In the last couple of weeks, Sprint announced that it would start selling the HTC Hero Android phone on October 11 – the same day that Samsung’s Instinct HD goes on sale. Not only will the Hero steal the Instinct’s thunder, though. It will – and should – steal its customers as well. Up and down, the Hero is superior in every way except one: The inclusion of an HD camcorder, a first for cellular phones. Mind you, it’s not that the Samsung Instinct HD is a bad option as mobile handsets go. But in the face of the cheaper Hero and even cheaper Palm Pre, both of which offer open operating systems, realize. With its clunky proprietary OS, the Instinct HD is, save for the exception of the high-definition camcorder, nearly an instant anachronism.
Features and Design
For its third take on the Instinct, Samsung has changed the handset’s form factor from long and tall to a more normal touchscreen phone shape, slightly bulging on the sides. Set within this wider profile is also a more standard 3.2-inch 320×480 touchscreen, replacing the tall/thin 240×432 display. Still, what has always differentiated the Instinct from other touchscreen phones is haptic feedback on almost every touch control you tap.
Inside, the Instinct HD boosts the digicam to 5MP and adds an impressive 1280×720 HD video camera. It also adds an HDMI video out jack to deliver your photos and HD video to an HDTV (hence the “HD” appellation), and introduces WiFi connectivity. As with other modern touchscreen phones, the EV-DO Instinct HD includes both a responsive accelerometer and proximity sensor as well as an ambient light sensor, and carries forward Instinct’s Visual Voicemail capabilities.
Ports & Connectors
As noted, Samsung has replaced its proprietary jack with an industry standard microUSB input. Samsung has unfortunately moved the microSD slot from the side to behind the battery cover, however, and annoyingly requires the removal of the battery to swap the card in and out.
As in previous Instinct models, you get Sprint TV and radio – reception will depend on the strength of your connection, however.
Samsung has not fixed the handset’s music player, though – it’s actually devolved. First, the manufacturer has raised the level of difficulty in terms of getting music on the phone to begin with. Granted, there are detailed instructions in the manual for transferring songs from your previous Sprint music phone to the Instinct HD. But we could not find a single instruction for syncing the Instinct to your PC for any function, including accessing music or Outlook contacts (more on this later).
When we connected the Instinct HD to our Vista laptop, we got a “detected new hardware” message, then, after a few moments, a pop-up window telling us to insert the CD that came with our device. Which would be fine, except for one little setback: The Instinct HD didn’t come with a CD. We had to turn off the phone, remove the battery to slide out the microSD card, and use a USB card reader to load songs – hardly the most elegant solution.
Once thus loaded, the Instinct HD needed around 90 seconds to scan the nearly filled 4GB card before the music app would load. The phone needs to go through this long and annoying scan each time you power it on or off to boot.
On the bright side, in terms of actual call quality, dialogue sounded as clear as a conversation in crisp desert air at both ends. With its haptic feedback and large dialpad, the Instinct HD’s calling functions were also easy to access and enjoy.
With no instructions on how to sync Instinct HD with a PC though, we could not figure out how to transfer contacts, calendar or email specs from Outlook, even though the promotional material touts the phone’s syncing prowess.
As for Web access, while connections move at EV-DO speeds – most pages’ mobile-enabled sites load in five seconds or less – the Instinct HD is burdened with the cluttered and often frustrating Opera 9.7 browser. You are presented with an over-abundance of navigation choices and few practical options such as increasing the size of the often microscopic text.
In terms of battery life, the Instinct HD’s supporting documentation says you get 5.8 hours of talk time, but in our admittedly unscientific tests we achieved substantially less.
The Samsung Instinct HD’s one bright spot is its HD camcorder. You get three camcorder resolution settings: 1280×720 HD (1 minute of video will take up 30MB of space), along with VGA (640×480) and QVGA (320×249) options. The info panel says the MPEG-4 H.264 video is 30 frames per second, yet the video plays back in just 15. Footage is comparable to that taken with a pocket camcorder such as the Flip HD, and the best we’ve seen from a cell phone yet. But without image stabilization features and running at just 15 fps, video often proves shaky, grainy in low light and hard to watch for long stretches. Nonetheless, the addition of high-definition video capability is an impressive first for the Instinct HD.
As for still shots, tests produced gorgeous, crisp, focused and colorful outdoor 5MP images. Pictures are further taken with an easy to use camera function that employs a shutter key on the upper right top when the phone is turned to natural landscape mode. In keeping with many Samsung phones, you do have to contend with some shutter lag, however. We also found it slightly difficult to get a clean indoor shot, even with a flash.
True – the Samsung Instinct HD’s high-definition camcorder is impressive. But who buys a cellphone for its video capabilities? When faced with a choice of the well-endowed, easy-to-sync, open OS $150 Palm Pré and the $180 HTC Hero, let’s be frank. We can’t imagine why anyone would choose the far less capable $250 Instinct HD.
- 5 MP camera
- HD camcorder
- Sprint TV and radio
- Visual Voicemail
- Haptic touchscreen feedback
- Clunky Web browser
- Difficult to sync
- Poor music player
- Buried microSD jack
- Poor battery life