Samsung Instinct S30 Review

Samsung didn't drastically improve either its physical or functional abilities from the original Instinct.
Samsung didn't drastically improve either its physical or functional abilities from the original Instinct.
Samsung didn't drastically improve either its physical or functional abilities from the original Instinct.

Highs

  • Easy-to-use touchscreen interface and OS; excellent music and video player; fast EV-DO Web access; visual voicemail

Lows

  • No real improvements over original Instinct; below average camera; slow-to-load music player; hard-to-read Web text; less talk time battery life than original

Summary

In a couple of months, amid the usual hoopla, Apple is expected to unveil its next-gen iPhone, rumored to include such improvements as a 3.2MP camera plus video recording, stereo Bluetooth and 32 GB memory, as well as a totally updated OS – all major improvements. For once though, Samsung has beaten (if quietly) Steve Jobs and co. to the punch with an update of its “iPhone killer,” the Instinct, now known as the S30. Except, that is, for one little drawback – it’s not much of an update at all.

The big news is the addition of Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes syncing, which could have been accomplished with a software update. Other than that, the phone’s spec improvements are purely incremental. Even though there’s not much new here, however, the Instinct S30 is still an easy to use multimedia phone. But this is essentially a missed opportunity to create a killer iPhone killer.

Samsung S30 InstinctFeatures and Design

Since little has changed from original to update, the S30 experience still seems incomplete. Almost all functions have been designed with good intentions, but all suffer some annoying flaws like Hollywood sets – they’re presently pretty facades with little behind them.

The Instinct S30, as is/was Instinct I, is a rectangular touchscreen phone with localized haptic feedback, with a 3.2-inch (vs. 3.1 on the original) 240×432 pixel display. Like the original, it runs Samsung’s proprietary Instinct OS, and includes a full HTML and mobile Web browser; visual voicemail; GPS with Sprint Navigation; 2MP camera/video recorder; stereo Bluetooth; full text and POP/IMAP email capabilities; and an AAC/MP3/WMA music player.

New to this version is built-in instant messaging; calendar sync compatibility with Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Exchange Server and IBM Lotus Domino; and Guitar Hero: World Tour and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? games.

Even though the S30 specs supplied on the Samsung and Sprint sites say its microSD slot only handles up to 16GB cards, max capacity actually now tops out at 32GB – a welcome upgrade.

Physically, the Instinct S30 has more rounded corners than the squared-off original with only minor dimensional and weight differences, clocking in at .03 inches taller, .07 inches less wide, .02 inches thinner, and 0.7 ounces lighter. It also comes in more stylish colors – Touch of Copper and Cobalt Metal vs. basic black and pink.

Samsung S30 InstinctForm Factor

Both Instincts are about two-thirds the width of an iPhone, nearly identical in height and depth. The new Instinct S30 flairs out slightly behind at the bottom though, sort of like a cellphone bustle textured for a surer grip.

All the S30’s controls and ports are arrayed around its perimeter. Unlike most phones, the Instinct’s volume toggle is located in the middle of the left spine rather than on top. This location took a bit of getting used to, especially since there are no ridges identifying either the up or down switch.

On the bottom right spine is an action key that acts as the camera shutter when the phone is turned sideways, and the screen becomes the viewfinder. In the middle of the right spine is a Speech to Action button, which provides voice activation for functions including call, text, traffic, movie, sports, news and search.

Ports & Connectors

The Instinct S30 annoyingly retains Samsung’s proprietary power jack, located on the upper-left perimeter, instead of the now-standard microUSB connector. Located on the opposite spine is the microSD slot. Up top is the 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. All jacks and ports are covered with hinged flaps.

Samsung S30 InstinctPortable Media Player Options

Sprint TV videos are crisp, clean and colorful with only occasional streaming burps. You can sideload your own videos as well – the S30 can play back H.264 and MPEG-4 clips.

As with most Sprint phones, the generally excellent music player takes way too long to boot – nearly a minute for the player itself to load and then to scan and load your music. Since most other phones from alternate carriers get you to your tunes much faster, Sprint’s systemic music player stall is just plain screwy.

Sound Quality

The S30 pumps out plenty of volume, which helps overcome its slightly tinny sound. The earpiece doubles as the speakerphone and music speaker, and produces even thinner, but still acceptable, sound.

Samsung S30 InstinctPhone Functionality

Samsung has created one of, if not the, easiest and fun to use interfaces in cell phone land. You’ll have little problem finding anything, and everything is accessible in only two or three taps. You can also create a customized homepage listing your most frequently accessed functions, from activating the music player to specific contacts or Web pages.

Samsung hasn’t smoothed out the Instinct’s herky-jerky touch control, however. Like the original, the S30 doesn’t react as realistically as, say, the iPhone, to physical prompts. Finger-flicked lists scroll hesitantly at one speed, for instance, and you have to be careful you don’t accidentally activate whatever you initially touch to start the scroll.

Sprint lets you store and transfer contacts from one phone to another via its Mobile Sync service. Importing contacts from Outlook, however, is a major pain in the butt, and the instructions for doing so can only be found in a version of the manual that you have to download from the Samsung site. Even then, we couldn’t get the PDF manual to open in any Web browser we tried in Vista – we could only open it on a Mac.

You then have to download and install Desktop Sync. When we finally synced my Outlook contacts, we couldn’t get the phone to list them in alphabetical order by last name.

The Instinct S30’s on-screen landscape-only QWERTY keyboard forces awkward and annoying phone flipping when inputting text as well. Contact input, email, IM and SMS apps, for instance, all are in portrait mode. As soon as you have to enter text, however, you have to flip the phone to landscape. Once done inputting text, you have to flip back to portrait mode.

There are occasional on-screen slide controls – ending a call, for instance – which aren’t always clearly marked either. When you get a text or new email, for instance, you have to touch slide the on-screen alert up to view or down to dismiss – a clever, but initially confusing system. Suffice it to say that there’s a learning curve to suss out which controls get tapped and which get slid.

Samsung S30 InstinctWeb

The S30’s default browser is unsatisfactory. It displays pages only in landscape mode, which minimizes left/right scrolling. But text doesn’t wrap to the screen, even in mobile mode. You either have to read small print or scroll left then back to right to read zoomed-in text. You can toggle between mobile and full HTML views, which helps a bit if the site you’re on supplies an optimized mobile version.

The now-included Opera 4.2 browser, mysteriously listed under the “Fun” menu, can handle both WAP 2.0 and full HTML and is far superior. It displays pages in portrait mode only, but text wraps to the screen for far easier reading.

Page loading on either browser, especially on mobile-optimized sites, is zippy over Sprint’s EV-DO network, however. Full HTML pages load in five to seven seconds, depending on graphic content, and optimized mobile pages for those sites who supply them, such as CNN, ESPN and The New York Times, load in an even-zippier three to five seconds.

Accessories

Included in the box is a USB cable, a pair of 3.5mm stereo earbuds with inline mic, and a pre-installed 1 GB microUSB card along with an SD card adapter.

Camera

As with the music player, the Instinct S30’s 2MP camera giveth and taketh away.

The lens, along with vanity mirror, is located on the top left rear. So close to the corner it’s impossible not to inadvertently finger it while grabbing for the phone, smudging the lens, you also have to work to keep your left index finger from blocking the lens when shooting. Fortunately, you get an on-screen “fuzzy picture warning” alert when your finger strays into the shot.

Samsung S30 Instinct ImageThe S30’s camera takes large, unusually sharp, and colorful pictures indoors and out. But shots tend to look under-exposed – even those taken in bright sunshine. We found it nearly impossible to get a completely sharp shot indoors. Some parts of the photos were in focus, others not – but never the whole shot. The specs say the Instinct S30 has a woeful 2x zoom, but we couldn’t figure out how it worked to boot.

Otherwise, Quarter VGA MPEG-4 videos are colorful and relatively sharp in their original size, but like most cellcam videos, start to pixelate badly the more they’re blown up.

Battery Life

Shockingly, the S30 gives you more than an hour less talk time than the original – 5.75 hours vs. 4.6 hours on the S30. In our own unscientific tests, we got a top talk time of 5 hours from the S30 – an odd change to say the least.

Conclusion

Why Samsung created a new Instinct with so little difference from the original is puzzling. With its intuitive and well-designed interface, above-average multimedia functions and zippy Web access, we always thought the Instinct was the best iPhone analog for Sprint users. But why Samsung didn’t drastically improve both its physical and functional abilities here in the Instinct S30 is unknown, and disappointing to say the least.

Pros:

  • Easy-to-use touchscreen interface and OS
  • Excellent music and video player
  • Fast EV-DO Web access
  • Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes syncing
  • Visual voicemail

Cons:

  • No real improvements over original Instinct
  • Below average camera
  • Slow-to-load music player
  • Hard-to-read Web text
  • Less talk time battery life than original
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