Epic Evolution?

The problem is choice.

Its a problem i wouldn’t mind too much if it wasn’t so darned hard to make that choice. Okay,.. Zion and the rest of humanity may not have been at stake with the choice i had to make. None the less, i did not want to be the Architect of my own poorly decided decision.  Its the principle of the thing, my personal Zion. At the present time theres no lack of choice of very smart mobile devices available from the big four to choose from. All about the same yet ever so different.

Coming from a slightly confused T -Mobile flavored HTC HD2 that didnt leave a very good taste in my mouth, i decided to go native android with Sprint. So far so good. Carrier chosen, service plan selected, the Mrs amicable,…. and then i hit the wall… and the Oracle was nowhere to be found for guidance. Blast! It didnt seem too high at first, quite possibly scalable, but the closer i looked the taller it got. Soon it was 30 feet high and agent Smith stood at the top menacingly, not making this easy at all.

HTC’s Evo 4G Vs Samsung’s Epic 4G

I had to decide between Sprints venerable Evo 4g and Samsungs slightly newer Epic 4G. Yep, the problem was most definitely choice. Both had features i wanted and at the same time didnt care for. But neither had it all. Drat.

I wish i was more like the Mrs at times. It was easy for her… Amoled, no amoled… snapdragon or hummingbird.., 4.3 or 4.0.. it didnt matter a lick. With the spec sheet calling it so close… it was a simple matter of the keyboard that decided it for her. Ummm… that one. No second thoughts. 8 seconds. Simple, clean and done. Occasionally It sucks to be technologically inclined. If it weren’t for it i wouldnt have been burdened with such choices. While the Mrs spent her time catching up on Glee… i on the other hand, spent time with mother Oracle.., err i meant Google, hoping to get some help in the decision making process. I honestly wondered if stupid juice would alleviate this curse of choice. Regrets coming out of a state i didnt have complete control of my senses, i can deal with…*makes note to self*. Then again, maybe not. I might just end up with an Iphone 4… that kind of regret i dont think i could ever deal with. Im just not a S&M kinda guy. Although i did entertain the thought of naming it “Titanic” and watching it sync. That would probably never get old at the water cooler.

Back to the quandary at hand. With what the interweb had to offer in hand, i made my way down to the shops to have a hands on with the two devices. Both sport 1Ghz processors, although the Samsung’s Hummingbird is said to be the better of the two. The HTC physically is very much a slate, borrowing almost all of its heritage from the HD2, its genes felt very familiar in my hand. It was sort of like the ugly duckling thats now all swan. All HD2, just all better.  I wont be missing the tactile buttons on the HD2 though. Although i do wish the volume rocker on the Evo 4G was located on the left side for use with my thumb as it was on the HD2. I primarily use my phone in my left hand and adjusting the volume rocker with my index finger doesn’t work quite as well.

The two main selling points on the Epic 4G are its super Amoled Screen and slide out keyboard. I took in as much as i could at the store. The screen is noteworthy. Blacks are perfectly black and its got unnaturally punched up colors… which actually looks kind of neat and at the same time odd to me. The keyboard is very spacious and is as good as any keyboard of that size was going to get. Tactile feedback was good and all keys were accounted for. Especially welcomed is the top row of number keys. Very useful indeed.

As it turns out, I actually like using the on screen keyboard on the HD2. And the experience on both these devices i was considering were no different. Capacitive screens lend themselves rather well to quick text entry using the virtual on screen keyboards in landscape mode and predictive text makes short work of errors. I found i could type faster using the on screen keyboard than i could with the physical slide out keyboard. But i couldnt be certain of that in just the time i spent at the store now could i? Both devices come with Swype, a neat alternative onscreen keyboard that one can trace the outline of words. Its all very clever but its still slower than typing using the virtual keyboard.

After a couple of hours, i left, still quite undecided. After chocolate and some mulling, i decided since one of the two devices was decided on, i would get the EVO 4G and spend some quality time with both devices in house to see which one suited me best. If needed be i could swap the Evo for an Epic within 30 days.Plus, it just seemed right, the Hummingbird for the Mrs seemed so feminine and dainty, while the Snapdragon more manly! I just couldnt see myself walking down the street with a Hummingbird in my pocket.. A Snapdragon? Oh Yeah!

Migrating from T-Mobiles HD2 (Left) to one of Sprints top two contenders, HTC EVO 4G (Middle) and Samsung Epic 4G (Right)

One 2 day Fed Ex package later and I had in my mitts both devices. The HTC unit ships in what i can best describe as Top Ramen packaging. It seriously looks like it needs to go in the microwave. The Samsung on the other hand is packaged decidedly more attractively. No matter. Now, ive had extensive Android experience thanks to the fact that ive been running Android on my HD2 for most of its time its been in my pocket. Probably a little more so than the average Android user as running android off a HD2 generally also requires some knowledge of getting under its hood. Its a marvelous experience and it does it quite well at that. With it running dual boot from a SD card, its literally having two devices in one. So, migrating to another Android phone was a cinch. It took only a couple of minutes after activating the Evo to get everything synced up and my must have apps from the market place installed. Easy peasy. Now on to the nitty gritty.

Build.

Between the two, the Evo 4g feels much more solid in hand. The Epic feels lighter and the build material isnt as confidence inspiring as the Evos. While theres no creaking of joints and the seams line up well, theres still the inherent lack of solidness due to its slide out design. I say “inherant” because most designs with a slide out keyboard seem to feel less that stellar to me build wise. But thats not to say the problem cant be licked. The Kyocera Echo is proof positive of that. Two screens and an ingenious hinge that merits some kind of award!

The back cover of the Evo has taken an evolutionary drift from the HD2 that its so heavily based on. No longer is it elegant aluminum but plastic, and its not just for eye candy. The back cover now resonates with the speaker providing better sound quality. I like that. Form given a function. Its not exactly new tech, but nice to see it implemented. Nokia’s 5800XM, an older symbian powered device,  implements something similar and its sound quality far surpasses any of these devices.

While i found the Evo felt better in hand, I found the Epic less likely to fall out of my hand. The placement of the power button on the right upper side goes to the Epic, its more ergonomic and accessing it comes naturally.
Evo – solid feel, rigid. Feels good to hold but would seem easier to slip. less ergonomic power button placement.
Epic – Ergonomic power button placement. Feels less likely to fall out of hand. Feels plastic-ky, Less rigid due to its sliding keyboard design. Currently feels decent but time will tell if the sliding mechanism holds up.

Screen.

Ah, the much heralded super Amoled screen. Wonder what the next one will be called, the Super Duper Amoled screen? Anyhow, is it all that? well, yes and no. You didnt think it would be that simple did you? The super Amoled screen on the Samsung is really quite nice to look at as long as its at a distance. Its got perfectly black blacks as each individual pixel lights up on its own, much like a plasma TV. Hence when its black, in effect the pixels showing black turn off. What this also means is that it consumes less power when showing a lot of black, unlike back lit LCD displays such as the one on the Evo which needs the power hungry back light on all the time. Definitely a step up in power consumption. But in my opinion its not quite the LCD replacement it claims to be just yet.

Evo’s Super LCD Vs Epic’s Super Amoled.

It does have glorious blacks and madly vivid colors but when looking at the screens from a practical “phone usage” distance, individual pixels are more noticeable on the Amoled screen. The gaps between the pixels are discernible. Its not a problem if viewed from further away, lets say when watching a movie. Where the super Amoled does shine is in very dark environments like in bed under the sheets for example. Yes, then its the clear winner. But in ambient light conditions i felt the higher contrast of the Evo screen worked better. While the Amoled screen is touted as having a sharper display, the gaps give text and graphics an odd sort of matrixy quality. It may just be something that takes getting used to i suppose… and the Mrs certainly doesn’t complain. The screen on the Evo on the other hand, while may not be as sharp, seems to me to be easier on the eyes. Viewing angles are for all practical purposes the same on both the screens. As much as i wanted to love the super Amoled screen for all its glory, i kept defaulting back to the Evos super LCD screen.
Evo – Back lit Super LCD. Higher contrast in daylight. Easier on the eyes. (my eyes anyway)
Epic – Super Amoled. Perfectly black blacks. Potentially power saving, Vivid punched up colors. Matrixy effect as gaps between pixels discernible at normal viewing distances.

Touch Wiz Vs Sense.

This is honestly a toss up… they both have enough to love and sprinklings of something to hate. I could live with either. With the market place offering as many apps as it does, one could customize the bejesus of either device to personal satisfaction. All points go to Android for its customizability! If its the HTCs iconic flip cock you;re after, theres are replacement of that in the market place as well, so no worries there. I wonder what HTC’s thing with the weather is? Does the weather change that rapidly in Taiwan? Cos they certainly take their weather rather seriously.

Camera.

With Samsung actually building and marketing honest to goodness digital cameras and even having a foot in the digital SLR market, you would think that they would win this hands down. Well, surprise surprise… The Evo takes this easily. The Epic is no slouch but the Evo takes consistently better pictures. Megapixels have little to do with anything. 5 megapixels is all one ever needs for all practical purposes. Its the implementation of it and the quality of the sensor that matters more than anything else. Megapixels is essentially just hype. Okay, im sure you already knew that, just thought id throw it in there before someone points out that its 5 on the Epic vs 8 on the Evo. Makes as much difference as no difference.

Epic (Left) Vs Evo (Right) – Both images are untouched taken immediately one after the other. The Epic has a more square aspect ratio than the Evo.
Epic (Left) Vs Evo (Right) with flash.

The images above are the best from a series of the same scene to discount things such as miss focus ar general software screw ups, ie, these are the best it could do for a given scene. Images from the Evo seem sharper and have more contrast. They simply look better. The Evo camera with stock firmware has a devil of a time locking focus accurately on a subject if theres something else of no interest in the back to focus on instead. I worked around this by touching the point i want to focus on the display and holding until the image was taken. Seems to work consistently enough instead of hoping the AF would lock on something of interest other than the wall in the back.

Heres the thing. If you own an Evo and you get washed out photos of subjects, ie people, because the flash was fired too brightly… thats because the camera locked focus behind the subject and calculated the flash power for the distance to the locked focus point. Im guessing all these engineers are way to young to remember good old auto mode on flash units that simply cut the flash when the flash sensor received enough light in return. Sounds old fashioned instead of calculating distances, but hey, it worked. You may want to look at non flash photos taken by the Evo.. while they may look ok in a lower resolution, zoom in at full rez and you’re going to find the subject soft as it miss focused on the background somewhere. Until theres a firmware fix, use the work around I mentioned above.

The Epic gets a dedicated two stage shutter button that is sorely missing on the Evo. I mean, what were you thinking HTC?? Common! At least they didnt forget it on the new Evo 3D!
The short of it is, the cameras are fair, but not good. My 4 year old Fuji F20 pocket digital camera will trounce both the Evo and Epic. Until the day engineers perfect the marriage of the two, I will still be toting a dedicated digital camera for when images as memories matter. But for casually taking images when a camera isnt available or handy, or simply uploading something onto facebook, they both will suffice just fine.
Evo – Focus errors, focus errors causing flash to fire at too high an output, camera interface a tad bit laggy. Good contrast, color and saturation. aspect ratio displays well on hdtvs.
Epic – Seems to miss focus at times as well. Images generally softer, poor contrast. Nothing minor editing in Picassa couldnt fix.

4G/Data

Heres something noteworthy. Both phones are 4G enabled and one has to physically switch it on via a toggle switch. Having the 4g antenna on drains the battery and is best left off when not in use. The Epic goes one further and will snooze the 4G antenna showing a cute “ZZzzz” symbol in the notification bar when data is not being used. I thought this was quite clever and needs to be implemented in the Evo as well.

Sprint certainly does take liberties with its data coverage maps. Apparently im well covered by 4G where i live. Not fringe, not a could be, but well covered.. for miles around. and theres not a sniff of 4G to be had in my home, outside my home or even down the street. I do get 4G three streets over though.. just 1 bar.  Thanks to the clever disclaimer below the map, Sprint gets away with not having to fix this bermuda triangle of missing 4G goodness that i live in.. in my mind thats tantamount to lying. but apparently its OK to lie and not do anything about it as long as a disclaimer is attached. Oh well, I’ll survive.
I get faster data over T-mobiles 3G/HSPA+ on the HD2 than i do on sprints 3G without having to toggle switches. One less hassle mind you… toggling the 4G switch is not an instantaneous affair. Theres “searching”, and then “connecting to sprint”… and that takes time. And even when connected to sprints 4G network, T-mobiles HSPA+  is comparable. Your mileage may vary, but this is what i see. Go figure.

When it comes to data and daily use, living with sprint, theres nothing i could really complain about so far. It may not be the fastest but then again,  im not a bandwidth hog, i dont tether but am known to indulge in HQ Youtube on occasion. Surfing the highways and byways of the interweb so far has been very smooth experience on both devices in multiple locations i frequent. And then theres integrated Flash.. whats there not to love. Videos playing within pages, CNN looking just like its counterpart on the PC…. its as close to this side of perfect that i have had the privilege of experiencing. And about bloody time too.. im tired of vendors politics leaving us consumers out to dry.

Email works as it should. Exchange for Hotmail seems to lack proper HTML rendering which is really stupid as the iphone gets this right. Come to think of it daft Windows mobile 6.5  on my HD2 couldnt get it right either. Otherwise, everything works as it should. Gmail is tightly integrated into the experience as can be expected and is the one to adopt for that seamless Android experience.
Evo – good.
Epic – good, 4G snooze makes it better.

Call Quality

The devices performed well showing similar bars of reception in the same area. Call quality is good. All parties could hear me clearly. The speaker on the Epic is better though and doesn’t break up (distortion) as much as the Evo’s does. Call volume could be better, as in noisy environments the other party can get a little hard to hear. I have yet to come across better than my trusty old Nokia N82. The distortion/crackling on the Evo seems to be inherited from the HD2 as it does the exact same thing. Thats a trait HTC could very well have left out.
Evo – Fair. Distortion at louder volumes.
Epic – Better speaker quality.

Keyboard

Epic’s slide out keyboard open next to the Evo 4G.
Epic 4G slide out keyboard – nothing wrong here.

Nothing wrong here. Its as good as its going to get. Good tactile feedback, well spaced, dedicated row of number keys at the top.. if you’re a hardware keyboard kind of person, this will tickle your fancy nicely. As i mentioned earlier, i personally find the virtual on screen keyboard works well for me for text entry. The trade off for me is a slightly slimmer device. Im not a fan of man purses. No, seriously… the Epic is not much thicker and is perfectly comfortable in my pocket. All points go to the Epic for actually havng a physical keyboard although in my mind this would be a better comparison if i were interested in the HTC 4G shift instead. That said, the Mrs swears by the keyboard and loves it to bits.
Evo – Virtual keyboard, Swype.
Epic – Virtual keyboard, Swype and Physical slide out keyboard. Thats called being spoilt for choice.

Kick Stand

The Evo gets full marks for actually having one. While its engineered ala neuvo art, i can think of six different ways off the top of my head on how it could be designed to work better. As it is, it doesn’t take much to tip the Evo over, especially when standing up in portrait mode. I’ll take it over nothing. Beats the heck out of propping up the HD2 against a salt shaker on a bed of napkins at the eateries to keep the kids entertained.

Evo’s very useful kickstand. Red knickers peeking out from under there. 😛
Kickstand used in portrait mode. Not as stable as it could and should have been.

Others

The Evo comes equipped with a micro HDMI out cable to connect to a HDTV to display videos or photos. I havent tried out this function yet. The Epic on the other had is equipped with DLNA which can wirelessly transmit images/video to DLNA equipped device. a moot point for as the Epic is currently the only DLNA capable device we own,.. so thats not going to have a purpose anytime soon. HDMI though, is built into just about every display device we own. HDMI being more common, its also likely to be available at places where it matters most eg. at family and friends. Something to keep in mind. DLNA is definitely the way of the future, but that future for me is not quite here yet.

So, where do i stand after hemming and hawing over these two devices? A tough call really. 4.3 inches vs 4 inches really isnt a deal breaker. The graphics processor/engine on the Epic is better but makes no difference as neither of us game. Between the two screens, i like the Evo’s just a little bit better. The camera on the Evo is definitely a notch up on the Epics. The Android experience on both devices are exactly the same, just skinned differently by each manufacturer. The Evo seems more business like compared to the Epics more anime themed interface, complete with its full compliment of bright colors and text balloons in the text message interface. Another plus for me is the huge community and resource available for the use of custom ROMs on the Evo. Rooting is inevitable. Now, thats a deal clincher.

In the end, after the merits were weighed and the cons tallied, the Evo just felt right for me,… and thus the end of the quandary, choice made, decision done, Mrs amused that i blogged about it. Zion saved.

Till we meet again Agent Smith… Till we meet again.

– asmd.

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