The Sprint Instinct from Samsung is one of the hottest new phones on the market, thanks to its slim profile, vibrating touchscreen, and standard headphone jack. It also has features that are now standard fare on midrange phones, like GPS, a Web browser, and a microSD slot. The Instinct’s lack of built-in WiFi means prospective iPhone buyers probably won’t be swayed, and its live TV streaming pales in comparison to that of the LG Voyager. But Samsung has clearly been listening to consumer complaints about the competition (and its own Glyde) and has made a reliable, satisfying handset with a stellar accessory bundle.
Features and Design
The candybar-style Instinct is only half an inch thick because it doesn’t have a physical dial pad or keyboard. It’s a little narrower than the iPhone and slightly longer, at 4.6 by 2.2 inches. The 3.1-inch plastic touchscreen is set into a dark gray faceplate framed in a smoky chrome trim. Beneath the screen are touch-sensitive backlit Back, Home, and Phone buttons, and the earpiece is above it.
On the left side are volume buttons and the charge/sync jack; the voice-command and camera buttons and microSD slot are on the right. Along the top are a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack and the power/lock button. The pinhole mic is on the bottom. A 2-megapixel camera with a tiny self-portrait mirror is set into the back cover, which slides off to reveal the battery compartment.
We love the phone’s styling and feel — thanks mostly to the handset’s 4.4-ounce weight and the back cover’s nonslip coating. The craftsmanship is decent, though our review unit’s touchscreen appeared to be coming apart at one corner.
The included accessory bundle is a clear tipoff that Samsung has been listening to consumer demands. An extra battery fits inside a little charging pod, which in turn connects to the included wall charger; that eliminates the need to have the phone tethered to an outlet for charging. The phone also comes with a USB cable, a stylus, a leather case, a wired headset, and a generous 2GB SanDisk microSD card.
The screen unlocks when you hold the power/lock button for a second or so. The pressure-sensitive touchscreen is very responsive to fingers, nails, and the included stylus, and you can adjust the sensitivity. The phone vibrates when you touch a button or other active screen area, giving the virtual buttons a good tactile feel. Unfortunately the screen doesn’t automatically re-orient depending on how you hold it, since there’s no accelerometer. And even with the brightness set as high as possible, the screen looks very dim outside on a sunny day.
A virtual QWERTY keyboard pops up for text entry, but only in landscape orientation; when you change it to portrait mode, the keys rearrange alphabetically, which can be awkward. You can also use the handwriting-recognition tool to write notes and messages with your finger or the stylus; it works, but it’s slow.
The animated menus are reasonably polished, and they have nice touches like a draggable thumb tab at the side of lists for scrolling by letter. Navigating by swiping and tapping is easy, but we sorely missed the iPhone’s “pinch” zoom for pictures and Web sites. The phone is fairly speedy opening applications, previewing images, and registering keypresses, but there’s room for improvement.
Phone, Messaging, Voicemail
The Instinct’s call quality on both ends is very good, with clear audio and no dropouts when both parties talk simultaneously. Reception in and around New York City is far from perfect, but we didn’t hit many dead spots. We love the thumb tab in Contacts that lets you power scroll through the list.
Texting is a breeze, thanks to the excellent virtual keyboard, and the SMS app supports threaded messaging so you can see entire conversations instead of just individual messages.
Visual Voicemail is one of the Instinct’s highlights, giving you precise control over voice messages. You can scroll, pause, and delete messages easily, and you can send voice messages directly to phone numbers or email addresses — though ours often took hours to come through.
The on-board music player looks and works great, and it supports AAC, AAC+, WMA, and MP3 files. It also reads MIDI (a musical instrument data file) and QCP (a voice memo format). Music sounds good through the included earbuds, and the headphone output had no problem handling our Sennheiser HD280 Pro reference headphones.
The Instinct’s microSD card slot is compatible with high-capacity cards, which currently max out at 8GB, and a 2GB card is included in the package. The phone also has 32MB of internal memory.
We’re not very impressed with the Sprint Music Store’s interface, though we do like the ability to download songs over Sprint’s cellular network; the iPhone’s WiFi iTunes Store requires a wireless network.
On-demand videos from sources like Fox and CNN look acceptable, but live TV is problematic even in good service areas. It’s glitchy and pixilated, and the screen often freezes for a few seconds — not nearly as stable as the LG Voyager’s Verizon-based mobile TV.
The phone has an Internet radio app with lots of preset stations, though the app itself is confusing and could use some sprucing up. It gives you access to plenty of free content, as well as paid subscriptions to services like Sirius.
The camera app is accessible via the Camera button, but only if you’re in the phone’s main menu. Our test still images (1600 x 1200 pixels) looked okay on the phone, but when we transferred them to our laptop, we could see how grainy and soft the pictures were. Colors were fairly accurate, and the exposure wasn’t bad though a bit dark.
We captured a 2-minute video (you can record until the memory card is full), and the 320 x 240-pixel MPEG-4 movie looked good, though fast action blurred easily, and movies are a bit jumpy at 15 frames per second. Sadly, the Instinct does not support video messaging (MMS).
We had no trouble emailing pictures right after taking them, but we were unable to get the Web uploader (which works with online services like Photobucket) to work. Also, when we emailed our pics to ourselves, Sprint’s photo sharing service wouldn’t let us access the full-res version of the images. We ended up transferring the photos to our MacBook Pro via Bluetooth.
Image Courtesy of Samsung
The on-board Teleca Web browser supports WAP 2.0, HTML, XHTML, WML, and WMLS, but it lacks Flash or Ajax support. Sites like CNN (optimized for mobile) loaded very quickly, though we often had to tap repeatedly on text-entry fields for site logins to get the virtual keyboard to come up. We like that you can choose between desktop and mobile browser profiles, but it’s annoying not to be able to view pages in portrait mode instead of only landscape.
The email client is very good, with multi-message deletion, searchable contacts, and attachment support. It’s a snap to set up with AOL, AIM Mail, Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo (POP3) accounts, though we often had to check mail manually. Unfortunately, the email client won’t show you subfolders within your Inbox, which certainly caused us grief with our well-organized Yahoo account.
We were able to hook it up to a corporate Microsoft Exchange server, though it required a little help from IT support staff, and the Sprint email client isn’t nearly as compatible as Windows Mobile versions of Outlook. We got far better results using Outlook Web Access via the Web browser.
We tested the Instinct with our Plantronics Discovery 925 mono headset and our Etymotic ety8 stereo headset; both paired easily and the Bluetooth audio came through clearly. The robustness of the Bluetooth signal outshone our Samsung SCH-u740 and was on a par with that of our Nokia N95. Interestingly, we could not get streamed audio (music or from a video) to work over Bluetooth.
The GPS uses Sprint Navigation, which is powered by TeleNav. The GPS had no trouble locating us in New York City; in Brooklyn, it even found us indoors, though we were near a window.
During our testing, some of the GPS-dependent apps for local info like movie times and weather seemed to have trouble grabbing data. We reset the phone, and eventually the services came online, though we still got some spotty results.
We applaud Samsung/Sprint for including an extra battery and charger so you can always have a battery charged and ready. Each one is rated for about 5.75 hours of talk time; we found we had to swap batteries once every 2 days with light to moderate use. Using features like Bluetooth, GPS, voice commands, Web browsing, and the video camera drains the battery more quickly. With heavy use including lots of music listening, Bluetooth, and emailing, we had no trouble running the battery down in about 8 hours.
This is not a true smartphone like the iPhone or AT&T Tilt, and it’s really not ideal for business users because of the lack of instantaneous email sync (a la Blackberry) and somewhat iffy MS Exchange support. We’re also not crazy about the live TV and much prefer the service on LG’s Voyager. But if those things don’t bother you, the Instinct’s otherwise excellent feature set, solid performance, great accessory bundle, and sexy form factor make it a very satisfying phone.
• Reliable touch interface with haptic feedback
• 3.5-mm headphone jack
• Visual voicemail
• Extras like camera, email, and GPS work well
• Comes with extra battery and 2GB microSD card
• Streamed video looks poor
• Screen doesn’t automatically re-orient
• No WiFi
• Screen is tough to see outdoors
• Limited MS Exchange support
• No video messaging