Last week, Sharath Shroff and I had a chance to sit down with Sprint’s Trevor Van Normal of Handset Product Marketing and Caroline Semerdjian from Corporate Communications. We were lucky enough to get an early hands-on preview of the Epic 4G and had managed to get some questions answered.
Samsung Media Hub
Much like the Blockbuster App on the Droid X (and Droid 2), Samsung’s pre-installed Media Hub application brings movies to the Epic over the air. The service offers the option to both purchase and rent movies at fairly reasonable prices. Rentals were as affordable as $3 for a 24 hour licence and pricing for purchases reach up to $20. Unlike Blockbuster’s app, the Samsung Media Hub offers progressive viewing, meaning that you can begin watching a show while it is still downloading. There are indicators to show the amount downloaded and the current position of playback.
While the progressive viewing feature may lead some to believe that it has advantageous over Netflix and Hulu technologies, which require a constant internet connection, there are still a few drawbacks. Even if a movie is completely downloaded onto the phone’s storage, the DRM technology requires momentary internet access to initiate playback of a file. This means if you are in a dead zone, in another country, or on a plane, the Samsung Media Hub movies won’t work even if already saved.
Android v2.1 to v2.2 Upgrade
While the HTC EVO 4G already received the long-awaited Froyo update earlier this month, the Epic 4G will ship with v2.1 on August 31st. According the Sprint representatives we spoke with, they expect a 7-8 week turn around time to release the update. That’s also the same amount of time it took Sprint, collaborating with HTC, to distribute the update for the EVO. Sprint also stated that software updates spend nearly 30 days in their test labs to ensure a bug free product. And of course, when it’s ready, Sprint will push it to devices over the air. They are working closely with Samsung to ensure a fast release.
Touch Wiz 2.5 Interface
While I walked into our meeting assuming that the Epic 4G was running Touch Wiz 3.0 interface, which appears on other Samsung devices, it turns out that this smart phone is running something older. According to Trevor Van Norman, the Touch Wiz interface isn’t the older v2.0, but he also said it wasn’t v3.0 either. It’s apparently an “in between version,” which he labeled v2.5. I asked whether the upcoming Froyo update would include Samsung’s new Touch Wiz 3.0 interface, but he wasn’t entirely sure (or wasn’t allowed to tell us).
Despite the lack of the latest Touch Wiz interface, according to Sprint, the interface is faster and less obtrusive compared to HTC Sense. As some who’s used both a stock install of Android as well as the EVO, which sports HTC Sense, there are quite a few differences. A less integrated interface, like Touch Wiz, might just be something certain customers may prefer due to a more-simplistic nature anyways.
Qik Video Chat
Since the Epic 4G sports a front-facing camera like the HTC EVO 4G, we wanted to double-check cross-device compatibility for video calls. We were glad to hear that calls placed with the pre-installed Qik app would work perfectly across both devices whether on a 3G, 4G, or WiFi network. While that’s great, I should note that the Epic 4G only has a 0.3 megapixel front facing camera versus the 1.3 megapixel camera featured on the EVO 4G. We’ll be publishing a video demo of video calls in action, so stick around for that. But as a heads up, video quality coming from the EVO 4G looked significantly clearer and more colorful than the front-facing camera on the Epic 4G. Also, we don’t know if this is a temporary bug, but video from the Epic 4G was also “squished” as you can see in the image above. Hopefully, a “Qik for Epic 4G” app in the Android Marketplace will fix that.
Mobile Hotspot App
Like the HTC EVO 4G, the Samsung Epic 4G also sports an integrated mobile hotspot. Whether on a 3G or 4G network, the smart phone will offer the ability to share a WiFi internet connection with up to 5 devices. We asked Sprint why this phone didn’t support up to 8 users like the EVO and received an interesting response. According to the representative, Sprint’s research has apparently shown that the majority of their customers who subscribe to the $30 / month tethering data plan only use the hotspot with a single device at a time. And the number of customers that use it with two, three, or more devices exponentially decreases. While that’s no excuse for limiting features, I’m guessing it won’t be a problem for most customers either.
- Epic 4G isn’t locked down to the 30 FPS limit like the EVO 4G. A video game he demonstrated to us reached over 60 FPS and remained over 50 FPS for the most part.
- San Francisco Bay Area will have 4G by the end of this year. Some people in the area may get signal already due to extensive tests being conducted in the area.
- There is a currently a 1 Mbps upload speed cap on 4G networks. Sprint is working with Clearwire to, hopefully, lift the cap in the near future.
- Also another odd finding? The 4G radio won’t stay on when WiFi is on. It’s one or the other. The EVO allows for both radios to be on simultaneously.
Samsung Galaxy S Accessories
Sprint also showed off 3 official Galaxy S branded accessories for the Epic 4G that will go on sale through their retail and online stores. The first was a desk stand which charges the phone with a microUSB port. There’s a line out audio jack in the back for connecting to a set of speakers. Sprint will also offer an external Samsung battery pack charger. While you can recharge a second battery by swapping it out with the one in the phone, this can help speed up the process for heavy users. Finally, there was also a neat little leather holster case for the phone. There’s not much more to say about the latter, but it’s a welcome option for those who want an non-3rd-party case.
Update 8/18: Sprint’s Corporate Communications team was kind enough to answer some of the questions you folks had for us. According to him, there will be an update to the Qik App which will solve the issues mentioned previously. The Epic 4G sports 1GB of ROM, not 512 MB. The phone runs TouchWiz 2.5, not version 3.0 because “There were some changes to allow for support of the portrait to landscape transitions on Epic, which is the reason for the different version number.”