long you keep its limitations in mind.  It will play back at acceptable detail on a screen the size of the one on the LG Rumor Touch, but larger computer screens will not flatter the output of the video recorder.

The touchscreen does its job, but it’s resistive rather than the capacitive technology found on the likes of the iPhone and some other touchscreen smartphones. This means it’s more responsive to fingernails or stylus input than broad finger flings. Once you get the hang of it though it’s perfectly passable but don’t expect pinch-to-zoom or any of that funky stuff. The screen colors are vivid and the display is bright.

If touchscreens aren’t your thing, the LG Rumor Touch has a fully featured slide-out keyboard. The keyboard includes a dedicated row of number keys, which is a welcome feature, as well as button for instant access to emoticons. The keys themselves are easy to press and offer good feedback. I found it was easy to type with the LG Rumor Touch with good accuracy.

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 14Battery life was good on the LG Rumor Touch. I managed to get almost two days of general usage between charges, which I consider to be perfectly acceptable for a data phone. I find that current smartphones need a daily charge (some even need an intra-day fill-up) so it’s always nice to know that a phone has some leftover juice if I forget to charge it overnight.  Kudos also to LG for adopting the standard mini USB charging port for the Rumor Touch.

Call quality on the LG Rumor Touch was good, and these days we expect nothing less from a modern phone. Callers heard me fine and I heard them fine in New York City. I did not experience any dropped calls during my time with the LG Rumor Touch.

Is the Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch a good buy?

For a smartphone newbie or light data user, the LG Rumor Touch is a good choice at an excellent price point. It provides enough functionality to enjoy social networking, email and basic web browsing on the move in a compact user-friendly package. While it trails the better featured smartphone market leaders by some margin in many areas, its price point is also stratospherically lower than most competitors over a two year period.  If you’re considering buying the LG Rumor Touch as a genuine iPhone contender though, you will be disappointed.  More demanding users who want better smartphone functionality on a budget might prefer to consider Virgin Mobile’s BlackBerry Curve 8530 which sits at a slightly higher price point.  Stay tuned, our review of the 8530 is coming soon…and as promised here is our Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 review.

All details, including monthly plan features and costs are accurate as at the time of writing and may change in the future.  Consult Virgin Mobile for the most up to date information.

Neil Berman

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Jul 17, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

Is Sprint suffering from 4G perception issues in New York?

Sprint has been vocal this year in marketing its deployment of the first 4G network in the US. The release of its newest flagship smartphone, named the Evo 4G, reinforces this message upon consumers.

What doesn’t seem to be so well known outside of enthusiast circles is the fact that 4G is only available in limited areas. Sprint has certainly publicized this limitation and has said which US cities currently enjoy, or will enjoy 4G coverage during 2010.

However the anecdotal conversations I have had suggest that, at least in New York City, some people trying out the Evo 4G make the logical assumption that they are experiencing 4G speeds. Of course in reality they are not because Sprint is still only at 3G in NYC. Unfortunately this shows when using the Evo 4G.

I’m concerned this is a potential perception issue in the making for Sprint. Most of the people I have spoken with in NYC who have tried out the Evo 4G have come away disappointed with what they perceive to be Sprint’s 4G network. They’re surprised to see slower than expected page and Youtube loading speeds. Of course they’re actually experiencing a 3G network on a phone that has 4G in its name.

They walk away perceiving 4G to be no different to 3G and question why they are being asked to pay $10 extra when AT&T just very publicly lowered their data plan costs (albeit with a 2GB cap).

The question is, when Sprint’s 4G really does come to New York City will the Evo 4G pick up steam or will local inhabitants already have formed a false impression of Sprint’s 4G speeds?

Neil Berman

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Jun 18, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Selling the Sprint HTC Evo 4G

Evo 4GI wandered past my local Sprint store today and what’dya know, they have a new flagship smartphone on sale called the HTC Evo 4G. I’m saying that with tongue in cheek of course, since the Evo 4G has been much anticipated.

But walking into the Sprint store, that might not be immediately apparent to casual observers. There were two Evo 4Gs on display sitting alongside the rest of the Sprint range, with nothing particularly shouting their presence.

One was almost out of battery and the other was switched off because its battery was dead. A Sprint salesperson came along and plugged a charger into the dead one after I asked him to do so. I asked him about the battery life of the Evo 4G and he said that they were recommending customers to buy a spare battery together with the phone. Oh, I said. He suggested that the Evo 4G’s battery drained so quickly because the phone could do so many things. Funny, I thought, how frustrating it would be to own the ‘best’ car on the market if it only got 5 mpg. Best might not be the most appropriate word.

Both phones had the customary restraining alarm attached to the back cover, with a clasp across the phone. This attachment, which annoyingly cut across the middle of the screen, stopped the Evo 4G from switching to landscape. So nobody exploring these Evo 4Gs would be able to enjoy their crowning glory, the 4.3 inch landscape view. Consequently websites were stuck in portrait looking awful with minuscule text, photos were tiny and the narrow keyboard was the only one on offer.

A few people walked in during the time I was there and seemed unimpressed, and given the way the Evo 4Gs were setup it’s really not surprising. The Evo 4G is a flagship device with tremendous capabilities, but when a customer tips it on its side to view a web page and the image remains in portrait, it unfortunately presents the perception of a second rate device which doesn’t work properly.

I asked the Sprint salesperson about stock levels and he said I could walk out the store with one immediately. I wasn’t about to do that because I don’t feel like paying an inflated 4G data plan price when New York only has 3G available, especially when AT&T just announced a reduction in data costs for the majority of users. However I wasn’t too surprised that stock was available, given the demo experience I had witnessed.

Personally, apart from the battery issues which is a biggie, I really like the Evo 4G and would consider buying one when Sprint brings WiMAX to New York City. But I’m different to all those smartphone buyers who would just go shopping for a new phone, play with an iPhone and a few others and buy one.

Speaking of which, the world is talking about a likely new iPhone coming out shortly. While Apple should worry about phones like the Evo 4G stealing some of its thunder, it seems to me that retail experiences like this one may reduce the severity of that storm. With an ever growing number of people interested in smartphones, there’s really no excuse for that.

Neil Berman

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Jun 5, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sprint & Verizon 4G mobile broadband vs iPad 3G

Sprint and Verizon’s marketing aimed at getting iPhone and iPad owners to buy their mobile data plans might not be as wacky as it seems.  The idea of asking us to splurge an extra $59.99 monthly for more mobile data appears to be a wild idea, until you do the iPad math…so let’s do it:

The iPad 3G + AT&T scenario provides one connected device for $29.99 per month at an initial premium of $130 over the WiFi only iPad.

Using Sprint as the competing provider, the offering is multiple connected devices for $59.99 per month and an initial premium of $99.99 for the Sprint Overdrive WiMAX 4G/3G hotspot.

Seems like an easy decision in favor of the iPad 3G option? Perhaps, until you consider that in many US cities the Sprint Overdrive offers up to 6MB download connection speed with unlimited 4G WiMAX usage on up to five devices. That’s fast enough to supplant a home broadband connection for many people.

The average US home broadband cost as of April 2009 is $39 per month. So using the Overdrive in a 4G WiMAX covered city and canceling a home internet connection suddenly has an effective average monthly cost of $20.99. That’s $9 cheaper than an iPad 3G data plan, which of course only provides connectivity to one device and only at 3G speed.

Sprint is aggressively rolling its 4G WiMAX service within the US and its pricing includes unlimited usage, unlike most 3G mobile broadband plans which are capped at 5GB per month. Verizon is busily working on its faster 4G LTE deployment, with no pricing or caps announced as yet.  This may logically become the standard connection method for many consumers or the coming years, just as cellphones have replaced landline phone connections.

Neil Berman

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Mar 24, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Mobile, Video Features | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Space cakes? Give me donuts.

I don’t know what kind of funky math Sprint used to figure out how much that cool Dunkin Donuts in Space would cost, but what a great ad!!

I mean that really makes me stop and think about how much it costs to run an iPhone.  Isn’t it amazing what we could do if those three million people all got together?  Mmmmm all those Boston Cremes.  Having said that, they’d have a heck of a time keeping those Space Donuts fresh.

Dunkin in space

Neil Berman

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Jul 15, 2009 Posted by | Mobile, Other Stuff | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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