Is Sprint’s Epic 4G With a Keyboard Worth an Extra $50?

Sprint (s s) today officially introduced the Epic 4G, an Android (s goog) smartphone with a slide-out keyboard and support for both Sprint’s 3G and WiMAX wireless service. Pre-order reservations for the new phone, a variant of the Samsung Galaxy S, begin tomorrow with a net price of $249.99 — Sprint is offering a $100 mail-in rebate — with devices arriving on Aug. 31. Like the popular EVO 4G handset, Sprint will charge customers a mandatory $10 monthly fee for a “a richer data experience” and an optional $29.99 monthly charge to use the Epic 4G as a mobile hotspot.

I recently tested the AT&T (s t) Captivate, which is similar to the Epic 4G, and found the device to be peppy, thanks to the Samsung Hummingbird processor. The 4-inch Super AMOLED display is vibrant and usable in direct sunlight. Being a Galaxy S device, the new Epic 4G shares many of the same features as the Captivate. The Epic 4G adds several desirable new functions however: the faster 4G service, of course, but also a full QWERTY hardware keyboard and a front-facing camera, which supplements the rear sensor. And Qik is preloaded on the Epic 4G, allowing users to leverage the two cameras for video chatting and live streaming.

The Epic 4G will likely appeal to those looking for a high-end Android 2.1 phone with a physical keyboard, but the price may challenge consumers to actually make the purchase. The initial cash outlay is $349.99, and the net price is $50 more than the Sprint EVO 4G (see our review here), which has no keyboard. Aside from the QWERTY adding to the price difference, the Epic 4G also includes a 16 GB microSD card while the EVO 4G ships with an 8 GB memory card, so it’s possible that people will think it’s worth an extra $50.

Related GigaOM Pro Research (sub req’d):

To Ship or Not to Ship — Product Launch in the Smartphone Era