A few weeks ago my beloved AT T; Tilt started to live up to its name, malfunctioning under heavy use. Calls were being dropped, my GPS was going out at the worst times, and I was having trouble getting signals where previously I never had a problem. Thankfully, AT T; was willing to offer me a new phone at a discount, so it was time to research what latest and greatest phone I would get next.
I reviewed the options currently available to me:
iPhone — A gorgeous piece of hardware that is easy to fall in love with. The iPhone’s browsing capabilities are the best in the industry, and Apple has created a beautiful piece of equipment. But I like having a keyboard to type messages, and in the phone and I don’t like the way AT T; keeps you from upgrading your memory or replacing your battery.
Blackberry Bold — Another great phone, with a beautiful display, but it doesn’t seem like that much of an improvement (with the exception of 3G support) over my wife’s Curve. I also find Blackberry’s operating system to be even harder to navigate than the Windows Mobile used on my AT T; Tilt. Plus, at $299 after rebate, it seems overpriced.
AT T; Fuze — The logical choice, since it is the replacement for the Tilt. Unfortunately the upgrades (primarily another row of keys on the slider keyboard, and a smoother touchscreen interface placed on top of Windows Mobile) weren’t enough to warrant its price premium over the Tilt, and several reviews have called the phone sluggish. Additionally, the slider keyboard of my Tilt proved to be something I didn’t like much, as it was hard to type one handed, and the keyboard design made it hard to find the individual keys and hit them with certainty as you typed.
LG Incite — This phone is a bit like a Windows Mobile iPhone, with no keyboard, strictly a touch interface. Again many reviews had issues with the phone, especially its touchscreen.
So that led me to my choice of the Samsung Epix, a Windows Mobile Professional 6.1 phone with a touchscreen and a keyboard, as well as a unique “optical mouse” that replaces the four way directional buttons or trackballs of other phones.
The 320 x 320 screen is capable of showing displaying 65,000 colors. Text, even small fonts, are sharp on the phone, looking noticeably sharper than my AT T; Tilt. Colors are vibrant, and lines are well defined. It isn’t quite up to the display on the Blackberry Bold, but the Samsung Epix has an attractive display.
TOUCHSCREEN AND NAVIGATION
The Samsung Epix has both a touchscreen and an optical mouse. An optical mouse is a bit like a laptop’s touch pad. By running your finger across it, a little cursor appears on your screen that you can use to click buttons and links on the screen by pushing in on the mouse itself. By modifying the internal settings on the phone you can change the optical sensor to a four way slider. This removes the cursor from the screen and allows you to slide one selection to another. Additionally, you can use your finger or the included telescoping stylus to click your selections on the screen itself.
On the page, all of this sounds impressive, in use, all three options combine to be less than perfect. The problem is that, unlike a laptop’s touch pad, the optical mouse doesn’t give you enough finger real estate to effectively and accurately navigate the screen on your device. Additionally, there are some applications (such as reading a lengthy document with side scroll bars) where the mouse becomes a chore and an arrow key or true four way button navigation would make the document much easier to read. Eventually, after trial and error, I figured out that if you push the optical mouse button in and move your finger, it will allow you to slide the scroll bar up and down.
The touchscreen on the Epix is also a bit problematic. In my first few days of use, I had some trouble getting touches to register without multiple presses. The problems were compounded by some issues with sensitivity around the right edge of the screen, which made scrolling up and down difficult. This could have been made a bit easier by moving the screen slightly lower than the edges of the device (to give the user a slight gutter effect on the sides). I was able to compensate for this by recalibrating the stylus just a smidge off center on the display, and the display seems to have improved with use.
Over time, I began to adjust to he unique navigation tools on the Samsung Epix and found them growing on me. But since they are so unique, I strongly suggest you try the Samsung Epix in the store or by using a friends before you buy.
The Epix keyboard is another feature you should try before you buy. The tiny keys are nicely arranged, with a well placed return and spacebar, as well as logically arranged special symbols and number keypad. The design of the keyboard is not as elegant or ergonomically attractive as the one on the Blackberry Bold or Curve, and the keys are not the easiest to use for someone with fat fingers. But I found myself quickly getting used to and enjoying the keyboard, managing to type messages rather quickly with both one and two hands.
I also liked that several functions (Calendar, Messaging, Camera, Internet, and Voice Dial) were all assigned hot keys on the keyboard of the Samsung Epix. The only real frustrations I had with the keys were that the shift/caps key was located below the FN key (which is the opposite of a normal keyboard) and that the keyboard only lights up after a key is pressed, meaning that if you’re texting in the dark, you have to guess your first letter when you press it.
OPERATING SYSTEM AND SOFTWARE
The Samsung Epix uses Windows Mobile Professional 6.1, which tries to present a Windows type OS in a smartphone format. Unfortunately, this format is too complex to be satisfying. Features, settings and options are not always in their logical place, sometimes buried under poorly named menus. For instance, the calculator is not under a heading like “tools”, but “Organizer.”
The bundled software is a mixed bag. It includes MS Office with Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, which is nice for reading and small tasks on the go. But the bundled Outlook and Xpress Mail e-mail programs feel very bare bones, without a lot of options for managing your e-mail. Mobile Internet Explorer is perfectly fine for reading mobile formatted websites, but any normal websites are a mess that takes forever to load. Something like Skyfire or Opera Mini is far better for visiting normal websites, but is not bundled with the phone.
Push e-mail is provided by AT T;’s Xpress Mail. E-mail sent from a Gmail account to another Gmail account assigned to my phone took several minutes to be received.
The phone has voice recognition software which is nice but temperamental. My daughter thought it was funny to listen to me screaming my wife’s name into the phone, bound and determined to make it dial her right number.
The phone also has a ton of bloatware with bundled demos of games.
The Samsung Epix’s 624 Mhz processor handles switching from task to task very quickly, with minimal appearance of the hourglass when opening the many applications, and in daily use was much faster than my AT T; Tilt. Additionally, the Samsung Epix did a much better job of pulling in a signal than the AT T; Tilt, giving me a clear crisp signal and data access in many places that I’ve had difficulty accessing a signal in the past, such as inside of large stores and the center of my office building. The GPS unit inside the Epix also performed better than the Tilt, acquiring a signal inside of my house and typically within a minute of turning the radio on. Wi-Fi wasn’t as impressive. It seemed to move more slowly than the standard 3G connection. Call quality was also good, with a clear sounding earpiece and speakerphone. Other callers said that the phone sounded fine from their end.
The included 2 megapixel camera has a self-portrait mirror but no flash. It takes clear but washed out pictures that are about on par with your average cell phone, Just don’t look for it to replace a standalone digital camera.
Battery life was stellar. Data usage that used to drain the AT T; Tilt down to under 25% didn’t even take the Samsung Epix under 70%.
The Samsung Epix is somewhat light on its included accessories. Other than the phone, software, manual, battery, stylus and charger, all that is included is a proprietary USB cable and an adapter to attach the phone to a regular 3.5 mm headphone jack. There is no screen protector, case, car charger, or any other nice to have accessory. Unfortunately, as of a week ago, AT T; didn’t have any of these available for the phone either. As the phone gains in popularity, I’m sure all will become regularly available. I was able to purchase items to fit the Samsung Epix off of eBay.
After a few weeks of using the Samsung Epix, I’ve found that I enjoy using it more than my AT T; TIlt. Despite the odd optical mouse and rather touchy touchscreen, I’ve found that the speed of the unit, the sharpness of the screen, and most importantly, the nicely arranged keyboard have made the Samsung Epix a much better fit for my smartphone needs. I highly recommend a test spin before purchasing, but overall I found the Samsung Epix to be one of the best values in an AT T; compatible smartphone.
SAMSUNG EPIX LINKS
Samsung Epix Specifications sheet
AT T; Store