By Rob Garreson
Sprint Nextel has announced the pricing and release date for its second Android-based WiMAX smartphone, the Samsung Epic, continuing the carrier's push to claim 4G leadership through its partnership with Clearwire.
The Epic will be available in stores Aug. 31 for $249.99 with a two-year contract (after a $100 mail-in rebate) and Sprint has started taking preorders online. The device is a customized model of Samsung's Galaxy S smartphone that adds a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, a front-facing camera for video conferencing and WiMAX support. The Epic joins the HTC EVO in Sprint's lineup of WiMAX smartphones powered by Google's Android 2.1 mobile operating system. The $199.99 EVO has been a hot seller for Sprint since it was released in June, helping the carrier record its first quarterly net subscriber growth in three years in the second quarter.
Like the other models of the Galaxy S line, the Epic is based on a 1GHz Samsung Hummingbird processor and Android 2.1. It sports a 4-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen and a 5 megapixel rear-facing camera. Sprint plans to offer an upgrade to the current Android 2.2 release in the coming months. In addition to ordering online at Sprint.com or via telephone directly from Sprint, the Epic will be available Aug. 31 at Sprint's national retail partners, RadioShack, Best Buy and Walmart, and Sprint Stores will open Aug. 31 at 8 a.m. local time.
Sprint has made the availability of devices that can use Clearwire's mobile WiMAX network a key competitive push this year. "The supply issue is a big deal for us," Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said on the company's recent earnings call, noting that 4G smartphones are one way Sprint can keep customers from switching to AT&T for the new iPhone 4.
Clearwire -- which is jointly owned by Sprint and a consortium of other companies that include several cable operators, Google and Intel -- has launched service in 44 markets, including Portland, Houston and Washington D.C., and plans to expand to 80 markets by the end of the year. But service isn't yet available in several major cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and sources familiar with the matter recently told the Wall Street Journal that Sprint executives, including Hesse are disappointed at Clearwire's network expansion and deployment. The apparent frustration has fueled speculation that Sprint, which owns 56 percent of Clearwire but doesn't control the board, might try to acquire controlling interest when it seeks its next round of funding.
"With its beautiful display and slide-out keyboard, Samsung Epic 4G is a powerful tool for our customers, and it extends Sprint's 4G leadership with a second strong smartphone option," said Hesse. "As we continue to lead the 4G revolution, we are proud to offer our customers two 4G smartphones."
Samsung Epic 4G is part of a new breed of Samsung smartphones that offer the best in screen technology, speed and content quality, including a fully integrated multimedia, messaging and social networking experience, Sprint said. Its 4-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen display supports a series of advanced touchscreen gestures, including multi-touch pinch, long tap and zoom and vertical and horizontal swiping.
In addition to WiMAX, the device offers Wi-Fi b/g/n connectivity and mobile hotspot capability supporting up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices. Its dual cameras include a 5 MP camera/camcorder with autofocus, power LED flash and 4x digital zoom for photos and 720p HD video recording, as well as a front-facing VGA camera for video conferencing.
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