Thursday, September 9, 2010

Samsung's Epic Fail, Part II

Lots of comments, calls, e-mail, and questions the past couple of days on my review of the Epic 4G. A number of reviews I've seen make me believe that most reviewers aren't using the phone as their sole mobile device; that, or I simply have a piece of totally crap hardware.

Before going to the virtual mailbag, let's take a look at the last couple of days' use...

Yesterday, the Epic made it five hours before dying. Usage was pretty basic--a solid half-hour of e-mail and web surfing on the train, a bit of note-taking during an hour-long meeting, another solid half-hour of e-mail and web surfing on the train, about 10 minutes of phone calls, then more random e-mail and web surfing until the unit died five hours from unplugging. Note that none of the bonus radios were on--4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS were all off. Five hours of relatively light use like that on my BlackBerry Curve would've probably cost me about 20% of my battery.

Of course, yesterday was a dream compared to today. Yesterday was like living in a corridor. Today was more like living in a paper bag in a septic tank.

I undocked the Epic at 6:45 a.m.; after an 80-minute bus/L commute where I did nothing but e-mail and web surfing, I was down to 55% of battery. Seriously. An hour-twenty, and I'd gone through nearly half my battery. As was the case yesterday, this was as battery-saving a commute as one could possibly hope for--4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS all turned off. I can say good things about Sprint's 3G coverage and speeds here in Chicago; as I noted in my initial review, there's a ton of other stuff I'd like to test, but the range anxiety makes doing so a tenuous proposition.

From 8:05 till about 8:25, I used the phone for a couple of e-mails, but it was in my pocket the rest of the time. At 8:25, I sat down with a couple of buddies, and we started talking about the phone. I showed them all the stuff I like about it (screen, OS responsiveness, apps, keyboard), while kvetching about the battery life, and all the wackiness about apps firing off in the background. At 8:35, I was down to 45% battery. Remember that number.

In an attempt to show my friends how apps initiated themselves with no rhyme, reason, or intervention whatsoever, I offered to turn off the phone, then power it back on. I've done this a number of times in hopes of getting some kind of handle on what's going on with the OS and the apps, so I expected to lose another percentage point or two of battery life in the power down/power up process.

At which point I moved into the paper bag in the septic tank.

15%. Fifteen percent. Fifteen freakin' percent of battery left after that reboot.


At this point, I was somewhere between incredulous and pissed.

Incredulous because, well, stuff like this just doesn't happen; while I'm not an engineer by degree, I do play one on TV, so my logical mind just can't process something like this. Pissed because, I can't understand how any reasonable kind of QA process from two top-notch companies like Samsung and Sprint could've let something like this out into the wild.

I wasn't near a power outlet, so I plugged into my Mac via the USB port to grab some juice at about 8:45. The MacBook isn't exactly its own utility substation, but I did manage to get enough juice to get back to 65% by 11:30 when my MacBook battery gave up. Thank God for my iPad.

Yesterday, five hours. Today, I might've made it two-and-a-half if I'd continued to use the phone. Brutal.

One comment from the mailbag mentioned that turning on the 4G radio for even two minutes can make for a 10% hit on the battery. Yep. Brutal. The same commenter mentioned that the mobile hotspot functionality is a two-hour feature on just about any phone. Agreed. Equally brutal.

Listen up Samsung, HTC, and whoever else is building 4G phones for Sprint, as well as Verizon, AT&T, and whoever will be building y'all's LTE phones...

Don't cram in features that people want just because the marketing research says it's a good idea. The Epic 4G has a killer feature set--but the only thing being killed right now is Samsung's reputation, either for initial build quality and QA, or for overall design (i.e., if they can't fix this with a hardware exchange or a new firmware/software download). The software has definite usability issues, some of which I mentioned in the initial review, some of which I'll get to shortly. But, shipping a phone that can only last a few hours when users merely use the features for which they've chosen to purchase this phone--the most expensive phone in the Sprint stable? Unacceptable, both from a customer satisfaction standpoint and from a corporate branding and reputation standpoint.

As I mentioned in the first review, my hope is that I just have a piece of bad hardware, a bad battery, and/or a bad software load. I haven't been able to get back to Sprint to pick up a new device, but am planning to do so over the weekend. But, if after going to a replacement device, the experience is no different, I'll only be able to conclude that Samsung and Sprint are going to end up with a whole lot of phones in landfills. Samsung's made an unbelievable move into the mobile device market over the last decade; they'd survive a black eye like this, but it sure wouldn't feel good.

Speaking of not feeling good, over the past couple of days three Evo owners shared their experiences with me, none of which I'd classify as being high quality experiences. My former colleague Keith Mahoney left an in-depth comment on the original post, concurring with my experience, and also believing that Android has some kind of weirdness going on with unwanted phantom app firing destroying battery life. As Keith noted, the HTC HD2 has the same screen as the Evo, so Sprint's blaming the size of the screen being a power-hungry beast doesn't fly--the HD2 runs Windows Mobile, and doesn't have battery life issues according to Keith.

Wait a sec...did I just throw a compliment to Windows Mobile? Where's my thermometer?

Keith also mentioned that Sprint suggested putting the Evo into standby mode when not in use; Matt Burns also mentioned that he's taken to putting the Evo into airplane mode to extend battery life. Realistically, all any of us want as customers is for our devices to offer some semblance of the value proposition upon which we based our purchasing decision.

If I wanted to own a phone where I had to turn off the radios to use it, I'd buy an iPod Touch, for God's sake.

One final point that Keith makes bears investigation--not all devices running Android are having this issue, so some combination of Sprint and Android is turning devices into power-hungry beasts. I'm not hearing battery life complaints about either Droid, so Android and CDMA seem to be getting along just fine on Verizon's network. And, the Epic's battery life is abysmal even with no radios on save for the regular 3G radio, so something funky is going on that can't be blamed on the 4G radio.

Ray Trygstad weighed in with his answer to the Evo's battery life problems--he pulled a spare battery out of his pocket. I'm willing to go that route, but a single spare battery isn't going to cut it for the Epic--I'd need a pocket full of kryptonite to reach what seems like the 4500-6000 milliamp hours I'd need to get through a day of regular-to-heavy use on the Epic.

I can't say this enough--I hope I just have a lemon. I hope I just have a lemon. I hope I just have a lemon.

Before wrapping things up for tonight, here's two more "features" for you to consider. In the initial review, I mentioned that the voice-activated Google Search doesn't work with Bluetooth--pretty stupid, since when I'm driving, I'd prefer to not have to deactivate Bluetooth (or pick up the phone and hold it next to my mouth) just to use voice-activate search. Well, I've identified at least one other case where the guys working on the Bluetooth stack missed the team meetings with the OS guys--voice mail. The Epic has a very cool voice mail app where you can see and act accordingly on each individual voice message--but God forbid you want to check voice mail while using Bluetooth.

You see, the voice mail app doesn't seem to understand that Bluetooth exists.


Want to check voice mail while your Bluetooth earpiece is in your ear? Hold the phone to your other ear.

One other UI issue that's continually bugging me is when I want to go to a contact in portrait mode. In landscape mode with the hard keyboard slid open, I can simply start typing the contact's name, and the contact manager quickly narrows down who I'm looking for. But, in portrait mode, there's no option to pop up the soft keyboard, meaning you have to touch the alphabet letter of your contact, then scroll down (or up, if you choose to go +1 on the letter and work backwards) to find your contact. If I'm on a train or a bus, or sitting in a meeting, it's no biggie to pop the hard keyboard. But, if I'm driving and need to look something up (and spare me the lecture on distracted driving...assume I'm at a red light), having to kick the device open is a total pain--not nearly as bad as the inability to dial from the calendar, but you get my gist.

So, a week in, and I still haven't come close to approximating a typical day's use on my old school BlackBerry Curve. Agreed, I'm cranking through a lot more web content, since the browser on BB OS 4.5 was all but unusable, but the range anxiety associated with the Epic makes me shy away from doing all the stuff one might want to do on a mobile device.

Like phone calls and e-mails, for instance.

I hope I just have a lemon, I hope I just have a lemon, I hope I just have a lemon...


  1. then we both have lemons. i am test driving the epic (2 weeks now) and have so many glitches i went in to a sprint repair shop and had the damned thing reset. among my problems: camera just wouldn't work after it was enabled. sometimes. meaning hitting the button on the side nor the screen button took a picture. i had to hit the power button. and even that sometimes didn't work. other problems such as being able to view things that showed up in the status bar without the passcode swype (that's some security, i tell ya). then there was the 'entry text box lights up to tell me it's ready for input' but the swype kb doesn't show up (but i can enter text via physical kb) or swype kb shows up and registers that i'm forming a word but the word never shows up in the text entry box. and while it was just sitting on my desk i got an alert that the microSD card had become corrupted. i pulled it, threw it in an adapter, connected it to my desktop via USB and, lo and behold, all my pics were still on there. put the card back in the epic and, again, it registered as corrupt. so i had it reset and the camera is still giving me problems and now i've had the swype kb pop up plain on top of the home screen completely without any kind of messaging enabled. oh. and hitting the messaging button popped up yahoo messenger (an app i had downloaded but never activated). you don't have a lemon, my friend, i do.

    and as to the battery life: a friend at work has the evo and keeps his USB cord at the ready to recharge before he heads home as his usage (not heavy) drains the battery mid work-day. that's just crazy.

  2. oh, yeah. and not being able to listen to VM when you have a coupled headset in your ear: epic fail

  3. oh, and as to my epic's battery life: fully charged when i left for the airport on a friday early early morning, sent a few text messages out (maybe 4), got on the plane, got off at ORD, left two voice mails and 2 texts, had breakfast with my brother and his best friend where the 3 of us mucked around with the epic for perhaps 2 hours: pandora, a few mins of video, some surfing. got on a plane, got off in san francisco, not enough juice to even make a phone call or take a picture. so that's less than 3 hours of full time use and running on empty. pathetic.

  4. Lithium Ion digital battery gauges need to be calibrated by letting the battery drain until the phone turns itself off. This is recommended once a month. Normally, you want to preserve battery life by re-charging frequently, but if you are always charging frequently the digital "Fuel Gauge" will become more and more inaccurate. My epic will last a day and a half with casual use. I don't email a lot but I play games on it constantly and like to Pandora often.


    Also, it is ENTIRELY possible that your battery is just from a bad batch. Making chemicals is surprisingly a lot like cooking. No matter how good you are at it, sometimes things come out funky.