Ever since I saw someone using a Samsung BlackJack several years ago, I wanted a phone of the BlackBerry style but with Windows Mobile. Then in late 2008, Samsung released the Epix... a powerhouse phone that not only had the features of the BlackJack, but also added an optical mouse, touchscreen, and Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional. It became my dream phone.
Originally, the Epix was available for $199 with a contract ($449 without). However, it was discontinued, and now the only way to get one is to either get an old stock unit or a used one. I found one on eBay for around $130... still a good deal, even though the phone is nothing new in terms of technology. And compared to my old LG 600G, this phone was a huge leap forward.
The phone sports a 320x320 touchscreen and a full QWERTY keyboard. It is a smartphone, meaning that it contains PDA functionality in addition to a phone.
The keyboard is a definite plus – composing text is much easier when you can actually feel the keys beneath your fingers. It's a bit stiff and occasionally my fingers slip, but it is so much better than the typical "square" keyboards found in modern flip and slider phones; it's much harder to feel key boundaries on the "square" keyboards even though the keys are often more responsive.
The touchscreen is resistive, and is considerably worse than the iPhone's, but that was to be expected. To further make matters worse, Windows Mobile 6.1 is not designed for use with a finger, hence getting scrollbars on the edge of the screen is not very convenient. A stylus is included, which allows use of the Windows Mobile transcriber and handwriting recognition. Despite these shortcomings, however, I absolutely love the idea of a touchscreen on a phone like this... it becomes a secondary input device (since the phone has a keyboard), but when I do end up using it, I'm very thankful it's there.
One unique feature of the Epix is its optical mouse. Initially, using it was awkward, since I instinctively used it like a capacitive trackpad; however, I soon got accustomed to it (you're supposed to use as much of your finger as possible, not just the tip). It makes using Windows Mobile so much more intuitive, and makes up for the shortcomings of the touchscreen.
The camera is nothing special... it has no real lens assembly. It does have 2-megapixel resolution, but due to the optics and CCD, the quality of its pictures is inferior to my standalone 2-megapixel Fujifilm camera. It's far better than my LG 600G's camera though.
Unlocking and use as a world phone
The Epix is a quad-band GSM/tri-band HSDPA handset, which allows it to be used around the world. It is branded as an AT&T phone, but one of the first things I did was unlock it using a tutorial on HowardForums for free. The method worked perfectly, and my Epix was able to accept SIM cards from any GSM carrier.
Use on T-Mobile
There is a reason I unlocked it: I needed to be able to use the phone on T-Mobile. I ordered T-Mobile's contract-free Even More Plus plan with unlimited messaging and 500 minutes; this costs me $40 per month. (Adding unlimited data will bring the cost up to $60 per month... which is the same amount you would pay for AT&T's 450-minute plan with unlimited messaging.) So far, it's been working great.
Just today, I ran into a terrible issue: the touchscreen was unresponsive and the phone made no sounds (no power on/off sound, no incoming call notifications). I tried a soft reset, I tried removing the battery, I tried removing the SIM... all to no avail.
I was about to just give it up and do a hard reset, which would restore the phone to factory settings. This was accomplished by turning off the phone, holding down the H key, pressing the Power button, and allowing the phone to start up in "format mode". I pressed OK, and was asked if I wanted to erase all data from the phone.
This is where I chickened out. I canceled the format, and the phone rebooted with the SAMSUNG logo. To my surprise, the phone played its usual startup sound, the touchscreen worked, and – better yet – all of my customizations and applications were safe! (If your Epix encounters this problem, try my fix before sending the phone in or smashing it against the wall in frustration.)
I like to have freedom, and my current wireless setup gives me just that. I'm not at the mercy of some company's application store like I would be with the iPhone; I'm not bound to a 2-year wireless contract; I have a SIM card that can be used in any unlocked phone. The Samsung Epix is a great phone so far, and I'll stick with it for the time being – but if it starts giving me too many problems, I'll just sell it and buy myself a different model.
The mouse is a genius idea I think, especially for WM 6.1. 6.5 sucks for mice though.
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