Initial Impressions of the Samsung Epic and Android

Posted Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 at 8:38 pm

A few nights ago, my Palm Prē got dropped, causing a hairline fracture in the touch-screen. Since it would no longer take any screen input, it was suddenly an even less useful device than usual. I’d been thinking of switching to an Android phone anyway, so I am now the (proud?) owner of a shiny, new Samsung Epic 4G (one of their Galaxy S line).

Getting used to it has occupied a fair bit of my time, but here are a few early impressions. Obviously, some of these are impressions of the Android OS, and others are about the phone’s hardware.

  • The Android calendar will let me set alarms anywhere from 1-99 units in advance of events, where the units can be minutes, hours, days, or even weeks. This actually beats what the old PalmOS used to let me do (and the webOS replaced by a simple drop-down of 5, 10, 15, and 30 minutes, 1 hour, and 1 day — not very useful; sometimes I want 3 hours’ warning).
  • The Epic is a much bigger, chunkier device than the Prē was. It still fits in my pants pocket, but not so smoothly. Not only is it just plain larger than the Prē, it also has less-rounded corners. Also, the protective case I got for the Epic is the rubberized kind, noticeably thicker than the “invisible skin” I had on my Prē.
  • What’s with the battery gauge not giving an actual percent? That seems so… naff. I’ve found a nice app to give me usable information: Modded Logic’s Battery Status Bar.
  • Live Wallpaper is cool as anything. It also seems to eat batteries like a very hungry thing. I’m still trying to decide if it’s worth it or not.
  • Also, the battery seems to take a looooong time to charge. I could plug in a Prē with a nearly-empty battery and have it back up near full in only a couple of hours. The Epic seems to gain only about 20% or so of battery charge in a similar period of time. Yikes!
  • Swype works impressively well. Even using the phone one-handed (and hence Swyping with my thumb as I cradle the phone in my fingers), I can frequently get it to understand me well enough (after only a day and a half!) that I rarely slide out the physical keyboard.
  • On the other hand, having that physical keyboard available is still really nice, not least because it has cursor-arrow keys, allowing easy editing of text in a way that was tooth-grindingly frustrating at best (and sometimes simply impossible) on the Palm Prē.
  • Another big win: visible scroll bars while you’re scrolling a list (then they fade out). The lack of any indication of where you were in a list (especially a long one) was one of my strongest complaints against webOS when it first came out, and Palm hasn’t addressed it in the various updates over the past more-than-a-year. Google’s gotten this right: The scroll bar doesn’t take up any screen space except when you’re using it, and at that point, it gives you both size and position feedback, like a good scroll bar should.
  • And, for yet another win that I wasn’t expecting: Haptic feedback! It turns out to be really useful, not just a bell and/or whistle. (Honestly, I’ll have to put some thought into just what’s so cool about it — and what’s so useful; they’re not quite the same things! That can become another article for another time.)
  • The standard Android Memo application astounds me. I didn’t think it was possible to design one that was worse than webOS’ “sticky-note inspired” design, but this actually manages it. In its favor, it has 5 colors instead of 4. To its detriment, it can’t display more than 4 of them on the screen at once (as compared to webOS’ 12), and it won’t let you sort the memos by anything other than last edit time. This is a total loss for user experience: Not only does the sorting look completely random until you figure out what’s going on, but it keeps changing, meaning the user can never learn where in the list a given memo’s going to be.

Obviously, there are other memo- and note-pad apps in the Android marketplace. I have faith that quite a few of them will prove better and more useful than the one that came with the OS.

Also, the screen is big and bright and clear. That huge screen is part of the reason for both the device’s size and the battery-life problems, but it sure does look pretty.

All in all, I think I like it. I’ve certainly found more to like than to dislike in the past couple of days, which puts it noticeably ahead of the Palm Prē and webOS, which caused me such grief and anguish last summer (and last autumn, and this spring).

If only it were smaller and had twice the battery capacity… (Yes, I know I’m asking for something completely unreasonable. After all, I’d like that smaller phone to still have the same size screen. Who cares if it’s geometrically impossible?)

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