Originally, I started writing this article about a year ago, right after I got the phone. Then I totally dropped the ball on it, thinking I would wait for the next update of Android. It’s been 2 updates and now I’m finally finishing this up. A lot has changed since the phone first came out over a year ago.
In the first 2 reviews, I discussed the hardware of the Samsung Epic 4G. This time, I’ll review the software, Android OS, and Google Marketplace.
Let’s start with the Android pre-installed apps that comes with the phone out of the box. Since Android is made by Google, it’s a no-brainer that it works great with Google Mail, Google Maps, Google Voice (more on that later), and anything else Google that you can think of. On the other hand, if you don’t like Google products for some reason, you are not going to like it.
The other usual apps are also included, like a calendar, calculator, memo, voicemail, and you can download the essentials like Sprint Navigation, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Originally, it also came with an alarm clock but in the latest Android update (2.3.5 Gingerbread), the alarm clock is inside the clock app now. Of course, there are tons of free alarm clock apps you can download from the marketplace. There’s a free one called Alarm Clock Plus that works great.
When you get a call and they leave a message, you will get a text transcribed version of the message. Depending on the ambient noise, the caller’s accent, and other factors, the transcription can be anything from great to marginal.
Then, you can listen to the actual message or if the transcribed version is good enough, you don’t even have to bother listening to the original voice message. I really like this feature because this allows you to check your messages anywhere by reading and without worrying about who might be listening.
If you have Google Voice, it works very nicely with Android and you can set it up to prompt you to ask you which phone number to use when calling out or texting. You’ll see a message like the one below.
On my iPhone, I never used Google Voice because it was too hard to use but on Android, it’s a snap. And Sprint is also starting to roll out a feature where you can transfer your Sprint number to Google Voice or vice versa.
On the Epic, touch and hold the home icon at the bottom of your phone to bring up a list of recently used apps. This is the Android version of multi-tasking. Like the iPhone fake multi-tasking, Androids version is similar in that it’s not real multi-tasking. It’s more like easily switching between apps that are loaded and suspended while another app is running. Only the now sold-to-HP Palm WebOS had true multi-tasking.
But I digress.
If instead of touching one of the icons of a previously launched app, you touch “Task Manager”, you get a more detailed list of the “running” apps as shown below. Note that this screen capture is from the original version of Android that came with the phone. The new version looks slightly different but you get the idea.
From this screen, you can end an app that you don’t need “running” and it will release that memory back to Android. You can also end all apps by touching “End All”. You don’t have to bother with all this techno mumbo-jumbo if you just want to use apps and not worry about the memory it’s using.
However, after a while, you will notice that things start to slow down and sometimes this causes some apps to crash because there’s not enough memory. I’ve noticed that in the latest version (Gingerbread), there seems to be more crashes than before where I have to take the battery out to re-boot because the power button is frozen too.
One of my biggest complaints I had with the original Android version was that the phone log did not tell you how long the calls were and you had to download a free app to do that. However, in the Gingerbread version, you can click on the phone call in the log and the detail page will tell you the duration of the call now.
Remember also that Adobe Flash does work in Android, whereas it will apparently never work on the iPhone. But Adobe has announced that they will eventually be letting Flash die a slow death as HTML5 will replace it in the future.
One of the best features on the Epic is the built in version of Swype. In case you’re not familiar with it, when you are typing on the on-screen keyboard, instead of lifting your finger after each letter, you drag your finger to the next letter and keep going in this manner. This works so well, I hardly ever use the physical keyboard of the Epic. As a matter of fact, if the iPhone came with Swype, I would switch back again. More on Swype in the next post.
My biggest complaint about Android is the inconsistent user interface. Both Palm (now HP) and Apple are very picky about the UI of every single app that is being submitted for approval. Apparently, not so much with Android. Many apps work so differently from each other, it’s hard to get used to. It allows for some cool innovation but also can be confusing to some users.
One of the most frustrating aspect of this is that you can keep pressing the “Back” button to return to a previous screen, but if you do it once too many times, the application will exit. Some will ask if you want the app will exit, but many do not and simply dump you out. Very frustrating. Every time you press “Back,” you’re always scared that you might accidentally exit the app.
Finally, although the Apple store has more apps, the Android marketplace has tons of apps, many of them free (including Angry Birds). It appears that the developers have decided that iPhone users will gladly pay 99 cents but Android users will not pay, so it’s ad supported. In any case, for the most part, any good app that’s on iPhone will also be available on Android and I have no complaints with the apps that are available for this phone. I have noticed that sometimes Android apps will come out but it will not be available for the Epic right away and I’ll have to wait, while people with other Android phones are enjoying the new app.
All in all, I’ve been using the Epic for over a year now and have had no problems with the hardware or software. Some of my friends have moved on to bigger and better phones but I’ll stick it out a little longer.