I had to say goodbye to an old friend recently. I had been with them for several years and had grown accustomed to the particular idiosyncrasies and personality quirks. I was used to having to put up with temper tantrums and shut-downs and I learned how to get by with the problems. But as all things go, it was time to move on. I had to move on to a new phone operating system.
I have used Windows Mobile on my cell phones since it was called Pocket PC in 2003. With each new phone, the OS evolved and improved, but then again, it is Microsoft, so there were plenty of crashes, shutdowns, reboots and hang-ups. My last phone was an HTC Touch Pro 2 and it was the worst phone I ever used. I was so anxious to rid myself of it, in fact, that I considered getting an iPhone even though it meant going to AT&T. Fortunately, there is an alternative to the iPhone and the blackberry and that is the Android OS.
I chose the Samsung Epic 4G for several reasons. Android didn’t particularly thrill me at first since it was so similar to the iPhone OS, but there was no other alternative. Windows had stopped development on the windows mobile platform as it retooled its phone division. The next version “windows phone 7” would not be backward compatible with any windows mobile software, so I had no reason to wait for it. I waffled on this issue until the day my phone finally died.
Never having used Android before (other than someone showing me how cool this app or that app was) I had a learning curve to overcome. The OS is relatively simple. Like the iPhone, it is a grid of icons representing applications. The touch interface is responsive and the screen is vibrant. It has “Live Wallpaper” which is fully animated CGI as a background. I chose the fish. I like fish.
Sporting a 5 megapixel camera with HD quality video and built in sharing support for Facebook and other social networking sites, the Epic also can be used as a voice recorder, a GPS, a mobile wifi hotspot and a portable hard drive. It has many cool features.
But it has one glaring problem.
The spec sheet reports that the Epic has 6 hour talk time, but it doesn’t offer a “standby” time. This is because apparently the Epic doesn’t standby. The phone is dead about 6 hours after I take it off charge. Now, I will admit that I am a heavy data user and I have apps that check email, stocks, status updates and blogs periodically, but then again, I have had this on all my previous phones and they lasted more than 6 hours. This phone has several radios: the typical 3G for Voice and data, Bluetooth, WiFi B,G and N, and the new 4G for data, which allows you to surf while talking.
I bought an extended battery that gave me about 11 hours with all radios on which was almost productive, but when I turned all the extra radios off leaving only the 3G on, the phone lasted well over 24 hours. I have resigned myself to having to leave the 4G off until I specifically need to surf. Of course, if I am at home, I simply turn on the Wifi and use that connection.
The phone has a bright AMOLED screen that evidently eats battery when it is on, but I don’t have it on that much. I think the biggest problem is one of the key features of the phone: its 4G radio. This gives Sprint an excuse to charge an extra 10 bucks a month for “premium” data access, but if you want to use the WiFi hotspot feature, Sprints asks for an extra 30 bucks on top of that. This will allow you to share the 4G connection with up to 5 devices (laptops, netbooks, iPads). It seems the radio eats batteries, but so does the WiFi radio and the Bluetooth. If you want to hotspot your 4G, you had better have this thing plugged into a power outlet.
The keyboard is nice, but then again, it is why I got this phone over the EVO. The Phone’s processor is wicked fast—right up there with the iPhone. Screen rotation is immediate. The phone boots in less than 30 seconds. The camera is great, though you cannot take a picture while you are in a call. It does have a second front-facing camera for video conferencing using Fring or Tango which are available in the Android Market. It also comes with Amazon MP3 store and The Kindle app preinstalled. The Android Market app allows you to search and install other apps on the fly without having to sync to a PC.
It says it offers access to Microsoft Exchange server with Push technology, but my IT won’t allow that (neither will many companies). I had to download an expensive app to handle syncing, which is a bummer. Windows Mobile came with a PC sync app for free, so should Android devices.
One potential problem is that the Android OS is being modified by each handset manufacturer and each carrier for each model. This leads to some glitches with some apps. It is the same problem windows mobile faced. One victim of this problem is Netflix. Streaming requires Digital Rights Management be built into the hardware and configured in the software, but because Android is an open platform, there is no single way to implement this security. Netflix is working on the issue, but reports that it will probably release the app on a device-specific basis next year.
Overall, I like the phone. I have only had to reboot it twice in the first month I had it, as opposed to twice a day with my last phone. The screen is large, but I want it large. It is not heavy at all and it feels good in my hand. The UI is fast and responsive. The availability of apps is ever-growing. It just needs a bigger battery or better power management in the OS.